British Health Ministers Want to Redefine Wine

Other EU countries have no interest in a new definition for wine
Wikimedia/Naotake Murayama

Excessive wine drinking has become such a problem in the U.K. that the government is actually pushing to redefine "wine" across the EU, but they’re encountering some pushback from other countries, including France and Italy.

Health minister Earl Howe wants the EU to lower the minimum strength of wine across Europe from 8.5 percent alcohol by volume to just 4.5 percent.

"The government has consistently made the case for change to the EU wine rules to permit reduced and de-alcoholised products to be called wines," he said.

According to the Telegraph, he claims that the market for low-alcohol wine has been growing in recent years. But while 7 million bottles of lower-alcohol wine sold in the U.K. in 2011 and sales have been growing, several retailers say they still aren’t popular and have stopped stocking the bottles due to insufficient demand.

Negotiations in the EU failed to come to terms over the lower-alcohol wine question recently after other countries, including France and Italy, blocked an attempt to redefine "wine" to include nonalcoholic beverages.

"The parts of the EU that might fight against the proposal to change the definition of wine might be the ones for whom the word ‘wine’ still has a cultural resonance," wine critic Victoria Moore said. "They like to think it’s more than just booze, it carries a sense of place, and history, and is supposed to taste good."

Moore said many naturally low-alcohol wines, like moscato from Italy and German riesling, can be quite good. But the artificial alcohol-lowering process used to make many low-alcohol, wine-like beverages is like decaffeinating coffee beans, Moore said, and the results are "rubbish." In her eyes, redefining wine is the wrong approach because it focuses on wine merely as an alcohol delivery system.

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"The more we winnow away at this and encourage the idea that wine is nothing more than booze that has once seen grapes," she said, "then I think we’re placing more emphasis on alcohol than on taste and actually promoting mindless boozing."