WSTA asks Europe to lift ruling on low alcohol wines

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association is asking the European Commission to relax a law which stops certain low alcohol wines being sold in the UK.

Under EU law, it is illegal to sell European wines that use reverse osmosis or spinning cone to reduce alcohol levels, a ruling which is causing headaches among drinks retailers who are increasingly looking to stock low alcohol wines for their customers.

WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles said: "We are seeking a temporary exemption from the EU so the wines can be sold in the market place.

"Low alcohol wine has become much more popular with everyone. The government wants to see it, retailers want to stock it and consumers say they want to buy it, so we hope it won't take too long for things to change."

Reverse osmosis and spinning cone are both methods used to strip alcohol out of wine. Winemakers then replace alcohol to the desired level.

The UK government must raise the matter in Brussels before any changes can be made to the law, but Beadles said he was "quietly confident" that the ban will be lifted temporarily.

He said: "To change the rules would be a hugely long and heart-breaking process, which is why we are seeking a temporary exemption.

"Wines using this process are being sold in Holland and Germany so I can't see why it would not be allowed here in the UK."

Under the ruling, reverse osmosis is permitted in France on an experimental basis and spinning cone can be used in Spain. Wines produced in those countries using those methods can be sold there, but not elsewhere, although French wine producers say the wines are also being sold in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.

Earlier this month, retailers stocking two low alcohol wine ranges - Plume and Sovio - were ordered to remove them from shelves by the Food Standards Agency because they use artificial methods to reduce alcohol levels.

The ruling does not affect American wine produced using reverse osmosis and spinning cone, because it is protected under the terms of the EU/US bilateral agreement.