Richard Hemming: Don't get snooty because it's fruity

Cider: that was my first booze of choice. In its limited-edition coloured bottles, it was the height of sophistication – in the public parks of Bedford. I was no snob though, oh no. I would also sometimes drink Mirage and Taboo.

These days there’s a good chance I’d be drinking what are known as aromatised wine-based drinks, although I doubt the current generation of 18 to 25-year-old drinkers would identify them by that legal definition. The recent OLN Fruit Wines & Fusions supplement showed how popular they have become for millennials – and for producers too, who have seized on a growing category that has a lower tax burden and is more efficient to produce than normal wine.

Yet the reaction of many wine professionals to the concept of wine that is diluted, sweetened and flavoured is one of contempt. Indeed, my own instinctive response was to make a yuck face. But on reconsideration, there’s no reason to be snooty.

The arguments in favour of aromatised wine are several. It is more profitable to produce than cheap wine because it is blended and homogenised, and therefore not subject to the vagaries of vintages.

As a lower-alcohol product – most commonly at 5.5% abv – it satisfies the trend towards responsible drinking. Furthermore, it is arguably a far better product than reduced-alcohol wine, which is costly to make and rarely tastes great.

There’s another less obvious benefit to this category: it provides a purpose for low-quality bulk wine that would otherwise appear on our shelves as cheap generic plonk. Having less of that in retail is a good thing, both for wine’s overall image and for its average bottle price.

One problem, though, is determining what these drinks should be called. I believe it’s best to identify them entirely distinctly from wine.

The two drinks are very different, and wine is bewildering enough as it is without being confused with a flavoured, sweetened drink. Besides, the wine component of these drinks is really just an alcoholic base; the all-important flavour profile is entirely added.

Visually, their bottles, labels and marketing all echo wine – indeed many of the brands are from well known wine producers – but trying to prohibit any such resemblance would be impossible.

Also, there’s an argument that the young target audience for these fruit-infused drinks will make an association with wine, to which they will convert as their tastes mature.

But that association is the very thing that could damage the image of wine. I remain convinced that it’s better for all parties if this category doesn’t use the term wine at all. Retailers face a tricky proposition. If customers want to buy these drinks, it’s absurd not to stock them. But how ought they to be named on signage – and should they be displayed next to normal wine? I would urge you to support these ranges wholeheartedly, but also to keep them in a class of their own.

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