Ministers have become so concerned about levels of wine drinking among
the middle classes that they have launched a campaign across Europe to
redefine “wine” to include drinks that contain little or no alcohol.
The government is pressing supermarkets and other retailers to stock more low-alcohol products and has promised to step up efforts to rewrite European Union rules on the minimum strength for drinks to be classed as wines.
Ministers want the minimum strength of still wine to be reduced from 8.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent alcohol-by-volume (ABV), about one-third the strength of many typical table wines today.
However, critics say the move will be met with dismay from many wine drinkers who are already feeling unfairly treated, after suffering above inflation rises in tax on their favourite drinks over the past five years.
Earl Howe, the health minister, claimed that the market for low or reduced alcohol “wines” has been “increasingly rapidly” in recent years.
He insisted that promoting low alcohol wines was in customers’ “best long term interests”, amid concerns over a rise in liver diseases and cancers linked to alcohol consumption.
“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.
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