Wine marketing hits a new low: carbs



July 07, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN WINE CRITIC

Would you buy a bland, underripe melon if some marketer promised it was low in nicotine?

If your answer is yes, you might be ready for low-carb wine.

Thanks to the nation's current Atkins-inspired frenzy over the dreaded carbohydrate, selling wine by its dietary numbers is an idea whose time has come. One can only hope it will quickly go.

Leading the way into this new wine fad are two concoctions called One.6 Chardonnay and One.9 Merlot.

The names of these California wines, concocted by the wine division of Kentucky booze-monger Brown Forman, refer to the number of grams of carbohydrate in a 5-ounce glass of the stuff.

"We decided to make a blend that was as low in carbohydrates as we could with no compromise in the quality," said Jill Jepson, a member of the Brown Forman winemaking team.

To some of us, the notion of selecting a wine based on carb count is a little like choosing a spouse by cholesterol level or voting for the candidate with the lower golf score. But, according to P.T. Barnum, the human race supplies a steady stream of potential customers for these products.

You could dismiss low-carb wine as a passing folly if not for the pernicious falsehood it implies: that all the other wines are high-carbohydrate beverages.

They are not. Any dry wine is by definition a low-carb beverage. Semisweet wines have a higher count because of higher sugars, but still fall well short of the carbs in a 12-ounce bottle of beer.

Most of the producers now touting the carb counts of their wines have made no actual change in the fermentation process. For instance, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, which owns the Beaulieu and Sterling brands among others, is using the low-carb gimmick to market its existing wines but so far has resisted the temptation to actually make wine by the numbers.

"The consumers are looking for the information, and we want to provide it for them," said company spokesman Tom Scott.

One.6 and One.9, now available in local stores in the $10-$11 range, are made with the goal of a low carbohydrate count in mind. The wines do come in at the low end of the carb scale - but not dramatically.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the typical table wine contains 4.7 grams of carbs per 5-ounce serving. However, in the category of dry red wine, that number drops to 2.5 grams. With dry white wine, the number is 1.2 grams.

Jepson said the company's independent research found that many wines came in at anywhere from 3 to 5 grams of carbs per serving. She said Brown Forman made the wine by rigorously selecting grapes with low carb counts and blending them to dryness, not through laboratory wizardry.

"Consumers are really responding positively to the taste profile," Jepson said.

This consumer did not.

The 2003 One.6 Chardonnay is a pleasant but innocuous white wine with some nice apple flavors up front. The winemakers had the good sense not to muck it up with excessive oak, but the finish falls off in about 1.6 seconds.

The 2002 One.9 Merlot is another story. Weedy and harsh, it's taken leanness to the point of anorexia. The One.9 could refer to its score on a 10-point scale. If drinking wine like this is the key to a beautiful body, it's better to stay ugly.

Like the chardonnay, its 13.5 percent alcohol ensures that its calorie level is about the same as other California wines. Why a consumer would cheerfully absorb more than 100 calories and obsess over the difference between 1.9 and 2.5 grams of carbs is beyond my power to explain.

One can hope the poor quality and gimmicky nature of these wines will guarantee their quick disappearance from the American scene. Wine, after all, should remain a beverage of pleasure - not a dietary aid.

Recent American history gives little reason for optimism, however. Cynics need look no further than the commercial success of that abomination known as light beer. A recent visitor to a local tavern found a choice of three beers on tap: Coors Light, Miller Lite and Bud Light.

A new Dark Age is upon us.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.