WSET has published the topic for the next (and last) Case Study for Diploma Unit 1 (June session). This time the focus is on low alcohol wines and spirits.
This reminded me of a short piece that I wrote 3 years ago, back to the days where I was studying for this certification, but I never published. It is a bit outdated, but still valid. I am leaving it here.
There has been much talk in the past years about a trend on lower alcohol wines, with some (especially big) producers launching in the market wines as low as 5%, but I do not think that this is the future of the wine market.
A report from Wine Intelligence tells that in UK, Germany, USA and Canada around 40% of the consumers are in the market for lower alcohol wine, but what the people define as lower alcohol is a volume between 9 and 10.5%, which is low, but not unseen in any standard wine shop or wine aisle of a supermarket.
I work in a wine market (Japan) which is rarely studied. A big part of my job is making estimates to customers (mainly bar, restaurants and hotels) on alcoholic beverage (primarily wine). I do not possess data and the following is maybe a bit anecdotal, but this year (January-September) up to today I sent over 1000 estimates to a varied palette of clients (who have in turn their own clients) plus managed to talk with some private customers who happen to visit the company. Not one, not even a single one, explicitly considered alcoholic strength as a factor when asking for an advice. Sporadically someone searches for juices made from wine grapes or non-alcohol wines, but I have never heard someone telling me that he or she wanted a wine specifically high or low in alcohol. This may be due to the fact that in Japan you cannot drink alcohol and drive under any condition: either you drink or you drive. Even a drop is too much. Or it may be due to a strong (although declining) beer culture: if you want to have something low alcohol you just order a beer.
It is my strong impression that alcoholic strength here is absolutely a non-issue. People are searching good wine, maybe elegant, but not necessarily low in alcohol. The aforementioned study by WIne Intelligence suggests that in some market this is different, but even there the trend is to search wine that are relatively low in alcohol (but still in the definition of proper wines). This perspective resonates throughout the internet: no one discusses about higher alcohol wines, the focus is instead on examining how strong is the demand for low alcohol wines and if this trend is going to take off further.