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Friday read: France embraces dealcoholisation of IGP wines

Published:  19 April, 2024

Set against the march of low & no, Jacopo Mazzeo reports on the first EU member state to approve a low abv threshold, with predictions of a ready uptake.

Earlier this month, the IGP Wine Committee of France’s National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) approved a measure allowing for the dealcoholisation of the country’s IGP wines. According to the new regulations, any IGP wine can now undergo dealcoholisation to reach a minimum abv of 6%, as long as the respective IGPs choose to incorporate this process into their production specifications (cahier des charges).

As previously reported by Harpers, in 2021, the EU responded to the growing consumer demand for low & no alcohol products by permitting the dealcoholisation of wines with geographical indication down to a minimum of 0.5% abv across its member states. The decision to adopt this practice or not was then left to each individual member state to implement.

The INAO's IGP Wine Committee has since been deliberating the possibility of extending this provision to French IGP wines. Ultimately, the committee made the decision to permit partial dealcoholisation earlier this month on 4 April, making France the first country within the EU to embrace this practice for wines with geographical origin. At this stage however, no decision has been made regarding the dealcoholisation of AOP wines.

“European regulations have evolved, opening the possibility of dealcoholising wines with geographical indications, with a minimum set at 0.5% alcohol by volume. [Following this decision], France’s IGP wines have chosen innovation and adopted a strategy aimed at authorising [IGPs] that wish to do so to dealcoholize up to 6% abv… by means of spinning cone column distillation, vacuum distillation and reverse osmosis,” Éric Paul, president of the INAO’s IGP Wine Committee told Harpers. “This will make it possible to meet the growing market demand for no and low alcohol products.”

Several elements were considered in making this decision, including respecting the origin of the wine, technological and regulatory aspects and economic factors. The 6% abv threshold was determined after tastings and experiments aimed at finding the optimal balance between retaining wine character and taste while reducing the alcohol content to meet the changing needs of the French and international markets.

However, considering that EU regulations already permit dealcoholisation down to 0.5%, the 6% abv threshold may well be lowered in the future.

“In terms of quality, the 6% abv threshold provides winemakers with the flexibility to employ the necessary technologies and methods to reduce the alcohol content of a wine, while achieving a high-quality product,” Paul said.

“Depending on the evolution of these technologies and methods however, we do not rule out going lower in the future, provided that the quality of the product is kept up to standard.”

In line with this strategy, IGPs who have integrated dealcoholisation into their specifications will also be allowed to experiment with the production of wines with an abv below 6%. Such experiments will be regularly monitored by the scientific and technical commission of the INAO.

IGPs interested in pursuing dealcoholisation must now submit a request to modify their specifications. The INAO will then investigate the request, and once approved, producers will be allowed to release their partially dealcoholised wines as IGP. These wines will undergo organoleptic checks before and after dealcoholization, and labels will include the term “partiellement désalcoolisés” (partially dealcoholised) alongside the IGP name.

IGPs that will swiftly submit their applications and have their specifications modified promptly, will be able to take advantage of this opportunity starting from the upcoming 2024 vintage.

According to Paul, no candidates have submitted requests to change the regulations yet, but he anticipates that these requests will come in very quickly over the coming months.