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Spinning cone in Spain could open doors for lower-alcohol wines

A spinning cone sounds more like a ride at an adventure park than something involved with winemaking, but its recent arrival in Europe could be almost as exciting for those wanting to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine without being on the floor. This is because the spinning cone is actually a machine for reducing alcohol in wine.

Research shows that consumers are interested in having the option to choose lower-alcohol wines and so it can only be good news that this method for achieving such wines, which was previously banned in the EU, has been given the go-ahead in Spain. It has been allowed for the production of Sovio, a ‘semi-sparkling wine aerated by addition of carbon dioxide’, as it says on the back label. At 8% abv, Sovio can’t be classed as a wine, the reason it doesn’t say ‘wine’ anywhere on the front of the bottle to keep UK Trading Standards happy. But, to all intents and purposes, that is what it is.

Sovio is made from grapes that have been allowed to ripen fully in the vineyard and naturally produce alcohol levels around 14%. A batch of this wine (for Sovio 40-50%) is then put through the spinning cone machine, back-blended with the rest and the end result is a product with a much-reduced level of alcohol, but still, according to winemaker Scott Burr, ‘fruit-forward and easy to drink’.

Scott is also chief operating officer of ConeTech, the company that makes the spinning cone, which was developed in the 1990s in California and is now widely used there. He told ThirtyFifty that making wines using this technology is no different to making any wine. ‘We look at quality,’ he said, explaining that, ‘the key is to capture and hold all those flavours, so that you have a wine that has all the characteristics of the higher-alcohol wine but with lower alcohol.’ However, he added, ‘You don’t want a wine with too much acidity or tannin to start with because those can become more aggressive after the removal of the alcohol.’

But he stressed that the process is completely natural and that they are just making what the consumer wants – a product with less alcohol. Of course, they would like to be able to call it wine but so far the legislation prohibits this, even though wine made in the same way in California is allowed to come to the UK labelled ‘wine’.

Mark Beasley, managing director of the brand’s distributors, DB Wines, told ThirtyFifty, ‘Illogical is written all over this legislation.’ So it’s no wonder that the industry’s trade body, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), is lobbying the EU to allow not only wines under 8.5% alcohol to be classed as wine but also those over 8.5% to be made using alcohol-reducing processes, which isn’t the case at the moment. In spite of the fact that alcohol-reducing methods are approved by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine and widely used outside the EU, neither spinning cones nor the alternative method, reverse osmosis, are permitted for the production of wine within the EU.

The European Commission is proposing that it should authorise such practices as part of the EU wine reform, but that won’t be tomorrow. So right now the WSTA is seeking derogation from the regulation in order to quickly make way for more lower-alcohol wines, which retailers are keen to list and consumers say they want to buy. Certainly, the move by the Spanish government is a sign that Europe is starting to open its doors to ways to reduce alcohol. Surely, then it’s just a matter of time.

In the meantime, the Sovio range is a start. It is currently being rolled out to bars and the like and consists of a semi-sparkling white, made from Macabeo, Airen and a touch of Muscat, and a semi-sparkling rosé, made from Bobal and Tempranillo. The range should hit retailers next year.