Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it
One of the Wine Curmudgeon’s regular rants is how old-fashioned, unsophisticated, and wrong-headed most wine marketing is. This is the industry, after all, that still sees wine drinking as the province of middle-aged white men.
Innovation? Nope. Education? Nope? Mostly, just cute labels and names, the same thing that has been going on for the past 20 years. The “Let’s appeal to women with a wine called Little Black Dress” approach is what passes for genius around here.
That’s one of the many reasons why diet wine – wine made not to taste good, but to have fewer calories – is so depressing. It’s a 40-year-old concept that wine is embracing because it doesn’t have any better ideas.
The irony is that the current version of diet wine is an accident (because, of course, there was a version 40 years ago). Beam Global, which makes Skinnygirl, was getting out of the wine business when it acquired the brand. Originally, Skinnygirl was cocktails only, but someone at Beam figured it made sense to do a wine version (called a line extension in the trade) and we ended up with diet wine.
Since then, diet wine is all over the place, and the trade press is full of articles about hundreds of thousands of cases being sold here and hundreds of thousands of cases being sold there. Its growth has been facilitated by consolidation and the growth of the biggest producers; as I wrote last year, the big wine companies are “so good at the [marketing] – as good, in some ways, as marketing giants like McDonald’s and Procter & Gamble – that it almost doesn’t matter what’s in the bottle.”
Which is what diet wine is about. Because, actually, there’s no need for it. Want to consume fewer calories when drinking wine? Drink less wine, hardly a revolutionary concept. I wrote a story in 2004, during the height of the low-carb craze, and I quoted a dietitian who said the whole thing was foolish and would soon go away. Her take: What was the point of low-carb beer and low-carb pizza, other than as a marketing gimmick?
Which is what we have here. It’s not a coincidence that the beer business long ago moved on from diet beer in search of something better, and discovered craft beer in the process. Or that flavor has always been part of beer’s approach to marketing diet products – how many of us who grew up in the 1970s still remember the Miller Lite slogan: “Great taste.. less filling”?
The wine business can’t even do that. Diet wine is sold almost entirely on the calorie angle; so much so that two brands are endorsed by Weight Watchers. And wine still views its version of craft beer – regional wine – as beneath it, or as high-priced cult wines that most of us aren’t good enough to drink.
The good news is that diet wine hasn’t been as successful as diet cocktails. Maybe, like low-carb pizza, it will fade away sooner rather than later.