A programme to make New Zealand a leader in "lifestyle" viticulture will be good news for wine lovers watching their waistlines.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has teamed with the wine industry to undertake research and development into high-quality, lower-energy and lower-alcohol wines.

Details of the programme were confidential until an announcement at Villa Maria Winery in Manukau this morning, but consumers and industry experts agreed there was a strong demand for the beverages, which aim to retain the flavour characteristics of full-bodied wines despite their lower kilojoule and alcohol contents.

The "lifestyle" tipples were enjoying growing popularity, said Tim Lightbourne, co-founder of Invivo Wines, which produced one of the country's first diet varietals. Invivo's Belle range began with a sauvignon blanc in 2010 that had 330kj per 150ml glass and an alcohol percentage of 9.


The range has grown to include a rose and has won awards against conventional wine.

Exposing grapes to less sunlight during cultivation lowered sugar content and therefore produced wine with fewer kilojoules and less alcohol, he said.

Mr Lightbourne said Kiwi consumers were only a third of their business, which had taken off in Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Bulgaria and Vanuatu and was now selling 120,000 bottles a year.

He said the wines were popular among older people and even promoted healthier lifestyles as an official sponsor of the New Zealand Fitness Awards at the weekend.

Auckland University of Technology nutrition professor Elaine Rush said although it was a good option for people she was sceptical about any health benefits.

"Lower calorie drinks could be beneficial but it's much more than about the calories - rather than what we're eating and drinking it's what we're not eating and drinking.

"I don't think focusing on the number of calories ... is going to improve our diet or our health to a great extent."

MPI announced last month it was exploring making nutrition labels for alcohol mandatory so drinkers could see the number of kilojoules in each drink.

A Herald poll of between 13,300 and 13,350 people showed 32 per cent wanted the labels so they could track their energy intake, 25 per cent were interested in the initiative and 24 per cent said it was unlikely to change their drinking habits.

Diet option gets big tick from weight-watcher

A wine with fewer kilojoules would be a winner for 20-year-old aficionado Leoni Lau.

Ms Lau enjoyed a glass or two of merlot a couple of times a week in her native Germany and has sampled New Zealand varietals during the first month of her year-long stay here.

"I would feel more comfortable drinking it because you can enjoy it without worrying about putting weight on, so it would be a good option," she said.

She had not heard of the low-energy options, but would be happy to pay more for the beverage.

"It's a good option to enjoy it, I'm going to check it out."

She believed people she knew would be interested, too.

"My girlfriends probably, my family like my mum yes, but not my grandma.

"I used to live in Sydney and all the guys ... were good-looking and taking care of themselves so probably for them it would be good."

Energy in wine

There are 29 kilojoules per gram of alcohol, which equates to:

* Glass of regular white wine (150ml) - 460kj to 525kj
* Glass of regular red wine (150ml) - 420kj to 490kj
* Glass of diet white wine (150ml) - 330kj to 390kj
* Glass of diet red wine (150ml) - 330kj to 390kj

* See today's Viva for a review of low-alcohol wines.