Diet empire Weight Watchers is getting into the wine business — kind of. The company just announced a lower-calorie Sauvignon Blanc, called Cense, which has fewer points per glass than the typical vino.
It may seem like a random brand extension, until you see the raw data. Wine is the second most-tracked beverage — coffee being first — according Ryan Nathan, Vice President of Products, Licensing, and Ecommerce at Weight Watchers. So, the company partnered with California producer Truett-Hurst Winery (which makes wines for retailers like Trader Joe’s). The goal was to create a wine that clocked in at three points, rather than the typical four, says Nathan.
The trick turned out to be in an algorithm that kept sugar and calories low — so a 5-oz. glass contains just 85 calories, compared to the typical 120 — but it also lowered the alcohol level. Most wines are labeled between 9 and 15%, with Sauvignon Blancs coming in around 11-13.5. Cense is 9.6% alcohol by volume.
Developing a lower-calorie wine while also ensuring the wine tasted good wasn’t easy, says Phil Hurst, Co-Founder and President and CEO of Truett-Hurst Winery. The company initially imagined that if they started with a big, round red — like a Zinfandel or Syrah from California’s Dry Creek — and reduced the alcohol, they’d still have a wine that was incredibly robust. They were wrong. In fact, it took the company two years to land on its ideal formula. Winemaker Ross Reedy posited that choosing a naturally aromatic wine that was crisp, high in acidity, zesty in flavor, and didn’t need oak treatment — and then reducing the alcohol — would do the trick. So, they turned to Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes for Cense are sourced from a vineyard in Marlborough and made into wine there, then the wine is shipped to the U.S., where the alcohol is reduced and the wine is bottled.
Sometimes when you put a lower alcohol wine in a lineup it can seem thin or wimpy in comparison to its higher alcohol brethren. Not so with the Cense. After sampling a bottle, we were surprised to find how much it tasted like a classic Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is heavy on the grapefruit — mostly ruby red grapefruit — plus a good bit of Meyer lemon, followed by a hint of candied pineapple. Those aromas carry through to the flavor, which is citrusy with a touch of green jalapeno-like notes. The Cense has screaming acidity, although not mouth-puckeringly so.
As of today, you can buy a bottle at Censewines.com starting at $15 and at Kroger stores where it retails for $13.99. The two companies expect to launch a rosé in the near future.