Weight Watchers debuts diet wine to toast the holidays

While you're gorging this holiday season, there'll be a new option for saving a few calories where you might not expect it: Wine.

Weight Watchers has unveiled its new line of diet wine called Cense, starting with a sauvignon blanc. It becomes the latest of several calorie-cutting wines on the market.         

The company — which assigns values, called SmartPoints, to foods and then has members lose weight by limiting the number they consume — says Cense has 85 calories a glass compared to 120 calories for other white wines. It is half as many SmartPoints for the same 5-ounce serving.

The idea for low-calorie vino has been fermenting at Weight Watchers for close to two years, explained Ryan Nathan, Weight Watchers vice president of products, licensing and e-commerce. A rosé is also in the works.         

"We’re not about diet. We’re about living life to its fullest," he said. "Wine is the No. 2 tracked beverage in our app. We know members are enjoying wine. Sometimes, maybe too much," he said.

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The same process winemakers use to lower alcohol content is used to reduce calories, he explained.

Unlike traditional Weight Watchers-branded foods, like oatmeal, crisps and frozen desserts, Cense has its Weight Watchers endorsement on the back — on an easily removable label.          

"If you want to take it to a dinner party, you can and you don't have to advertise you're minding your weight," said Nathan, adding that consumers aren't seeking a one-calorie wine. "They want liveability when it’s 30% fewer calories. It’s not like Diet Coke. You don’t drink it unlimited, but over time, it does help."         

Made by the Truett-Hurst Winery of Healdsburg, Calif., a 750-milliliter bottle is priced Cense just went on sale at some major supermarket chains, like those of Cincinnati-based Kroger, and through independent distributors.

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Unlike light beers which transformed that industry in the 1970s and 1980s, wine hasn't made the same splash in part due to lackluster taste and body. Skinnygirl, for example, has proven popular, but others, like The Light Grape and The Skinny Vine, have come and gone.         

Frank Camma, a senior research analyst at the New York-based institutional equity brokerage firm Sidoti & Co., called the new wine line "kind of odd," but pointed out that it's part of the company's shifting its philosophy from restrictions to moderation.         

"From a stockholders' perspective, it makes sense," he said. "They're trying to change themselves into a holistic, healthy-living type of company, which has higher valuations and more sustainable revenue streams."

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Wine expert Alice Feiring, the author of several books about wine, isn't saying, "Cheers." She said she isn't impressed by how many calories Weight Watchers has cut from its wine and doesn't think it'll appeal to the broader drinking community, just individuals who are in Weight Watchers programs.         

"Of course, the taste will be compromised," she said. "People like me drink wine for the discovery of the place and the vintage and the story of the wine from spring to harvest … It’s not going to be a fine wine; It’ll be a beverage."   

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