Reducing harm caused by alcohol


Sugar content in wine revealed: Health experts deem alcohol labelling ‘woefully inadequate’

Health experts are calling for better alcohol labelling as it is revealed that wine can contain anywhere between 0g and 59g of free sugars[1] per bottle.

Alcohol Focus Scotland and other member organisations of the Alcohol Health Alliance commissioned an independent laboratory to analyse 30 bottles of red, white, rosé, fruit and sparkling wine from the top ten leading wine brands in the UK.[2]

The results exposed the wide variation of sugar and calories between products. With this information missing from most alcohol labels, drinkers are being kept in the dark about just how much sugar and calories are in the products they buy.

Table 1 showing the five products with the highest sugar content from sample examined[3]


Product Details: Type

Sugar per 175ml, medium glass size (g)

Sugar per 175ml, medium glass size (teaspoons)

Sugar per 750ml, bottle size (g)

Sugar per 750ml, bottle size (teaspoons)

Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato

Sparkling wine





Barefoot Pink Moscato

Rosé wine





Echo Falls Fruit Fusion Summer Berries (9%)

Fruit wine





Echo Falls Sparkling Summer Berries

Sparkling wine





Echo Falls Fruit Fusion Summer Berries (5.5%)

Fruit wine






Government guidelines recommend no more than 30g of free sugars per day for an adult – yet it’s possible to reach almost this entire amount of sugar by drinking just two medium-sized glasses of some of the most popular wine on the market.

The analysis found that the products containing the most sugar tended to be the lower-strength wines. With no legal requirement to display sugar content on alcohol labels, drinkers opting for a lower-strength alcohol choice, perhaps thinking this is a healthier option, are unwittingly upping their daily sugar intake. This can lead to an increased risk of health conditions such as type-2 diabetes and tooth decay.

Table 2 showing the five products with the highest calorie content from sample examined3


Product Details: Type

Calories per 175ml, medium glass size (kcal)

Calories per 750ml, bottle size (kcal)

Hardy Stamp Shiraz Cabernet

Red wine



Yellow Tail Shiraz

Red wine



Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato




Casillero Del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon

Red wine



Campo Viejo Rioja Tempranillo

Red wine




Alcohol is very energy dense, with just two medium-sized glasses of the most calorific wines analysed containing more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.[4] What’s more, higher calorie content is linked to higher strength drinks which are the most damaging to our health. Alcohol consumption is linked to seven types of cancer, including bowel and breast cancer.

For those who drink, alcohol accounts for nearly 10% of their daily calorie intake, with around 3.4 million adults consuming an additional day’s worth of calories each week – totalling an additional two months of food each year.[5]

None of the 30 products examined in this study displayed sugar content on their labels; information which is required for all non-alcoholic drinks. Calorie content was only displayed on 20% of the labels examined. Those wanting to know how many calories or how much sugar is in their drink, would be unable to find all the information they need on the majority of product labels.

This lack of information means that drinkers have no idea what they are consuming.

Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

“Alcohol labelling is woefully inadequate in this country and allows the alcohol industry to decide what information it will and won’t include on its products, despite alcohol claiming the lives of 70 people a day in the UK.

“The alcohol industry has dragged their feet for long enough – unless labelling requirements are set out in law, we will continue to be kept in the dark about what is in our drinks. People want and need reliable information directly on bottles and cans, where it can usefully inform their decisions.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK said:

“Alcohol’s current exemption from food and drink labelling rules is absurd. Shoppers who buy milk or orange juice have sugar content and nutritional information right at their fingertips. But this information is not required when it comes to alcohol - a product not just fuelling obesity but with widespread health harms and linked to seven types of cancer.

“The UK Government must publish its planned consultation on alcohol labelling without further delay – which we have been waiting for since 2020. As well as calorie labelling and nutritional information, we need prominent health warnings and the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low-risk weekly drinking guidelines on labels. Studies suggest that this could help reduce alcohol harm by increasing knowledge of the health risks and prompting behaviour change.”

Holly Gabriel, Registered Nutritionist and Nutrition Manager at Action on Sugar said:

“The huge variation in sugar and calorie content in different wines, coupled with the lack of labelling, are yet more examples of the misleading tactics used by the food and drink industry. Current policy loopholes have meant some wines can be sold with unnecessary amounts of sugar, without even having to mention it on the label. We need joined up public health policies to have the most positive impact on our health.”

Alcohol labelling requirements in the UK

In the UK, alcoholic drinks are only required to display the volume and strength (in ABV) and common allergens. Information on nutritional values (including calories and sugar content), ingredients, or health warnings is not required and is therefore largely absent from labels. This contrasts with all other food and drink products which are required to provide information on nutritional values and ingredients. 

In 2020, the UK Government committed to holding a consultation on whether to include calorie information on alcohol product labelling. Information on sugar content and ingredients is not included in the plans.

Better labelling and the need for transparency is vital to allow people to make informed decisions, particularly where there is such wide variation between similar products.

In 2020, Action on Sugar analysed 21 of the most popular ready-to-drink cocktails on the market. Of the products analysed, drinks contained between 0g and 59g of sugar per single-serving container – yet this information was missing from 90% of labels on the products they examined.[6]

What do the public think?

Not only do the public have a right to know what is in their drink, they also want to know.

A 2021 survey published by the Alcohol Health Alliance and conducted by YouGov found that 75% of people want the number of units in a product on alcohol labels, 61% want calorie information, and 53% want the amount of sugar.[7]

[1] Swan et al, 2018. A definition of free sugars for the UK:

[3] For sugar and calorie analysis, figures have been rounded to one decimal place in line with the guidance for nutritional accuracy

For teaspoons of sugar, figures have been rounded to the nearest teaspoon

[7] YouGov Plc. The YouGov survey was conducted on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health and published by the Alcohol Health Alliance. Total sample size was 12247 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18/02/2021 – 18/03/2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).