Considering wine is our favoured choice of glassware for summer parties, the idea of back-to-back lunches, dinners and picnics feels exhausting, for body, mind, not to mention the morning after.
Up to only recently, if you wanted to take a break from alcohol the options were a sugar-laden soft drink, juice, or soda water with lemon which can get very dull. Alcohol-free beer seems to have cracked the code and is commonplace, but what about wine?
We are big advocates of moderation, it’s all about quality not quantity. Drinking less alcohol is just better for us – ensuring a decent sleep, more radiant skin and a happier liver.
Whether you want to give up alcohol for a week, a month, or life; for health reasons, perhaps you’re the designated driver for the evening or you just want to feel good in the morning, what are your choices?
But what does ‘alcohol-free’ mean? The UK government guidelines consider any drinks under 0.5% ABV as ‘non-alcoholic’ (keep in mind a ripe banana or fresh orange juice has higher trace amounts of alcohol, so we aren’t talking much). ‘No and low’ alcohol is one of the fastest growing drinks categories in the world today. According to a recent study published by IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, ‘low and no’ alcohol products is growing by more than 7% (in volume) globally and has surpassed £9 billion in value.
To date, a lot of alcohol-free wine has been mass produced and is well, uninspiring – flat, watered-down grape juice, that can be loaded with sugar. But times are changing, there’s a new and talented group of wine maestros in town leading the alcohol-free revolution.
Here we speak with four British brands revolutionising this new drinks category where alcohol-free wine can be premium, tasty and look great in both a flute or wine glass.
As we say, moderation is the key to enjoying wine. Avoiding long-term health risks is a great motivation to include some premium alcohol-free wine in your social routine and wine collection.
How is alcohol-free wine made?
Most alcohol-free wine is made in one of two ways. ‘De-alcoholised’ wine starts as a wine that has gone through all the normal production steps of harvesting, pressing and fermentation, resulting in a wine with alcohol.
This is when the fun part starts. The alcohol is removed from the base wine via a gentle yet labour-intensive centrifugal process that breaks down the wine’s components and puts them back together again without the alcohol.
This is also why some alcohol-free wines are not cheap…. an added layer of serious production, time and resource is required to create the final wine.
The dealcoholisation process can affect the delicate aroma and flavour characteristics you find in fermented wine. Alcohol is the backbone of wine, removing it can remove everything that makes wine great – body, texture flavour and aromas – however new innovation and science means the art of creating alcohol-free wine that tastes and feels similar to its more heady cousin is now more commonplace than a few years ago.
Technology is one part of the equation, it is up to the winemaker to taste and blend in what they feel will create the final desired quality – they have an unlimited choice of natural flavours, botanicals and more to create their magic …… all in all it’s ingenious stuff.
The second option of making alcohol-free wine is to work with grape must that has not gone through the fermentation process, blending in aromatics and natural ingredients to create a ‘wine-based’ drink. These tend to be zero alcohol, compared to around 0.5% ABV of de-alcoholised wines.
Whichever way an alcohol-free wine is made, at the moment it seems to suit sparkling, rosé and white wines better than still red wine, possibly due to the naturally high levels of acid, lower body and concentration expected in sparkling and light white wines.
What does it taste like?
We need to consider how a wine feels as much as it tastes. Considering alcohol is the heart and soul of wine, alcohol-free wine can feel thinner and taste sweeter in comparison. Sugar can offer body and flavour, but over-zealous scoops have been the thorn in the side of alcohol-free wines of old.
To combat this, aromatic whites (such as Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat) and warm climate, medium bodied reds (Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon) are preferred for alcohol-free wines as they can offer more fruit and texture – no wonder Australia was an early adopter of the category, however as the technology and science behind alcohol-free wine has improved, and sugar is no longer a key driver – other grape varieties have come into play.
Sparkling has so far been the winner in the alcohol-free wine category, the bubbles naturally create texture and a sense of freshness. Making a good still red wine without alcohol has proven more difficult – alcohol is what helps to balance the fruit, acid and tannins in red wines.
But let’s take a step back, alcohol-free wine is not wine as we know it. We need to approach alcohol-free as a completely new drinks category and rather than going in with a glass half-empty-of-wine approach, understand that the concept of wine is at the heart of this new category, yet it is more subtle and varied. Other than the glass you may serve it in, alcohol-free wine is not your average wine.
The future looks light
Mocktails and zero-alcohol beers are very much accepted today. In comparison, alcohol-free wine is a small yet fast growing category, aligned to more innovative production methods and passionate winemakers. This growth trajectory is unlike anything the wine world has seen and has taken many by surprise, with producers racing to get on the bandwagon.
The trend to drink less or not at all is thought to be led by Millennials and Gen-Zs, however older adults see it as a more responsible way to live and socialise, as much as for health reasons as a way to regulate their drinking options.
The trend is moving towards moderation, of alternating between alcohol and alcohol-free occasions. Offering a stylish option on alcohol-free days is now a reality with sophisticated brands offering grown-up, premium alcohol-free wines that pair just as well with a celebration as they do with food.