Here’s an issue not many drinkers consider: what if you do like wine but for some reason cannot drink alcohol? It’s not only intriguing because Christmas and New Years are right around the corner, but there are also those whom for one reason or the other are not allowed or perhaps choose to avoid drinking any alcohol at all.
Not even wine?! Tough break. Most people will be familiar with non-alcoholic beer, cider and cocktails, but what alternatives are there to wine?
I could imagine that non-alcoholic drinkers probably wished that unfermented juices of wine grape varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir tasted like wine, but unfortunately they don’t. They are what they are: fruit juices. Solution? Use the grapes to make wine and then remove the alcohol. This is already being done to many common wines on the market to correct either the taste or style, or to meet the wine’s ABV percentage requirement. Completely dealcoholised wines however don’t seem to be so popular. So why is that?
Well for starters, alcohol is the second most important component in wine after water. It is responsible for the roundness, texture, bouquet and tannins of every wine. Removing the alcohol results in a less complex wine, often lacking flavour, aromas and balance. Despite the loss of “authenticity”, artificially lowering the alcohol levels in wine has plenty of health benefits. Non-alcoholic wines have the same amount of polyphenols as their regular predecessors, which chemicals act as antioxidants. Also, they contain less calories, which characteristics combined are beneficial for cellular and cardiovascular health.
So it all comes down to how much you love wine and what types you prefer. In reds the alcohol plays a more important role than in whites as it balances out the higher acidic levels given by the skin of the grapes used in the production. Removing the "key element" (aka alcohol), you're doomed to be left with a beverage which has little to do with red wine. Whites on the other hand don't get effected to the same degree when removing the alcohol. So generally speaking, whites make the adjustment of lowering the alcohol levels to below 0.5% ABV better than reds. If you like a full bodied Cabernet or a classic Shiraz, I’m afraid you’ll be a bit disappointed with the taste of the non-alcoholic version. On the other hand, adapting to non-alcoholic whites and sparklings should be much easier for most wine drinkers.
Some wineries are known to balance what’s left after removing the alcohol (which is basically water, sugar and acid) better than others. The most recognised producer of dealcoholised wine, Ariel, is located in Napa Valley, California.
Ariel lists plenty of medals on its website and claims to be the only producer which won a gold medal in a blind tasting against wines with alcohol. You’ll have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to find out that their proud moment took place back in 1986. Nevertheless, Ariel’s Cabernet Sauvignon is supposed to be one of the best dealcoholised red around from what I’ve read. This American red is fermented and aged in the traditional method, but just prior to bottling the alcohol is removed by cold filtration. Each bottle usually sells for just $9 USD in the States, but as you must have guessed it already, here in Oz we pay almost double for it at $15-$18 a bottle. Currently NonAlcWines.com.au lists the best price at $15.35.
Blue Nun is another recognised producer of non-alcoholic wine, their whites priced between a bottle are pretty decent. As Blue Nun is a German winery, I would recommend to try their soft and fruity white blend from the Rhine Valley containing around 0.2% ABV. You can find Blue Nun’s white at many Australian wine stores, including Dan Murphy’s for around $11-$12 a bottle. Although NonAlcWines again slightly beats the market prices, you’ll need to buy a case of 12 and pay $15 in shipping, so you would be better off heading over to Dan’s. There you’ll be able to buy a single bottle for $11.99 or a case of six for $67.50 (or $11.40 a bottle).
And if you wish to support the local wine industry even if you’re not a drinker, your best bet is to go for one of the Edenvale wines. Edenvale offers three types of alcohol removed Australian wine: Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sparkling Cuvee. Their Cuvee seems to be the most popular of the three amongst consumers, making it to the Top 100 products in 2013 at Dan Murphy’s online, where you can get this Cuvee for just $8.50 in any six. Even Woolworths have lowered the price of this non-alcoholic sparkling wine before the holidays, selling it for the same price of $8.50 vs. their original and Coles’ current $10+ a bottle price.