Rod Byers: What’s wrong with non-alcoholic wine?
I was staring at six non-alcoholic wines in front of me, including sparkling chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc, rosé, merlot and tempranillo. The wines, representing five different countries, were supposedly some of the best. They ranged in price from mid to high teens but by the time I paid tax and shipping the average price was $22.78.
The first thing I noticed was that while they looked very much like wine bottles, the labels didn’t. In order to be considered wine, a product must contain a minimum of 7% alcohol. These do not. In fact, to be non-alcoholic they must contain less than 0.05%. Consequently they are registered as foods.
If you have ever wondered what ingredient labeling might look like on a wine bottle, look at a non-alcoholic bottle. They list serving quantities, calories, proteins, sugars, ingredients, they even offer a good-until date. There is no requirement, as there is on a wine bottle, to list where the grapes are from.
The simplest way to remove alcohol is heat it off. Cheap and easy but it destroys the resulting product. Consequently they have learned, using vacuum distillation, how to heat the wine as little as possible in order to preserve aromatics but still remove the alcohol.
The other technique is reverse osmosis where they separate the components through filtration and then recombine the parts they want, leaving out the alcohol.
Unfortunately, there is something that happens when you take the alcohol out of the wine. It takes away the body, the feel of the wine through the mid-palate. It becomes the consistency of water.
In order to create mid-palate mouthfeel, they add sugar. Says so right on the label; how many grams per serving, just like a box of cereal. But the sugar makes it too sweet so they add acidity to offset the sugar making it appear less sweet. It is a liquid form of sweet tarts.
Another issue is that while they do capture aromatics, they are one-dimensional and simple offering no sense of complexity. What you see is what you get. There is very little unfolding and opening in the glass.
Overall grade: C. As far as replicating a wine-drinking experience, holding a glass of non-alcoholic wine could be a good solution for a number of situations. If having a glass of wine with dinner is a favored ritual, then ya, it could work there. While they are certainly drinkable they are not enough better than juice to justify the higher price.
Where they could be really useful is when you have already had more than you should and yet, just one more glass would be nice.
Everybody knows that is not the time to be popping your best wines. In fact, cracking an non-alcoholic would be smart. If you didn’t know, at that point in the evening, you might not notice. You would just think it not very good wine and maybe a little sweet.
Here is a quick review from my most to least preferred.
Noughty Sparkling Chardonnay, Germany.
$19.99. Tart, dryish-tasting and fizzy with green apple aromas. Big bubbles give it needed body, something missing in non-alcoholic wines.
Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Riesling, Germany.
$17.99. Most varietal, with lime and floral notes. Nice balance of sweet tartness. If you think of it as juice, pretty good. If you think of it as wine, it’s a texture problem with the consistency of water. Still, the best ‘wine’ of the lot.
Pierre Zero Rosé, France.
$18.99. Tutti-fruity aromas of melon and green apple, like apple-berry Kool-Aid. Pleasant in that sweet, tart, and juicy Kool-Aid way.
Giesen, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand. $15.99. Varietal notes of lemon grass and citrus. The driest of all the wines (still not dry) could have used a bit more sweetness to balance the sharp acidity. The wine fails from lack of body ending up tasting like sour juice.
Vin Zero Merlot, Belgium.
$14.99. Sour pickle and black tea aromas. Sweet and tart. The sweetness of the rosé was refreshing. Here in a red wine it just seems out of place without succeeding in creating body.
Lussory, Tempranillo, Spain.
$16.99. Similar unpleasant aromatics as the Merlot. It fails as wine. Sour, with a sweet finish. Juice would be better.
Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-802-7172
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