The idea of low alcohol or non-alcoholic beverages has been around for a good thirty or forty years. The problem in the early days was that the range of drinks available, as well as their quality, left a lot to be desired. Today, with better winemaking processes and greater public demand driving developments, things are certainly beginning to change... It’s now much easier to find both low alcohol and non-alcoholic wines - and the quality really has improved. Let's have a look.
How non-alcoholic wine is made
The challenge for vintners is to retain the flavour, balance and texture of a wine while removing most - if not all - of the alcohol. The traditional method was to ferment the wine for less time or remove the alcohol through heating and then add sugar and various artificial flavourings, something that didn’t do much for the quality of the final product. Many companies now use a spinning cone process where the wine, once matured in the normal way, is put through a centrifugal process that draws out a layer of wine. This layer is then mixed with nitrogen to protect the original aroma and taste. The rest of the liquid is then heated to remove the alcohol before it is recombined with the flavoursome layer. This can be an expensive process and may require two or three passes before the alcohol is fully removed but is a lot more effective than the older, traditional ways of producing non-alcoholic wine. Another method uses slow evaporation which is a bit like boiling to get rid of the alcohol but at a much lower temperature. The problem with this approach is that it again dampens down the aroma and taste of the wine so that additives are often required.
Is low alcohol wine different?
While the process for making a non-alcoholic wine can be quite invasive and will generally have an impact on the taste and texture you get from the bottle, there is a growing consumer popularity for what are termed low alcohol wines. There has been a trend for higher levels of alcohol in wine over the last decade or so with ABV levels of up to 14%. Many vintners are now producing lower levels at around 9.5% for the more health conscious consumer, making bottles that retain their quality and flavour better than non-alcoholic wines. Of course, you can find many wines that go much lower than this. For example, you can get a Pinot Grigio that has only 5% alcohol or the odd Rawson’s Retreat label that comes in under 0.5%.
Low alcohol or no-alcohol wine - which is the best?
In general, low alcohol wines tend to taste better than purely non-alcoholic vintages that have had some invasive manufacturing techniques used for their production. By far the best non-alcoholic wines tend to be the ones which have used the spinning cone process and you might be surprised how good they taste. As with anything to do with wine, it all comes down to personal preference and what you are actually looking for. You may simply want to reduce your alcohol intake but still enjoy a good drink of wine with your evening meal. Our tip is to keep an open mind and trust your taste buds rather than get overly hung up on the lack of alcohol content. It’s all too easy to dismiss non-alcoholic wine as ‘grape juice in a glass’ and you may be surprised by the quality of the products on the market today. Have a look at our selection of non-alcoholic wines today.