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No and Low Alcohol Wines
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No and Low Alcohol Wines

Alcohol-Free wine: What is it, who’s drinking it and is it something we’ll see more of? Erica Baker-Vilain, Tanners Cellars Shop Manager, gives us some insight into this burgeoning industry.

Over the last month, I’ve been attempting to write the final part of my WSET Diploma qualification which is a research assignment on a pre-determined topic: ‘No and Low-alcohol “wine”’. As you may imagine, I wasn’t thrilled to receive this brief, as a lover of traditional wine – without the ominous inverted commas. Pleasingly, whilst researching the topic, it became much more interesting than I had anticipated. So, what is ‘alcohol-free’ wine? In the UK ‘alcohol-free’ drinks can only have up to 0.05% abv and ‘low alcohol’ is categorised as less than 1.2% abv, whereas elsewhere, for example in Finland, ‘alcohol-free’ means as high as 2.8% abv – about the same as a sturdy lager shandy.

‘Alcohol-free’ wine as it turns out, is difficult to make and even harder to make well. The processes vary, but they tend to involve some sort of distillation of the original wine. The high temperatures involved denature aromatic compounds and can add dusty, hay-like flavours to the final product; as such, producers are constantly looking to improve on these methods and some have seen success. Vacuum distillation (which uses a lower boiling point) is the current buzz- technique and, as long as the wine going into the machine is half-decent, the dealcoholized juice coming out the other end isn’t bad either, with the best examples managing to retain some fruit character and even texture. These machines cost upwards of £1 million though, so it’s not something all producers can aspire to.

Alcohol is an essential component in quality wines – it adds body and a slight perception of sweetness which brings about balance. It is this which de-alcoholised versions struggle to imitate, not forgetting the loss and damage of aromas. The poorest examples can be astringent, one dimensional or just cloyingly sweet (sugar is often added to replicate the mouthfeel of the alcohol). Greater success can be achieved with sparkling wine, mainly because less complexity is required and CO2 contributes texture to compensate for the missing alcohol; in addition, there is often less alcohol to remove in the first place.

So, why are wine companies pouring billions into these technologies to fundamentally alter one of the oldest and most successful drinks known to man? World alcohol consumption is declining due to, among other things, a better understanding of the health risks associated with excessive drinking. Nobody is more aware of this than the younger generations; according to NHS data, 63% of the UK population aged over 55 drinks some alcohol at least once a week, compared to the same proportion of 18-25s not drinking alcohol at all. Therefore, to help the wine industry thrive, or indeed stay alive, dealcoholisation could be the way forward. As you might imagine, we have tasted a lot of such wines and as it stands, the only ones to have made the cut are the Natureo range from top Spanish producer Torres, a white, rosé and red made with naturally aromatic grapes to help mitigate against the loss of aromas. These come in at 0% abv and are handy if you want to have a couple of nights off in the week. We have also added a premium pink fizz to the range, So Jennie. This is not dealcoholised but, rather comes from concentrated grape must and is naturally alcohol free with zero added sugar, perfect for an indulgent afternoon tea. If a technique is developed which flawlessly captures the aroma and texture of wine, it could be a game-changer. Retaining the ability to communicate terroir whilst eradicating alcohol could even light a new pathway for wine and ignite a new flame under the industry, a saving grace as changing attitudes cast doubt over the future of the behemoth that is the wine trade.



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