What is non-alcoholic wine, how is alcohol-free wine made, and where to find the best non-alcoholic wines in Australia – all your questions, answered.
It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but it won’t give you a hangover the next day – no matter how much you drink. Enter non-alcoholic wines: an increasingly popular way to enjoy a glass of red, white or rosé without the calories and other after-effects of when you drink alcohol.
Alcohol-free beverages may still comprise a mere fraction of the industry – experts put it at about 3.5 per cent, but that figure is rising quickly. The “sober curious” movement, with a growing desire for alternatives to alcohol options, is gaining traction with events like FebFast and Dry July helping to raise awareness, as well as increasing interest in health and wellness.
NielsenIQ found a 315 per cent increase in online non-alcoholic and low-alcoholic beverage dollar sales in the latest 12 months and, according to market research company Fact.MR, Australia is heralded as the most lucrative market for non-alcoholic wine in the world.
So if you’re keen to join the sans drinks movement, here are five key things about non-alcoholic wine it would help to know about.
Alcohol-free wine isn’t just grape juice. Non-alcoholic wine is actually made in the same way as any other wine, before the alcohol is removed by one of two processes: vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis. Vacuum distillation involves putting the wine in a vacuum and then gently heating it to evaporate the alcohol, at no higher than 35°C. Winemakers say that because the temperature is so low, the flavour is not lost, but others prefer to use reverse osmosis instead. This process is a bit more expensive and complicated; strong pressure is used to filter the wine through a membrane to create two liquids, a very condensed wine and a liquid that is part alcohol and part water. The second liquid is heated to remove the alcohol, then added back to the first liquid, along with more water to increase the volume.
When looking for a non-alcohol wine option in the bottle shop, keep an eye out for two phrases on the bottle: “alcohol-removed” or “dealcoholised wine”.
Is there any such thing as truly non-alcoholic wine? Perhaps not. It’s worth bearing in mind that non-alcoholic wine doesn’t mean zero alcohol; to be considered (and marketed) as non-alcoholic, wine should have an ABV of just 0.5 percent – the same as a bottle of kombucha!
As for its taste, most people describe non-alcoholic red wine as oaky, but quite different to your normal glass of, say, merlot or cabernet sauvignon. An alcohol-free glass of white can have notes of pear and citrus, and non-alcoholic sparkling wine is generally considered to be the closest match to its alcoholic counterpart.
And is non-alcoholic wine bad for you? Alcohol-free brands naturally tout the benefits of the drink: it tends to have fewer calories, is less dehydrating, and of course has a lower ABV content. However, some alcohol-removed wines can also have a lot more carbohydrates than regular wine, so it really depends. Interestingly, research comparing the benefits of alcoholic and non-alcoholic wine on heart health has shown that both can have positive effects.
So, when was non-alcoholic wine first invented? It was the late nineteenth century and winemaker Maria Jung was travelling across Germany to sell wine to her customers, so the story goes. But many of them began to refuse her offerings, citing doctor’s orders to concentrate on their health. She took these reports back to her family business, and her son decided to do something about it. In 1908, Carl Jung filed a patent for his dealcoholisation process – the first in the world American minister and dentist Dr Thomas Bramwell Welch was another of the first inventors of non-alcoholic wine. In 1869 he pasteurised grape juice to produce an alcohol-free wine that could be used for Communion.
Some of the best non-alcoholic wines in Australia don’t break the budget. McGuigan Wines took two years to develop their range of zero-alcohol wines, using a spinning cone technology, whereby alcohol is removed at low temperatures after the fermentation process, which helps to keep their fruity flavour. Their range of zero-alcohol wines, at just AU$10 each, includes a sparkling shiraz, a sparkling white, rosé, and sauvignon blanc.
A bottle of Plus & Minus’s pinot grigio, is also an affordable way to try alcohol-free wine, and they offer a non-alcoholic red wine too, a pinot noir that has aromas of red fruits and dried herbs, both of which clock in at well under $20. The Australian wine brand has concentrated its attentions on creating a range of wines that are rich in antioxidants from the grape skin extract (GSE) added during the winemaking process.
Does non-alcoholic wine really have to be stored in the fridge? Yes, its shelf life is a lot shorter. Unlike alcoholic wines, both reds and whites should be kept in the fridge once they’re opened to preserve them for as long as possible, which experts say is about five days typically. Unopened, bottles can last for around one to two years.