The term “non-alcoholic wine” is as interesting as most oxymorons. It may sound confusing to the untrained ear, given that wine is an alcoholic beverage, so adding “non-alcoholic” as a modifier may be interpreted as just fancy juice.
The truth is non-alcoholic wines do exist, and they involve a complicated and often expensive process after traditional winemaking. Non-alcoholic wine is made with fermented wine, with its alcohol removed and flavor compounds retained. The result tastes like wine but doesn’t give hangovers to the drinker.
Read on if you want to explore how non-alcoholic wines are made and how to enjoy them!
Different Processes to Make Non-Alcoholic Wine
Non-alcoholic wine begins as an alcoholic drink and involves an extensive and laborious process. Extracting ethanol while retaining the wine’s tastes and aromas can be tricky, but it is possible with the following techniques.
Patented Vacuum Distillation of Carl Jung – Image by Smithsonian Mag
According to Chaira Gomiero, founder and writer of Handy Wine Guide, “Vacuum distillation method aims to remove the alcohol by evaporation. This is not too dissimilar conceptually from boiling water, but it’s done at a much lower temperature.”
Ethanol has a boiling point of approximately 173° F, while other volatile compounds, like esters, have about 170° F.
When heat is introduced, those other compounds responsible for giving the wine its flavors and aromas evaporate together with the alcohol. To remedy this, winemakers put the wine in a distillation column, then place it in a chamber or vacuum.
This container allows the wine to have a lower boiling point of around 86 °F to 95° F. Then, they heat the chamber using steam to evaporate the alcohol while retaining most of the wine’s flavors.
However, even with the reduced temperature, some volatile compounds are still eliminated during the wine’s initial journey through the chamber. This is why those elements are added to the wine after the alcohol is extracted to restore its complexities.
This method is sustainable because the extracted alcohol can be used for other products. St. Regis is a notable brand that uses the vacuum distillation method.
Reverse Osmosis or Filtration
Reverse Osmosis Process – Image by Wine Folly
Reverse osmosis utilizes pressure, allowing the wine to go through a semipermeable membrane or filter. This sheet has small holes that only the tiniest and lightest compounds of the wine, which are water and alcohol, can pass through.
Some key wine components, such as phenolic and organic acids, have a larger molecular weight, so they get caught by the filter. These acids modify the wine’s texture and other desirable qualities and smell that contribute to a good bottle.
The filtration takes about two to four rounds to separate the wine into two mixtures fully: the alcohol and water blend and a highly concentrated wine with an ABV (alcohol by volume) of less than 0.5%. The alcohol is then distilled, thereby separating the alcohol from the water.
Furthermore, the concentrated wine from the other side of the filter is diluted with the separated water to achieve the desired flavor.
Reverse osmosis-produced wines offer close flavors and fragrances that regular wines have. This advanced filtration system is the method of choice for most companies/brands, including Ariel.
The downside is that this process uses too much water and is expensive. The extracted ethanol is also too diluted to be reused.
Spinning Cone Columns
ConeTech’s Spinning Cone Column – Image by Wine Industry Network
This technique employs centrifugal force and is perhaps the most effective in retaining the wine’s flavors and aromas and stripping the alcohol.
The equipment used in this method is a spinning column that measures 40 inches in diameter and 13 feet in height and a series of inverted metal cones, half of which are fixed (stationary) and the other half spins (rotary).
At a low temperature, wine is gradually poured into the top of the spinning column, then flows down the first stationary cone and proceeds into the first rotary cone. As the cones spin, this motion creates a thin layer of the wine and then continuously moves down to the next set of cones.
As the wine is fed from the top of the spinning column, a stripping gas (usually nitrogen) is fed from the column’s bottom and moves upward. It comes into contact with the wine to carefully extract the volatile aromatic and flavor compounds and prevent oxidation. These compounds are then condensed and stored.
In the second run through the cones, the actual dealcoholization process takes place. It’s done at a higher temperature, so the alcohol separates from the wine, reducing the ABV to 0.5% or lower. The vapor moves upward while the dealcoholized wine flows downward.
Finally, the compounds collected in the first run are added to the dealcoholized wine to restore the wine’s complexities.
Many winemakers, such as Giesen, Fre, Pierre Chavin, and Edenvale, favor the spinning cone technology because it involves different extraction stages at varying temperatures to carefully extract the flavors and aromas and strip the alcohol efficiently.
What Does Non-Alcoholic Wine Taste Like?
Whether red or white, non-alcoholic wine boasts a pleasant dryness that makes mouths pucker. It has deep and complex tastes beyond grapes and aromas that make the drinker want more. These sensations are carried out thanks to ethanol, one of wine’s most prevalent volatile molecules.
The essence of non-alcoholic wine is that its alcohol content is reduced so low that the drinker can’t detect it, and doesn’t make them drunk. However, this also means some of the wine’s aromas and flavors will not be as pronounced as those from standard wine.
Dealcoholization can also remove some of the wine’s tannins, responsible for the bitter taste and texture that gives it body.
Despite some of the best qualities being stripped down along with the alcohol, you’ll be pleased to know that many non-alcoholic wines still offer similar dryness, aromas, and flavors, making them just as enjoyable. Even non-alcoholic red wines have a full body, contributing to a pleasant mouthfeel when drinking.
Another way of compensating for a non-alcoholic wine’s body is by adding carbon dioxide. Sparkling dealcoholized wines give a mouthfeel closely similar to their alcoholic counterpart. The bubbles offer a freshness that makes the drink rich and round.
You may also notice that some non-alcoholic wines taste sweeter. This is because some wineries add flavorings or sweeteners to adjust the wine’s taste in place of the removed alcohol. However, this doesn’t always work well because the drink ends up tasting less like wine and more like juice.
The key to enjoying non-alcoholic wine is to have a positive attitude towards it and manage your expectations. Appreciate the pleasant qualities reminiscent of regular wine and acknowledge that the dealcoholized version is a different product.
How to Know if You’re Buying Real Non-Alcoholic Wine
Bottle of Giesen dealcoholized wine and a wine glass – Image by Inspired Edibles
If you’re planning to pick up a bottle of non-alcoholic wine, what do you look for on the label? If you’re not careful, you may end up choosing unfermented grape juice labeled as alcohol-free.
According to the American FDA (Food and Drug Administration), a bottle of wine labeled as “non-alcoholic” can’t have more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. This threshold also applies to the term “dealcoholized.”
The difference between the two is that “non-alcoholic” is a general term that could be applied to soft drinks and juices with less than or equal to 0.5% ABV. On the other hand, “dealcoholized” emphasizes that the liquid underwent vinification before removing the alcohol.
Furthermore, “alcohol-free” is defined as having no detectable alcohol, ranging from 0% to 0.05%. And drinks with less than 1.2% alcohol by volume are called “low alcohol.”
These rules are consistent with those in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
To be sure that you’re choosing real non-alcoholic wine, check the label to see if it has the term “dealcoholized” or “alcohol-removed.” If it only says “non-alcoholic,” you can further check the numerical labels or the alcohol percentage.
Be careful with those labeled “alcohol-free” because they may be grape juices. If you want to be certain, check the bottle because some brands summarize their alcohol-removing process on the back label.
Is Non-Alcoholic Wine Bad for Your Liver?
Diane Kuthy, the founder of Sandpoint Soda, states, “I would compare non-alcoholic wine, which has been fermented but has had the alcohol removed, to other non-alcoholic drinks such as Kombucha or Ginger Bug sodas. While these drinks do contain low levels of alcohol, the amounts are so small that they do not put stress on the liver or other organs.”
So, if you have liver conditions but want to drink wine, you can try non-alcoholic versions. These wines may also have other benefits, like preventing heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
How to Enjoy Non-Alcoholic Wine
Just because non-alcoholic wine doesn’t have alcohol anymore doesn’t mean it is less sophisticated. It can still be served in formal events like weddings, housewarming parties, and other big occasions. And because it is inclusive, it can cater to people who may have restrictions, like drivers and pregnant people.
You can immediately pour your favorite non-alcoholic wine into a glass or decant it first like you would with alcoholic wine. You can also do the standard routine of wine drinking, such as swirling the glass, smelling the surface of the wine, and letting it stay in the mouth for a few seconds to taste all the flavors.
You can also improve the flavors if you think it needs an extra boost. Try adding a few drops of aromatic bitters to give the wine that bite it is known for. Although bitters are alcoholic, a few drops would contain virtually no alcohol. If you have no bitters, non-alcoholic versions of vermouth and Amaro will also work.
Another technique for improving non-alcoholic wine is to add a few drops of vinegar to make it more acidic and to balance the sweetness. Try balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar for reds and apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar for whites.
Non-alcoholic wines can also be used as an ingredient for mocktails, such as sangria and spritz. You can use the normal recipe for these drinks or adjust the taste with lemon juice, syrups, sparkling water, etc., to your liking.
How to Store Non-Alcoholic Wine
Storing non-alcoholic wine is pretty much the same as the alcoholic version. It should be kept in a cold, dark place like a wine refrigerator, a cellar, or a wine cabinet. Storing and chilling the wine also requires the same temperature range for alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.
Alcohol is a known natural preservative in wine, and its absence means that non-alcoholic wines have a shorter lifespan than regular wine. We recommend properly sealing the bottle, returning it to the fridge, and trying to finish it within 3 to 5 days.
One of the signs to determine if a wine has gone bad is the shift in color due to prolonged exposure to air. Don’t drink non-alcoholic white wine if it turns somewhat cloudy gold and non-alcoholic red wine if it turns brown.
On the other hand, unopened non-alcoholic wines can only last for a year or two, depending on the type. You can check the label for expiration dates to be sure.
Can You Make Non-Alcoholic Wine at Home?
Making wine at home is easy with the best wine-making kits. However, removing the alcohol at home so that the flavor compounds are retained is not doable, at least at the moment.
Quality non-alcoholic wine production needs specialized tools and knowledge. Even though the alcohol can be removed by boiling, this does not ensure that the resulting wine will taste good.
When boiled, wine removes a significant amount of its alcohol content but also loses its flavor. The characteristics of the fresh fruit will take on a “cooked” aroma and flavor, and the wine will become somewhat more syrupy as time passes.
What Foods Pair Well with Non-Alcoholic Wine?
Pairing non-alcoholic wine with food involves complementing flavors like any other beverage. Here are some suggestions for different wine types.
- Non-Alcoholic Red Wine: The deep and oaky flavors of red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot, pair well with lamb, roast beef, pork chops, and grilled tuna, or other hearty dishes, like pasta.
- Non-Alcoholic White Wine: For the light flavor of white wines, we suggest vegetable dishes, light poultry meals, or seafood such as oysters, halibut, clams, or cod. Seafood matches with non-alcoholic Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, while non-alcoholic Moscato and Riesling are best with sweet fruit-based desserts.
- Non-Alcoholic Rosé: Dealcoholized rosé is best served with anything grilled, such as fish or chicken, or a charcuterie board for an unforgettable meal. Rosé is usually enjoyed during summer, but you can have it anytime.
- Non-Alcoholic Champagne or Sparkling Wine: For anyone planning to enjoy the holiday celebration completely sober, you may do so with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne or sparkling wine. Champagne pairs well with various kinds of cheese, shellfish, biscuits, desserts, and even buttered popcorn!
Non-Alcoholic Sangria: Sangria is an alcoholic drink traditionally made from wine and has roots in Spain and Portugal. Some variants do not contain alcohol and are created using fruit and non-alcoholic wine.
You can drink non-alcoholic sangria on its own or pair it with a pasta dish with a creamy sauce. On the other hand, red sangria goes particularly well with steak and the classic tapas of Spain. For sweeter sangrias, spicy foods are a match made in heaven.
Does Non-Alcoholic Wine Expire?
Non-alcoholic wines expire, like many beverages. The shelf life of most dealcoholized wines is between 1 and 2 years if the bottles are not opened.
As mentioned above, non-alcoholic wines will start to degrade anywhere from 1 to 5 days after opening, depending on the type and storage conditions.
Do Non-Alcoholic Wines Give You Headaches?
Since non-alcoholic wines contain tannins, histamines, and added sugar in some bottles, they can still cause headaches to the drinker. To remedy this, drink a glass of water or eat food before indulging in wine.
Taking extra measures to remove alcohol in wine has good and bad sides. While the taste falls short compared to alcoholic wine, its non-alcoholic status reaches a bigger market and helps people follow a healthier lifestyle.
If you are fond of wine, it’s understandable to have an adjusting period when trying non-alcoholic wines. In time, we hope you appreciate it and the effort it takes to make it.
Are you excited to try non-alcoholic wines? Tell us about your experience in the comments.