It’s time to take another look at non-alcoholic (NA) wines because the category is exploding with seriously drinkable choices.
It may have started with Dry January as a reaction to holiday binging, but since the onslaught of pandemic drinking, the number of sober and “sober curious” has also increased. Drinking culture is changing rapidly and non-alcoholic products have stepped in to serve the change. I find the category of NA wines especially interesting as they allow those who choose not to accompany their meals or pre-prandial snacks with an alcoholic beverage to still experience the flavor profile of wine, that glorious ancient beverage. For those who might want to take a break from alcohol for meals or parties, I think it’s especially useful during the holidays to have a delicious alternative on hand.
I stopped drinking wine 30 years ago because I reacted so poorly to it. Wine takes me from drinking to having a hangover in minutes. I couldn’t have imagined the day when I could accompany a carefully curated meal with a glass of a beverage that was an analog to wine. It was the non-alcoholic beverage pairing at Kato that blew my mind and opened my eyes to a whole range of wine counterparts that are fascinatingly drinkable. I ended up interviewing Kato Bar Manager Austin Hennelly for Good Food, so he was the first person I reached out to for recommendations.
There are two primary categories of no-alcohol wine alternatives. There is dealcoholized wine, and there is juice that is blended to create the tannins expected in wine, as well as flavors that are more complex than simply sweet grape juice. Dealcoholized wine starts as wine, but then it undergoes a technical process that removes the ethanol. Of course removing the alcohol also removes a large part of a wine flavor profile, so wines that are headed for dealcoholization are carefully considered so that the flavors, texture, and tannic qualities still work.
Jillian Barkley of the non-alcoholic bottle shop Soft Spirits says, “It seems more ‘serious’ winemakers have taken interest in the product and made advancements in the dealcoholization process to better preserve the flavor and body. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and we’ve been able to convert even the most skeptical shoppers who expect it will ‘just taste like juice,’ as many of them say.”
She also says, “Non-alcoholic wines have come a long way, but unfortunately still have a bad reputation as early versions weren't great. As a general rule I don’t sell anything I wouldn’t drink myself, and when I opened the store in 2021, there were only a handful of wines I felt confident carrying. Over the course of a year, the NA wine category has exploded and now makes up about half of our inventory.”
Soft Spirits now carries over 75 non-alcoholic wine options. About half are alcohol-removed wines, and the others are “wine alternatives,” which are not-traditional wine flavors but serve as a quality stand-in for the wine occasion.
Look to local non-alcoholic bottle shops for many New Year’s sparkling recommendations.
Austin Hennelly recommendations:
-Leitz, Ein Zwei Zero, Sparkling Riesling: This is one of the best Riesling producers in the Rheingau wine region in Germany. Johannes Leitz makes one of the most focused and crisp alcohol-free wines. Flavors: Lemon pith, lime, red apple, and tons of minerality. It’s on nearly everyone’s list.
-Domaine Des Grottes, L'Antidonte: Gamay juice from just south of Brouilly in Beaujolais is steeped with 15 herbs as well as black tea, and then blended with heirloom apple juice before it's carbonated. This is the perfect drink for a holiday meal.
-Studio Null, Prickly Red: This is a blend of Tempranillo and Syrah from Tierra de Toledo, Spain. It’s the best example of a dealcoholized red wine on the market. It retains the structural balance of acidity and tannin that one wants in a full-bodied red.
Jillian Barkley recommendations:
Local shops specializing in non-alcoholic beverages: