With an ever-increasing number of people taking part in seasonal events like Dry January and resolving to make lifestyle changes – there’s a demand for de-alcoholized wine that intrigues the palate just as much as their alcoholic counterparts. It's not just Dry January initiatives sparking sales of no- and low-alcohol wine; consumers have helped spur the impressive growth of the category year-round, as evidenced by the sheer breadth of quality products now available. Rising consumer demand has even helped create the Adult Non-Alcoholic Beverage Association (ANBA), launched in December of 2021 to provide assets and resources to businesses across the category, from producers to wholesalers.
In the past, non-alcoholic wine seemed an anathema and devoid of flavor. Now we are beginning to see complex options, the use of quality grapes from storied varieties and terroirs, and the use of aging and occasionally oak. Further, recent advancements in de-alcoholizing technology have helped to revolutionize the no- and low-alcohol wine market.
Making no- and low-alcohol wine is a challenging undertaking. Wine’s flavor begins with the fermentation of grape juice and is supported by a sizeable amount of alcohol as its by-product. Thus, the challenge of making low- and no-alcohol wine is about removing the alcohol without impairing mouthfeel, balance, and quality. Fortunately, methods for reducing the alcohol content of wine, or indeed taking it out altogether, have become much more sophisticated, resulting in more balanced and flavorful bottlings.
It’s important to distinguish between alcohol-free wines and de-alcoholized, or alcohol-removed, wines, which taste closer to their traditional alcoholic counterpart. De-alcoholized wines are those made through the regular vinification process rather than some alcohol-free wines, which are often just unfermented grape juice. Many alcohol-removed wines will still have a tiny amount of alcohol left over, but usually no higher than 0.5 percent “abv” or alcohol by volume.
There are several conventional methods used for alcohol-removed wines. Vacuum distillation is perhaps the most popular technique to remove alcohol from wine. The distillation process is carried out under reduced pressure, significantly lowering ethanol’s boiling point. The lower temperature means that alcohol evaporates before all volatile compounds are boiled off, leaving a lower-abv wine whose flavors and aromas are closer to the original product.
The spinning cone method follows a similar theme but uses inverted cones and centrifugal forces to de-alcoholize the wine through multiple rounds of low-temperature evaporation and condensation. Volatile compounds can then be blended into the wine later, adding back to the aromas and flavor.
Another method is reverse osmosis, which filters out water and alcohol. In this process, winemakers use extremely high pressure to force the wine against a membrane so fine only water and alcohol can seep through it. They repeat this process until the wine becomes a concentrate. Water is then added back into the concentrate to create the alcohol-free wine.
While quality is improving thanks to these methods, white and sparkling wines generally tend to be more successful than red at this juncture. We often expect complex flavors and full body with red wines. That's harder to achieve when you strip alcohol away. White wines tend towards the more crisp, high-acid spectrum—once you remove the alcohol, you're still left with a satisfying, refreshing sip. Sparkling wines, with their effervescence providing texture, are often even more successful.
Another reason to jump on the de-alcoholized bandwagon is that alcohol-free wines contain substantially fewer calories than alcoholic wines and no more hangovers! With that in mind, here are some of my favorites for your dry January — though they deserve to be sipped all year long. Pour yourself a glass and enjoy!
"Eins Zwei Zero" Sparkling Riesling Alcohol-Free, Leitz: One of the best de-alcoholized wines I have ever tried. Eins Zwei Zero Sparkling Riesling offers the same fresh taste as their still Riesling, but with bubbles. A bit of residual sugar carries the flavors of peach, apricot, and fresh apples, yet the acidity offsets the sweetness and makes for a refreshing, clean wine.
French Bloom “Le Rosé”: Le Rosé offers crisp minerality and freshness with white peach and apricot notes alongside cherry, candied orange, and rose petals. Sharp and tart, this is utterly quaffable.
Giesen 0 Dealcoholized Sauvignon Blanc: This crisp, citrus-forward Sauvignon Blanc has delicious notes of fresh lime, lemon shortbread, and passionfruit. Finishes dry with juicy brightness.
Noughty Dealcoholized Sparkling Rosé, Thomson & Scott: This non-alcoholic sparkling rosé is made from Tempranillo. It is sent from Spain to Germany to be de-alcoholized. It is just a touch off-dry, with delightful acidity.
Buzzkill - Non-Alcoholic Sauvignon Blanc: This California-based and women-owned brand crafts a vibrant and thirst-quenching canned de-alcoholized Sauvignon Blanc with notes of lemongrass, lime, guava, and citrus.
Studio Null Blanc Burgunder Dealcoholized Wine: The Blanc Burgunder is made with hand-harvested Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc grapes from Germany’s Nahe region capture a crisp, tropical fruit taste.
Sovi Red Blend: This California-based canned wine brand first went to the market with a delicious alcohol-free canned Rosé. However, their red blend is a real stand-out and drinks like a great Lambrusco with juicy notes of black raspberry, cherry, vanilla, and a touch of bright acidity.