Alcohol-Free Wine

An ad for alcohol-free wines caught my I eye while reading a recent publication from the liquor store.  The ad promoted the wine as a great alternative for designated drivers, moms-to-be, or those just looking to abstain from alcohol. 

Not having seen alcohol-free wine before (I either don’t get out enough or don’t pay enough attention) I decided to investigate further.

Low and no-alcohol wines are something of an enigma since legally they don’t exist.  In order for a beverage to be called ‘wine’ it is required to contain a minimum of 8% alcohol by volume unless specifically exempted.

The subject of low and no alcohol wine tends to generate heated opinion. Traditionalists say it is a needless atrocity while others see it as an exciting part of wine’s future. Many criticize the lacklustre quality of these beverages from examples to date.

There’s also a lack of clarity about what ‘low and no alcohol’ actually means. Much has been written about ‘lower-alcohol’ wines (those containing between 6% to 11% alcohol by volume) but less on wines of 0.5% alcohol by volume or less. There are indications that this category is gaining increased focus from producers, retailers and wine drinkers.

As with the introduction of selling wine in cans for summertime consumption, the Europeans are leading the way with the development of alcohol-free wine.

Low and no-alcohol wines have not kept pace with low alcohol beers but sales have been steadily increasing. Market figures, scarce as they are, indicate 0%-0.5% wine to be a small but growing category. There are indications that 0% to 0.5% wine is the fastest- growing sector.  Consumers are identified as being regular wine drinkers over age 45 who want to reduce their alcohol intake without sacrificing on ceremony or taste.  These products allow abstainers to join in the fun or have the benefit of a drink at the end of a hard day without the guilt.

There is a general consensus that low and no-alcohol wine is a trend for the future. Britain’s Marks & Spencer has doubled its low and no-alcohol range wine over the last year as its wine sales in this category have risen 89%.

There is now a ‘scramble’ among wine producers to make low and no-alcohol products. Some of these are own-label wines, with Germany’s Reh Kendermann and Spain’s Félix Solís being two major suppliers. Big brands such as Freixenet, Hardys, Martini and McGuigan have all recently launched products in this market and more are said to be in development.

Bodegas Torres identified the movement of mature age markets toward less alcohol consumption about 15 years ago so they began development of a 0.5% white wine in 2007.  It received some positive feedback from markets in Sweden and Britain, as well as Canada.  Torres responded by adding a no-alcohol red and a rosé to its inventory.

German producer Johannes Leitz began development of no-alcohol wine after a Norwegian restaurateur asked him for an alternative to Coca-Cola or fruit juice for drivers.  Leitz was committed to making a good product so used good base materials in his Eins Zwei Zero Riesling.

Leitz then went on to produce a sparkling Riesling and is now planning to develop a more premium cru.

No-alcohol wine does not compete with traditional wine and that is not its purpose.  What it does do is provide an alternative to water, juice and soft drinks, which aren’t always a good match with food.

What should a no or low-alcohol wine cost in relation to traditional wine?  Some argue that such wines should be cheaper, since they avoid alcohol taxes.  However, producers using good quality grapes and ingredients say that the cost of producing their no or low-alcohol wine is similar to that of traditional wine.  The bottom line is quality matches price; the more you are willing to pay, the better the product and the more enjoyable your taste experience.

Whether these low and no-alcohol wines are as good as true fine wine is another matter. Many experts and consumers perceive it as nothing more than a hopeless aspiration while others are very enthused by the potential. If they are to truly succeed it will require time, patience, creativity and money. However, as the research suggests, there could be great rewards for those who accept the challenge.

Whatever you opinion it seems that low and no-alcohol wine are here to stay. More and more products will be appearing to tempt this growing market. My only stipulation would be that it has to taste like decent wine and not like Cold Turkey, Baby Duck, or heaven forbid, Welches Grape Juice.

Sláinte mhaith

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