Demand for non-alcoholic drinks is booming as so many of us seek healthier lifestyles by cutting down on booze, or cutting it out completely. Non-alcoholic wine, or ‘de-alcoholised’ wine as it should more properly be called, has been around for a while but has long suffered from a reputation as being lacklustre and disappointing compared to its full-strength versions. The good news is that this demand is driving winemakers to raise their game and we are now seeing more and more decent brands coming onto the market.
The problem for serious wine lovers is that so much of what we love about wine – the complexity of aromas and flavours as well as the mouth-filling textures – are removed along with the buzz of the alcohol. There are hundreds of
flavour and aroma compounds found in wine and while some of these can be re-blended back in after the alcohol is extracted, the full gamut of wine’s sensations can never be fully replicated in its booze-free brothers so, while improvements in technology and winemaking techniques have led to increased quality, it’s good to approach them with realistic expectations to avoid disappointment.
Sparkling wine is often most successful in non-alcoholic form because the bubbles add extra texture and interest, and also make the wine seem less sickly. The best makers successfully balance fruitiness, sweetness and refreshing acidity to make fizz that still has a celebratory feel despite being alcohol-free.
Sugar is often added to de-alcoholised wines to give them a richer mouthfeel but this can make them unpalatably sweet. Chilling wine cuts its sweetness so make sure you give whites and sparkling wines plenty of time in the fridge before you drink them. Most reds will also benefit from being slightly cool to stop them tasting soupy, so chill them for 20 minutes or so before serving.
Much of the pleasure of wine is in the rituals of our drinking, as well as the pleasure of what’s in the glass. It is an act of relaxation, a simple, civilised and civilising enjoyment, taken alone or shared with friends over a meal. Cutting out the booze needn’t mean we miss out on all this, but do make the best of the occasion and of your bottle by using your best glasses and making sure they’re spotlessly clean.
Best non-alcoholic wines to buy
Organic, vegan and low in sugar, this 0% sparkler made from chardonnay grapes has a lovely green-apple freshness and clean, bright acidity. One of the best.
Weingut Leitz is a very well-respected producer at the forefront of modern German winemaking. This has zippy notes of lime, crunchy apples and a hint of rhubarb, and its labelling is super-smart.
From one of Italy’s leading prosecco makers, this packs plenty of peachy fruit and pretty floral notes into its fine, cheerful fizz.
Rather than being de-alcoholised wine, this is simply muscat grape juice with carbon dioxide to give it its sparkle. Clean and fruity without being cloying.
Soft, creamy bubbles carry a fruity sweetness that’s well balanced by a pleasingly fresh finish.
Cheap and cheerful bubbles; quite sweet but easy to drink if served very cold.
Gorgeous scents of strawberries and mountain herbs in this pretty 0.5%-ABV wine that’ll transport you back to summer.
One of the first zero-alcohol wines and still one of the best. Classic floral muscat aromas with wine-like grapeyness. Great with spicy Thai food.
Another great 0% wine from Weingut Leitz. This retains much of riesling’s zesty fruit and appetising minerality, with just a touch of well-balanced sweetness.
Dry Drinker has a huge range of alcohol-free drinks, including beers, ciders and spirits as well as wine. This softly spicy 0.5%-ABV cab sauv is given some muscly body by four months ageing in oak barrels; perfect for a mid-week pasta supper.
Packed with blackcurrant fruit – it smells a bit like Ribena – but light and fresh with a nice dry finish.
Rich and fruity with a sweetness that would suit a wintery, meaty stew.
Dinky single-serve bottles of white and rosé non-alcoholic wine and grape juice with the addition of appetising botanicals and a little gentle fizz.
Pioneering techniques in the vineyard to naturally lower the sugars in the grapes result in a wine that, while not alcohol-free (it’s 9% ABV), is significantly lower in alcohol than its conventional cousins. Classic Kiwi sauvignon blanc notes of gooseberries and freshly cut grass with a clean, crisp finish.