What is alcohol free wine ?
I get asked what is alcohol free wine all the time and it’s a complicated question.
Mainly because of the branding used.
People also get blindsided by the fact it’s grapefruit juice when it’s not.
Well not anymore as the whole alcohol wine industry has moved on.
But like gin and alcohol free spirit it is surrounded by what you are “supposed” to call it and what you are not!
Despite that alcohol free wine, (if I am allowed to call it that) has moved on massively and it is helped by very sophisticated processes and technology.
The downside is it is not cheap to make and in fact can be even more complicated that beer!
So what is alcohol free wine?
And can we even call it that!
How is wine with no alcohol made?
You have probably heard about fermentation right?
It is a chemical reaction that turns sugar into alcohol.
It makes grapes added with yeast turn into wine. It is actually very clever!
The thing about wine and fermentation is that it is not just about the alcohol.
It’s why people used to get what they thought was a bottle of alcohol free wine only to discover that is was really just grapefruit juice.
Their reaction was to never go there again!
And I do not blame them.
When a winery starts to ferment its produce -yes it makes an “alcoholic drink” but it’s also creating
- The texture of the wine
So this is the winemakers’ dilemma!
How do you make wine without the alcohol without losing taste?
Yes, it’s the taste 100 per cent and the other bits as well.
If you do not get the taste right in alcohol free then you may as well shut the shop!
Bear in mind though that abv is the key to all of this.
ABV is alcohol by volume and it tells us how much alcohol is in your drink.
It is why as a non-drinker I always go for 0.0. So zero alcohol.
The higher the abv the quicker you will feel the effect of the alcohol.
It is one of the issues why wine drinking has become an issue.
The glasses have got bigger and you get the rest of the bottle free in many bars.
Always know your alcohol limit by the way and the drink aware website is a good place to start.
So typically your average everyday wine in terms of alcohol by volume would be between 13-14% abv.
No wonder it goes to the head quickly.
And its why after a few glasses after work an online shopping order suddenly arrives the next day and we can’t remember what we have ordered!
Or why we ordered it in the first place.
So imagine removing all that alcohol without taking the taste away.
Its a tough call.
The quality, acidity, balance, smell.
If you have ever been on a wine tasting tour you will know what I mean.
This is a passion for many people.
Yes I might want “no alcohol” but I don’t want grape juice either! Trust me even fizzy grapefruit is not great!
So what method does alcohol free wine use?
Vacuum distillation is a very common method and really championed by the wine industry right now.
It works at a relatively low temperature around 25°C to 30°C.
Then all the smell, taste and everything else is blended back into the wine to make sure we don’t spit it out.
It’s very clever and uses technology and a bit of science of course.
Ironically it was science that created alcohol in the first instance and it is now taking it back out as demand for zero drinks increases.
And it is especially increasing amongst the younger demographic! Plus people who just can’t drink alcohol and are more aware of their health.
What is the spinning cone method?
In terms of alcohol free wine, a process using so called “Spinning cone columns” are very much in the same bracket to The “Vacuum model”.
The difference is that you are doing the process over and over using ongoing low-temperature evaporation and condensation.
It’s what the clever ones call “inverted cones and centrifugal forces”.
It works at a fast pace and pulls a part the elements of the wine and then puts them all back together. Like building blocks.
Its job is to separate the constituent elements of the wine.
It’s a complicated process and wine makers can be a bit secretive about it.
I know from someone who works within the industry that many winemakers’ use sugar to replicate the alcohol feel but many use other flavors and ingredients like green tea or botanicals.
Some are also based around the use of kombucha.
You can read my review of English alcohol free sparkling wine and let me know what you think.
Alcohol free gin or alcohol free spirit has also done this using botanicals for example.
Overall it is weird process as we now have some good quality alcohol free wine.
I have no doubt the process will continue to improve as well. This is good news for alcohol free choice.
My favorite which honors this process is from the famous wine brand Torres in Spain. Read my review.
Is alcohol free wine confusing?
Yes and it drives me mad. It’s just crazy.
It actually makes it hard to reduce your alcohol intake as you are never quite sure what you are getting!
If you talk to the legal experts which I seem to have to do a lot when I am talking about alcohol free gin. They play it by the rules.
Which I am by the way it’s a spirit! Of course, it is.
By saying, I am reviewing low- or no-alcohol wine I might be on doggy ground.
Although the winemakers’ selling it do not really care as they want to raise awareness and will go with what people actually call it.
It’s a bit like Pepsi and Cola. I guess. Kind of !
Like gin, alcohol wine needs to have an alcohol level of at least 8%. There are a few exceptions but let’s not go there!
Hey look, it’s a “wine-based drink”, don’t get me started.
What will you see on alcohol free wine labels?
Overall there are four terms that in most countries are used within a legal framework.
Although as I have come to discover in bars what you ask for and what you get can be a different matter entirely.
So the rule is anything that is under an alcohol by volume figure of 1.2% can be labeled in the following way.
I know – please stay with me.
So you pick up a bottle of wine with ‘low alcohol’ on the label. Here you are looking at an abv of 1.2% or below.
Then you will see a few bottles that say the terms ‘non-alcoholic’ or ‘de-alcoholised’ wine.
Here the alcohol has been taken out of the wine and it should be no more than 0.5% abv.
However, if you are like me and you only except a trace as you would in some food like bananas, bread and orange juice then you might want to go further.
Although these may have more alcohol than that.
For a trace you are looking at alcohol free wine. With this wine the alcohol has been taken out and won’t be more than 0.05% abv which is minor.
If you want to know why a banana may have more than a 0.5% abv than a beer read how much alcohol in a banana?
So I hope that has cleared it up?
Probably not and it took me a bit of time to get my head around it.
You have told me via the blog that you would like alcohol labels to be clearer and I couldn’t agree more.
Also, there is a discussion that is going on that says everything under 0.5% should be classed as alcohol free.
This makes me think the information is less credible when it comes to alcohol free drinks not more !
This is not a good move.
Although maybe my bigger issue is actually finding alcohol free wine that I can buy or being offered as an option in a restaurant.
Choice is increasing though like in fizz.
My favorite alcohol free fizz is here and that one they do have right when it comes to taste.
Actually come to think about it let’s sort that out getting alcohol free wines choices out there first.
And I will do even more work on my label reading in the meantime !
But imagine drinking more alcohol than you thought. That can’t be right either?
Do you understand more about what is alcohol free wine? I would love to hear your views so just leave your comment below and I always get back to you.