Photo by Roberto Vivancos
The low, or even no alcohol drinks category has been growing a lot in recent years, led of course by the beer industry but with spirits and wine producers joining the bandwagon too. As you’d expect the shift has been driven by shifting consumer habits. Spurred on perhaps by the popularity of "dry January", more and more people are discovering that low/no alcohol tipples can be a great alternative if you’re on a health drive, watching your weight, or just giving your liver a rest.
Consumer reports reckon that the no/low alcohol category (covering beer/cider, wine and spirits, as well as ready-mixed drinks) now accounts for about 3.5% of the sector globally, and in volume terms is currently expanding by about 8% every year. In all this growth wine has lagged behind somewhat, partly because of brand recognition – there just aren’t that many globally recognized wine brands – but also because the de-alcoholisation process for wine is that much trickier, with producers having to "remove" 12-14% of alcohol compared with about 4-5% for beer.
How is non-alcoholic wine made?
Just limiting the alcoholic strength of wine can be done in various ways, whether it’s by dilution – think of those spritzer-style wine drinks – or by chilling the wine during fermentation to stop some of the naturally-occurring sugars turning into alcohol, leaving a sweet, low alcohol wine often with some bubbles in it (if you’ve ever drunk Lambrusco you know what we’re talking about!).
But actually taking all the alcohol out of wine to get its alcoholic strength down to below 0.5% is a more complicated and costly exercise, although producers have a variety of different methods to choose from. One approach, popular in Germany for example, involves a distillation column, much like that used for making spirits, where the alcohol is literally boiled away. Other producers prefer so-called "reverse osmosis", which essentially involves filtering the wine through a membrane before the alcohol is distilled. A third, more expensive approach uses "spinning cone" technology to evaporate off the alcohol using centrifugal force.
Does non-alcoholic wine taste different?
Whichever method is used, producers have to be careful as extracting the alcohol can risk removing some of the wine’s more desirable characteristics. For example, alcohol helps lift the aromas and flavours in a wine, but cutting it reduces the body, or weight of the wine in the mouth, and that can leave acidity or tannins feeling more pronounced which risks upsetting the balance – that harmonious whole, where all the elements of the wine work together perfectly.
But while de-alcoholisation remains a delicate business, there’s no doubt the quality of low/no alcohol wines is improving all the time as producers strive to give consumers what they are looking for. Alongside the exhortation for regular wine drinkers to ¨drink less but drink better¨ – ie trade up in terms of what you spend on a bottle – the low/no category looks set to expand as more and more consumers look to enjoy wine without the alcohol.
What do you think about non-alcoholic wine?
Here at Simply Spanish Wine, we’re committed to bringing you affordable, high-quality wines from some of Spain’s best small to medium-sized producers. But we’re also keen to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the sector and listen to what our customers tell us too. We’d like to hear your thoughts about the low alcohol wine sector, so if you’ve got time to answer the our very short survey we’d love to hear from you! Who knows, if there’s interest out there we may add a few quality low/no alcohol options to our list over the coming months.