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Even With the Alcohol Removed, These New Wines Are Actually Good

These zero-proof, dealcoholized wines are not heavily doctored concoctions -- they start with a good product.

The Washington Post

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No-alcohol wines and wine alternatives that hit the mark in taste and complexity: Oceano Zero Pinot Noir 2022; Dr. Lo Riesling and Riesling with Bubbles; and Proxies Red Ember. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)

The trend toward “dry January” and “mindful drinking” has prompted a boomlet in dealcoholized wine and so-called “wine alternatives,” creative concoctions meant to mimic wine’s body and flavor. There are several new choices that weren’t on the market a year ago, appealing to consumers who want the experience of wine without the effects and aftereffects of alcohol.

And the new dealcoholized wines increasingly are offered by quality-minded wineries starting with good product, rather than the highly doctored, heavily sweetened concoctions that are still prevalent on the market.

“Dealcoholized” is a regulatory term for wine reduced to less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. This is typically done through a technique called reverse osmosis or by running the wine repeatedly through a centrifuge-like device called a spinning cone. These processes remove not only alcohol, which provides body and texture to wine, but also more delicate flavor components. Some of those flavors and aromas can be captured and added back, usually with considerable amounts of sugar or wine concentrates to compensate for the loss of texture and sweetness from the missing alcohol. (Alcohol, being fermented sugar, may not make wine taste sweet, but its absence leaves a notable tartness.) Since the additions fall under FDA regulation, these beverages carry nutritional and ingredient labeling, so we can tell how much sugar has been added back.

Most of these taste like, well, grape juice, either unsweetened (sour) or sweetened. Some brands I have recommended that best approximate wine are New Zealand’s Giesen 0%, which adds back 6 percent unfermented juice, and Le Petit Béret from France. French Bloom makes a very good zero-alcohol sparkling. And several German producers, including Leitz, Selbach and Loosen Bros. — of the Dr. Loosen estate — have introduced dealcoholized rieslings, both dry and sparkling. Being relatively low-alcohol to begin with, riesling may have an advantage in this market. The examples from Loosen Bros., called Dr. Lo, are especially good.

For Rachel Martin, the challenge was to create a dealcoholized wine that still expresses grape variety and terroir. Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Oceano Wines, producer of outstanding chardonnay and pinot noir from the Spanish Springs Vineyard in the San Luis Obispo Coast region of California. Last fall, she introduced Oceano Zero 2022, a dealcoholized pinot noir from the same vineyard and made in the same way before having the alcohol removed through the spinning cone process.

Martin is familiar to Virginia wine fans as the former executive director of her family’s Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Va. While developing Oceano Zero, she participated in dry January last year and experienced “immense benefits for my mental and physical health,” she says. She hopes a quality dealcoholized wine can fit into “a healthier, more conscious lifestyle around alcohol consumption.” The 2023 vintage of Oceano Zero, to be released this spring, will add a chardonnay and a syrah to the line.

A “wine alternative,” in contrast, is a drink that has never been fermented. These are concoctions worthy of talented mixologists, intended to mimic wine’s body, acidity and flavors without alcohol. Most alternatives I’ve tried taste more like cocktails than wine, which is fine.

The Canadian brand Proxies leads this sector. The Proxies Red Ember, which is the most winelike wine alternative I’ve tasted, has a long ingredient list that reads like one of those tasting notes with all sorts of enchanting flavors. These include cabernet sauvignon grapes; pomegranate juice; red wine, blackberry and blueberry concentrates; and vegetable glycerin for body. Ginger and several teas add complexity. Extracts of French oak, coffee, black pepper and cayenne imitate the effects of barrel aging, while tartaric acid, sea salt and wine tannins add the final touches. I don’t think it would fool any wine lover in a blind tasting, but it’s darn tasty.

A growing number of consumers want the ability to enjoy wine on occasion without feeling the effects of alcohol, whether for personal, social or health reasons. Improving quality and diversity in dealcoholized wines and wine alternatives will give these consumers plenty of options.

(Note: As the market for these zero-alcohol products is still rather niche, distribution is spotty. A good online source is Boisson.)

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This post originally appeared on The Washington Post and was published January 18, 2024. This article is republished here with permission.

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