Is it really wine?

ONBOARD’s wine guru Claire Mottershaw asks whether the rise of low and non-alcoholic wine is just a trend or is it here to stay

We’ve all heard of ‘Dry January’, but in light of the increasing number of year-round sober curious consumers, one needs to start considering whether no- and low-alcohol wine truly marks the change in the beverage sector. According to IWSR, the entire NOLO category reached over US$10 billion in key markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States) in early 2022, outperforming the full-alcohol category.

The nitty gritty.
Can non-alcoholic wine even be considered wine? Technically and legally, no. Wine must contain alcohol be considered ‘wine,’ the amount of which is dependent on which legislation if falls under. The average ABV of wine in the European Union is 11.5% to 13.5%. However, and somewhat controversially, this hasn’t stopped producers and marketers of NOLO wine from calling their products whatever they want to. Even the designation of these wines creates confusion. Most have defined no-alcohol wine as below 0.5% ABV and low-alcohol wine as above 0.5% but below the standard threshold and usually finds itself somewhere between 6% to 11% ABV.

You are what you eat and, in this case, drink.
There is a mass appeal in this wine category. Interestingly, it’s not the teetotallers and abstainers buying into this sector the most but rather a new wave of health-conscious consumers looking to decrease their alcohol consumption. The Covid-19 pandemic, which made us all aware how indispensable our health is, is partly responsible for the shift of these consumers to mindful, wellness-focused drinkers. However, this category’s primary appeal is that you can still belong socially, with the added benefit of not waking up with a hangover. Other benefits include still being able to enjoy the taste of alcohol and having access to more variety within the beverage sector. With the support of sober influencers and major alcoholic brands, the once poorly served NOLO wine category is steadily rising.

But how is it produced ?
Although this seems like a new trend, many long-standing companies have produced NOLO wines for over a century. Fermentation, the process in wine production that makes alcohol, produces many other components that affect the wine’s aroma, flavour, and mouthfeel. The trickiest part of de-alcoholising wine is how to remove the alcohol without eliminating all the other components that essentially make wine, wine. The three main methods used today are vacuum distillation, centrifugation, and reverse osmosis. The first two methods remove the alcohol from the wine at low temperatures and the third separates the wine constituents based on their molecular size via crossflow filtration. All three of these processes are followed up with blending back of the favourable components except the alcohol, of course. Sugar is often added to these de-alcoholised wines to help with the mouthfeel that alcohol lends to wine. It’s a very experimental and exciting sector, not bound by traditional wine laws. Other techniques and additives are being tested to make a compelling final product resulting in a dynamic market.

Non-alcoholic wines to try.
Industry experts predict this trend will stay, so why not try a few for yourself?

French Bloom Rosé Sparkling Wine
Believe it or not, even the French have hopped onto the non-alcoholic movement – sacré bleu! This well-balanced sparkling rosé is delightfully fresh with a hint of minerality. The nose is fragrant, boasting white peach, fresh red fruit and rose petals. This Chardonnay and Pinot Noir sparkling wine is the perfect aperitif.

Appalina Sauvignon Blanc
This de-alcoholised wine makes use of the vacuum distillation process. The result? A balanced Sauvignon Blanc complimented by citrus notes, white flowers, pineapples, and a touch of minerality. A great accompaniment to seafood.

Leitz Zero Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon
Marketed as ‘as close to a traditional red wine as possible’, this Cabernet Sauvignon is undoubtedly impressive. Dark red fruits, smoky notes and a well-incorporated tannin structure make this wine a fine pairing for a BBQ.

VSF GroupClaire Mottershaw,
Executive Director
VSF Group.