How to Select the Best Nonalcoholic Wine
These days, a lot of people are giving up drinking alcohol in favor of self-care. As the sober-curious movement has gained traction, more and more people are looking for alcohol-free beverages, and wine producers are taking note. I personally haven't had any alcohol in a few years and I'm eager to see what people are coming up with for wine alternatives.
Usually, I'm good if a Spindrift or La Croix is available, but I miss having a glass of wine to go with my meal, so having the option of a non-alcoholic red to go with dinner is appealing. But trying to figure out how to pick a drink that's traditionally made with alcohol is a bit of a puzzle.
EatingWell's test kitchen manager, Breana Killeen, happens to be a sommelier and tells me there are two kinds of beverages categorized as nonalcoholic wines. One is made like regular wine by fermenting grape juice with yeast; then the alcohol is gently removed from the wine either by distillation or filtration. The other method bypasses fermentation and adds carbonation to the wine to make something like a sparkling wine. She says, "Both can be tasty but the most important feature to look for are wines that are labeled dry so you aren't just drinking sweet juice."
Even before the sober-curious movement blossomed, wine producers were making alcohol-free wines of varying quality—just like regular wine. And just like regular wine, there's a process to picking out the right one. With a little help from a couple of experts, I put together a few tips on how to pick the best nonalcoholic wines.
Rachel Speckan, sommelier and Marketing Director of Maverick Wine, says the demand for spirit-free, low-abv (alcohol by volume) or no-abv wine has blossomed. She says the more common wine brands we know still dominate that space, but you can find good quality nonalcoholic or low alcohol wines from smaller producers like the ones listed below. The smaller producers have the highest quality of nonalcoholic and low alcohol wine with the best selection, but they're a bit pricier.
Of course, when you take alcohol out of the wine, it alters the flavor experience. Each of the basic types of wines (white, red, rosé and sparkling, to keep it simple), is going to be affected differently by the absence of alcohol.
White Wine: Speckan says without alcohol in white wines like chardonnay, the balance of acid and fruit has to be adjusted to make up for the lack of alcohol. But, like regular wine, drinkers should be able to taste the grape as well as distinguish where it was grown. She says nonalcoholic whites are refreshing. "Even the grape-y, fruity bottles still taste quite crisp with a good chill on them," she says.
Red Wine: Producing nonalcoholic red wine is a different kind of challenge. Alcohol-free red wines are more fruit-forward and taste sweeter than their counterparts; and the ones aged in oak can be overly smoky, says Spreckan. She recommends chilling the reds to tame unpleasant flavors.
Rosé Wine: According to Speckan, nonalcoholic rosé is pretty close to regular rosé. "Some are sweet with no acidity to match, while others are acidic and simple," she says. The best ones maintain the character of the red grape with a little bit of tannin. It's best served very cold.
Sparkling Wine: There are two ways to make alcohol-free sparkling wine. Speckan says one method follows the lengthy traditional process of regular sparkling, and then have the alcohol removed, which can produce very good nonalcoholic sparkling wine. "These wines taste of toasty bread, nuts and citrus fruit," she says. The other way to do it is to add carbonation (CO2) which is faster and, she says, the wines have a more fruity taste with floral aromas. Both styles are highly acidic and can fall into the categories of dry, off-dry or sweet and, Spreckan says, "This is definitely the nonalcoholic category that has the highest potential for the yum factor."
Decoding the Nonalcoholic Wine Label
For the average person, decoding a wine label can be tricky and it might be even trickier to decode a nonalcoholic or low alcohol label. Speckman says a pretty label doesn't mean it's delicious, so you need to know what to look for. Speckman says she looks for wines from specific regions and sub-regions. If you know where the alcoholic wines you like come from, that might be a good place to start your search. Keep in mind, the more specific you can get, the better your selection might match your expectations.
Pairing Nonalcoholic Wine with Food
Killeen asserts that the rules for pairing regular wines with food apply to nonalcoholic wines as well—as long as you're picking dry wines. "I'd pair dry sparkling wine with Asian food, happy hours and celebrations. Whites and rosés are great with seafood, lighter chicken dishes, salads and most appetizers. Grab a red when you're serving red meat or anything hearty, like a stew," Killeen suggests, adding, "Then again, I also always say that people should drink what they like with whatever they like."
Check out Killeen's picks for the best nonalcoholic wines. Killeen recommends these nonalcoholic wines, noting, "With these wines, you don't have to worry about a hangover!"