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Even before the stringent two alcoholic drinks a week guidelines were released last week, requests for recommendations of non-alcoholic wines have been increasing. Such e-mails were commonplace as abstinence challenges approached, in the form of Dry Januarys and Februarys or Sober October, but now they are almost a daily occurrence. Many people are looking to reduce consumption or, in some instances, exclude alcohol completely.
The unfortunate reality is the alcohol-free wine category isn’t as robust as its beer, cider and spirits counterparts. To my taste, most “no alcohol” wines are pale imitations, lacking the complexity and interest of the real thing, with one-dimensional flavours that usually range from peculiar to horrid. Sugar is typically used as a stand-in for alcohol, so these products can be sweet to the point of cloying, while low-calorie options are often bland and dilute without the crutch of residual sweetness.
A satisfyingly well-made wine has mouthfeel – one of those words, like “moist” or “slacks,” that gives some people the ick – but is useful term to encapsulate the texture, weight, depth of flavour and length from a lingering aftertaste you’ll sense from each sip. Most of the non-alcoholic wines fail to deliver a similar satisfaction or pleasure.
A few non-alcoholic wines that made an impression have been featured in articles. Recent highlights include the enjoyable rosé and rieslings from the Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Alcohol range. Italian wine and liqueur producer, Bottega produces a tasty albeit overtly sweet sparkling rosé, 0 Rosé. (Breaking news: I’ve just tasted a pleasant recent addition to LCBO outlets, Nozeco, a flavourful non-alcoholic sparkling wine made with muscat and chardonnay grapes grown in France.)
Appealing non-alcoholic red wines continue to be elusive.
The real excitement in the category stems from innovative vinous products that creatively layer in elegant and complex botanicals such as Benjamin Bridge’s Piquette Zero or character through effective use of vinegar to construct worthy wine alternatives, notably Jukes Cordials or Proxies. This category, which is developing quickly and getting better all the time, looks to be the best stand-in when abstaining from a glass of wine.