WINE is described as the fermented juice of grapes, with the operative word being “fermented.” Simply put, when grape juice does not go through the chemical process known as fermentation, it is simply juice.
Right now, there is a pseudo-trend going on for alcohol-free wine or non-alcoholic wine, and several wineries from top wine producing countries are already joining this band wagon. Could this be something the Philippine wine market is going to embrace moving forward?
A MORE ELABORATE PROCESS THAN REGULAR WINETo be an alcohol-free wine, the product needs to be a wine first. This means that alcohol-free wine starts as a wine going through the traditional fermentation process before it is “re-engineered” to become alcohol-free. This is a huge challenge as alcohol is one reason why wine has inherent characteristics and texture.
There are a few methods to make this happen and it always starts with a finished wine to be “de-alcoholized” from its usual 13-14% to 0.5% or less, which, despite the presence of minimal alcohol can already be labeled as “non-alcohol” wine. The three known methods, all of which are complicated, are:
1. Vacuum Distillation — this uses heat to remove alcohol in wine in a vacuum chamber, boiling the wine to let the ethanol evaporate while keeping the wine flavors intact.
2. Spinning Cone Columns — the same concept as Vacuum Distillation but involving a few more stages of repeated low-temperature evaporation and condensation using inverted cones and centrifugal forces. Components of the wine are therefore broken apart and then put back together without the alcohol and keeping as much of the flavors of the wine as possible.
3. Reverse Osmosis — this is a high-tech molecular filtration process that allows wine to pass through with its inherent nuances, but not the alcohol in the wine.
WHY ALCOHOLIC-FREE WINE?Health, safety, and inclusivity are the normal answers to why this product makes some sense.
As a wine lover, I can argue that wine is slightly healthier than other alcoholic beverages like beers or spirits, but the alcohol in wine has equal safety concerns as other alcoholic beverages, especially when one gets inebriated.
Taking the alcohol away from wine may be taking one reason away from not drinking, but to hardcore wine lovers like me, I like wine not for its alcohol content per se but more for its characteristics, flavors, and even compatibility with food. If indeed the flavor and nuances of the wines can be retained in alcohol-free wines, then I would not mind buying them, even if, because of the laborious process of removing alcohol, the wine will be more expensive than the regular wines.
Inclusivity in this case also means that people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot drink wine — for example Muslims and people of other religion that prohibit drinking alcohol — can now at the very least drink and taste wine. Pregnant women, designated drivers, and even heavy-equipment operators are also among the beneficiaries of this type of wine.
The big question may be on the taste of these alcohol-free wines, and whether they are like regular wines that can still pair with food and offer gastronomic sensations.
By the way, these alcohol-free wines are still not appropriate for those below 18, so read on.
WINE CATEGORY CONFUSION“Alcohol-free” is really a misnomer. Alcohol-free wine is actually not zero alcohol — it has a minimal alcohol content at just 0.5% ABV (alcohol by volume) or below, therefore it is still not suitable for minors. This is similar to those non-alcoholic beers available in the market that also contain token alcohol. In Europe, where this trend might have started, the UK and Germany require wines with labels that say “alcohol-free” and “non-alcohol wine” to contain no more than 0.5% ABV. Anything above 0.5% ABV but below 9% is just simply low-alcohol wine.
I have yet to taste or experience these alcohol-free wines, so the jury is still out on this category. But, as some of my industry friends would blatantly say on this subject, “wine with no alcohol is like sex without orgasm.” That is a bit harsh, but we will see as I am sure these alcohol-free wines should be coming over sooner rather than later, and then we can all try them out and decide for ourselves if these wines will be here to stay or not.
Sherwin A. Lao is the first Filipino wine writer to be a member of both the Bordeaux-based Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) and the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services.