- After trying a bunch of nonalcoholic beers, I blind taste-tested six nonalcoholic wines and wine alternatives during Dry January.
- Although I had been told nonalcoholic wine could taste pretty bad, I was not expecting just how terrible some of them were. Many didn’t even come close to imitating a glass of wine.
- However, the nonalcoholic sparkling wine was actually really good, and incredibly close to the real thing.
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After taste-testing a bunch of alcohol-free and nonalcoholic beers in honour of Dry January, it was only fair to give wines a go. I am a big wine drinker, and would have a couple of glasses each week to relax with or catch up with friends over. My usual order is something dry, light, and if I am driving afterward, topped up with soda water.
I know that if I was to give up alcohol for whatever reason, I’d miss wine the most – I’ve come to now realise wine is a large part of my social rituals.
I tested out an assortment of six nonalcoholic and low-alcohol wines, and wine alternatives. I’ve been told that nonalcoholic wines, for the most part, are unpalatable, which is why I threw in a couple of replacement options that could hit the spot that drinking wine occupies. Dry January is a long and arduous month for some, so it’s good to have choice.
Overall, the red and white wines I tasted were quite bad, but could appeal to some if they had time to experiment with serving ideas (frozen berries in the rosé could work). Out of the bunch, it was a light sparkling wine that came out on top.
With the help of my editor taking pictures and setting up the blind tasting, we followed the same analytical process as was used when taste-testing nonalcoholic beers.
I also refrigerated the drinks this time.
I went in with six options to try if you’re a wine-lover and are curious about the nonalcoholic options.
Obviously it was going to be a little easier to identify which one was which in this highly scientific experiment as the colours were all so different.
However, I didn’t see my editor pour out each drink, so there was a chance at this point that the mead could have been a reddish colour and I’d have been none the wiser. Having refrigerated all but one of drinks, the temperature also gave a little hint as to what it was.
Contestant number one.
On sight, it looked like a British soft drink called Ribena (a flavored cordial mixed with water).
The colour was standard red wine (ish) and didn’t have a thin, watery consistency which is quite a positive if you’re a sophisticated adult in a serious setting who doesn’t want to look like they’re drinking a kid’s drink.
This glass was cold, so I knew immediately it wasn’t the alcohol-free red wine (which I did not chill). It had a really strong oaky smell.
The smell translated into the taste of the drink. It was quite a grown-up taste with the strong smoky taste and notes of berry fruits.
My first thought was that it tasted like the inside of what a Catholic church smells like – mainly incense. The woody, smoky flavour was the dominant tone of this drink, but was not unpleasant.
It felt as though this beverage had been designed to be sipped slowly at a stand-up drinks party while nibbling on delicate canapés. This is not a drink you want to swig back in a couple of glugs.
It was actually a non-alcoholic aperitif from Aecorn, the “Aromatic” flavour. Even the bottle felt like a proper grown-up one, with metallic gold accents and a stylish acorn leaf design.
Although not marketed as anything close to a wine, this drink could be a great alternative if you’re after an alcohol-free beverage that carries some complexity that a normal red wine can give.
I looked closer at the serving suggestion on the bottle and it recommends enjoying this drink over ice with a splash of tonic or sparkling water. I put it in the fridge but did not follow the rest of the instructions, which would have probably bumped the score up. However, this drink did feel a bit too mature for my tastes for me to happily go back to.
Me and you, number two.
I was 98% sure this was the rosé. It was cold, and it looked like the cheap kind of rosé you’d knock back in the park on a summer’s day.
Number two also smelled like cheap rosé and brought back some hazy sun-soaked memories.
Not surprisingly, it tasted like bargain rosé too.
Even though this wine had zero alcohol in it, the flavours were really stirring up a reaction in my brain. Almost like it was presenting a ‘look what happened last time you drank rosé that tasted like this’ and preparing itself for a chronic headache in a few hours.
Torres Natureo De-Alcoholised Spanish rosé wine was number three.
The bottle and label of this drink looked great actually, and at a glance, I don’t think anyone would realise it was non-alcoholic. I didn’t find it to be an enjoyable drink, but it definitely had that genuine cheap rosé wine flavour.
When drinking it, my body was almost anticipating the wince from the alcohol, but it never came as it was booze-less. Maybe if you jazzed it up with ice cubes and some frozen berries, this could be better.
Hello, number three. Please be delicious.
It looked like a white wine and had a nice colour.
Again, the smell was evoking low-price wine vibes. Quite vinegary and tart.
The look of the liquid in the glass said “white wine,” and it even had teeny tiny collections of bubbles around the edge of the liquid.
You can tell by my face here that this was not a pleasurable sip.
Unlike the rosé tasting like it smelled, this had zero wine taste on the first go, and was more like a tangy juice. My second mouthful nudged more towards “wine” territory. It had quite a heavy taste and has a strong perfume over the tang.
Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Alcohol-Free Riesling was behind door number three.
The name “Eins Zwei Zero” made me chuckle when I twigged it was a play on “eins, zwei, drei” so I liked it before trying it based on that alone. Nevertheless, the tangy taste was not for me. I suspect if it was topped up with soda water this could be a totally different experience, but I am more partial to dry and lighter tasting white wines on the whole.
Knock at the door, number four.
I knew for a fact this was the non-alcoholic red wine as it was room temperature (the only one of the six options that was) and had a decent red wine colour.
Big points for looking like a good red wine. I measure red wine colour (again I am not a qualified sommelier or even know that much about wines, I simply like it) as being decent if there’s a depth to the hue, but not so deep that you can’t see through it.
Good red wine colour is important to me, as I’ve had alcoholic red wine in the past that had the translucency of blackcurrant juice, and the taste memory still gives me shudders. I will never again trust a thin-looking red wine.
The smell was metallic and kind of meaty (yuck), so I can confirm it did not smell like delicious red wine. The taste was even worse.
Lulled into a false sense of security by the great colour, I did not expect the horrible smell and matching taste.
There was something about the flavour that rung a lot of bells for me, and I had to keep going back for more sips to try and grasp onto what it was.
Then I remembered. It tasted and smelled like baked beans when you first pour them out of a tin can.
I had such high hopes for the De-Alcoholised Fre Premium Red wine, so I was a bit disappointed it didn’t follow through.
I know nonalcoholic wine is not supposed to be a carbon copy of the standard vin rouge, but there was massive room for improvement here. Just don’t bother with it.
I am giving it a point for colour and a point for liquid consistency as “real” red wine, since they were both were very good.
Drink number five.
I knew this was the sparkling wine as there were effervescent rows streaming up from the bottom of the glass. The colour was the pale gold of a dry sparkling wine too.
Weirdly, there was no smell. None at all. No fruitiness, no floral notes. It was almost like sniffing crisp mountain air. I couldn’t even smell the carbonation the happy beads of bubbles were giving off.
But the taste was that of a light and dry prosecco-esque drink.
I would go out on a limb (knowing nothing about the sparkling wine-making process) and say there’s a heavier ingredient at play to weigh down the softness of the taste, but it was in no way overpowering. It was exactly what I would pick from a selection of sparkling wines if I thought they were alcoholic.
Thomson & Scott Noughty Alcohol Free Organic Sparkling Wine was contestant number five.
This is such a great product if you’re hankering for a glass of non-alcoholic bubbles. The bottle and label looked amazing, and it also gave a satisfying “pop” when the cork was taken out.
My only suggestion would be for the drink to smell of something so it completed the five-sense experience of drinking. But if this meant adding a scent that disrupts the actual taste then I could live without it!
The final taste-test with number six.
Oh, this looked as though it was a cross between a wine and beer. It was cloudy but clear, and had a great colour and fizz. The smell was tart though, but not in an unpleasant way.
The consistency was smooth and the tart taste hit me first, but then something unexpected happened …
… the taste changed halfway through.
It went from a quite sharp tone that melted into a buttery honey flavour which was very unexpected. This had to be the sparkling mead – does all mead taste like this?
My editor tried a sip and her first words were: “What a journey.”
It was the 0.5% ABV Gosnells Sparkling Mead — my eyes had been opened.
The twist in the taste, which was something on par with toffee popcorn, took me completely by surprise. There was nothing in the smell that suggested a sweet treat for your taste buds was waiting. Whether it was a novelty or if this was how all mead reacts upon drinking it, I liked it a lot.
It’s not quite a sparkling-something you’d toast with at a special occasion, but as a low-alcoholic drink at 0.5% ABV this was pretty good.
My winner was Thomson & Scott Noughty Alcohol Free Organic Sparkling Wine because it was so close to the real thing.
I love a glass of fizz and if I had to give up a bottle of boozy bubbles then I’d be more than happy to quaff this instead.
The oldest winery in America is 1.5 hours north of Manhattan, has a sprawling wine cave, and found a loophole so it could stay open during Prohibition. I spent an afternoon checking it out – here’s what it’s like.
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