Nothing compliments a meal quite like a well-crafted glass of wine. Wine helps to stimulate your taste buds, and prepare them for what is to come. However, many people cannot, or do not drink alcoholic beverages. Their reasons may be moral, personal, or health-related. Luckily, in the modern world, the market has expanded to include many acceptable non-alcoholic wines. The growing number of people who are unable or unwilling to consume alcohol has led to the birth of many companies and divisions that now cater to special needs.
You might ask "Isn't non-alcoholic wine just fruit juice?" That is a common misconception, and could not be further from the truth. Non-alcoholic wines begin as regular wine. The difference is that they undergo an extra stage of processing to render them non-alcoholic, while retaining all the flavor and characteristics of the original wine. One of two processes does this. The wine undergoes either distillation, or filtration. Both of these remove the alcohol without damaging the wine itself.
Another common misconception is that non-alcoholic wines contain no alcohol. Non-Alcoholic is not the same as Alcohol-Free. It would be very cost prohibitive to remove every bit of alcohol. To be classified as non-alcoholic, a beverage cannot contain more than ½ of 1% alcohol. Therefore, if your objections to alcohol are moral or personal, then non-alcoholic wines would not be a good option for you. Likewise. if you are taking medications that would react with alcohol, then non-alcoholic wines are not going to work for you. In addition, non-alcoholic wines are subject to the same regulations as regular wine, meeting you have to be of legal age to buy it.
Are these wines any good? It depends on who is rating them. As in all wine ratings, it depends on the taster's expertise, personal preferences, and what kind of mood they are in. It has been my personal experience that, while no non-alcoholic wine will ever challenge a top-quality French Bordeaux, there are many that are perfectly drinkable, and certainly much better than none at all. Most of us are not financially well-heeled enough to drink first-class wines all the time, anyway. The majority of wine consumed with meals is Table Wine quality. The non-alcoholic versions are every bit as good, especially in some of the better brands.
Some of the top Non-Alcoholic Winesbrands are:
Ariel Wines-these are my absolute #1 choices for kickless wines. This company rocked the wine world in 1986 when their non-alcoholic entry won the Gold Medal over all the other regular wines at the Los Angeles County Fair. In the 1990s, endorsements from world famous chef Dr. Graham Kerr, led to a wider acceptance of non-alcoholic wines as a healthier alternative. They now distribute over 65,000 cases per year worldwide. The company started out with just one wine-Ariel Blanc, and it is still one of their best-sellers. All of their wines are under $20.00 per bottle. Here is their current line-up:
Ariel Blanc -a crisp white Chardonnay-style wine with aromas of jasmine, floral and lilac. It has flavors of lychee, peach and lavender, with a nice acidity and just a hint of sweetness. Great with seafood and chicken.
Brut Cuvèe -a sparkling Chardonnay-style that can hold its own against any California champagnes. Crisp, light and slightly floral with overtones of toasted oak. This is a winner.
Ariel Chardonnay -a wonderful blend of tropical fruitiness, with the character of oak barrel aging. This wine has tastes of buttery baked apples, with butterscotch overtones, and a heady French toasted oak bouquet.
White Zinfandel -a light rosè with enticing flavors of boysenberry, raspberry and strawberries.
Rouge -a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel, this wine offers mesmerizing aromas of cranberries, strawberries and plums, with an excellent balance of subtle tannins, and a dry finish. This is my favorite with spicy foods like Mexican, or Italian cuisine.
Ariel Merlot -this is a robust wine with assertive flavors of raspberry, cassis and wild cherries, with pronounced aromas of white chocolate, cloves and oak. Bold enough to support roast beef, grilled steaks or even roast pork.
Cabernet Sauvignon -an absolutely wonderful bold wine with the aromas of black currants, cherry, blueberries, and chocolate, balanced with soft tannins and a crisp, dry finish. This is one of my favorites with chili, enchiladas, and carne asada.
If you are wanting a higher-dollar wine, then you need look no further than the Vandalia Wine Company. They only make one wine at a time, currently a cabernet sauvignon. But it will rival any other California cabernet on the market, with or without alcohol. It's a bit more pricey at around $25.00 per bottle, but, as in most things, you get what you pay for.
Other companies that produce non-alcoholic wines are Fre, by Sutter Wineries, and Carl Jung. They both produce very drinkable varieties of Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernets and Chardonnays. I have not personally tried any of these, but they get good ratings at most tastings.
A word about cooking with NA wines: there are many fats and other components in food that are only soluble in alcohol. There are dishes where NA wine will not produce the desired effect, such as in Coq au Vin, or Boef Burgundie. However, when you cook with wine, the majority of the alcohol evaporates, so you are just as well off using regular wine. NA wines may be all right for deglazing, but for most cooking, there is no substitute for the real thing.
On the up-side, NA wines are much healthier that standard wine, and have all the same benefits. An 8 oz. glass of red NA wine only has around 53 calories, compared to 100+ calories for a normal red wine. Good news for the weight-conscious crowd.
My advice is to sample a lot of different varieties and brands. You will eventually find the ones that fill your needs. And when you do…..enjoy.