Guide to Organic Alcohol-Free Wine
What is organic alcohol-free wine?
Organic alcohol-free wine is an unfermented drink made using organic grapes, with no alcohol content. Legally, wine needs to have a minimum alcohol content of 1.2% ABV or less, or to be classed as alcohol-free, will have 0.05% ABV or less. Also known as de-alcoholised, organic alcohol-free wine is an organically made drink that means there is little to no alcohol content in the entire drink.
The term ‘non-alcoholic’ shouldn’t be used in conjunction with a name that is commonly associated with an alcoholic drink. The correct terms are low-alcohol wine (1.2% ABV or less) and alcohol-free (0.05% ABV or less).
People may choose to go alcohol-free for many reasons. Producers have responded and there is a steadily rising number of quality low and free-of-alcohol wines in the UK. Alcohol-free wines have been slower to make their mark on UK drinkers than alcohol-free beers. This, in a nutshell, is because until now the brewers have been ahead in terms of innovation. Happily, our grape growing friends are catching up. Fast.
In 2018, 29% of people aged between 16 and 24 described themselves as being teetotal. At the same time, so-called “lifetime abstainers” has risen to 17%. A report by Wine Intelligence found that an increased focus on wellness and working to sustain a healthier lifestyle in recent times has led to at least one-third of wine drinkers moderating their consumption.
How is organic alcohol-free wine made?
Alcohol-free is surprisingly costly. A producer may decide the answer lies in intensive canopy management in the vineyard to keep sugar levels in the grapes very low.
If that’s not an option, then it’s chemistry time! Take your pick from reverse osmosis, evaporative perstraction, humidification, vacuum evaporation … and – arguably the slickest of all – the spinning cone column.
Purists baulk at many of these techniques because they tend to take out not just alcohol but flavour components too. Humidification is the odd one out, given that it’s just a posh way of saying ‘added water’ (ahem!) …
The one system that claims not to negatively impact flavour is the spinning cone. A quick Google search will deliver you videos and in-depth explanations but in brief; for every 1% reduction in alcohol, you’re after, you put 10% of the total batch through the cone. Thin-film vacuum technology removes the volatiles with aromas that are removed in the first pass, stored separately, and added back at the end. Alcohol is removed on the second pass from the aroma-free wine.
It is impressive – very techy and pricey too. Frankly, this is a solution for wineries with deep pockets and (most likely) substantial volumes.
Does organic alcohol-free wine have health benefits?
There are inarguable benefits to moderating your alcohol intake; whether that’s an alcohol-free day or a weekend where you drink only alcohol-free wine.
Below we list five benefits to alcohol-free wine:
- There’s evidence to suggest you’ll sleep better, and may also see an increase in your libido!
- It can help you manage your weight, as organic fermented wine tends to have more calories than alcohol-free wine. Organic wine with alcohol content will also be more expensive, usually
- Cutting down or removing alcohol from your diet can also help with your immune response
- Alcohol can dehydrate your skin, so a little less wine might aid the complexion.
- Alcohol has been linked to hindering your memory, so consuming less alcohol can improve your cognitive function
The climate and its role in alcohol in wine
It’s barely possible to go to a wine masterclass these days in which the impact of climate change is not discussed. Increased temperatures have had a direct impact on alcohol levels and just as many wine drinkers have found this difficult, so too have the winemakers.
Wine promotional material so often talks about long-ripening that allows grapes to reach optimal ripeness. What this means is good phenolic ripeness and not just a grape that’s laden with sugar. Phenols are the compounds responsible for colour, tannin, and flavour; all the things that make wine interesting and complex. When it is excessively hot, grapes can reach sugar ripeness at the expense of phenolic maturity and the wine’s balance is lost.
Climate alone isn’t responsible for high sugar levels – grapes play their part too. Syrah (shiraz) and Primitivo naturally produce more sugar than pinot noir, for example. As a rule of thumb, white grapes have less sugar and in turn, less alcohol.
In vintage wines where temperatures have fallen short of the expected average, sugar levels can be troublingly low. This can lead to a loss of weight and structure in the wine which can have a negative impact on how the wine’s tannins and acidity are perceived. That’s not a desirable outcome for any wine enthusiast and that is when alcohol is definitely good!
Our favourite organic alcohol-free wines
Best organic alcohol-free white wines
Opia is the first organic alcohol-free wine range. The company has worked hard to optimise the wines’ flavours, ageing taking place in French oak. French-made, this fruity, organic, alcohol-free Chardonnay is vegan friendly and boasts no more than 70 Kcal per 100ml glass. Healthy and delicious.
Best organic alcohol-free sparkling wines
Opia Alcohol-Free Sparkling Chardonnay has delicate bubbles and aromas of white flowers, Granny Smith apples and orchard fruits too. Creamy and citrus on the palate, it’s a treat of a sparkling drink.
Pri Secco Organic Cuvée Nr. 21 is a white organic alcohol-free sparkler made from apples and pears with hay blossoms and biodynamic barley roasted in copper pans. Fragrant, refreshing and simply stunning. This is a drink that will silence the alcohol-free cynics. Made by winemaker, Jörg Geiger.
Pri Secco Organic Cuvée Nr 25 is a red organic alcohol-free sparkler made from … wait for it … apples, pears, hawthorn, blackcurrants and Douglas Fir tips, sloes and spices. Now that’s breadth and complexity for you! Well crafted, this is as unique as it is wonderful.
Best organic alcohol-free red wines
Opia Alcohol-Free Cabernet Sauvignon is French-made and shows wonderful purity of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit with blackcurrant and cherry fruits accompanied by light spice and vanilla.
At Vintage Roots, we are mindful that there are plenty of wine-drinkers who enjoy the alcoholic kick of the wine experience but do like their wines to be 12.5% ABV or less. Historic suggestions that a wine’s quality was related to its ABV is plain wrong. There are all sorts of reasons a wine has naturally lower alcohol levels: a grape varieties naturally low sugar levels, the vineyard management and the choices made in the winery all play a part.
Here is a pick of just a handful of maximum flavour, modest alcohol wines!
A wonderful duo of organic lower-alcohol white wines
Alias No Added Sulphur Sauvignon Blanc comes in at just 11.5% ABV! Laden with ripe apple and tropical fruits on the nose, the palate is brilliantly vivid, fresh, and distinctively Sauvignon Blanc.
Opt for the Wild Thing Sauvignon Blanc and you can minimise the alcohol at the same time as supporting The Born Free Foundation! Oh, and it’s tasty too!
Two of the best organic lower-alcohol red wines
Meinklang Roter Mulatschak is a delicious Austrian blend of biodynamic Saint Laurent and Zweigelt grapes. We love the food-friendly nature of this earthy, flavoursome red that strikes an impressive balance between freshness and ripe red fruits.
Les Quarterons St Nicolas de Bourgueil is a charmer of a red wine. From the Loire valley, it is dominantly Cabernet Franc here and the light red cherry and plum fruits have the grape’s charcoal-note, calling card. Sprightly and engaging, this is a very fine, aromatic red.
Vintage Roots are proud of our very tasty trio of alcohol-free beers. One from England and two from Germany, each has proven very popular. Shop our alcohol-free beers here.