Lowering the (alcohol) ante

Delving into the remarkable world of zero alcohol wines.

First there were lower alcohol wines. Now zero alcohol wines have hit the scene. Who is drinking these beverages and do they redefine what “wine” actually is? 

New alcohol-free bars are opening up in a world where much is closing down. Both Melbourne and Colorado now have zero alcohol bars and a report conducted this year predicts that global sales of zero per cent and low per cent alcoholic drinks will increase 31 per cent by 2024. 

New Zealand’s low alcohol wines

The company leading the zero alcohol wine charge in this country is the Giesen Group – and chief winemaker Duncan Shouler says demand for both zero alcohol and lower alcohol wines is coming from unexpected places. 

“We thought it would be health and wellness fanatics who would want low to no alcohol wines but it’s much wider. It’s wine-drinking consumers who want to drink without alcohol on occasion, such as when they need to drive or don’t want the after-effects of alcohol.” 

I can testify to that, although not personally. Dry July stretched on interminably for friends of mine, who actively sought and bought Giesen’s new zero alcohol wines in a bid to quench their desire for wine, only without actually consuming any alcohol.

And a close family member with a terminal illness is also a fan of lower alcohol wine, saying, “It doesn’t taste as good but it lets me drink wine and feel relaxed on many levels, without the effects of full-strength wine.” 

The key to making delicious zero alcohol wine is to produce it from good quality wine, says Shouler, who now produces three examples: Giesen Zero Sauvignon Blanc, Giesen Zero Pinot Gris and Giesen Zero Rosé.   

These wines are made alcohol-free in a spinning cone and Giesen Group is the first winery in the country to own one. 

The cone removes alcohol by distilling wine into three layers: aroma, alcohol and body. The aroma is added to the body of the wine to create a zero per cent alcohol beverage. 

Lower alcohol wines are another story, which Marlborough winemaker Dr John Forrest wrote an early chapter of when he began making them intentionally back in 2006, with the Doctors’ Riesling. 

This 9 per cent alcohol wine retains depth of flavour with a lightness of body. It ages beautifully too.

Forrest is a big fan of Riesling and makes it in a wide range of styles, including lower alcohol.

Riesling lends itself to various styles because its high acidity works well when counterbalanced with residual sugar. Alcohol is not removed, so lower alcohol wines such as this tick the box for purists.

Zero alcohol wines are a different beast, however. They complicate the traditional definition of wine as an alcoholic drink obtained from the fermentation of natural sugars in fruit. Is it still wine if the alcohol has been removed?

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