Judging by the fact that the “zero alcohol” wine I bought 3 years ago is still sitting in the Chateau Lello wine fridge, then I’m yet to be convinced on the merits of such wines. But the market for low or zero alcohol wines is rapidly growing. There’s usually even a shelf dedicated to such products in the large chain bottle shops.
Can a beverage produced from grapes and containing zero alcohol even be called “wine” anyway? Not according to the European Union, they can’t. According to the EU, fermented grape juice must have an alcohol by volume (abv) level of at least 8.5% to be labelled “wine”. Judging by the few zero alcohol wines I have tried thus far, I’m not so sure they should be called wines either. But, before totally dismissing the trend, we should unpack these offerings a little.
According to the Wine Australia website, a range of terms can be applied to wines in this category. “Non-intoxicating” beverages made from grapes must have an abv of 0.5% or less. “Low alcohol” variants need to have less than 1.15% abv. “Light”, “Low” or “Reduced” alcohol wines are comparative claims and given that most wines are in the 10-14% abv range then anything less than this could lay claim to such representation.
According to the Australian Food Standards Code, for a beverage to be classified as “wine”, it must be either a partial or complete fermentation of fresh grapes and have an alcohol level of at least 4.5%. So, a label representing “Zero alcohol wine” does not seem to align with the relevant food standards, at least in theory anyway.
How are such “wines” produced anyway? Mostly, these products start their journey off as normal wine, and the alcohol is removed by either filtration, a process known as reverse osmosis or spun around at such a fierce pace that the alcohol is literally spun away from the rest of the liquid.
Does removing the alcohol affect the taste of the wine? In my experience, the answer is yes. Apart from the “buzz”, alcohol provides mouthfeel, richness and contributes significantly to the body, aroma and flavour of the wine. By removing the alcohol, such wines can appear one-dimensional and flat. If you love your wines big and bold, low or no-alcohol wines might be a bridge too far.
However, these wines don’t taste like grape juice either, so perhaps the tasting experience is not all that bad.
With healthier lifestyles top of mind for many of us, perhaps it’s worth our own investigations – there’s plenty to choose from. I might even crack that one bottle open soon…maybe.
Yass Valley Times Wine Columnist