Alcohol-free wine versus grape juice

alcohol-free wine and grape juice

One could drink water instead of wine, but in that case it’s almost a pity you’re thirsty.

Fritz Francken ( Flemish writer)

Non-alcoholic wine and grape juice

Drinking alcohol-free beverages is hip. Alcohol-free beers and non-alcoholic wines are trendy. Alcohol-free wine is a great solution for drivers. Now you can safely drink a glass of wine and still get behind the wheel responsibly. In fact, it’s so hip that a lot of people join the non-alcohol month of January initiative in the Netherlands. People take up the challenge of not consuming alcohol for a month. I have my second thoughts. It sounds a bit like a hype like joining the bucket challenge, the planking movies on youtube, the cinnamon challenge, etc. But maybe I am wrong and those people really want to do something about their health. In that case, I would recommend something else to do throughout the year other than just being a total abstainer for just a month. But that’s not the point. Let’s see what alcohol-free wine is and how it is made.

Alcohol-free wine contains alcohol

To come straight to the point: non-alcoholic wine always contains a little bit of alcohol. It is only a little bit, 0.5% alcohol, but still. Good to know. In fact, the label should say “alcohol poor wine”, but of course that sells less well. Couldn’t you just as well drink grape juice? Let’s explore that.

Non-alcoholic wine versus Grape juice

A good question indeed: Can’t you just as well buy yourself a pack of grape juice? Isn’t that the same thing as alcohol-free wine? And much cheaper! Are we not being scammed here? I now just feel like a tv program that is getting to the bottom of it.
You’re right. Grape juice is much cheaper than alcohol-free wine. But is it the same as non-alcoholic wine?
Grape juice is produced by pressing grapes. To make it sustainable, it is often pasteurized. When you have a quality brand this is all pure juice. The cheaper brands also add water, sugar and flavoring- and coloring agents. Water is cheaper than fruit juice.
Non-alcoholic wine is, of course, also made from pressed grapes. But that’s how far the similarities go. To make an alcohol-free wine, traditional wine has been made from the pressed grape juice. During the fermentation, many sugars in grape juice have been converted into alcohol and specific aromas have been created. Finally, alcohol has largely been removed. But the specific aromas that go with this wine have mostly remained. Just try it. Really very different from grape juice.

Non-alcoholic wine and calories

Good news for the thirsty person who wants to drink something tasty but also wants to mind the calories. A glass of non-alcoholic wine contains far fewer calories than regular wine. 4x as few calories! Good to know. But we were talking about the comparison between alcohol-free wine and grape juice. What about that? The alcohol-free wine also tends to be the winner here. Non-alcoholic wine contains around 3x fewer calories than grape juice.

How is non-alcoholic wine made?

The basis of non-alcoholic wine is regular wine. Next, the alcohol is removed. Remains the question: how do they fix that? I sorted it out for you. There are different ways to remove alcohol from wine.  
1. Evaporation by heating
This was the first method being used. With this method, important aromas also disappeared at the same time during the evaporation. Moreover, this wine often smells rather unpleasant. In the best case, it smells after stewed fruits. That is why the first non-alcoholic wines did not sell. Nowadays, there are better methods.
2. Vacuum distillation
This is a much better technique where the wine is being vacuumed at room temperature. The alcohol evaporates due to the low pressure. Non-volatile aromas are retained, but aromas also disappear with this method. Sometimes they are added later. Often these are better wines than with method 1, but you still miss some tastes with this method.
3. Membrane filtering
This method is the most successful so far. Via a centrifuge technique, the wine is filtered through an ultra-thin membrane at a low temperature. With this method, most of the aromas remain in the wine.

How do you know which technique has been used? You cannot know that unless the winemaker has published this. There is nothing else to do but to find the info on the internet. But why not go to your wine shop, ask for advice and try the wine.

The different taste of non-alcoholic wine

Many wine lovers think alcohol-free wines taste different than regular wines. They are right. There is nothing to argue with that. We have already seen that during the process of removing alcohol from wine, aromas also disappear. Another point is that alcohol in wine also plays a positive role when it comes to taste.
Alcohol in wine can slightly mask the acidity and even adds a sweet impression. No wonder that both white and red non-alcoholic wines often taste a bit more acidic.
Non-alcoholic wines also often have less body and balance. Alcohol in regular wines also has a positive contribution at this point.
Red alcohol-free wine in particular can feel quite astringent. That is that rough mouthfeel of tannins. With regular wine, alcohol influences this in a positive way.

Better quality of non-alcoholic wines

Most non-alcoholic wines were unpleasant to drink a few years ago. Improved techniques have resulted in better non-alcoholic wines. There is nonetheless a big difference between regular – and alcohol-free wines. And we already mentioned the clear differences with grape juice. But you can’t compare the products that way. Every product has its own qualities, characteristics and has its own fans.
My conclusion: choose the product that you feel comfortable with, what you feel like or what is appropriate at that particular moment.
Cheers.

2 thoughts on “Alcohol-free wine versus grape juice”

  1. The lack of alcohol in a non-alcoholic wine is certainly more pronounced than in a NA beer, but I agree the quality has gotten a lot better in recent years, eg Adnam’s Cabernet/Tempranillo.

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