No alcohol wine: how it’s made
Fermentation is a transformative process. It doesn’t just produce alcohol but also myriad aromas, flavours and textures. The real challenge of making low- and no-alcohol wine is thus about how to remove the alcohol from a fermented juice (which can typically be 13%-14% alcohol by volume) without impairing mouthfeel, balance, typicity and quality. It’s not easy.
There are three main methods currently in use. Vacuum distillation sees alcohol and other volatiles removed at a relatively low temperature (25°C-30°C), with aromatics blended back in afterwards. Spinning cone columns are not dissimilar, but involve repeated low-temperature evaporation and condensation using inverted cones and centrifugal forces. They are swift and highly efficient in separating constituent elements, which are then blended back together. Both of these methods use expensive equipment. More affordable and mobile kit is available for reverse osmosis, a sophisticated cross-flow filtration system that separates out constituent elements based on different molecular sizes before blending back.
Sugar (or concentrated grape must) is generally added to replace the mouthfeel of alcohol. Some tinker with techniques to add texture or blend in other flavours or ingredients (from fruit juice to green tea to botanicals – even cannabis-derived constituents). Other techniques are currently being trialled, including those adapted from cider-making processes.
No alcohol wine – legal labelling
Legally, there is no such thing as ‘low- or no-alcohol wine’. Wine needs to have a minimum alcohol level of 8%, unless a specific exemption exists (for instance, Moscato d’Asti). Otherwise it must be called a ‘wine-based drink’ or words akin.
There are currently four terms that can be used for wine-based drinks of 1.2% and under. These are ‘low alcohol’ (1.2% or less), ‘non-alcoholic’, ‘de-alcoholised’ (alcohol extracted, no more than 0.5% abv) and ‘alcohol free’ (alcohol extracted, no more than 0.05% abv).
Confused? Join the club. No wonder research by London-based Portman Group reveals 68% of British adults think using one term would be clearer, while Reh Kendermann’s Alison Flemming says the current situation ‘just breeds confusion’.
There are calls for the UK to adopt a regime similar to Germany’s, where all wines under 0.5% are categorised as ‘alcohol free’.