Is there such a thing as zero alcohol wine and is there a market for it?

Is it a concept or is it a wine?

To be honest, I was pretty sceptical, at first, but the launch of New Zealand’s first zero alcohol wine this month prompted me to put no alcohol wines to the taste test. I also asked several wine drinking friends what they thought of the idea of drinking a 0% alcohol wine.

Giesen chief winemaker Nikolai St George wanted to make a 0% alcohol wine after a fitness challenge last year, which involved no alcohol for a month.

“Cutting out alcohol was quite hard for me, being a winemaker and being around wine for a long time,” says the Marlborough winemaker, who produced the company’s first no alcohol wine the same way as he makes Giesen’s other wines but then he removed the alcohol from it, using spinning cone technology, which is used in the perfume industry. This technology separates the fragrance and alcohol from the wine. The distilled aroma is later added back into the final product.

Putting no alcohol wines to the test

Giesen Wines sent me their Giesen 0% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which I served blind alongside two other wines; one containing alcohol, the other one was another zero alcohol product. All had their identities concealed. I poured these three wines separately for four different people, all of whom work with wine professionally. They all had the same element of surprise when the wines were tasted. They did not warm to the first one, which was a light bodied, 12.5% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – which did contain alcohol. They disliked the second wine the most, which was a French zero alcohol Chardonnay. All criticised its syrupy flavours for being sweet, gloopy and cloying. I agree.

The third wine was the favourite for three out of the four tasters. It was Giesen’s 0% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

All wines were served blind with no context given about the theme of the tasting. I preferred the light bodied Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which did contain alcohol. It tasted crisp, fresh and dilute but it had more flavour than the new Giesen Sauvignon Blanc – which was a close run second, for me.

I rated the new Giesen 0% Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc at 16.5/20, equal to 3.5 stars, in my book.

The new Giesen zero alcohol Sauvignon Blanc actually contains not more than 0.5% alcohol by volume, has a pH of 3.2, TA of 7.5 grams per litre and has residual sugar of 13 grams per litre; about four to five times higher than most Sauvignon Blancs on the market, but clearly providing a balance of flavour.

Why 0% alcohol?

The 0% wine category raises a minefield of questions for me – why drink wine if you don’t want to consume alcohol?

Why not drink fruit juice, a soft drink or sparkling water with ice and a slice of lime or lemon?

Why worry about what other people think, if you’re out socially and want to consume a sophisticated looking drink? Good glassware and sparkling water can still provide this look, can’t they?

Why remove the alcohol, along with much of the flavour, from a complex drink that was carefully made to contain alcohol via fermentation? It seems like a lot of bother to make it and then change its very essence.

One friend suggested that if you need to feel that you’re consuming alcohol, maybe it’s not the alcohol that’s the problem, but the expectation of having it.

The biggest question of all for me is this one: Isn’t wine, by its very definition, a drink that contains alcohol?

The Oxford Companion to Wine defines it as: “Wine, alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of fruits or berries.”

  • I would love to hear your thoughts… Email me: mailme@joellethomson.com