January 23, 2024

What are low alcohol wines? Are they any good?

For a few years now, the market for zero alcohol wine has been growing. The selection in the wine aisles of supermarkets is booming and off licenses now have a selection as well. Not just in the UK, but all across the world. I saw a good sized selection in both France and in Germany recently too. In additional, the growth of people continuing to embrace ‘Dry January’, ‘Dry July’, or any other month means that this category will be one that some people will turn to at least once a year. 

What is also very interesting is that the UK government recently announced that they are now dropping the minimum alcohol by volume that was adopted under the EU. This allows drinks made from fermented grapes to now legally be called ‘wine’ if they are lower alcohol than previous EU restrictions or are 0.0% or 0.05% ABV. Therefore a drink made through the fermentation of grapes can now be labelled as wine in the UK even if it has had its resultant alcohol removed. You can read more about it by clicking ‘here’.

What is the difference between zero alcohol wines and grape juice?

Fermentation. The wines are still fermented, though they then must go through a process, or even two, to remove the alcohol. Grape juice is, of course, not a fermented product.   

The alcohol is removed processes such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis. Vacuum distillation seems to be the process that I am finding most common at the moment. Vacuum distillation where the wine is held in a vacuum which then lowers the temperature of the boiling point. The wine produces steam at around 30-45oC which is captured. The steam consists of alcohol and water. This steam also then includes some of the aromatic compounds. Those compounds and water can be added back into the wine when they have been separated from the alcohol.  You are then left a wine product that has low alcohol, or even negligible alcohol content. 

Reverse Osmosis is a method that uses a membrane to separate alcohol out. The alcohol molecule is larger than water. However, in doing so it also removes water from the wine which then needs to be added back to dilute the concentrated compounds that is what remains of the wine. Critics of this method state that is it not environmentally friendly as it requires plenty of pure water.

Some brands, such as French Bloom, are wine based drinks and have other ingredients added such as sparkling water, lemon juice and flavouring. The wine base use is, of course, had the alcohol removed.

 How much alcohol is left?

For a wine to be called ‘alcohol free’ in the UK, the wine needs to be no more than 0.05% ABV. For it to be labelled as ‘low alcohol’, it needs to be 1.2% ABV or less.  In some countries, such as Germany, to be called ‘alcohol free’ it should be 0.5%.

In Australia, it is rather confusing. Any wine that has had the alcohol removed and is under 0.5% doesn’t need to state the alcohol content on the label. Yet, if a product has any alcohol content at all, it shouldn’t be called ‘zero alcohol’ or ‘alcohol free’. I predict that this will have to be clarified in the coming years. See the details from Wine Australia here. A wine is considered ‘low alcohol’ if it has less than 1.15% ABV. 

Does it taste like wine?

This will be where conversations will differ quite wildly. And here it will largely depend on your tastebuds. 

Wine, having been fermented, will have layers of complexity that mere grape juice will not have. Each grape variety will have certain expected aromas and flavours arising from the compounds developed by that variety in that particular vineyard situation. This is a commonality for all wine. 

Grapes destined for wine could be said to be more carefully grown and cultivated than grapes destined for the table. Therefore, they will likely deliver a more complex aroma and flavour profile than ‘grape juice’ in any case. Then you have to consider that the fermentation process will add and enhance particular aroma and flavour compounds as well. 

These wines will find plenty of enjoyment. 

And the added bonus of being low alcohol or ‘zero’ alcohol will add to that enjoyment and may mean that people are more tolerant of what they taste like and the texture of these wines. For example, I actually enjoy drinking alcohol free gins because I like the taste enough to add some to my tonic. Of course, gin and wine are not the same at all but hopefully, you get my point. 

I also think it is important to make the point that as of now and what I have tasted so far, sparkling wines do seem to have more vibrancy and freshness than still versions. Those bubbles lift the palate and give some lightness where needed and this can balance the flavours in some instances too.

However …. 

I have a concern in that in all the wines that I have tasted, I still get a finishing flavour of grape juice. Even on French Bloom which is a ‘wine based’ drink, very dominantly wine though. Those wines also end up tasting either like grape concentrate or the white version took on a lemonade finish. Obviously, this is a remnant of the process and just because I can taste it, doesn’t mean everyone will.  However, I will continue to sample these wines far and wide and will let you all know.  In the meantime, I have listed some to try for yourself as a starter.

Edenvale Sparkling Shiraz Alcohol Removed Premium Reserve

This wine has a very inviting deep red colour, as you should expect from a sparkling shiraz. The aromas lifting from the glass is very attractive with lashings of thyme, cherry concentrate, boysenberry and spice. It is full bodied has the flavours of rich berries wrap up the clean, lingering finish. This does seem a more successful wine where the flavours remain fresher along the palate and true to the variety. 

It is less than 0.5% Alcohol and for a 150 ml glass has just 32 calories. 

(AU$15 | UK £tba | USD$32 | CA$33)

Not Guilty Red Blend 

Not Guilty is a stable mate in the Australian Vintage portfolio, along with McGuigan, Nepenthe, Tempus Two and others. This is a shiraz based red blend. It is has a gamey note that rises first from the glass along with cherries, some spice and herbs.  It is very intense and concentrated and finishes with the flavours of grapes, with a hint of cherry and rosemary. 

This is labelled as ‘Zero Alcohol’.

(UK £5)

Tesco Low Alcohol Garnacha Rose 0.5%

This is a low alcohol pink wine made from just Spanish Garnacha (Grenache). And it is a bright pink. The nose is of confected cherry berry cordial which also makes its presents on the palate. This Garnacha is very fruity and has soft acid. It is one for summer and I would recommend that you should try this one with salty fish and chips or Thai food.

It is less than 0.5% Alcohol and for a 125 ml glass has just 35 calories


There is more…..

For reviews of the Oddbird range of zero alcohol click here or the image below.

To read about the French Bloom 0% alcohol wines, click here or the image below.

To read about Eisberg Zero Alcohol wines, please click here or on the image below:


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