For a lot of people, when they hear non alcoholic or alcohol free wine, they think grape juice. Certainly there are drinks out there which are basically just grape juice.
However the new breed of non alcoholic wines are very much fermented wine which are then “dealcoholised” via a few different methods which i will explain.
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What is non alcoholic wine?
Non alcoholic wine is wine that has undergone the fermentation process but then had the alcohol removed. This can be done via spinning cone column, vacuum distillation or cold filtered reverse osmosis. This leaves an alcohol content of anywhere from 0.0% to 0.5% to be called non alcoholic. Grape juice is never fermented.
Is non alcoholic wine just grape juice?
No, there are products out there that are basically just grape juice, tarted up as wine. You’ll be paying for expensive grape juice with these.
A non alcoholic wine has been through the fermentation process and then the alcoholic is removed. It should be labelled “dealcoholised” or “alcohol removed”. Grape juice undergoes no fermentation at all.
A non alcoholic wine should go through all the same processes as a normal wine including fermentation, filtration and ageing. A grape juice will just be pressed and sugar added.
Do all non alcoholic wines have the same amount of alcohol?
All non alcoholic wines are not born equal.
Not all non alcoholic wines have the same ABV. There are different labelling requirements around the world. In general, a non alcoholic wine will have <0.5% ABV. In some jurisdictions an alcohol free wine will be 0.0% but this is not universal.
Confused? Ive written about what all the terminologies mean and what to look for so you know what ABV you are getting. Have a read here.
How is non alcoholic wine made?
The magic of non alcoholic wine only happens right at the end. As we’ve seen above, non alcoholic wine and regular wine, follow the same journey through fermentation but only after this does the winemaker remove the alcohol.
There are 3 main techniques used to removed alcohol from the fermented wine
- spinning cone column
- cold filtration – reverse osmosis
- vacuum distillation
I’ll go through each one in turn.
This is the most efficient and profitable method of the three. It is also the fastest way to preserve and collect volatile compounds in a wine at low temperatures.
The technology uses something called thin film evaporation. Thin-film or thin-layer evaporators have been developed to purify temperatures sensitive products by evaporation.
It is created by the rotation of the cones. The vapour is stripped using a vacuum process with a just a small amount of the wine.
Only a part of the dealcoholized wine is processed. This volume is first ‘de-aromatized’ and significantly dealcoholized.
The previously extracted aromas are de-aromatized and reintroduced into the dealcoholized wine and this fraction is then reintroduced into the total volume of wine to be processed.
This technique is based on distillation and heat process and enable the winemaker to adjust the alcohol level without losing aromas.
Cold Filtration – Reverse Osmosis
The second method is reverse osmosis. Winemakers use very high pressures instead of heat. The wine is forced against a very think membrane filter. This filter separates water and alcohol from the wine’s aromatic components.
After this the winemakers use distillation to separate the alcohol. Lastly, they bring back the remaining water with the aromatic components. As there is less water than the water/alcohol mix, they usually have to add more water to get it back in balance.
The third method is vacuum distillation.
It is usually divided into two stages. Firstly the wine is put through a distillation column at just 30°C.
It is possible to distill the wine at this temperature due to the vacuum it is put under. The highly volatile compounds (aromas) are removed in a small quantity of alcohol.
The second stage is to re run the distillation in the column for a second time, to remove the alcohol.
Can less alcohol be produced in the first place?
Dealcoholisation is hard and you are risking damaging the delicate volatile components which give the wines their flavour. Or losing them altogether.
It is increasingly possible toe moved alcohol at all parts of the winemaking and not just right at the end with the process above.
These are some of the methods in use
- Using grape varieties that are naturally low in sugar so produce less alcohol
- You can harvest in 2 lumps. The first when the grapes are not so ripe and more acidic. They produce less alcohol with less sugar. The second at the normal time, then missing the two.
This can produce more acidic wines with poor flavours so needs to very carefully done.
- There are enzymes such as glucose oxidase which eat up the sugar and can half the alcohol content
It is currently only allowed for white wines.
- You can limit the fermentation of bacterial strains to reduce alcohol levels. Again, you can’t use this for all wines.
- By using a yeast with low alcohol yields, which is both inexpensive and easy to implement.
How is Halal wine made?
Ive written about this complex issue and how to tell if a wine may be Halal in my article posted here.
Halal wine is made the same way and is the same as alcohol free 0.0% ABV wines.
Their additional step is to get an Islamic Council to verify that the wine is really alcohol free and 0.0% ABV. They issue a Halal Certification for the wine and Muslims and be assured it really is 0.0%
Is non alcoholic wine more expensive?
Non alcoholic wine is normal wine that has then gone through an additional process to dealcoholise it. As such you would think it would be more expensive in a like for like costing.
There are significant tax advantages tho, being non alcoholic. There will be no tax duty (alcohol taxation) owed so this significantly reduces how much a bottle costs.
What is the end result? Its actually hard to tell. I don’t think winemakers are using their A1 grapes to make non alcoholic wine. When we start seeing the Bordeaux First Growths like Chateau Lafite/Latour/Margaux producing a non alcoholic wine from their best grapes, we will see the actual price difference!
Even with those investment quality wines, you pay handsomely for branding and image.
You will find a range of non alcoholic wines from the very cheap to the mid price, its had to tell what they will be like until you try them.
Is non alcoholic wine vegan?
Vegan culture is very popular currently and more and more people are trying to find out if their every day food and drink contains animal products.
There are lots of foods you would not have thought you would need to consider this in. Wine is a surprising one for me. Is it vegan? Why would it not be and how would i check? Is non alcoholic wine vegan?
Many non alcoholic wines are vegan but not all. Some specifically label themselves as vegan but others don’t. Non alcoholic wine may be filtered to clarify it using animal products such as isinglass or casein. You can check the vegan status on barnivore.com.
What animal products might be used to make wine?
There are a number of surprising animal products used to clarify the wine of all its organic particulate matter…
- Isinglass – swim bladders for certain fish
- Gelatin – connective tissue of cows and pigs
- Egg white
- Casein – milk protein
How are vegan wines filtered?
Bentonite – Bentonite is a clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. It forms a paste with water and is used as a fining agent.
Bentonite is the main alternative method but others include activated charcoal and PVPP
For a full overview of vegan wine and how to tell if a wine is vegan, have a read of my article on it.
Is non alcoholic wine gluten free?
Non alcoholic wine is gluten free as it is not made from any grains. Even if any grains are used in part of the manufacturing, the distillation process would remove any gluten from the finished wine. No gluten is added to wine.
Does non alcoholic wine taste like alcoholic wine?
This is the big question isn’t it. If they tasted exactly the same there would be no reason for one of the two would there? So no matter what anyone tells you, no they do not taste the same.