As the alcohol-free trend continues to grow, increasing numbers of non-alcoholic wines are entering the market. But, with a product dependent on thousands of varieties of grapes, a question often arises: how is non-alcoholic wine made?
No, non-alcoholic wine isn’t just a modifier for fancy grape juice. It is made with fermented wine that involves a complicated, often expensive process to remove the alcohol. Here’s how they do it.
Non-Alcoholic Wine: The Process
Creating non-alcoholic wine follows the same process as traditional wine – at least initially. The grapes are grown, harvested, crushed and pressed, and fermented. However, after fermentation, the process veers into removing the alcohol content before bottling.
Dealcoholization of wine is a delicate process that can significantly affect the aroma, flavor, and texture, so it is important for winemakers to get it right. Many winemakers separate and reintroduce the flavor and aroma compounds after removing the alcohol to mimic regular wine.
The alcohol is removed through a variety of different methods including, vacuum distillation, reverse osmosis, or the spinning cone column technique. Let’s go through each process and answer a few commonly asked questions.
Vacuum distillation, also known as thermal distillation, removes the alcohol from wine using heat. The method is generally divided into two stages.
First, the wine is transferred into a distillation column to extract the volatile compounds, flavonoids, esters, and aliphatic alcohols that contribute to the wine’s flavor and aroma. Those compounds are reintroduced once the alcohol is removed to impart flavor and texture to the alcohol-free wine.
The second phase involves transferring the wine through the distillation column or vacuum chamber again to remove the alcohol. The vacuum chamber lowers the alcohol’s boiling point to around 70 to 95°F. This allows the ethanol to evaporate while preserving the water and the maximum amount of flavonoids and organic acids.
Reverse osmosis, or filtration, is a technique that relies on wine’s complex properties and a unique membrane-based filtration process. The wine is pumped at an extreme pressure past a hydrophilic, semi-permeable membrane and separated into two streams.
- The permeate: the smaller molecules, including water and ethanol.
- The retentate: the larger molecules, including flavor agents, pigments, phenolic acids, and aromatic compounds.
After removing the alcohol, winemakers replace the water initially separated from the concentrated wine (retentate). This creates a high-quality non-alcoholic wine with the same mouthfeel and nuances as regular wine.
Spinning Cone Column
The spinning cone column technique is popular for alcohol-free wine and other beverages in the USA and Australia. It is quick, efficient, and profitable for collecting and preserving wine’s volatile compounds (aromas).
Studies have even shown that the spinning cone column technique retains most of the wine’s beneficial compounds, including antioxidants.
This technique is an advanced form of distillation that gently removes alcohol at low temperatures under a vacuum. The wine isn’t subject to the high temperatures and pressures which damage the delicate texture, flavor, and aromatic compounds.
The vacuum column contains rapidly spinning cones that create a vapor-thin film of wine, stripping it of its volatile compounds. These aroma and flavor compounds are condensed and stored for later use.
Dealcoholization only takes place through a second run through the cones. This occurs at a higher temperature to separate the alcohol from the wine, reducing it to 0.5% ABV or lower. The ethanol vapor moves upward, and the dealcoholized wine flows downward.
Lastly, the volatile compounds collected in the first run are reintroduced to the dealcoholized wine, restoring the wine’s complexities.
Does Non-Alcoholic Wine Taste Like The Real Thing?
The truth is, non-alcoholic wine can taste like its boozy counterpart in many ways, from fruit-forward flavors to cleverly balanced acidic levels. However, removing the alcohol definitely removes some of the complexity and true nuances of a good bottle of wine.
Alcohol greatly contributes to balancing the sweetness and acidity of the wine. Without it, wines can become overly sweet or acidic. However, premium non-alcoholic wine brands strive to reintroduce the complexity, aromas, flavors, and tannins after the alcohol is removed.
It is easier for winemakers to mimic the flavor and texture of conventional wine when making non-alcoholic white and sparkling wines. Alcohol is responsible for the viscosity or mouthfeel of the wine. The higher the alcohol content in wine, the heavier its mouthfeel, which is why dark reds, like a merlot or Barolo, sit on the palate longer than a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc.
The key to enjoying a glass of non-alcoholic wine is to appreciate the qualities that resemble traditional wine and to acknowledge that it is a different product.
Is Non-Alcoholic Wine Grape Juice?
Grape juice used to be masqueraded as non-alcoholic wine; fortunately, those days are long behind us.
Grape juice is simply unfermented juice from grapes, whereas true alcohol-free wine undergoes vinification – fermentation, aging, etc. – before the alcohol is gently removed. Non-alcoholic wine is less sugary and sweet than grape juice.
When shopping for a bottle of alcohol-free wine, look for keywords like ‘dealcoholized’ or ‘alcohol-removed’ to avoid buying crazily overpriced grape juice marketed as alcohol-free wine.
Non-Alcoholic Wine – Label Legalities
Classifying non-alcoholic wine has some complexities with each country has a unique set of rules and regulations.
In the United States, the FDA states that non-alcoholic wine should contain less than 0.5% ABV to be labeled as non-alcoholic. However, the UK Food Standard Agency allows up to 1.2% ABV. In contrast, India requires companies to label anything with trace amounts of alcohol (more than 0.00%) as alcoholic.
Interested in Trying a Bottle? Test these Top Brands
We’ve got you covered if you’re joining the sober-conscious trend, opting for a healthier lifestyle, or ditching alcohol for religious reasons.
Here are some of the top non-alcoholic wine brands worth sipping.
The Last Sip
Innovative dealcoholization processes like vacuum distillation, reverse osmosis, and spinning cone columns have made it possible to enjoy sipping a glass of wine without the alcohol and hangover.
Remember, the mouthfeel and flavors of non-alcoholic wine may differ slightly from regular wine. Try to enjoy and appreciate it as a different product from wine.