Wines with a good aroma or bouquet are best when it comes to creating an alcohol-free wine, according to one German sommelier.
“Only a good wine can be made alcohol-free,” says Felix Fischer, master of the cellar at Kolonne Null, a Berlin-based company that selects wines from within Europe and removes the alcohol from them.
He and his team have spent the last four years researching how this process affects the taste of the wines.
After all, interest is growing in the area and more wineries, winegrowers’ cooperatives and commercial wineries are providing dealcoholised wines, says Ernst Buscher of the German Wine Institute.
However, the share of non-alcoholic Riesling, rosé or cuvées was still less than 1% of total German wine consumption in 2022, he says.
The proportion is rising though, with sales in the food retail sector increasing by about 18% in 2022, though no absolute figures are available.
A forecast by market research institute IWSR, however, suggests an annual growth of 7%, says Michael Degen of Messe event management, based in Dusseldorf. He runs the leading international wine trade fair ProWein.
“No and Low Alcohol” is an important trend, he says. “You can’t get around it at all anymore.”
The trend is driven by a greater awareness of health on the part of the younger generation, and changing consumer behaviour, according to the trade fair organisers.
“In addition to younger people, many women are also asking for non-alcoholic wine,” says sales manager Wilhelm Keicher of the Heilbronn cooperative winery.
Of those who increasingly enjoy non-alcoholic wines, 60% to 66% are women, according to a representative survey conducted by the Nielsen market research institute in 2020.
Plus there are those who “like to drink something winey, but where the doctor said it would be good if they no longer drank wine”, says Keicher.
The cooperative sells between 80,000 to 100,000 bottles of non-alcoholic wine each year, 6% to 8% of total production, he says.
“Riesling is one of the best sellers,” says company co-founder and boss Philipp Rossle of Kolonne Null. His team sells around 700,000 bottles, twice the level when they started out.
“The lack of a reasonable non-alcoholic food companion,” is what gave Rossle the idea of the business. He used to work in the arts.
People are sometimes very rational in choosing to buy a non-alcoholic wine, says Marian Kopp, managing director of the Lauffener Weingartner cooperative. “People want to join in the drinking at a dinner party, but they don’t want alcohol.”
Often, however, non-alcoholic wine still fails to meet expectations, he says.
“We’re just learning as the beer industry has learned, which is 40 years ahead of us,” Kopp says. “But we’re now at a point where the disappointment is rapidly diminishing.”
“A lot of people who want to avoid alcohol when they drink wine think that you can have grape juice instead,” says Buscher. “But that only contains the fruity flavours from the grapes.” It lacks the “vinous” taste that only comes from fermentation, he adds.
But new technologies and better processes mean wine with the alcohol removed tastes far better than it used to just a few years ago, Buscher says.
“For example, the dealcoholisation of wines is now done in a very aroma-friendly way at relatively low temperatures of below 30°C, using vacuum distillation or even in a centrifugal cone column.”
German producers are international leaders in production, he said.
You lose some 15% of the volume of the wine during dealcoholisation, says Buscher, which affects the prices.
When it comes to taste, you need to look at aroma-rich grape varieties and quality, so a maximum of the aroma can pass into the barrel and bottle, says Buscher.
That helps compensate for the lack of alcohol in the wine to some extent. “Because alcohol is a flavour carrier, like the fat in food.”
The stakes are high. “The industry wants the end product to be as close to wine as possible,” Buscher says.
A lot of tasting is involved in trying to match the flavour of the initial product more closely. Some vintners add fruity flavours, vanilla or verjus – an acidic juice made from crushed unripe grapes.
“But all this has absolutely nothing to do with fruit wine,” says Buscher. “It is, after all, 99.9% wine.”
You can taste a hint of lime in the non-alcoholic Riesling with Rivaner made by Lauffener Weingartner. The manufacturer Jorg Geiger from Schlat in Baden-Wurttemberg also uses blossoms and herbs in its beverages.
Other specialists in the alcohol-free field follow elaborate processes to recover the aroma of the distilled alcohol and add it to the dealcoholised wine, says Büscher.
The legal landscape is catching up and Germany has altered its wine laws. Wines may now be classified as “dealcoholised” at an alcohol rate of 0.5%. But this description does not cover wines to which flavours are added, which are described as non-alcoholic mixed drinks based on dealcoholised wine or dealcoholised flavoured wine-based beverages.
Whatever they are called, the new ranges of wines without or with little alcohol are mainly in demand for special occasions, away from home, to accompany a good meal or for drinking at conferences, according to specialists in the industry.
“My prediction is that in five to 10 years, every winery, just as it offers a secco or sparkling wine now, will also have a non-alcoholic wine in its range,” says Buscher. — dpa/Ira Schaible and Volker Danisch