For some time, my editor has been urging me to explore the world of non-alcoholic wines and I have to admit that I put off his request, perhaps not being really sure how to approach the subject. Or perhaps it was just that, to me, as a wine drinker of 30-plus years, the whole concept seemed somewhat questionable.
But recently I made a friend who, for the moment, is not drinking as a result of health issues. This at least presented me with the opportunity to have company as I explored this new territory, so I decided to take a crack at the subject.
The first question I had to ask myself was this: Why would one drink a non-alcoholic wine? The obvious answer would be this: So as not to become intoxicated.
But to me this suggests that many people drink wine for the alcoholic effect, which I truly believe is not the case. Any number of spirits will accomplish that much more quickly and effectively.
I am firmly of the belief that most wine enthusiasts drink wine for the taste and for the ‘convivial contribution’ (a fancy way of saying ‘buzz’) that a glass or two provides. But, when drinking with company, it relaxes us a little but also often causes us to see each other and perhaps the world, as a whole, in a slightly happier light.
But we’re not drinking to get drunk.
I also drink wine because, as past readers may have detected, I truly believe that wine matched with food can enhance the tasting experience of the other, that the whole truly is greater that the sum of its parts.
So, one or two evenings a week when I want to put the effort into a dinner that I actually sit down and eat to enjoy, I’ll drink a glass of wine while I prepare the meal, and a second with it as I enjoy my supper.
And I’ll do it even if I am alone in my cabin, so the conviviality factor doesn’t come into play.
So if people are choosing to drink non-alcoholic wines, perhaps they are looking for a satisfying taste accompaniment that a wine and food can create, just without the alcohol. Perhaps they have dietary restrictions, health issues or expect to have to drive somewhere later or just have low tolerance for alcohol.
As a person born in Montréal, I occasionally get a craving for a smoked-meat sandwich with mustard, served on rye bread. To my mind, no wine I have yet encountered beats a cold bottle of beer to wash it down.
And I’ll admit that on a Saturday when I have things to accomplish after lunch, I have occasionally chosen a non-alcoholic beer.
Brewers have managed to capture a good amount of the beer taste in their non-alcoholic offerings, so I had hoped this might be the case for wines. But I am afraid to say, at least for the offerings I sampled, it would appear that winemakers have a ways to go to catch up with their brewing counterparts.
Three non-alcoholic wines are offered at the liquor store … a white, a red and a sparkling ‘wine’ priced at $8.55 a bottle. My non-drinking friend and I still have to taste the red (I’ll report on that later). All three are made by Loxton, an Australian company. Their still white wine, a Semillon Chardonnay, is made from those two grapes.
Unfortunately, it was pretty disappointing.
There was virtually no bouquet (smell) as I swirled it around in my glass. And the taste was not, to my tongue at least, very wine-like. It had a vague grape-juice taste and was not sweet, but I kept looking for something more in the way of taste.
It was sort of like a not-very-grapey Welch’s White Grape Juice … not pronounced enough to be as satisfying as grape juice and almost totally lacking, in my opinion, as a taste substitute for a white wine.
Its carbon footprint, alone, offends me.
Do we really need to ship something so fundamentally lacking in virtue half way around the world that does not even offer a satisfying drinking experience? Surely a vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, or at least in California, could provide a comparably unassuming beverage without travelling the distance this poor bottle has.
I am sorry to report that the Loxton Sparkling Brut wine ($8.55), to me at least, tasted essentially the same, but with bubbles added.
But all is not lost, my friends!
After the Loxton, I began to think perhaps there is a third reason someone might search for non-alcoholic wine. It goes back to the conviviality effect. Perhaps I was trying too hard to have the wine taste experience and forgetting that we often just like to have something to sip while talking with friends or something to pour into a champagne flute to toast a special occasion.
And once I remembered that, I looked in Superstore and found a happy solution.
I can heartily recommend President’s Choice Célébration Blanc Sparkling de-alcoholized wine at the stunning price of $3.99 a bottle.
It has a more pronounced grapey fruit taste and nose without being sweet or cloying and also manages to capture some of the ‘toast’ notes in the bouquet that you often encounter in decent champagnes.
Perhaps the Loxton Cabernet Sauvignon (red) at $8.55 will be better, but I’m going to hold a decent backup red in reserve as I do not have high hopes.
But in the meantime, if you want to serve something festive and non-alcoholic, chill down a bottle of PC Célébration Blanc, pop the cork and pour into a champagne flute. It will be festive, bubbly, have a nice bouquet and be satisfying on your tongue as well as being a welcome non-alcoholic alternative at any party or dinner.
Just a reminder: Open That Bottle of Wine Night is coming up. It’s your opportunity to open that special bottle you have been saving, share it with friends and tell them why it is special. Plan an evening around it and e-mail me at email@example.com and tell me how the evening went.
So, mark it on your calendars: Saturday, Feb. 28 is Open That Bottle Night.