Non-alcoholic wine: what makes it different to grape juice?

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9 min read
Different wine types in glasses with vineyard background

It is common knowledge that wine starts life as a humble grape, which is then juiced and fermented in order to produce alcohol which, in turn, is turned into wine. But if non-alcoholic wine has no alcohol content, what’s the point? Surely it’s just grape juice?

Simply put, non-alcoholic wine is made by removing the alcohol content in wine that has already gone through the fermentation process. Rather than just tasting like grape juice, the fermentation process is what gives each wine its distinctive flavour profile and complex flavours that wine drinkers enjoy from the real thing.

Grape juice, on the other hand, is all about capturing the natural flavour of the grapes the moment they’re crushed. This means that, while wine, real and non-alcoholic, and grape juice all come from the same primary ingredient, they both have vastly different tastes.

Below, we explain the vast differences between real and non-alcoholic wine, and the impact the non-alcoholic version has on its flavours and drinking experience.

How does non-alcoholic wine differentiate from grape juice?

One common misconception is that the deciding factor for differentiating between wine and grape juice is the fact one contains alcohol. It has often been thought that there is a very small amount of alcohol within non-alcoholic wine which allows the product to be labelled as wine and not juice, but this isn’t the case.

Like many fruit juices, grape juice can also contain small amounts of alcohol – nothing to get drunk off of, so there’s no need to worry! This trace level of alcohol in natural fruit juices can develop because of yeast particles in the air becoming trapped within the juice product. These particles then ferment and become the trace amount of alcohol.

One study of how much alcohol can be found in natural fruit juices discovered it could be around the 0.86% mark, but because of the faster production processes that help to produce fruit juices, the yeast fermentation is prevented from becoming anywhere close to the level of wine.

Furthermore, other steps are used during these production processes to either completely eliminate or remove alcohol; but some grape juices will contain tiny levels of alcohol.

How is non-alcoholic wine made?

Interestingly, non-alcoholic wine is made in a very similar fashion to real wine – just with one crucial step at the end of the process.

Firstly, the grapes are crushed to release the natural juices which will be used for fermenting. At this stage, the liquid is similar in colour for all wine varieties; meaning that the colour will be the same no matter what grapes you use! The next steps are determined by what colour wine you wish to make:

  • For white wine:
    The skin and seeds are removed prior to the fermentation process.
  • For red wine:
    The skin and seeds are left in during the entire fermentation process. The skin and seeds are also full of antioxidants and can even help to lower blood pressure.
  • For rosé wine:
    The skin and seeds are left in for part of the fermentation process, but are eventually removed. The length of time they are left in will determine how deep of colour the final product will be.

You may be wondering how long fermentation can take for non-alcoholic wine and normal wine. This process can vary vastly, from days to months and, depending on the wine being made, it’s during this time that natural sugars are added – which are eventually transformed into alcohol by the yeast within the liquid. Once this process has concluded, the wine will be aged to develop unique flavours.

At this stage, you have normal wine which has alcohol. But, as mentioned earlier, there’s one extra step that creates non-alcoholic wine: the removal of alcohol.

How to remove the alcohol from wine

To make non-alcoholic wine, the alcohol needs to be removed after the normal winemaking process. That sounds complicated, so how is it done? There are three primary methods that are currently employed to remove alcohol from wine. These are:

  • Spinning cone:
    This method involves spinning the wine within a tower of upside-down cones. This helps the alcohol to be separated from the final product while preserving the crucial aroma and body of the wine.
  • Reverse osmosis:
    Filtration on a molecular level works to separate the wine itself. The alcohol is then removed, and the remaining elements are blended back together.
  • Vacuum distillation:
    By employing a vacuum chamber, the wine is boiled at a low temperature in order to cause the alcohol to evaporate from the wine.

Once the alcohol has been removed, the non-alcoholic is technically ready; although some wine manufacturers will use this time to blend the wine to further perfect the flavour of the final product.

So, how does non-alcoholic wine taste?

While both drinks have origins in the humble grape, the way each is made will develop a completely different flavour! Grape juice is made to capture the fresh flavours of pressed grapes – keeping the flavour of the grapes as authentic as how it naturally occurs. For non-alcoholic wine, this is a completely different story.

Where wine has gone through a whole fermentation process, the alcohol that is produced at the end will give the wine a completely different flavour profile. This is caused by the sugars being transformed into alcohol by the yeast which, in turn, helps to generate more complex flavours with the final product. Also, with the conversion of sugar into alcohol, the wine will have less of a sweet taste compared to grape juice as it now contains less sugar.

One of the main issues with non-alcoholic wine is that, with the removal of the alcohol, they risk removing some of the core flavours within the wine itself. Because of this, non-alcoholic wine may taste different to the original wine – and this will vary depending on the type of wine you choose.

Furthermore, with the removal of alcohol from non-alcoholic wine, the first thing many people notice is the lack of warmth in its mouthfeel. This sensation is derived from the alcohol in normal wine, similar to a muted burn when drinking strong spirits, but as it is absent in alcohol-free wine, it can be quite a noticeable difference.

Additionally, being alcohol-free can cause the chosen wine variant to be lighter in body. This is sometimes remedied by some winemakers with the addition of sugar at the blending stage, post alcohol removal, but this can cause the non-alcoholic wine to be high in sugar as a trade-off for more body.

How does sugar affect alcohol-free wine?

As sugar is added to some non-alcoholic wines during the winemaking process, it can be difficult to stay mindful of how much sugar you’re actually drinking – especially as non-alcoholic wine can have a higher sugar content than the real thing. Some variants contain as little as 3.6 grams per glass, whereas others can contain up to 18 grams.

Compared to non-alcoholic wine, grape juice can contain up to 15 grams of sugar naturally found within the grapes themselves; plus any extra that are added during the manufacturing process.

Grape juice tends to have a higher sugar content than non-alcoholic wine as most of the sugar in the wine will have been converted to alcohol during the winemaking process, and this alcohol will end up being removed. It’s only the sugar blended back into the wine at the end which will lead to high sugar levels.

The best non-alcoholic wines

True non-alcoholic wine is produced from wine that has been fermented with yeast and has undergone a vinification process. After, the wine goes through an additional process that removes the alcohol content. Any other product that is marketed as non-alcoholic wine will simply be fruit juice.

Below, we detail the best non-alcoholic wines for you to try out.

The best non-alcoholic rosé wine

  • Torres Natureo Rosé:
    Rosé wine deserves a sweet flavour, and this non-alcoholic wine certainly brings those sweet notes to the forefront, all without a cloying finish. A cherry jam aroma with undertones that bring sour sweets to the mind – delectable!
  • Noughty Alcohol-Free Sparkling Rosé:
    A wonderful sparkling non-alcoholic wine which is organic, vegan, low in sugar, and halal-friendly. This rosé brings a delicate blend of fresh summer berries to the palette with a sophisticated balance of sweet and acidic notes.

The best non-alcoholic white wine

  • Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Riesling:
    This non-alcoholic riesling features earthy tones when first hitting the nose, but has those distinct riesling notes when on the palette. Featuring peachy fruit notes and a characteristic blend of sweetness and acidity.
  • Torres Natureo Muscat:
    As one of Spain’s biggest producers, Torres is probably one of the best and most widely available non-alcoholic wines. This muscat has distinctly sweet flavours and doesn’t shy away from notes of florals and honey.

The best non-alcoholic red wine

  • Domaine de la Prade Organic Merlot/Shiraz:
    Elegantly balanced with a gorgeously vibrant colour, fragrant aromas, and a lingering freshness, the toffee-rich grapes are organically grown in certified vineyards – carefully treated to preserve the natural bouquet and character, all without the alcohol!
  • Eisberg Cabernet Sauvignon Alcohol-Free:
    From specialist alcohol-free wine maker Eisberg, this non-alcoholic red wine is carefully de-alcoholised so that the grapes retain their delectable original character and flavour. Offering a thick mouthfeel, a deep ruby colour, and a plummy aroma, this wine has a fantastically full flavour.

FAQs

Where can you buy non-alcoholic wine?

Non-alcoholic wine is available in most supermarkets throughout the UK. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and Morrisons all sell a fantastic selection of great alcohol-free wines to choose from.

How many calories are in non-alcoholic wine?

Compared to the real thing, non-alcoholic wine is easily lower in calories. While some non-alcoholic wine manufacturers do add sugar after the de-alcoholisation process, they tend to have around 9 calories per glass, whereas a light wine at 6.5% ABV provides 73 calories per glass.

Is non-alcoholic wine bad for your liver?

Non-alcoholic wine can, indeed, still contribute to liver damage. Even though the wine has been de-alcoholised, these products are still not a safe option for those with worries about liver damage or liver-related medical illnesses.

You may be pleased to know that a non-alcoholic red wine can decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This happens due to the fact this product lowers blood pressure, which helps to reduce the risk of a heart attack by 20% and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 14%.

These benefits occur because of the presence of polyphenols within the wine, which are antioxidants that reduce blood pressure and prevent cancer, inflammatory and neurodegenerative illnesses. They also have positive effects on hypertension and are rich in anti-ageing properties.

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