Portugal is famous world wide for its wines but the demand for non-alcoholic options is on the increase. Here’s all you need to know about who is making them, who is drinking them, and what to expect, taste-wise

According to many surveys, the consumption of alcoholic wines is decreasing, slightly, year by year, while the consumption of alcohol-free and reduced-alcohol drinks is on the increase, and significantly so.

Much of the change in consumer habits and tastes can be attributed to health, safety and nutritional requirements; medication, car driving, pregnancy, and dental treatments are just a few examples.

And there are several conditions for which the medication used makes alcohol consumption questionable.

One of them is the carbohydrate metabolism disorder and the astonishing rate of its spread. The connection between the increase in the number of people living with ‘sugar problems’ and the decrease in wine consumption is very simple. The oral drug Metformin, which is often used for insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes, clearly states there could be adverse effects caused by the consumption of alcohol.

In addition, it is also important to mention that alcohol is not recommended for diabetics sufferers because the liver is not capable of ‘multi-tasking’, which means that alcohol blocks its necessary sugar production, and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) will occur as a result. And this can cause severe symptoms.

I am convinced that the increase in the number of people living with disorders of carbohydrate metabolism will clearly affect the market for the consumption of alcoholic wines worldwide.

It is important to clarify that, as a wine expert, I am naturally a fan of real wines – not de-alcoholized wines. The purpose of this article is not to convince readers to switch to non-alcoholic wines starting tomorrow. I have been dealing with the positive physiological effects of wine on health for many years and I fully support moderate wine consumption. I only recommend non-alcoholic wines to those who cannot drink alcohol for any reason.

Of course, non-alcoholic wines do not offer the taste complexity of real wines. But, for lovers of gastronomy who cannot drink alcohol, the existence of alcohol-free wines can be a ready salvation. It is much easier to create food-wine pairings with non-alcoholic wines than with iced tea or cola.

What is non-alcoholic wine?
The history of non-alcoholic wine began at the beginning of the 20th century. The German Maria Jung sold the wines of their family estate all over Germany, but she encountered resistance in a surprising number of places, where people approached refused the purchase citing the recommendation of the doctors. Upon returning home, Maria told her family about her failed business trip. His son Carl Jung (not to be confused with the Swiss psychiatrist of the same name) then decided to find a solution to the problem. The result: in 1908, he patented his distillation-based de-alcoholization process.

In 2021, the European Union created the legal background in its member states for the production of wines with reduced alcohol content. The amendment states that wine, champagne, and sparkling wine can undergo a full or partial de-alcoholization process.

This kind of wine also can be made from any type of grape: wineries typically use the varieties that appear in the alcoholic selection for these items as well. Although their smell always brings the wine character, their taste is less so, so for people used to alcoholic wines, the enjoyment value will never be the same. Non-alcoholic wine can be both sweet and dry. There is currently much more of the former on the market. The reason for this is that the mentioned loss of aroma is often tried to be remedied by adding sugar.

Non-alcoholic wine is therefore not the same as grape juice or children’s sparkling wine, since it is made from fermented, alcoholic wine by extracting the alcohol. Alcohol-free wine is a wine with an alcohol content of less than 0.5% by volume. (If the alcohol content of the wine falls below 10 percent by volume as a result of alcohol reduction, the label must indicate “de-alcoholized wine”.)

How the non-alcoholic wine is made?
Currently, two technologies are available for complete or partial alcohol removal.

  1. During vacuum distillation, the alcohol is separated from the wine by heat treatment. Alcohol and water have different boiling points, and unwanted flavours can be eliminated in an airtight space. In very simple terms, the wine is heated until the alcohol evaporates from it. With this process, an alcohol content of up to zero percent can be achieved.
  2. In membrane separation, different membranes separate alcohol molecules based on size. With one version of membrane separation, the so-called reverse osmosis, the alcohol content of wines can be reduced with much less loss of aroma. However, the procedure is expensive, and below 0.5% alcohol content, it can no longer be used economically.

In general, it can be said that the drinks made with the above procedures bring out the wine character quite well in aroma, but as for the taste, there are very different opinions.

Non-alcoholic wines are now produced almost everywhere in the world, although of varying quality. There are good ones and there are extremely bad ones.

The majority of Portuguese winemakers are not open to making alcohol-free wines yet. However, the demand for them is constantly increasing and it seems that this trend will continue in the future.

What to look for
The sugar content of de-alcoholized wines varies widely. There are many more sweet de-alcoholized wines than dry ones. The main reason for this is that during the removal of alcohol molecules, a significant loss of aroma often occurs, the result of which leaves the finished wine empty in taste. And this can be remedied by adding sugar.

However, if someone has a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism, then you need to find a de-alcoholized wine that really has minimal sugar content – always check label for calories, carbohydrates, sugar, and other ingredients.

The carbohydrates in these wines are quickly absorbed. That is why it is recommended to pair them with something that slows down the absorption of the wine (seeds, olives, fatty cheese, for example).

De-alcoholized wines should be treated in their place. If we try to compare them to the alcoholic wines we like, we can easily be disappointed. But, on the other hand, knowing we are doing the right thing for our health and well-being, then we may be in for a really pleasant surprise.

José Maria da Fonseca was a pioneer in terms of creating the first Portuguese alcohol-free wines. They remove the alcohol through vacuum distillation at low temperatures that help maintain the natural aromas and flavours of the grape.

O%riginal arrived with a complete range of alcohol-free monovarietal wines available in red, white and rosé, full of aroma and taste typical of the grape varieties.

The Syrah red grape variety gave rise to the red and rosé, revealing smooth profiles with exuberant aromas that are easy to drink. The O%riginal non-alcoholic white is made from the Moscatel Galego grape which brings all its citrus and floral characteristics so typical of the variety, in a lime green colour, where the fruity and refreshing flavours stand out together with the smoothness of an easy white wine.

Words: Lívia Mokri

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