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Alcohol-free wine: more than just grape juice in a fancy bottle?

Wines

 

Alcohol-free wine has a bad reputation, but is that about to change?

Making an alcohol-free wine certainly represents a big challenge. For one thing, wines are generally much stronger than beers, and the difference in taste between 14% and 0% is going to be obvious.

Fortunately, more and more winemakers are now trying to see just how low they can go when it comes to ABV. The range of alcohol-free wines has increased immensely, and the quality has improved, although not in all cases!

Here are the ones we’ve been tasting, in no particular order…so, take you pick!

We’ve noted their alcoholic strength – none of them top 0.5% – and how many calories they have. If you need more information on alcohol and calories, you can get it here.

Benjamin Truffer Sparkling Muscato

ABV: 0%

Calories per bottle: TBC

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoThis sparkling muscato was the first alcohol-free wine we tried, and it wasn’t a bad place way to start our tasting adventure. It’s got plenty of bubbles, and although it lacks the sharpness of a good dry sparkling wine, it’s certainly not too sweet.

Back in 2012, Jilly Goolden called this her “top non-alcoholic drink” and said it had a “haunting aroma of jasmine tea”. We might not go that far, but, well-chilled on a hot day, you could do a lot worse than this.

We picked it up in Marks and Spencer, and as far as we know that’s the only place it’s available.

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Eisberg Sauvignon Blanc

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 56 (168 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoEisberg is the grand-daddy of alcohol-free wines. Made in Germany, it’s been around in the UK since 1985. Some may recall this hilarious TV advert from the early days.

So, has it stood the test of time? Well, it’s certainly improved since we last had it, sometime in the early 2000s. It’s got a nice aroma and a nice fruity flavour – “classic gooseberry and tropical flavours”, according to the blurb on the bottle.

The colour’s not great, however – very pale for a Sauvignon Blanc –  and the overall taste is thin. It’s a nice soft drink if you want something that’s not too sweet.

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Eisberg Cabernet Sauvignon

ABV: 0%

Calories per 250ml glass: 52 (156 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoGerman reds are not a by-word for great wine, but we put prejudice aside to give this one a go.

It’s got a reasonable colour and a nice smell. It also has a pleasant blackberry taste, but a bit of a sour aftertaste. Overall, it’s better than the Sainsbury’s alcohol-free red, but not half as good as the Rawson’s Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Eisberg Sparkling Blanc

ABV: 0%

Calories per 250ml glass: 62 (186 per bottle)

Score: 2 out of 5

AgfaPhotoThe manufacturers describe this as a “sparkling drink made from alcohol-free wine”. Not a good start. But it’s got a nice yellow colour, like an oaked Chardonnay. And like the rosé, it comes in an attractive bottle with a proper cork.

It’s got plenty of bubbles and it’s not too sweet. Like their Sauvignon Blanc it’s a perfectly pleasant soft drink, but it isn’t really much like wine.

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Eisberg Sparkling Rosé

ABV: 0%

Calories per 250ml glass: 66 (198 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoRosé really comes into its own in the summer. So, is this one going to make your barbecue complete?

Well, it’s got a good colour and a nice fizz. The bottle design is loads better than the standard Eisberg look, and it’s got a proper Champagne cork – just a little thing but one that makes it feel like a bit of a treat.

As for the flavour, it’s sweet. Some say honey, some say sherbet, but no one said wine. 

If you want nice pink fizz, go for it. If you’re looking for a good rosé, keep searching.

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Rawson’s Retreat Semillon Chardonnay

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 30 (90 per bottle)

Score: 5 out of 5

AgfaPhotoAmongst the alcohol-free white wines, this Australian number stands out. It’s got the yellow tinge of a well-oaked Semillon Chardonnay. It smells like Chardonnay, and it avoids the main weakness of many of the wines on this page – it’s not sugary at all. That may be why it has only 12 calories per 100ml, which is about as low-calorie as you’ll get without giving up wine for water.

There’s a little bit of a sour aftertaste, but on the whole, if you love white wine and you’re looking to lay off the booze, this is probably your best shot.

Like all the Rawson’s Retreat wines, it’s well-presented in a bottle that makes it look like a decent wine, with a nice little sketch of the original colonial-style farmhouse with its corrugated tin roof, built by the company’s founder in 1845.

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Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay Pinot Noir Muscat

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 30 (90 per bottle)

Score: 4 out of 5

AgfaPhotoSparkling wines mean celebrations. So, wouldn’t it be great if joining in the celebrations didn’t mean the non-drinkers raising a glass of orange juice while everybody else has champagne?

This wine may be the answer. According to Helen McGinn of the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, it’s a “game changer”. It looks good. It’s nicely packaged, with a proper cork, and looks like something you’d buy for a special occasion. Once poured, it’s got a great colour and plenty of bubbles. And unlike many alcohol-free wines, it’s not too sweet.

No, it’s not the best sparkling white in the world, but we’ve had much worse full-strength fizz at weddings and christenings over the years. The days of raising a glass of orange juice to the happy couple may be at an end.

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Rawson’s Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass:  38 (113 per bottle)

Score: 5 out of 5

AgfaPhotoWithout doubt, this is the best of the alcohol-free reds. And to be honest, we’ve tasted plenty of normal strength red wines that don’t come close to this quality. It actually tastes like a Cabernet Sauvignon, and has a good deep red colour that sets it apart from, say, the Sainsbury’s alcohol-free red.

This wine has been produced to a normal alcoholic strength and then de-alcoholised. That’s normally enough to destroy most flavours, but not in this case. Whatever it is they do to take the alcohol out of a wine without removing the pleasure, Rawson’s Retreat do it well.

Like the other Rawson’s Retreat wines, the bottle design, with an image of the vineyard, gives it the look of a proper wine; not just some alcohol-free stuff you have to put up with.

Like their Semillon Chardonnay, its major advantage over many of the wines on this page is that it isn’t loaded with sugar, and is resultantly low in calories.

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Sainsbury’s White

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 60 (180 per bottle)

Score: 2 out of 5

davThis one scores over many of its competitors by not being too sweet. On the downside, it’s not really like wine. The first taste is grape juice, with winey flavours only coming through in the after-taste. To be honest, there are other whites on this page we’d certainly pick in preference to this one.

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Sainsbury’s Red

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 66 (198 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

cofThis wasn’t our favourite, but it’s not bad at all. The label promises “delicious blackcurrant and red berry flavours”, and they were certainly there.

This is a German wine, and like a lot of reds from northern climes, it was a bit thin. It doesn’t come close to the quality of the Rawson’s Retreat Cabernet Sauvignon, but we’d certainly suggest you give it a try.

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Sainsbury’s Rosé

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 65 (192 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

davLike the red from the same shop, this isn’t a bad drink at all. The blurb on the bottles says it goes well with spicy Asian dishes. We also found that it went down very well at a barbecue – which, to be honest, is when a lot of rosé gets drunk.

It’s got a nice colour, and although it’s a little bit too sweet, the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm the flavour. Sainsbury’s give a 5 on their 1 to 9 sweetness scale, and that sounds about right.

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Sainsbury’s Sparkling

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 66 (198 per bottle)

Score: 4 out of 5

davThis one pours well with plenty of bubbles, and it keeps its fizz. The colour’s a little pale, but tastewise it’s nice.

There’s a little bit of sweetness but not too much, with a certain Champagne-like sharpness. Sainsbury’s give it a 4 on their sweetness scale of 1 to 9.

Like the Rawson’s Retreat sparkling wine, this one comes in a nice dark green bottle and has a proper cork, which just makes it feel a bit more special.

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Torres Natureo Muscat

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 60 (180 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoThe Torres family have been making wine in northern Spain since 1870, when Jaime and Miguel Torres Vendrell decided that is was time get into the drinks business. Five generations, later they’re still at it, and have become some of the most successful wine makers in Spain and globally.

Launched in 2008, Natureo white was the first de-alcoholised wine from Spain. Torres say it has “seductive aromas of white flowers and fresh fruit”. Sadly, we weren’t very impressed. It’s OK, but it’s not one of the best. Overall, it tastes a bit like grape juice, with a bit of a vinegary after-taste. We can’t give it more than 3 out of 5.

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Torres Natureo Syrah

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 80 (240 per bottle)

Score: 4 out of 5

AgfaPhotoTorres’ first alcohol-free white wine was launched in 2008. It wasn’t until 2013 that is was joined by this red and the rosé. Perhaps that’s not surprising – making a decent alcohol-free red is tricky. According to Miguel Torres Maczassek, the secret is the technological wizardry of the Spinning Cone Column, which removes the alcohol without destroying the flavour.

He may be right. It looks like wine, smells like wine, and tastes almost like wine. Overall, it’s got a good colour and nice blackberry taste. We found it went down well with a spaghetti bolognaise. We give it 4 out of 5.

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Torres Natureo Rosado

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 60 (180 per bottle)

Score: 4 out of 5

AgfaPhotoTorres Natureo Rosado was launched in 2013 along with the red. Both of them have lost their alcoholic content to the magic of the Spinning Cone Column, which is said to be a much gentler way of de-alcoholising a wine.

We thought this one smelt of strawberries, which is always a good start! It’s got a good rosé colour too. If anything, it’s actually a bit too dry for a rosé, but that’s no bad thing amongst its overly-sweet competitors. Another 4 out of 5.

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Tesco Finest Sparkling Chenin Blanc

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 158 (474 per bottle)

Score: 1 out of 5

AgfaPhotoWhen Tesco’s new range of alcohol-free wines was launched in 2016 it was said to be “almost as good as the real thing”. We’re afraid we don’t quite concur.

This wine is produced for Tesco by South African vintner Hermias Hugo, who seems to know his stuff. Unfortunately, this is not his best work.

It pours nicely with loads of bubbles, and it’s got a lovely colour, but it’s really gassy and way too sweet. This may explain why it has more than double the calories of some of the other wines on this page.

The plastic cork is pretty awful too, and makes the whole thing feel a bit cheap.

On the plus side, it is suitable for vegetarians.

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Tesco Finest Pinotage Blush

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 158 (474 per bottle)

Score: 3 out of 5

AgfaPhotoFor those not in the know, a blush is a dark rosé. This colour is spot-on in this one and it has a better flavour than the Chenin Blanc – nice and fruity. It’s got plenty of bubbles, and it’s sweet but not too sweet.

If you’re looking for fancy alcohol-free fizz, this one should do the trick.

Like the Chenin Blanc, it’s vegetarian-friendly.

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