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

vineyard with ripe grapes in countryside at sunset

 

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 your 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.

Red

White

Rosé

Sparkling

Red

Sainsbury’s Cabernet Sauvignon

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 48 (19 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

Fair play to Sainsbury’s. They’ve really upped their game when it comes to the look of their low-alcohol wines. They’ve gone through some pretty dire labels over the years, but this new tastefully-coloured hummingbird label makes them look like quality wines. It’s all part of a welcome move for low-alcohol wines, out of some dusty corner where they keep the stuff-you-have-to-put-up-with into the mainstream of the adult drinks market.

This new Cabernet Sauvignon is one of four in the Taste the Difference range, along with a Sauvignon Blanc, a Sparkling Chardonnay, and a Merlot Rosé. As always, the red must have been the most challenging of the four to pull off, and this one doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s got a good colour and a nice hint of blackberries, and it’s free of that weird aftertaste that mars a lot of dealcoholised wines. Unfortunately, it really lacks body.

We found it goes well with spicy food. Maybe it needs that little something extra to give it a bit of a kick. Overall, not bad but not brilliant.

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Fre Merlot

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 70 (28 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

Now on sale in Asda, this Merlot is part of a family of six 0.5% wines from the Napa Valley in California – the heart of America’s wine country.

As the producers Sutter Home Wineries explain, making their low-alcohol wine is no different from making any other wine, right up to the final stage when the amazing Spinning Cone comes in, removing the alcohol whilst leaving pretty much everything else.

The result is a low-alcohol red that’s not bad at all. It’s a complex wine with a good colour, not too sweet, and with a nice hint of blackberries. It’s also well presented, with a smart label that gives it the look of a decent wine. As with all low-alcohol reds, you can tell the ABV is low, but it goes down easily and there’s no nasty aftertaste.

So, a solid 3 out of 5.

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Tesco Cabernet Tempranillo

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass:  133 (53 per 100ml)

Score: 2 out of 5

davThis is another one created by Félix Solís especially for Tesco (along with the white and the rosé listed above).

On the plus side, it’s got a good rich colour, like blackberries. But it is surprisingly sweet for a red wine. The ingredients listed include grape juice and glycerine, which may explain some of that. Sadly, like the white from the same winery it’s not really very wine-like.

We found we didn’t feel like drinking very much of this one. If you’re looking for a decent alcohol-free red, we’d have to suggest Rawson’s Retreat.

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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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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 Red

ABV: 0.5%

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

Score: 3 out of 5

Thiscof 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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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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White

Delight Moscato

ABV: less than 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 67 (27 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

The McGuigan family have been growing grapes in New South Wales since 1880, when Owen McGuigan started making wine in order to supplement his income as a dairy farmer. These days, they have a portfolio of more than 60 o wines and export to 20 countries.

This low-alcohol white is amongst their newest wines, and it has to be said that it’s one of the best in the 0.5% ABV category. It’s one of a pair with a rosé, and they’re both excellently presented. The design of both bottles makes you think straightaway of long summers, picnics and barbeques. And if you look carefully enough at the pattern of leaves, butterflies and flowers on the label, they form a face, which is kind of clever.

This Moscato is a little sweet, and you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s too sweet for you. Some of our taste testers loved it; others went off to look for something a bit drier.

Both the white and the rosé are on sale exclusively in Marks & Spencer at the moment, where they sit alongside Benjamin Truffer’s Sparkling Muscato. Both retail for £5, which is quite expensive for an alcohol-free wine, and it’s clear that the producers are aiming for the top end of the market.

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Sainsbury’s Sauvignon Blanc

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 53 (21 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

Along with a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Sparkling Chardonnay, and a Merlot Rosé, this new Sauvignon Blanc is part of a push by Sainsbury’s to take their low-alcohol wines up a notch or two.

The packaging is a massive improvement on their previous labels for low-alcohol wines. At long last, supermarkets seem keen to make low ABV wines feel like more of an attractive option and less of a Hobson’s choice

As so often, our taste testers were divided in their opinions, which just goes to show that taste is a matter of…erm…taste. According to the blurb on the bottle, this Sauvignon Blanc tastes of green apples, passion fruit and grapefruit. We weren’t really getting those flavours, although one person thought it tasted like perry. Someone else thought it the tart aftertaste of a wine and that it felt like an alcoholic drink.

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Fre Chardonnay

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 60 (24 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

Like the red and the rosé from the same family vineyards, this Chardonnay is to be found mostly easily on the shelves at Asda.  

It’s wine that’s deeply rooted in California’s Napa Valley, where “cool breezes and fog allow the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly”. The result, according to Sutter Home Winery, is “rich, creamy apple flavours” and “crisp citrus notes”. We’re not sure if we’d go quite that far, but it’s not bad at all. Like a lot of other alcohol-free whites, it’s a bit sweet, but the sweetness doesn’t dominate, and it deserves a decent 3 out of 5.

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Tesco Sauvignon Blanc

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass:  125 (50 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

cofLike the red and the rosé described above, this white wine is made for Tesco by Félix Solís at their winery halfway between Madrid and Grenada.

Unfortunately, we didn’t like this one half as much as their rosé. Colour-wise, it’s a bit pale for a Sauvignon Blanc. (Dare we suggest it looks a bit like perry?). It’s also very sweet for a Sauvignon Blanc. Overall, it’s a nice enough fruit drink but it’s not much like wine.

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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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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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Sainsbury’s White

ABV: 0.5%

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

Score: 2 out of 5

This onedav 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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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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Rosé

Delight Rosé

ABV: less than 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 67 (27 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Not to beat around the bush, this is a good rosé, and better than plenty of rosés with a much heftier alcoholic content. If you’re having a barbecue this summer and you’re looking for something to wash down the burgers, you could do a lot worse than this. It’s got a good rosé colour and the kind of ‘body’ that wines normally get from alcohol. It’s also got a little bit of sparkle on pouring, and a citrus flavour that balances the sweetness.

It’s recently gone on sale exclusively in Marks & Spencer along with a white. Both hail from the McGuigan family vineyards in New South Wales, which are some of Australia’s oldest. They’re both great-looking wines, and it’s good to see producers making a real effort to make low-alcohol drinks that look like you might actually want to drink. As with the white, the label for this rosé carries an intriguing pattern of leaves, butterflies and flowers that forms into a face if you look long enough.

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Sainsbury’s Merlot Rosé

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 53 (21 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

More than 10 years after Sideways caused sales to go through the floor, Merlot is back.

This Merlot Rosé is part of a recent drive by Sainsbury’s to really improve their low-alcohol offer, alongside a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a Sparkling Chardonnay. All of them carry the smart new hummingbird branding that puts them firmly in the decent-looking-wine category.

Merlot is usually a red wine, and Merlot grapes are almost blue in colour. So, how come this one’s pink? Apparently, much like White Zinfandel, it’s all about how long you leave those little blue skins hanging around in the white grape juice – long enough for it to get a rosy hue but not long enough to make a full-blooded red.

The result in this case is perfect rosé colour. It’s got a nice fruity flavour too, but sadly it’s not really a rosé wine flavour. Overall, it’s a nice summer drink, but it’s not quite as good as the Tesco Ganarcha Rosé.

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Fre White Zinfandel

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 70 (28 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

The first thing to say about White Zinfandel is that it’s not a white wine – it’s a rosé. Zinfandel is usually red, but if you don’t let the red grape skins hang around too long, you can get something a lot paler. Sometime in the 1970s, Sutter Home Wines of California also realised that if you stop it fermenting a bit earlier, you can get something a bit sweeter too.

Sutter Home are still making White Zinfandel, and now they’ve made one without the alcohol. The result is a pleasant rosé, a little sweet but not too much. The makers recommend it as a “picnic pourer” and we’d have to agree. It’s ideal for hot sunny days and barbecue evenings.

Like the Fre white and red, you can find this White Zinfandel in Asda.

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Tesco Ganarcha Rosé

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 145 (58 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

davLike all three of the latest Tesco alcohol-free wines (including a red and a white) this rosé is the work of the well-established Spanish wine makers Félix Solís. They’ve been turning grapes into vino for more than 30 years, and make a lot of wines you’ve probably heard of.

Harvested from vineyards growing at more than 1,000 meters above sea level, the resultant wine is di-alcoholised via the miracle of the Spinning Cone Column. This comparatively new technology is reckoned to extract the alcohol without taking all the flavour too.

The cones might just have done their magic in this case. We thought this one had a really good full fruity flavour. As you might expect for a rosé, it’s a bit sweet, but not overly so. On a very practical level, our taste testers emptied the bottle pretty quickly. So, something about it was enticing us to keep topping up! Four out of five, we say. Alcohol-free wines don’t get much better than this.

Of the Tesco trio, this one also has the best bottle design, with a nice little row of vines winding its way across the label.

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Torres Natureo Rosado

ABV: 0.5%

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

Score: 4 out of 5

Torres Natureo RosadoAgfaPhoto 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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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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Sparkling

Sainsbury’s Sparkling Chardonnay

ABV: 0.5%

Calories per 250ml glass: 19 (48 per 100ml)

Score: 4 out of 5

Chardonnay is one of the world’s most widely-grown grapes but it’s had its ups and downs. At one point, wine drinkers couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Then, all of a sudden, it was deeply unfashionable. Some blame Bridget Jones. Some blame an overuse of oak chips for flavouring – leaving the wine tasting more of oak trees than grapevines. Whatever the reason, Chardonnay’s exile was short-lived and now people love it again.

In fact, Chardonnay has always been an important ingredient in many sparkling wines that never went out of fashion, including Champagne. It also shows up on its own as a single-variety sparkling white wine – what the French call blanc de blancs (“white from whites”) – which is exactly what this one is.

Given the Champagne connection, it’s no surprise that this sparkling Chardonnay is a little bit Champenois. It’s got a Champagne smell – slightly yeasty – and a sharp, almost sour, taste. This is really one for the dry wine lovers. It’s a little sweeter than the Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay Pinot Noir Muscat, but it’s a lot drier than any of the other sparkling wines on this page.

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Echo Falls Infusion

ABV: 0.0%

Calories per 250ml glass: 64 (25 per 100ml)

Score: 2 out of 5

Echo Falls are big players in the UK wine market. Launched in 2003, their “unpretentious range of easy drinking wines” has become a big seller in a short time, in the face of more traditional competition. In 2014, they introduced a range of Fruit Fusions at around 9% to 10% ABV. Echo Falls Infusion is their first shot at 0% ABV. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hit the target.

Echo Falls are normally red-hot on branding, engaging with an army of Facebook followers to redesign their products. Which makes it all the more odd that this bottle looks so dated (and a bit like Babycham).

As for the appearance of the drink itself, once poured, its yellow colour makes it clear that this is some way from wine. As regards the taste, if you’re looking for a nice, sweet soft-drink, it’s just fine. It’s got a whiff of sherbet and tastes a bit like Schloer or Appletiser. According to the label, it’s “blended with natural green tea extracts” but I’m afraid we didn’t find them.

Anyway, don’t just take our word for it! If you’d like to try Echo Falls Infusion, it’s on sale in Morrisons and Sainsburys, and it’s getting rave reviews from customers on Amazon.

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Bees Knees Rosé

ABV: 0.0%

Calories per 250ml glass: 68 (27 per 100ml)

Score: 3 out of 5

This is one the few wholly alcohol-free drinks you’ll find on the wine shelves. As such, it’s a natural choice for anyone wishing to avoid alcohol altogether. It’s also vegetarian and vegan, if those criteria are on your list too.

Bees Knees is made from fermented grape juice, but not fermented so far as to produce any alcohol. Unlike a number of the wines on this page, it’s not been brewed to a full alcoholic strength and then dialcoholised – a process that can take a lot more than the alcohol out of a wine. Like the Echo Falls Infusion, it’s also flavoured with green tea, although that wasn’t a flavour we picked up particularly when we tried it.

The bottle design is great, with a lovely shape and a nice 19th century style Art Noveau label that makes it look a bit special. Once poured, it’s got a good rosé colour and plenty of bubbles that hang around.

There’s no two ways about it – this is a sweet drink. But our taste testers were divided on whether the sweetness was overdone. So, you’ll have to decide that one yourself. If you normally go for drier wines, this one is probably not for you. If medium-sweet is more your thing, give it a go.

We picked Bees Knees up in Morrisons, and it’s also available from Ocado.

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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 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 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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Sainsbury’s Sparkling

ABV: 0.5%

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

Score: 4 out of 5

This onedav 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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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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