The development of de-alcoholised wines is not dissimilar to that of alcohol-free beer. When our sister magazine MEININGERS WEINWELT conducted a tasting of alcohol-free wines in 2011, the number of faults was very high, and it was difficult to make recommendations. Eleven years later, the world looks different.
Back then, there were 20 alcohol-free wines on the tasting tables at Meininger Verlag. For WEINWIRTSCHAFT’s latest tasting, there were 247 products, which makes it probably the largest ever of de-alcoholised wines.
Enormous leap in quality
While the number of entries is a sign of the growing significance of the product category, the results show that the qualities have also increased enormously. 18.6% of the de-alcoholised wines were rated "good to very good" or higher. Still, 7.3% of the samples were rated as "weak, with defects" or "severely faulty" and among the wines rated "sufficient" or "satisfactory" there were many with a distinct note of de-alcoholisation that hinders full enjoyment.
Fierce price competition
When it comes to price, the small producers have a hard time against the big ones, because large professional wineries are sometimes able to produce well rated wines for as low as 2.99 euros. Overall, however, there was an enormous range of qualities among both small and large wineries, which necessitated a thorough and careful sampling.
High on sugar
One factor which may still cause difficulties for some wine lovers when reaching for non-alcoholic products on a dry weekday, is the residual sugar. All alcohol-free products rely on it to a considerable extent as there is no alcohol present to carry the flavours. But this aspect is also changing. In the wines that were rated well, the minimum residual sugar was still 18 g/l, almost at the upper end of the semi-dry range, attenuated by sufficient acidity. Wines with 12g were also rated as satisfactory. The average value of the tasting was 44.2 g/l - at the upper end of the sweet range.
Besides preserving flavour, aromas are the second challenge in de-alcoholisation. For the top wines, the producers preferred aromatic varieties like Muskateller or Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling, however, was the most used variety.
De-alcoholised wines are on the rise, even if production remains a great challenge. Although a direct qualitative comparison with wine is still out of the question, quite a few products have become viable alternatives for everyday life.
Italian brand with German know-how
Behind the best Italian product of the tasting is a German company - Henkell Freixenet. The Wiesbaden-based company helps Mionetto 0.0% achieve a fine balance of sweetness and acidity, harmonious perlage and an aromatic interplay of tropical fruit and pear. With such a successful result, they aspire to make their top Italian brand even more widely available.
Organic and alcohol-free
Organic specialist Peter Riegel sent the Spanish Vinnocence Mousseux Alkoholfrei into the race. Whether it is as innocent as its name suggests remains to be seen. With notes of brioche, grapefruit and tropical fruits as well as an easy-drinking character, it confirmed its very good quality.
In the hands of a specialist
The foreign entries at the tasting were interesting. It seems that in Italy and Spain, the market is not yet ready for de-alcoholised products. However, the situation is different in France, where they are developing a real dynamic of their own. Pierre Chavin has specialised in de-alcoholisation and his Pierre Zero Signature Chardonnay convinces with lime blossom, sesame and a little yeast. A light Fino touch makes it very exciting.
Experimentation pays off
Bähr Pfalztraube impressed the tasters the most with its portfolio. This specialist for de-alcoholised wines produces a wide range of alcohol-free wines in addition to table grapes. The depth of the range can be attributed to the Bähr family’s penchant for experimentation and their eagerness to test new product variants. There were no shortcomings in the tasting, rather four wines that we can recommend without reservation. Three times there were 15 points and higher for Bähr's top line Edition in the style of Vinopur and Vitisecco.
Surprise from Rheinhessen
The village of Dolgesheim is located on the eastern side of the Petersberg, which stands out prominently in the hilly landscape of Rheinhessen. This is the home of the Naturland winery Seck, which positively surprised us with two samples at the tasting. The Seck Sparkling Zero, with its slightly yeasty aromatics of fruit blossoms and mixed citrus and it’s playful, fruity taste, earned the award for best organic product of the tasting.
It doesn't always have to be Riesling. Even though the German grape variety dominated in terms of the number of entries, there were also other varieties in play. Macabeo and Sauvignon Blanc were used for the Cero Coma Blanco, which Weinkontor Freund sent into the race. With a retail price of 5.90 euros and a spicy profile with aniseed and caramel notes as well as a strong body, it represented the best value for money.
Play of aromas
Les Grands Chais de France is one of the most important producers of de-alcoholised wines. Le Filou Free Rouge is an exemplary demonstration of this. The official description on the label is flavoured non-alcoholic drink based on non-alcoholic wine. This is a path that other producers also take, without therefore explicitly creating wine cocktails. In the tasting, the Filou showed wine characteristics, which is why we classify it as a red wine. With a price of 2.99 euros, it puts an emphasis on the price-performance ratio.
From its broad portfolio of de-alcoholised wines, the Peter Mertes winery put the Schloss Sommerau range up for tasting. The rosé scored with its aromas of redcurrant and sour cherry, lively character and juicy, grippy flavour. It also convinced with a retail price of 3.49 euros in terms of price-performance.
Best price and quality
One of the best products in the tasting was the alcohol-free Römer Light from Sektkellerei Peter Herres. Floral scent, forest honey and green spice offered an attractive aroma profile accompanied by a lively taste where the high level of sweetness was well buffered with acidity. With a retail price of 2.99 euros, this white sparkling wine is also one of the cheapest products in the tasting and the clear price-performance winner.
Rotkäppchen-Mumm scores points among the pink sparkling wines with its Rotkäppchen Alkoholfrei Rosé. A yeasty scent of brioche accompanied by rosehip and cherry convinced the tasters along with a somewhat pungent grape must taste. Particularly noteworthy, however, is the retail price of 3.99 euros, which shows excellent value for money.
Victory for Blanc de Blanc
Julius Zotz had already made a positive impression in the WEINWIRTSCHAFT tasting last year. The team from Markgräfler had already been involved with de-alcoholisation at an early stage and benefited from their experience. This year, their alcohol-free Blanc de Blancs prevails as the best de-alcoholised sparkling wine. Based on Pinot Blanc, it impresses with its harmonious and easy-drinking quality.
Among the semi- and sparkling wines with a pink hue, the Edelmann Rosé from the Durbacher Winzergenossenschaft (co-operative) was the most convincing. For the cuvée, the Ortenau winegrowers used Pinot Noir, Acolon and Dunkelfelder. Thus, their Edelmann presents itself with a citrusy, yeasty, fresh nose complemented by raspberry. On the palate, it appeared quite sweet, but very drinkable.
Overall, the small category for rosés proved to be problematic in the tasting. However, this did not apply to the Pinot Noir Rosé Null Alkohol - voller Genuss (zero alcohol - full enjoyment) from the W. & A.Löffler winery. Particularly with the harmony of sweetness and acidity, the winemakers of Markgräflerland won over the tasters.
Among the still white wines, two products share the award for best white wine, achieving the tasting's top score of 16 points. Both the Reverse from the Bergdolt-Reif & Nett winery in the Pfalz and the Premium from J. Trautwein in Lonsheim, Rheinhessen, were produced from Sauvignon Blanc, and both wines also show varietal typicity.
The Premium impresses with green aromas of fresh herbs and citrus notes. On the palate, it is lively and refreshing thanks to a nice play of acidity. The nose of the Reverse is almost complex. Besides green herbal notes, paprika and dried lime, there are also smoky components. On the palate, despite 20g of residual sugar, it remains dry and, with its citrus acidity, somewhat assertive.
"The product range, as well as the scene of producers, has become much more colourful. The sensory evaluation shows that the qualities have become more stable - there are fewer outliers! Good concepts are still in short supply. There is still a need for considerable innovation here - this also applies to the new EU regulation."
Matthias Walter, MW Consulting