Prompted by various reasons such as warmer temperatures, balanced wine style, tax concerns, consumer trends toward no and low abv products, and the rising demand for fresher styles, wine and other fermented products with reduced alcohol levels are in trend.
MI: Why are we hearing so much about non-alcoholic wines right now?
It’s because the market has grown considerably over the last decade and is predicted to continue that momentum. According to IWSR, the global market value of no/low alcohol in 2021 was just under US $10 BN, up from $7.8 BN in 2018, and is forecasted to grown by +8% (CAGR) between 2021 and 2025. This is a result of a change in consumer purchasing decisions, initially driven by millennials, but rapidly expanding into the broader public. Consumers are becoming much more interested in wellness and drinking healthier - not necessarily more.
MI: Wine seems to be the most difficult of the alcoholic beverages to create a non-alcoholic version that mirrors the original. Why is that?
Consumers are looking for non-alcoholic wines that preserve the character of the original wine - just without the alcohol. This is aligned to a concept of “lower intervention” NA wines. The main factor toward quality is starting with a good wine. Key elements include, flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. A non-alcoholic wine should mimic these key factors as close as possible.
MI: So there are wines that are particularly suitable for de-alcoholisation?
The best wine styles suited for non-alcoholic wines are very aromatic, full fruit driven wines with medium acid, and red wines with soft tannins. Consider when creating a non-alcoholic white wine to blend in very aromatic wines, such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, or a Muscat varietal. Also, aroma boosting yeasts can be used and other fruit-forward and big aromatic winemaking and vineyard techniques.
And just like with any wine, a quality product starts in the vineyard. Selecting the best grapes that are ripe, healthy, and have good flavor will result in a premium wine and thus a premium non-alcoholic wine.
MI: BevZero has been involved in the de-alcoholisation of wine for 30 years now. this is a long experience in a still relatively new field. What do you think is the important prerequisite for the process to succeed?
In BevZero’s opinion, to make a good quality no/low wine it is best to start with a fully fermented product. There are flavors and aromas developed during fermentation that can’t be obtained in any other way. Starting with a high quality wine and removing the alcohol as gently and efficiently as possible will help to ensure a complex and balanced non-alcoholic product.
MI: Dealcoholization can be used to remove a small or a large amount of alcohol depending upon the product and desired result. What are the main differences?
Alcohol Adjustment can be used to reduce alcohol slightly. In this case, only a small amount of the total wine blend needs to be processed. For example in a warmer region a wine that fermented to 15.5% abv could be reduced to 13.9% to obtain the “sweet-spot”, allowing it to reflect the region it came from by avoiding the higher levels of alcohol masking the desirable aromas.
For Low or No Alcohol productsa larger amount of alcohol must be removed. You can produce new wine styles, from 7-10% lower alcohol wines down to non-alcoholic wines at <0.5% or even <0.05% abv.
- Ensure clean fermentation.
Fermentation provides important flavors and characteristics to the finished wine. But it’s important to make sure that the wine fermented cleanly. Lots that have gone bad or have volatile acidity (VA) issues will be exposed during the dealcoholization process. Contamination by Brettanomyces or other undesirable yeast and bacteria can produce off flavors that amplified in the wine during dealcoholization. Wines that contain excessive sulfides should also be avoided.
- Use low acidity wine.
Wines with lower acidity are often better because the dealcoholization process concentrates the wine’s natural acidity. A wine with high-acidity results in a very sour non-alcoholic wine, which then needs to be balanced by sweetness or acid removal. Both can have implications for consumer appeal and stability.
- Test stability during production.
Dealcoholization and formulation can both impact cold and heat stability, depending on the base wine and ingredients being added. Stability should be tested and confirmed during development and production.
- Prior fining can facilitate the process.
Has the wine been fined with bentonite, proteins for tannin removal, or any other fining agents? This is helpful to know because some red wines can have filterability and tannin precipitation issues when dealcoholized – if they have been clarified or protein fined this can make them easier to work with.
- Be careful of extended maceration and oak content.
In red wines, the phenolics will concentrate. These characteristics are great in a full alcohol wine but can be overwhelming when concentrated in a dealcoholized wine. Winemakers should consider using less new oak and lighter toasts when barrel aging wines are to be dealcoholized, or stainless steel aging and using oak extracts during product development.
- Analyses provide valuable information.
Analytics for the wine are very helpful including free and total SO2, pH, titratable acidity, sugar, volatile acidity, potassium, and copper. These can provide indications as to how well a wine will dealcoholize, how much it may need to be adjusted, and whether or not it is suitable for different packaging options.
MI: The removal of alcohol produces structural changes. What can you do to soften negative consequences?
Alcohol is one of the main elements of wine. When it is removed, and other elements are concentrated (e.g. total acidity and tannins), the structure of the wine changes considerably. Careful selection of both wine and dealcoholization technology choice are therefore important to help maintain quality and minimize negative impacts. The two main methods for commercial dealcoholization are membrane separation and vacuum distillation.
MI: What are the advantages and disadvantages of membrane separation?
Among membrane separation techniques reverse osmosis (RO) is the most utilized with the advantage of working at low temperatures of approximately 8-10°C. The disadvantage is limited capacity to lower the alcohol (max up to 6% abv) as well the loss of volatile aroma compounds through the membrane. The RO is used in a batch process prior to maturation or blending, passing the wine through a fine porous membrane permeable to water and alcohol at pressure filtration (up to 4 Mpa), through the difference in molecular weight.
Alcohol is removed by 0.7% to 1.5% abv per pass, thus a 15% wine would take 8 passes to remove alcohol to 3%.
MI: So you prefer vacuum distillation?
Specifically for non-alcoholic products, the vacuum distillation method is ideal as it can remove alcohol to <0.5% abv.
The wine is gently heated; the differences in the boiling point then leads to the separation of alcohol and water. Thanks to the very low pressure obtained in the equipment, the maximum temperature reached is no more than 48ºC. The alcohol evaporates and is captured separately from the remaining dealcoholized wine.
This technology combines a vast surface area, low temperature, and minimal residence time to avoid any thermal damage or stress to the wine. With experience, it is possible to capture a portion of the volatile aroma compounds that can be added back to the dealcoholized wine, ensuring a more flavorful, aromatic non-alcoholic wine that retains more of its wine like character. Alcohol can be removed from 15% to <0.5% abv in one pass.
MI: And how do the two processes differ commercially?
The costs for vacuum distillation technologies are high. Moreover, the process requires dealcoholization expertise which usually comes with dealcoholizing large volumes; for smaller volumes, the wine can be dealcoholized by an experienced service provider.
Irem Eren is Business Development & Sales Director, EMEA of BevZero with vast international experience (EU, U.S.), and multidisciplinary background. She is a chemist, holds master´s in international business & marketing, WSET Diploma, is currently studying for Master of Wine. Irem held versatile positions in Wine Industry, from production to sales, prior to her journey in No & Low Alcohol products. She currently is an educator & editor at WSET, and judge at several wine competitions.
BevZero provides production solutions for low-and-no alcohol wine, beer, and cider. The service includes product formulation, supply chain management, access to equipment, and white label and private label products.