Some of you may have missed the news that one of the UK best sellers at the end of 2022 was Kylie Minogue Alcohol Free Sparkling Rosé. Apparently, over the Christmas period, every 10 seconds, someone in Britain was buying a bottle - and that was during a time usually associated with alcoholic indulgence.
People who dislike the idea of celebrity wines - and there are many - will shake their heads at the stupidity of the consumers who really ought to have paid a little more for a 'proper' wine that didn’t rely on a connection with a famous singer to catch their eye.
Those same people might be even more affronted to learn that the contents of the Kylie Minogue Alcohol Free Sparkling Rosé bottle are made from grapes grown in unspecified parts of Europe and that the list of ingredients includes “Carbonated Water, Non-Alcoholic Fermented Grape Juice Concentrate (10%), Green Tea Infusion (0.5%), Acids (Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid), Colouring Concentrate from Carrot, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Dimethyl Dicarbonate), Natural Flavourings”.
In other words, despite being packaged in a stylish glass bottle just like the one used for Kylie Prosecco Rosé, this isn’t a dealcoholized wine; it is, as it says, a “refreshing sparkling and finely balanced non-alcoholic drink.” And it not being - or ever having been - a wine evidently didn't deter any of those buyers.
Now, at this point I should say that I have tasted the Kylie Minogue Alcohol Free Sparkling Rosé and, frankly, with around 50g of sugar per litre, it is far sweeter than any pink wine I enjoy drinking. But - and this is important - it is as palatable than many a full-strength White Zinfandel. And, when putting this beverage together, that would have been the objective. Not satisfying the palates of lovers of dry rosé.
Until now, people who wanted to drink an alcohol-free, wine-like beverage have had to make do with a wine that had been subjected to a process - vacuum distillation; evaporation and condensation using something called a ‘spinning cone’; or a reverse osmosis filter - that removed the alcohol. If this sounds as straightforward as extracting the caffeine from coffee or tea, it isn’t.
Not as good as decaf
The quality of dealcoholized wines has improved hugely in recent years, but the gap between them and non-dealcoholized wines is still far wider than the one between ‘normal’ coffee and ‘decaf’ - or between non—alc beer or gin and the full strength versions.
This raises the question of whether the dealcoholized wine producers haven’t been fighting with one hand behind their back.
A wine that has had its muscle removed by a spinning cone, or any of the other methods, is free from the legal constraints associated with stuff that comes under the legal definition of wine. So, why not add water, tea and carrot juice and maybe some herbs and spices? A little blackcurrant to mimic Cabernet? Raspberry to copy Pinot? Or strawberry and pepper to hint at Grenache? And why not experiment with ingredients other than the customarily-used sugar to replace the mouthfeel that's invariably lost through dealcoholisation?
After all, very few of my Italian winemaker friends seem to mind drinking unashamedly put-together drinks like Aperol or Campari.
My bet is that the Kylie non-alc pink fizz is the shape of many things to come. Clever flavour-chemists will deconstruct particular styles of wine and recreate them using whatever natural ingredients work. The result might even qualify as organic.
I’m not saying that anyone is going to make anything remotely as fine and complex as a good Pomerol or Puligny Montrachet by doing this, but they’ll almost certainly do a better job than has so far been achieved by putting a Merlot or Chardonnay through a spinning cone.
And, if they can add some organically grown adaptogens - plants and mushrooms that claim to provide a hangover-free, alcohol-like buzz - they'll be well on their way to making a lot of people very happy. And a lot of money for themselves.
To be clear, I'm not advocating that any wine producer should necessarily go down this track. But they'd better be aware that, sooner or later, others will very probably be doing so.