What’s the best thing about that glass of Italian wine that you have in your hand right now?
You may say that it’s the wonderful combination of flavours. Winemakers pour their hearts and souls into their craft to create wines that give you all of the flavour of the grape while also expressing the power of the terroir.
Others may say that they love the history behind every bottle. Even the newest of producers have passionate stories that highlight their love for the vine and the wines that they produce. You could spend days reading about different producers’ stories and never get bored.
But let’s be honest here.
For all of the passion that we may have about flavour, composition, and history, there’s something else that many of us love about wine.
It contains alcohol.
Alcohol adds to the overall flavour and sensation of the wine. In fact, the DOC and similar regulatory bodies often place strict guidelines that tell producers how much alcohol content a particular wine is meant to have.
Plus, there’s nothing quite like gathering a group of friends and getting a little tipsy on a glass of wine (or two, three, or four).
But what about those people who don’t like alcohol?
There are plenty of reasons why people may choose not to drink, from personal issues through to simply not liking the taste of alcohol.
Unfortunately, that usually means that they can’t enjoy a bottle of wine. The alcohol content means they’re missing out on everything else that makes wine so wonderful.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are actually ways to make great tasting wine that also contains absolutely no alcohol.
Some producers take advantage of this to create wines that suit the tastes of the non-alcohol drinking public.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something that you can do yourself. Making non-alcoholic wine actually requires some specialist knowledge and equipment that the average person doesn’t have.
Still, we’re going to look at the process so that you know how a non-alcoholic wine comes to be.
The first thing to take note of here is that it’s actually quite difficult to make a non-alcoholic wine. The fermentation process alone typically leads to the production of alcohol. The trick is figuring out how to remove the alcohol, as adding it as actually one of the easier parts of the winemaking process.
You also can’t just pour a glass of grape juice and call it a day. These juices typically have very sweet flavours the likes of which you won’t always find in wine. Plus, there’s no hint of the tannins and fine composition that makes Italian wine so special to so many people.
The producers of these types of wine actually go through a great deal of effort to maintain these unique flavours.
So, how do they do it?
Strangely, it all starts with making an alcoholic wine.
Producers aim to remove as many of the sugars from their wine as possible to accentuate the unique notes and flavours that it has. And the easiest way to do this is to follow the usual fermentation process.
As a result, almost all non-alcoholic wines originally begin life as alcoholic wines.
After that, it’s a case of removing the alcohol.
This is where the difficult part comes in as removing alcohol from a drink requires one of two special processes.
Process #1 – Distillation
Heat is the winemaker’s friend when using distillation.
The aim of the distillation process is to essentially evaporate the wine, or at least the alcohol that resides inside it.
But that leads to problems of its own. Heating up wine causes it to oxidize and age prematurely. Without the right controls in place, the wine would lose everything that makes it special.
The use of special vacuum chambers helps commercial winemakers to get around this problem. Using these vacuums, winemakers lower the boiling point of the alcohol so that it evaporates are a lower temperature. These vacuums are so powerful that the alcohol evaporates from the wine without the drink itself every being heated up.
The alcohol is then captured and moved away from the resulting juice. This distilled alcohol may get used for other purposes. But you’re left with a non-alcoholic wine that retains all of its unique flavours.
Process #2 – Filtration
Filtration is an alternative method that also requires a great deal of specialised equipment.
Anybody who remembers filtering water with a funnel in school will understand the basics of this process.
For non-alcoholic wine, the producer again starts with the alcoholic wine that they created. This is then forced against a membrane at extremely high pressures. The key here is that the membrane is so fine that it only allows the water and alcohol in the wine to seep through. The thicker wine liquid stays where it is.
Now this isn’t a one and done process. The wine will be passed over the membrane several times before all of the water and alcohol is eventually squeezed out.
This creates a wine concentrate that is frankly a little too strong to drink. The producers will then add a little bit of water to the wine to achieve the right balance.
The Final Word
It’s natural to think that creating a non-alcoholic version of wine would be a simple process.
But as you can see here, it’s actually much more complex than it appears to be in theory. In fact, producers have to create alcoholic wines just to get to a stage where they can produce a non-alcoholic variety.
After that, distillation or filtration equipment helps them handle the rest. You should also be able to see why it’s unfeasible for you to do this yourself. The equipment needed is so specialised as to make it unfeasible for the average person.
But the fact that it exists before shows that there are plenty of people out there who appreciate wine for more than just its alcohol concentration. So raise a glass to those producers who go to such great lengths so that others can raise a glass a great-tasting non-alcoholic wine.