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What is Dealcoholized Wine?

25 May 2023

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Whether you’re sober curious or just taking a more mindful approach to your relationship with alcohol, dealcoholized wine is an option you might want to check out. A wide variety of dealcoholized wines of every style is available online and in stores, some starting at just $9 per bottle. Just like with regular wines, you can spend as little or as much as you’d like and, through trial and error, find something you’ll enjoy.

But what exactly is dealcoholized wine? The short answer? It’s wine that started out with alcohol in it, then it’s put through a process that removed all, most or some of its ethanol (the alcohol in regular wine). Alcohol free wine is made just like traditional wine, through a process called vinification.

There are three steps winemaking generally follows:

Harvesting and crushing. Grapes are removed from their vines and sorted from any leaves or other detritus. Then they’re crushed or pressed. The crushed grapes and juice are called a ‘must.’ If the winemaker is producing white wine, they will remove the skin, stems and seeds from the must. To produce red wine, those bits are left in the mix.

Fermentation. This step produces the wine’s alcohol content. Fermentation also creates the wine’s bouquet, which is the combination of its complex flavors, tastes and aromas. Wine can be fermented for as little as a month, or for much longer. Alcohol content after fermentation can be as high as 14 percent or as low as 5.5 percent. This is its ‘alcohol by volume’ or ABV. Most wines fall in the 10 to 12 percent range.

Maturation and aging. Wine’s bouquet can be further refined and changed by maturing it. To do this, the wine is placed in stainless steel tanks, bottles or oak barrels and left there for a period of time. White wines are aged for a few months. Red wines are aged longer, more often in the 18 to 24 month range.  Really, though, this process can be as lengthy at the winemaker deems necessary to achieve the taste and texture they’re aiming for.

These first three steps are the same whether the wine being made will ultimately contain alcohol or not. If the wine will contain alcohol, the vintner will bottle it and ship it or store it. If the wine is going to be non-alcoholic or dealcoholized, the next step is to remove the alcohol from it.

There are three primary methods for dealcoholization:

Vacuum distillation is a method in which wine, placed in a powerful vacuum, is heated to a temperature between 70 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In a vacuum, this is a high enough temperature to boil the alcohol out of wine. This works to remove alcohol while preserving more flavor and aroma than boiling at a high temperature outside of a vacuum would. After alcohol removal, the winemaker can adjust the flavor of the wine by adding a little grape juice. 

Spinning cone method. This method requires the vintner to place the wine into a column of cones which are then placed inside a centrifuge. As the wine (in its cones) is spun at high speed, centrifugal force separates the wine into thin sheets or layers. While this is happening, nitrogen gas is added to the cones to remove the flavors, aromas and other components of the wine, leaving behind just water and alcohol. Next, to isolate the water, the cones are spun again (this time at a higher temperature) and the water is added back into the wine. 

Reverse osmosis, AKA filtration, is another widely used method for dealcoholizing wine. In this process, wine is forced through a very fine filter or membrane using high pressure. What comes out of the filter is a mixture of water and alcohol. What is left behind is very concentrated wine, albeit with no alcohol and less water. The water-alcohol mixture is heated to boil off the alcohol and then the remaining water gets mixed back into the wine. Often, even more water is blended into the mixture to give it the correct volume.   

Things to know about Dealcoholized wine:

Dealcoholized wine offers the same health benefits as regular wine. It’s full of polyphenols, potent antioxidants. A study out of Spain found that alcohol-free red wine helps lower blood pressure in men. Phytochemicals in non-alcoholic red wine can help reduce the risk of blood clots. They can also help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.

Diet-friendly. Looking to maintain a healthy weight and/or BMI? A glass of alcohol-free wine contains a scant 65 to 75 percent fewer calories than ‘fully leaded’ wine.  
Non-alcoholic wine expires quickly. Regular wine containing alcohol lasts as long as it does because alcohol is a natural preservative. You should finish a bottle of non-alcoholic wine when you open it. If you must, it can be resealed and refrigerated, but for no more than three days.

Grape juice is different. You may see ‘sparkling grape juice’ in the grocery store, but that’s not the same as a non-alcoholic wine. Grape juice beverages like sparkling grape juice don’t undergo the vinification process as we’ve detailed above. Without vinification, it won’t have the complexity, aroma, body, dryness and flavors that true dealcoholized wines do. Sparkling grape juice and its ilk are sweeter and lack complexity. Buyer beware: look for the words non-alcoholic wine, alcohol removed, dealcoholized or alcohol-free wine to be sure you’re getting wine, not grape juice.

Dealcoholized wine may be less intense. It may also be a bit sweeter or feel thinner in your mouth. These variations depend on whether the winemaker added grape juice. Flavor intensity may be lessened because alcohol is a transporting medium for regular wine’s bouquets/aromatics. Without it, aromas may be less intense or just different and flavors may be fruitier.     

Non-alcoholic wine can contain alcohol. But it’s not much. In fact, it’s generally so little (0.5 percent alcohol by volume, AKA ABV) that dealcoholized wine can officially be designated/classified as non-alcoholic. There are also wines categorized as ‘low alcohol.’ These contain about 1.2 percent ABV. Regular wine usually clocks in at 13 to 14 percent ABV. Liquor or spirits have a much higher ABV percentage. Vodka, for example, has a standard ABV of 40 percent. 


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