Trend Watch: The Rise of Nolo Wine

05 April 2022, 08:18 AM
  • Traditionalists turn up their noses at zero and low-alcohol wines yet there’s a growing market reports Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: The Rise of Nolo Wine

Majestic, the UK’s largest specialist wine retailer, launched its first 0% wine range in January 2020. And when Trend Watch walked supermarket aisles this spring, it seemed everyone from Tesco to Marks and Spencer had a no- and low-alcohol wine range, often at astonishingly low prices.
It’s not just the multiples who are recognising demand.

“We identified this trend towards responsible drinking in mature markets 15 years ago,” Miguel Torres Maczassek, fifth generation member of the wine-producing Torres family, Spain, told Master of Wine (MW) Peter Richards (Decanter magazine, January 2020). “So we started to experiment.” Sarah Jane Evans MW reports that Torres’ low-alcohol range is ‘pretty good’.

What’s behind the trend?
Drinking less but better is a global health and wellness trend across all age groups and in Dry January 2022, mindful drinkers outnumbered abstainers.

Not drinking – like going vegan – has become cool. In the UK, one in three 16-24 year olds is teetotal (Office for National Statistics) and one in five adults. There’s even a no- and low-alcohol, pop-up off-licence called Club Soda just off London’s Regent Street, and a Mindful Drinking Festival.

Just as new vegans don’t want to miss out on burgers so the ‘non-drinking community’ want adult-looking and tasting beverages.

How are so-called nolo wines made?
Producers make a normal wine, extract the alcohol and replace the weight alcohol provides with sugar or grape juice. They may add flavouring, too. Low-alcohol wines are either partly de-alcoholised or blends of both regular-strength and de-alcoholised wines.

What’s the challenge with that?
Alcohol provides aroma, flavour profile, texture and mouthfeel. Plus while a regular off-dry white will have about 4-7 grams of residual sugar per litre, many nolo whites have the same quantity in 100ml – not ideal for weight watching. This is why they can taste too sweet.

Zero-alcohol beers work. Why is making zero-alcohol wine so tricky?
Beer averages 5% ABV compared with wine’s 8-17%. So with wine, you’re removing more of the element responsible for structure, mouthfeel, aroma and complexity. Absence of alcohol is more noticeable in reds because they usually have more body than whites.

What’s essential to know about the nolo market?
Customers fall into two camps: abstainers want to avoid; moderators – a far bigger market - want to cut down. Abstainers are much more likely to enjoy zero-alcohol wines because unlike moderators they don’t expect the doctored versions to taste like ‘full fat’ wine. It may be wise to steer moderators towards lower alcohol wine such as German Riesling or Italian sparkling. Or sell them alternatives - kombuchas, sparkling teas and vinegar-based drinks - created for the wine-drinking occasion.

I love reds! Is there nothing for me?
At alcohol-free e-store, Wise Bartender, their bestselling red is Darling Cellars Shiraz from South Africa. Experts also praise Oddbird’s Low Intervention Organic Red No. 1 and Domaine de la Prade Organic Merlot Shiraz.

How are restaurant sommeliers solving the teetotal challenge?
At Clare Smyth’s Core in Notting Hill Gate - and also at Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason - there’s a product invented by award-winning wine writer, Matthew Jukes, Jukes Cordialities. Nine 30ml bottles come beautifully packaged in a box for around £40. ‘We were sceptical at first,’ reported Freddie Holt, general manager of Nysa Wine & Spirits, ’but they’re selling well.’

Drinks expert, Christine Parkinson, finds the red wine-alternative, Nine Elms No.18, ‘brilliant with food’. ‘We are going to be seeing more products like this,’ she advised sommeliers.

Whose products do you like?
Red Sea, a red wine-alternative made by Sharab Drinks sold well on line and we enjoyed the palate-cleansing properties of their latest launch, Rubayyat, with meat and cheese.

Yes, but these new drinks don’t taste like wine, do they?
If you’re trying to compare wine-alternatives with your usual bottle, you’re likely to be disappointed. Imitation isn’t the point. Innovation in the adult soft drinks sector is the name of the game.

How can we make the most of the trend?
- Get advice on what to stock from a specialist teetotal trade retailer such as Wise Bartender.
- Cater for mums-to-be. Vinada’s new zero-alcohol Iberian Gold Bubble served in a champagne flute would be a great swap for prosecco at a baby shower.
- Expect zero-alcohol sparkling to outsell still wine.
- Move free-from and low alcohol wines around the store to see which positioning works best.
- Don’t carry anything too cheap. There’s a reason Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit is as pricey as gin and that’s to do with consumer expectations.

Will the trend last?
The no/low alcohol drinks market is forecast to grow more than 10 times as quickly as regular alcoholic drinks with low-alcohol outpacing zero (IWSR). We expect to see ever more new products aimed at ‘joy-seeking balancers’ who like wine.

Peter Richards MW says: ‘Whether such drinks will successfully replicate fine wine is another matter.’ We agree with him that it’s worth producers using technology and imagination to have a go as ‘there will be rewards aplenty for the pioneers’.

Watch this space.

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