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Alcohol-free: A new trend in wine

If you don't like drinking alcohol, you can still order wine. Yes, you read that right. The new trend at vineyards involves removing alcohol from their products. Michele Lightfoot explains.

Have a drink
That phrase conjures up different images for different people. If you are in a social setting, often times it refers to alcoholic beverages. Some people imagine a mug of beer, a glass of wine or a fruity daiquiri. But, if you are of the growing number of adults who choose to abstain from alcohol, you probably think: water, ginger ale or soda.

No more, I say! I have recently stumbled across a new breed of wine: nonalcoholic or dealcoholized wine. Don't mistake these gems for ordinary grape juice. They are actual wines that go through an additional process: alcohol-removal. They come in same tastes as typical wines. Chardonnay, Merlot, Red, White, Riesling, White Zinfandel, Brut and Spumante are just some of the varieties available under the flag of dealcoholized wine.

Traditionalists may say the term nonalcoholic could refer to any beverage free of alcohol. But wineries have been using the term to describe wines that have almost all of the alcohol removed. Nonalcoholic and dealcoholized are used interchangeably, when referring to wines.

How they come to be
Dealcoholized wines begin life as grapes, just like any other wine. As the grapes ferment, the sugar turns into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The process of removing the alcohol is slightly different at each vineyard. Some use heat or gravity or remove the alcohol and most of the water. This reduces the wine to a syrup which is reconstituted into wine. Some wineries use water to reconstitute and others use grape juice or grape concentrate. While each process is individual to the vineyard, the outcome is the same: a product that looks and taste like traditional wine, but has less than one-half of one percent of alcohol.

Positive aspects
An added benefit to the removal of alcohol is the removal of around one-third of the calories. This means that those who are watching their weight can indulge in an occasional glass and not feel guilty. The beneficial properties often associated with red wine can also be found in the nonalcoholic version, as well. Recent studies have shown powerful antioxidants in red wine can reduce risks of heart disease in some people. These same antioxidants, call catechins, are also found in nonalcoholic red wine.

Who they are and how to get them
Dealcoholized wine is readily available at your local grocery or liquor store. Sutter Home has a line of wines that began in 1992. Named Fre, these wines contain low amounts of alcohol. The varieties include: White Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot, Premium Red, Premium White, Sparkling Brut and Spumante.

The prices vary from around $3 a bottle to $7, with the sparkling wines being at the higher end. As Sutter Home is a national brand, these wines are probably the most available across the United States.

Carl Jung, a winery in Germany, has been making nonalcoholic wines for decades. It sells primarily over the Internet, but is expanding rapidly. The winery produces White, Red, Rose, Merlot, Riesling, White Sparkling and Peach Sparkling. The price is around $4.50 a bottle, but watch for shipping costs.

Ariel Vineyards in California sells mostly on the West coast, but can also be found in certain outlets throughout the United States. Ariel specializes in nonalcoholic wines, in fact, it is all it produces. The company sells Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rogue, Blanc, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel and Brut Cuvee. The prices are around $5 a bottle. Graham Kerr, noted chef and author, is the Ariel Vineyards Ambassador of Food and Wine. In conjunction with the vineyard, Mr. Kerr has compiled a collection of recipes using Ariel's wines.

The bottom line
While some wine connoisseurs may turn their noses at nonalcoholic wines, don't let them sway you from trying them. Any wine, alcohol-laden or dealcoholized, will taste different to everyone. The only real way to find out if these wines are for you is to go ahead, take a sip!

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