The key to choosing a non-alcoholic alternative to wine is to find one that doesn’t taste too sweet. Because an overly sweet drink can not only overwhelm the taste buds and hide the taste of the food you are matching it to, but it’s also really filling – it may taste great on its own but drink it with a full plate of roast turkey, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, peas, gravy and bread sauce and the sweetness will fill you up faster than the lovingly prepared plate of food. But there are non-alcoholic choices that taste good, match food as well as wine and also won’t empty the bank account.
So what are the Top Ten non-alcoholic alternatives to wine? Well let’s start with the cheapest solution – a carafe of tap water. It’s simple, refreshing and always available (pubs have to offer tap water free of charge if a customer asks for it – that’s the law). If you spruce it up with chunks of lemon and lime the slight acidity seeping out from the infusion make the resulting drink a better match to meat-heavy foods. Plus if you want to get rid of the chlorine tang that sometimes lingers in tap water then put the uncovered carafe in the fridge for a couple of hours.
If you want to pay for your glass of water then tonic is a great meal matcher. Pour it into a tall glass and it looks all the world like sparkling wine – which may, or may not concern you, but it can stop the sometimes intrusive questions that come the way of the non-alcoholic drinker in a social gathering.
By adding fruit juice to the tonic water at a rate of 50:50 you get the traditional spritzer – apple, raspberry or a mix of carrot juice with orange juice work well. As does grape juice. Shloer make a decent sparkling grape juice drink which is basically 50% carbonated water, 36% grape juice – the rest is sugar or Stevia plus other juices and some additional acids to balance out all the flavours. Most supermarkets stock it (£1.90 for 750ml) and the range includes white, red and rosé grape sparkling; white grape and elderflower; and white grape mixed with raspberry and cranberry.
But where is the alcohol-free wine? It may exist but it doesn’t play a part in any of my recommended lists. To make alcohol-free wine the alcohol, and with it some of the mouth drying tannins, are removed from regular wine. The result is a rather out-of-kilter drink that tastes rather watery and unbalanced. Sutter is the big brand name in de-alcoholised wine (that’s the alternative name for it) and at £3.49 a bottle it does match the price of many non-alcoholic alternatives, but it’s just so boring on the taste buds. After about a third of a glass you’ll probably want to ask for something else. Like alcohol-free beer which tastes pretty much like the alcohol version if you chose the right brand – Bitburger Drive, Becks Blue and Erdinger alcohol-free wheat beer come top in taste tests.
If all that is starting to sound too complicated, how about a cup of tea? Refreshing, food friendly (green tea works well with rich foods like Christmas pudding as well as tangy dishes like curry) and cheaper than a bottle of wine, tea is nectar to many taste buds. Including mine.
Top Ten Non-Alcoholic Alternatives to Wine
Tap water infused with lemon and lime
£pence, available everywhere
Tonic water – infuse with ice and a slice or add a dash of Anustora bitters* for extra bite. (*Angustora bitters are alcoholic but you are only adding one or two drops).
Fever Tree Standard Tonic 4x200ml £3, many supermarkets
Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic Water 200ml £1.69 Waitrose, has the Angostura bitters already added resulting in a pretty pink drink
Shloer sparkling grape juice drink
£1.90, 750ml, most supermarkets
Fruit cordials – popular brands Bottlegreen and Belvoir
Approx £3 for 500ml concentrate
Many food-friendly flavours: ginger, elderflower, blueberry and blackcurrant, strawberry and raspberry. Mix with plain water or tonic water.
Non-alcoholic beer – Bitburger Drive, Becks Blue, Erdinger non-alcoholic wheat beer
(*Most non-alcoholic beers contain 0.05% alcohol)
Available supermarkets, off-licence, pubs, restaurants
Bitburger Drive £3.99 6x330ml Majestic
Becks Blue £3.50 6x275ml Tesco
Erdinger Alkoholfrei 500ml £1.29
Ginger beer mixed with orange juice
Can be quite filling as both the ginger beer and orange juice contain sugars. But it is refreshing.
Tomato juice and dash of Worcestershire sauce
Definitely no ice cubes.
Pot of your favourite tea
£pence to ££ depending on your purveyor
Fentimans Rose Lemonade
£1.19 275ml Ocado
Pretty pink drink that tastes of roses. The colour is provided by red cabbage juice.
Seedlip Distilled Non-alcoholic Spirit – mix with tonic water
£29.99 700ml Selfridges
Comes in two flavours: Garden (flavour cucumber, grass, leaf) or Spice (flavour cinnamon, cloves, apple, black pepper).
Better as an aperitif than a long drink as flavours quite intense. Nice try to add something new to the non-alcoholic spectrum.
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© Paula Goddard 2016 www.paulagoddard.com