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 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.
So what are the best 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 dessert as well as tangy dishes like curry) and cheaper than a bottle of wine, tea is nectar to many taste buds. Including mine.