I'm not a big fan of the idea behind "dry January" ... the notion of creating a "time out" implies that overconsumption instead of moderation is ok and while for some this might be the opportunity to put them on the right path again, I'd prefer that people approach the concept of bing drinking in othere more practical ways. Regardless though, this is a great time of year to take a look at non-alcohol wines and how the industry is evolving in terms of packaging, production quality, and technology that allows them to be a palatable alternative to alcoholic wines for folks who, for whatever reason choose not to imbibe.
In our case, this was a great opportunity for us to give my father-in-law a chance to have a drink or two. As you know, he's been in and out of the hospital since March, and unfortunately, alcohol interferes with his medicine, so he's been dry for nearly a year.
There are more people who avoid alcohol than you might think!
In a recent Gallup survey, 36% of Americans 18+ described themselves as "Total Abstainers" in terms of alcohol consumption. White males drink more than other groups.- Gallup Survey 2022
The industry has matured rapidly over the past few years, and today's non-alcoholic or de-alcoholized wines are, quite frankly, nothing like what was being presented just a few years ago. In the past, there were several different methods of removing alcohol from wine, but the industry seems to have decided that the so-called "spinning cone" method is the best process available today - it is what both Giesen 0% and Fre use to produce their non-alcoholic wines (containing < 0.5% ABV).
What Is "Spinning Cone Method"?
While each wine maker may tweak the method to best suit the product he or she is trying to create, the fundimentaal concept behind the spinning cone method is that a premium wine is produced to first remove the vapors where the aromas live and then the aclohol is dispersed after that while the flavors and aromas are than recombined with the wine .
Essentially it is a very delicate distillation process that scientifically produces very little destruction to the core essence of the wine. While I'd be lying if I suggested that the wines undergoing this process de exhibit a consistent "unique" flavor profile (lighter flavors, less acidity, and a generally more watery mouth feel), it isn't altogether unpleasant.
Part of the reason for this change in flavor and texture is that ethanol does affect the perception of flavor, and in some cases, S02 and other elements may be removed at the same time as ethanol.
Regardless, though, this technology is proven to preserve most of the phenolic compounds, stilbenes, flavonols, and other core chemical compounds that come together to create your favorite vintages. The technology has been tested by hundreds of winemakers around the world on a wide variety of wines. If you' 'd like to get more nerdy, check this report from ACS Publications.
This is the process used by both Fre and Giesen 0%.
Food Pairing Choice: Shrimp Linguini With Broccoli and A Creamy Pesto Sauce
Both Fre and Giesen sent me a collection of their whites, red wines, and sparkling. For this test, I decided to make a flavorful dish that would go well with any of the whites - Fre Chardonnay, Fre Sauvignon Blanc, Giesen 0% Sauvignon Blanc, and Giesen 0% Pinot Gris. Unlike Fre - Giesen also makes "Light" wines, for instance, their 6% ABV Merlot with only 49 calories (roughly 50% lighter than their traditionally bottled Merlot).
The difference between these two is that for the 0%, they run the spinning cone process to completion where, as the light is only run halfway.
Fre Wines - American, Marketed To Women But Solidly Enjoyable
Another critical difference is that Fre is distinctly marketed as a product for women - from the models used in their marketing materials to the chic name. It draws from one of the most experienced pedigrees of American winemaking, though, as it is part of Sutter Home, calls Napa home, and sources its grapes from vineyards across California from Monterey to Napa Valley.
Giesen 0% - New Zealand, Good Wines, Less Alcohol
On the other hand, you have the three Giesen brothers - Theo, Alex, and Marcel who draw from family tradition and experience in New Zealand to create Giesen 0% and Giesen Light wines.
While I don't know that I would say that their products are inherently masculine... I felt like I was enjoying a bottle of wine when I pulled their Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from the chiller, rather than getting a bottle for Heather to enoy. Personally, I look at this and appreciate their effort because it is all too easy to go down the road of targetting the American housewife wine drinker who puts a couple of ice cubes in her white zin to create her own "low alcohol" wine - than it is to recognize that there are millions of men like Jim and ultimately myself one day that have medicines and health issues that may proclude me from enjoying my favorite go-to vintages.
With that being said, let's make some food and taste-test these wines!
Let's make the Shrimp Linguini With Creamy Pesto Sauce:
This is a simple dish that any man can create and offers the opportunity to adjust the salt and fat level to taste, depending on on your health needs and preferences.
- 1 box Barilla Linguini
- 1 Pound Of Fresh Shrimp (or frozen - defrost overnight)
- 1 Pound of Fresh Broccoli Florets
- 1 10oz Jar of Basil Pesto Sauce
- .5 cup cream
- Minced USA garlic (watch out to avoid Chinese imported garlic)
- Salt, pepper, olive oil, and unsalted butter to taste
Fill a large pot with water and begin boiling. While that is being brought up to temperature, begin sauteeing the shrimp in a 50% mixture of unsalted butter and oilve oil. Once cooked, set aside and drain pan.
Once the water is boiling rapidly, add the pasta. Before adding the Fresh Broccoli Florettes, make sure to chop any large pieces into smaller pieces. Let them boil together in the same pot till the broccoli has softened slightly - you want to avoid it being too mushy, though.
Remove the broccoli with a strainer spoon and sautee in the skillet with a little bit of olive oil and a hearty tablespoon of minced garlic while the pasta finishes cooking to an al dente level. You may also want to add fresh ground pepper here as well.
Once the pasta is done, drain most of the water - all but approximately 1 cup - and return it to the pan along with cream, shrimp, broccoli, and pesto sauce. If you need to add extra oil, add it now as well and let the mixture keep warm over low heat while your wines finish chilling.
This will result in a flavor that needs salt and pepper for most people. I recommend that each person adds that to their own taste and that the cook sets that expectation ahead of time to avoid any negative feedback.
Fre vs Giesen 0% Which Came Out On Top?
The results were similar across a variet of different wines from both brands. Both brands come in about $15-20 retail and all of the wines use the same spinning cone process. As a result, the artifacts from the process are going to be similar in all of the instances.
That said, I picked the Sauvignon Blanc from Giesen 0% as my favorite, though Heather and Jim thought it had too much of a limey flavor. For myself, this was in large part because it still had a strong discernable flavor, and the lemon-lime paired well with the shrimp.
My second choice was the Fre Chardonnay since I generally don't like classic "California Chardonnay" with it's oaky, malolactic fermentation. Whether those notes were removed in the de-alcoholization process or what, I'm not sure, but the result was a very light chardonnay that left the gentle notes of fresh tart fruit exposed and, again, paired nicely with the food. Possibly better than expected since I assumed it would be more of a classic California Chardonnay "KJ"-style.
The truth, though, is that none of the wines would be described as unpalatable. The days when non-alcoholic wines could be pushed off the table without a second thought are over.
This space has finally reached a point where it is no longer related to the fringes. Instead, now Vitners are producing products that I could see enjoying a couple of glasses of on a business lunch or at an afternoon BBQ when you know you need to stay alert and sober since you are picking up the kids in an hour.
We'll be testing out the sparkling and re-products shortly as well. I'm looking forward to trying those out too!