(Image source: iStock/ Lautus)
There is a growing trend in the drinks scene of South Africa that is focusing on alternatives to traditional alcoholic beverages. The local bottle shop is now awash with low-calorie beer, non-alcoholic gin and tonics and lite wines – all of which sound if not disgusting, then downright disappointing. What even is a “ non-alcoholic Gin & Tonic”? Isn’t that just a tonic water?
Of course, there are many reasons why someone may choose to sip on an alcohol-free beverage; pregnancy being the most common. Other factors such as medication, mental health triggers and the personal safety of you and your family are also considerations that will have you searching for an alternative to alcoholic drinks in a social setting.
In the wine circles that I move in, there has been some discussion lately about a thing called “de-alcoholised wine”; that is wine made in the traditional way, after which the alcohol is removed and the wine bottled, labelled and sold in the wine section of the supermarket.
The de-alcoholised wine is different from other “wine alternatives”, such as alcohol-free wine (grape juice dressed up in a wine bottle) or light wine (wine with lower sugars and lower alcohol, resulting in a wine that has fewer calories), in that it is wine produced using a traditional method, and then the wine is filtered to remove almost all of the alcohol. I won’t go into the details of how exactly they torture and mutilate the wine so as to remove the alcohol, but I will say that the process sounds truly traumatic.
There are many stages of filtration, with the addition of glycerine and preservatives (such as sulphites). Approximately 0,5% alcohol remains behind, which also helps to give the wine a longer shelf life. Due to the residual alcohol. de-alcoholised wine is not always the best for those chosing not to drink for religious reasons.
Image courtesy of Wine Folly
The leading label of alcohol-free wines is Lautus, which makes a white and a red version of de-alcoholised wine. You may have seen it on the shelves at Woolworths, and perhaps you’ve wondered what it tastes like. I recently tasted both the Lautus red and white, and the bottom line is that if you love good wine, you will not love these drinks.
The Savvy White has a very pale, bright yellow colour with a nose of fragrant pears and litchis. The palate is a combination of zesty tropical fruits, with an acidity that borders on sourness. There is a lingering aftertaste that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; the closest I can describe is the smell of styrofoam packaging when you first open a delivery box.
The Savvy Red has a medium garnet colour, which reminded me of a heavier Pinot Noir. The nose had a dusty, wet leaf smell with strong whiffs of peanut butter. The palate was sour and very astringent, with a chewiness from the tannins that reminded me a lot of over-brewed, cold black tea. I could only manage two sips.
What we thought:
“it’s not as good as I had hoped, but it’s not as bad as I feared!”
“perfect for the festive season”
“yay, a pregnancy wine!”
“what’s the point? Just give me the real thing!”
It’s not all bad news, however. I much prefer the Lautus white, which I think served ice cold could be a great Summer alternative drink – the crispness is downright refreshing. The main benefit of these wines over other soft drinks is that you can drink them at the same pace as everyone else drinking regular wine. Both wines are low in alcohol, sugars and calories so if that is something you’re keeping an eye on, then Lautus could be a great social alternative for you!
The packaging and appearance are neutral and inconspicuous, and it allows you to enjoy a meal in a restaurant for example, without fizzy drinks or overly sweet mocktails dominating the flavour of your food.
For the reasons I mentioned above, de-alcoholised wine is a great option for anyone choosing not to drink alcohol. However, it will never replace a good glass of red wine that so many of us adore. For my alcohol-free days, I’ll just stick to water, thank you.