Christine Parkinson on the future of low and no-alcohol wine – Interview

a bottle of rose wine next to a glass of wine on a table

Wine has been on the back foot compared to beer when it comes to low- and no-alcohol. And the IWSR Vinexposium Report 2021 suggests that while non-alcoholic beer is set to grow ahead of its low-abv counterpart, the opposite is expected to be true for wine.

To get into the detail, we spoke to drinks expert Christine Parkinson, co-founder of mindful consultancy Brimful Drinks and host of The Alcohol-free Sommelier podcast.

Recent IWSR figures suggest low alcohol wine is expected to grow ahead of no alcohol wine. Why do you think that is?

I think that low alcohol wine is a better-tasting option on the whole. People who are moderating (rather than abstaining), and therefore still drinking alcohol, tend to find non-alcoholic wine disappointing. Low-alcohol options are an easier way to reduce alcohol consumption for some consumers. There is also the issue that non-alcoholic wines really don't survive once the bottle is opened. This can be problematic for home consumption, and low-alc versions do perform better.

Are you seeing improvements in the world of no abv wine?

Yes. Improvements are coming from two directions: firstly, better made and (crucially) more premium de-alcoholised wines. Until now, most non-alc wine was based on fairly entry-level alcoholic wines. The rise of specialist start-ups is changing that landscape, and better quality is the result. A good example is the Oddbird range. Their wines are drier and more expressive than most, and they are pushing boundaries. Their two reds (Oddbird Low Intervention Organic Red and Domaine de la Prade Organic) are good, and their sparkling rosé is currently the best available.

Secondly, there are some good drinks moving into the wine occasion. Examples would be the best kombuchas, sparkling teas, botanical blends and vinegar-based drinks. For instance: Real Kombucha Royal Flush, Jing Jasmine Pearls sparkling tea, Nine Elms No. 18 and Jukes Cordialities. These are all squarely marketed at wine drinkers.

Do no and low alcohol wines attract different audiences?

Yes, the audiences are different. Abstainers tend to enjoy non-alcoholic wines, and buy them regularly. Moderators (and particularly those who 'switch' beverages during the course of a single drinking occasion) are much less keen on non-alc wines. The contrast in quality (and particularly the sweetness) is too great. These consumers tend to be attracted away from wine altogether, and choose non-alcoholic beer or other non-alc drinks. As I mentioned previously, low-alc wines do attract these people.

What do you think the future holds for low and no alcohol wines?

Low: I think there will be more SKUs, and they will be more widely available.

No: I think there will eventually be more innovation in how these products are made. There are already a few products that are not de-alcoholised, for example Lyre's Classico, but are built from grape juice and RCGM [rectified concentrated grape must].

There is also scope for using de-alcoholised wine as a base and blending in other botanicals rather than simply adding sugar. I think this route has great potential, as the opportunity exists to preserve a meaningful concept of terroir (by using botanicals from the vineyard and its surroundings).

Finally, I think we will start to see some yeast technology that allows fermentation without production of alcohol.

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