Food and Drink

Alcohol-Removed Wine Is More Than Just Grape Juice

The best non-alc wines for celebrating Dry January.

Image by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Image by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist
Image by Maggie Rossetti for Thrillist

While zero-proof spirits and aperitifs soared from the get-go, alcohol-free wine has taken a bit longer to catch up. That’s because many of the wines in this category lack the body and aroma of traditional wine, resulting in a drink that tastes much like grape juice. But there are plenty of stand-out options, and thanks to a few highly curated shops like NYC’s Boisson, you can save yourself the guesswork.

“Alcohol-removed wine has definitely taken a pretty big leap forward in the last couple of years,” says Nick Bodkins, co-founder of Boisson. “We have customers that have done blind taste tests, saying ‘I didn’t even tell people it was non-alc and they were complimenting me on how delicious it was.'”

It’s important to distinguish between non-alcoholic wines and de-alcoholized, or alcohol-removed, wines, which taste closer to the real deal. The former is a more general term, usually used to refer to wines that are made without fermenting grapes, resulting in a sweeter product. The latter is made using the exact same process as alcoholic wine, but once the fermentation process is complete, the alcohol is removed.”The big difference is that these products started out as wine-they go through the maturation process, they have alcohol. Most of the brands that we carry go through vacuum dealcoholization,” Bodkins says. “They put the wine into a pressurized container, lower the air pressure until alcohol boils at room temperature, and then what’s left is everything else. So what you end up with, then, is in effect still wine without that one component, which is the alcohol.”

Many alcohol-removed wines will still have a tiny amount of alcohol left over, but usually no higher than 0.5 percent ABV. So if you’re pregnant, it’s best to consult your physician. Fortunately, removing the alcohol from wine does not affect polyphenols, the antioxidants associated with wine’s health benefit. Studies have even shown that dealcoholized red wine may be even more effective at protecting the heart.

When choosing an alcohol-removed wine, Bodkins recommends looking out for bottles that are FDA regulated, with nutrition and ingredient labels. “When you look at bottles from very large wine producers, especially ones that don’t own their vineyards, these are not single vineyard wines. They’re blends,” Bodkins explains. “They’ve got all sorts of stuff that they do to them to get to what their customers think a pinot noir or red blend should taste like.”He continues, “When you look at our products, what you’re going to find is basically just dealcoholized wine, some grape must which helps with the mouth feel, and then sulfites as preservatives, which are the same thing you would generally find in still and sparkling table wine.” And because the most significant source of calories in wine is the alcohol, dealcoholized wine is much lighter, with a lower sugar content as well.

What Bodkins finds particularly exciting about the non-alcoholic wine space is the emergence of wine-adjacent products like proxies and cordials. Acid League, for example, sells what they refer to as “Wine, but not.” Bodkins says, “The brand is made up of a bunch of folks from the food and beverage world who said, ‘What would happen if we put ingredients into a bottle that mimic the way that we, as sommeliers, describe wine. So what is the top note? What is the middle note? What is the base note?'”

Another brand, Proteau, founded by Thrillist contributor John deBary, creates botanical drinks that are part wine, part aperitif. The Ludlow Red combines notes of blackberry, chrysanthemum, black pepper, and dandelion.Founded by UK-based sommelier, Matthew Jukes, Jukes Cordialities produces small, environmentally friendly bottles of concentrated beverages, meant to be mixed with water. “Each bottle is roughly a glass and half to two glasses. You can either mix it with still or with sparkling water,” Bodkins explains. “The white mixed with sparkling gives you that effervescent, citrusy mouth feel. And then if you mix it with still, it almost drinks like a Sancerre.”

For all the tame evenings that Dry January brings, here is a list of Bodkins’ other favorite alcohol-removed wine brands.

Leitz

“Leitz is one of the largest riesling producers in Germany,” Bodkins says. “They’re an amazing brand with a storied history, saying, ‘We’re going to stand up a dealcoholized wine, and it’s going to be good.'” A best-seller at Boisson, the brand specializes in German riesling and pinot noir grapes. The brand also just released a blanc de blancs, which Bodkins says is fantastic. “They make it in both still and sparkling,” he says.

Teetotaler

Canadian brand Teetotaler produces alcohol-removed Spanish wines. The white wine is made from the Airén grape, which is native to Spain, and delivers crisp notes of apples and roses. The red, which is made in Spain from 100% tempranillo grapes, contains notes of oak, cherry, and plum.

Thomson & Scott

Thompson & Scott’s “Noughty” line of sparkling dealcoholized wines features a 100% chardonnay and tempranillo rosé. Each bottle contains almost half the sugar content of other non-alcoholic sparkling lines and only 14 calories per glass. “We sell more of that brand than almost anything else,” Bodkins says.

Sovi

This California-based, canned wine brand first went to the market with an alcohol-free canned rosé. But for Bodkins, their new, slightly effervescent red blend drinks like a great lambrusco. “One of my favorite restaurants in New York City, Rezdôra, is known for bringing lambrusco at the beginning of your meal,” Bodkins explains. “And the red blend felt to me like I was having that first-class tease of lambrusco. They’ve really done red right.”

Surely

Surely works with Sonoma winemakers to offer alcohol-removed rosé, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc, as well as sparkling varieties. The brand also carries a canned brut wine, which has hints of lemon, peach, and custard, as well as a few canned spritzes. The Lemon Ginger Spritz makes use of its non-alcoholic brut, while the Coconut Passion Fruit Spritz combines its non-alcoholic rosé with fresh juice.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Food & Drink team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Food and Drink

Why Makrut Lime Makes a Star Ingredient in Cocktails

The Southeast Asian citrus is intensely aromatic and pairs with rum, gin, tequila, and more.

Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks
Photo courtesy of Fish Cheeks

I grew up with a makrut lime tree in my backyard, admiring the double leaves and dimpled citrus fruit that frequently made their way into our family dinners. Makrut limes, which are sometimes referred to kaffir limes (although the term is controversial and has been widely retired), are native to Southeast Asia, but somehow my mom willed a tree to grow in our Southern California home with great success.

To me, makrut meant savoury Thai food: steamed fish curry wrapped in banana leaves and sprinkled with chiffonade makrut, simmering tom kha gai with floating bits of the hand-torn citrus leaves, and glistening green curry accentuated by the plant’s aroma.

But to others, makrut is an ideal ingredient in cocktails and other drinks. Such is the case for Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant in Manhattan known for its seafood dishes and eclectic, complementary cocktail menu. Beverage director Beau Fontano knew he had to include makrut in his creations, especially because the ingredient is so prominent on the food menu. Makrut lime finds its way in several drinks, most notably as a garnish atop the Thank You Kha, a riff on the acidic coconut stew tom kha gai, and the Manao Mao, a rum-based drink that uses makrut lime bitters.

“I don’t love using the word tiki, but if you think of those tiki rum cocktails, makrut definitely works well in those,” Fontano says. “But I also love it in martinis-there’s something really clean about it. And with makrut lime, if you’re just using the leaves, you can do a lot of rapid infusions.”

Fontano only uses the leaves, because the rinds and juice of makrut limes are famously bitter. “Regular lime has a little bit more sugar content, so that’s why it’s much more approachable in cocktails. Makrut limes tend to be more dry,” he explains. “But when you use the leaves in cocktails, you just smack it to wake it up a little bit and it gets that nice citrusy, refreshing aroma which is really fun.”

The leaves are cut fresh, so each drink has the scent of makrut lime leaves wafting off of them. “I’m sure at one point I will get around to it and try to figure out how to use the juice,” he laughs.

Further north at Paper Tiger in Portland, Maine, makrut lime leaves are also prevalent in a cocktail called Something Scandalous, a tequila-based drink intended to be, in the words of bartender Nick Reevy, “crushed easily.”

Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger

“I went with tequila, specifically, because in Maine it’s 80 degrees and humid pretty much all summer,” Reevy explains. “So I made something you kick back easily. Agave has a really nice softness that elevates the makrut lime, and the main flavour in that drink is the Thai basil.”

The drink is an alluring shade of green and is rounded out by cinnamon syrup and falernum. “Makrut lime is really herbal and bright in a way no other citrus is,” Reevy adds. “It’s interchangeable with other limes, but it just adds this whole other depth of flavour.”Makrut lime has even made its way into hard seltzer, albeit a limited edition drop from Lunar. Founder Kevin Wong knew he wanted to add another citrus drink to his rotation as he witnessed the successes of hard lemonades, but already had a yuzu iteration. Makrut lime seemed like a natural follow-up.

Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar
Photo courtesy of Lunar

“It has a very intense citrus fragrance, almost perfumey or soapy,” Wong ponders. “Like I could see Le Labo putting out a makrut lime fragrance. It has such a commanding presence and body.”

To tamper down some of the boldness of the makrut lime, the hard seltzer uses makrut lime leaf extract, lime juice, and cane sugar. The aromatics of the lime are present without too much bitterness; instead, the seltzer is grassy, acidic, and dry. Wong recommends pairing the can with spicy foods, especially Szechuan dry pot.

The makrut lime seltzer is currently sold out, and Wong is unsure whether or not another batch is in the works. “I feel like makrut lime is the greatest secret unknown to the Western world,” he says. “It’s in medicine, candy, herbal drinks, cosmetics and aromatherapy. I think we did the seltzer too early, and I don’t know if the world is ready for us to bring it back yet. Maybe in a couple of years.”

But judging by the growing popularity of makrut lime in beverage menus, the comeback might be sooner than he expects.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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