If you strive to live an alcohol-free lifestyle, then you already know that some of your beverage options can be a little limited. Particularly when you’re out and about with friends or family, you might feel “out of the loop” if everyone around you is enjoying an alcoholic beverage, while you slip on a glass of lemon water.
Perhaps you’ve thought about trying non-alcoholic wine in order to feel more included, but not have to worry about consuming alcohol. But although you’re interested in trying alcohol-free wine, you still have a few concerns. First and foremost is the most popular question: isn’t non-alcoholic wine just more expensive grape juice? Despite what some believe, alcohol-free wine is not just fancy juice; in fact, it’s much more complicated than that. To answer your question, here are a few of the major differences for you to keep in mind between non-alcoholic wine and juice.
The single greatest difference between non-alcoholic wine and grape juice is in their production. Simply put: non-alcoholic wine is made exactly like its alcoholic counterpart, but with one extra step: the alcohol is removed. Grape juice, on the other hand, is merely the unfermented juice of grapes. While both come from grapes and might taste similar, there is still a clear distinction in their flavor profiles, particularly because of how they are made.
When making alcohol-free wine, the liquid goes through a nearly identical process as alcoholic wine—and begins very similarly to juice. Grapes are harvested from a vineyard, either by human hands or through a machine. The types of grapes chosen and the moment they are harvested helps determine the desired flavor profile for the wine (or juice) in terms of acidity, sweetness and taste. Once the grapes are harvested, they are taken to the winery or manufacturer and sorted into bunches.
After the grapes have been selected for the wine or juice, they go through a destemming process, then crushed through a mechanical press. Depending on the type of wine or juice, the grapes might be crushed quickly to separate the juice from the skins, seeds and solids, or pressed slowly to leave the grapes in contact with their skins. This also distinguishes between a white or red wine. At this point, both the non-alcoholic wine and juice have a nice, freshly-squeezed liquid of grape juice.
However, here is where grape juice and alcohol-free wine differ. For alcohol-free wine at this point, the liquid is actually put through a fermentation process. This converts natural sugars in the juice into alcohol. Juice begins naturally fermenting within 6-12 hours; however, most winemakers will also add in a commercial yeast to ensure the consistency of the wine. Winemakers will then continue the fermentation process until all of the sugar in the juice has been converted into alcohol. Depending on the type of wine and desired flavors, fermentation can last anywhere from 10 days to longer than one month.
On the other hand, grape juice does not go through a fermentation process. Instead, the grapes are pasteurized in order to halt fermentation completely. Not only does non-alcoholic wine go through the entire fermentation process, it also goes through an aging process similar to regular alcoholic wine. This aging intensifies the flavors of the wines, and can even influence the quality and overall taste. While non-alcoholic wine is aged, grape juice is finalized by adding in any other necessary ingredients and bottling.
At the final stages of production, non-alcoholic wine finally has its alcohol content removed from the liquid, either through distillation or filtration. Because alcohol-free wine goes through the same process as regular wine, it’s less sugary than grape juice, but still has the same great flavor profile of wine with alcohol.
The difference is clear: alcohol-free wine is completely unique from both alcoholic wine and grape juice. While it is fermented and aged through the exact same process as alcoholic wine, the alcohol content is then removed, making it as safe as grape juice, but taste like wine. If you want to live an alcohol-free lifestyle, give alcohol-free wine a try and see how you enjoy it.