It was a fairly innocuous request. Did I fancy reviewing some non-alcoholic wines, with Lent coming up and all that? I will admit to a touch of scepticism; wine is wine and anything other is not. I am not against non-alcoholic wines per se; it’s just I have never quite got any ‘pretend’ malarkey. (But that’s another story.)
I agreed to give them a try and was doing OK with the idea until the arrival of said non-alcoholic drinks. (My parcel, courtesy of Alcohol Free, contained not only wines but beers, ciders, sparkling wines and vermouth.) Accompanying them was a note which kind of shook me up:
“To judge the wines fairly, can I ask that you please don’t drink alcoholic wines immediately beforehand, and that you give yourself some time to adapt and don’t dismiss after one taste. Your brain is trained to look out for the alcohol and it can take time to get used to wine without it.”
Nothing too scary in that – except for the first line, which set off a slight nervousness. Don’t drink alcohol? With my work, this is something I have never really considered. I drink and drink fairly consistently, but I don’t fall down drunk; and you have never seen me plastered and tipping out of a nightclub on a Friday night. Well, not for a number of years anyway.
My reaction to abstinence got me thinking about my drinking. Simultaneously, it seemed, the whole world was turning against booze. Every time I turned on the radio or television, someone was condemning the stuff. (Is it just me or has the phrase ‘functioning alcoholic’ been around for some time?) With Alastair Campbell baring his soul on Panorama, and Woman’s Hour running pieces about the condition, perhaps my box of alcohol-free drinks had arrived at the right time.
I unpacked them. And I have to say, if these drinks are pretending to be wine, they are doing a damn good job on the packaging front. They look like the real thing, and could easily slip unnoticed on to the wine rack or dinner table without question. But what of the taste?
I needed a day or two to prepare, but the husband and son wanted to get stuck straight in. The Schneider Weisse Alcohol-Free Wheat Beer was already well known to the latter: apparently, it is his and his mates’ drink of choice when driving. (To say I was pleased and proud of his sense is putting it mildly.) So they opted to start with a modest Spanish Tempranillo..
Perhaps you are now appreciating that these are not fancy fruit juices but, rather, real wine that has been ‘de-alcoholised’. The lads sniffed, swirled and tasted and – given the looks on their faces – needed that plea to not give up with the first taste. They drank the bottle (not cheap at £6.59, but not ruinous) a tad too quickly, and I wondered if they would have savoured a ‘real’ wine a little longer. However, by the end of dinner, they were fans.
Come the weekend, I was ready to try. With the support of my best friend – if I was going through this, she was coming with me – neither of us had touched a drop of the chilled Marlborough waiting patiently in the fridge. So we decided to start with the rosé.
Romance en Rosé Organic appealed on two fronts: the organic status and the blush-pink colour. Three sips in and not a word passed between us; just wary looks at each other across the table. One glass down and we were warming to it; and by the second glass, we were extolling its virtues and declaring how we would be more than comfortable drinking this with friends and enjoying it. Yes, you heard me right.
I have since gone on to enjoy the sister of the rosé, Romance en Blanc Organic White, and a delightfully fruity, lightly sparkling Pearl Blanc Organic, made from half and half Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. A big favourite was a refreshing Stowford Press LA Cider – which tasted just like the real thing to both the son and I – and we are about to order a case.
At the time of writing, we still have a few to try, and I am looking forward to them. But – before you ask – no, I am not giving up alcohol for Lent. I am cutting down, and replacing my nightly tipple with some of these excellent alternatives. How come? Because I am impressed with the reasons (other than that too much booze is bad for you) why alcohol-free fits comfortably into a healthy lifestyle. In case you need convincing, here are a few:
Weight : alcohol-free wines have up to 75 per cent fewer calories than the alcoholic versions, and many have fewer calories than fruit juice.
Sports and fitness: you can enjoy a drink without undoing all your hard work.
Driving; expectant mums (and dads); combining certain medicines; religious observances…
See a range of drinks at Alcohol Free
Further reading: Given up for Lent? Partners beware