The future looks sober-ish.
After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and at the dawn of a new year, many people are resolving to cut back or cut out their drinking — and there’s a new wave of non-alcoholic wines to serve this growing market.
The no- and low-alcohol segment has been enjoying exponential growth globally over the last few years. By 2024, the global consumption of non-alcoholic beverages is expected to rise by 31 per cent. Sales of no- and low-alcohol wines increased 37 per cent in 2020 alone.
In response to this trend, Mark Kuspira — proprietor of Alberta-based wine import agency Crush Imports — launched Soft Crush in June 2021. Under Soft Crush, Kuspira imports a variety of premium no- and low-alcohol wines, beers and spirits.
“It’s kind of like where vegan and vegetarians were 10 or 15 years ago: When they went to dine there was nothing on the menu for them,” Kuspira says. “Now we’re doing that with alcohol.”
These wines are made using new forms of technology that remove the alcohol while preserving natural flavours and aromas. They are remarkably different — and much better quality — than the non-alcoholic wines of the past.
I had the opportunity to try some of the sparkling wines from Odd Bird and Noughty, two of the new brands of premium non-alcoholic wine, and I was surprised at how tasty they were. True, they won’t fool a seasoned wine drinker — and not all of the new non-alcoholic options are at the same quality level — but many of them are perfectly enjoyable.
Dianna Funnell, wine buyer at Sherbrooke Liquor Store, has noticed an increase in demand for non-alcoholic wines, beers and cocktails. At the time of writing in fall 2021, she was actively expanding Sherbrooke’s non-alcoholic section. During our conversation, she tasted the Noughty sparkling Chardonnay and thought it was quite good.
“I don’t think a Champagne fan would be tricked into thinking this was Champagne, but it’s a very nice drink,” she says. “Many of my friends don’t drink at all, but they would drink this because it’s zero per cent. And I would drink it with them, because I think it’s quite tasty.”
Some people might balk at the $20-$25 price tag on these new brands of non-alcoholic wines. After all, since there’s no alcohol in them, aren’t they essentially like pop?
Not really. These products are much different than La Croix or Pellegrino — they are actual wine, and taste like it too. For those who are looking for a suitable wine substitute, or who want to feel festive, these wines are a great option.
“In order to have higher quality products, you’re going to have higher prices,” Funnell says.
“If someone is shopping for dinner and wants some Champagne, but they know that, say, their sister doesn’t drink, I don’t think they’d hesitate to spend 20 bucks on a bottle of sparkling non-alcoholic wine. I think it’s a great power-play for people who don’t drink. Now they have some real choices.”
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