If alcohol is removed from fermented wines, are they still wine?

If you haven’t heard of NOLO wines then you certainly will, as the "no or lo alcohol" category seems to be burgeoning.

As with any trend, I’m seeing a lot of debate around this category, which encompasses beer, grape based wines and wine alternatives based on tea, vinegar or verjus (the latter I’ve read about overseas, but am not actually sure how widespread these yet are in New Zealand?).

One school of thought questions whether zero alcohol "wines" can actually be called wine at all? The Wikipedia definition of wine is "an alcoholic drink made from fermented fruit" and other dictionaries I consulted offer similar answers. If a producer begins with a fermented wine containing alcohol, which is then removed, does it retain the right to use the term "wine"? That would be open to individual interpretation.

Another aspect of debate revolves around the question of actual demand versus big companies simply spotting an opportunity to target the trendsetters, health conscious or inquisitive wine drinkers to make money? The cynical, question if the quality is really there in the bottle: I have seen a rather pithy review of one (overseas) zero alcohol wine in which the writer suggested that there would be more excitement in a glass of water.

The counter argument is that there are many who for health or physical reasons are better to abstain from alcohol (concussion and pregnancy are two obvious cases), while there are others who enjoy the social aspect of sharing wine or beer, but don’t enjoy the after-effects the following morning.

For my part, I feel like these wines are a work in progress. Alcohol creates palate weight and texture, while it can also lend a perception of sweetness.

A number of zero wines I’ve tasted have a hollow feel on the mid-palate and finish: wineries are working hard to re-create the palate impact that alcohol provides.

Bubbles and residual sugar can bring that textural factor, so I was intrigued to try the offerings below to see if they support that supposition, with two of them leading the way.

Brown Brothers Prosecco Rosé Zero 

Price RRP $14.99
Rating Very Good to Excellent
Subtle at first, some brioche, wisps of 
herb, hints of berry 
fruits. Nice mousse, 
fresh, crisp, touches of 
strawberry contrasted 
by lemony citrus and 
gooseberry/herbs. The 
mousse creates good 
mouthfeel on the 
mostly dry palate, the 
merest touch of 
sweetness on the 
close. Cranberry & 
berry fruit grow on the 
nose while the flavours 
build nicely. Could 
happily drink this.

Brown Brothers Prosecco Zero 

Price RRP $14.99
Rating Good to Very Good
A vein of honey on the 
nose, a yeasty/toasty 
quality, vanilla ice-
cream, fresh, bright. 
Lifted acidity, a lemon 
& lime cordial aspect, 
initially with a sour 
worms like tanginess 
making it feel more 
like a food companion. 
With aeration, the 
nose remains similar, 
the tanginess eases 
back with an earthy/
graphite like element 
coming into play. 
Quite crisp.


2021 Brown Brothers Moscato Zero 

Price  RRP $12.99
Rating Very Good to Excellent
Quite attractive, grapey, 
honeyed, aged Riesling 
like lime on toast/jet fuel 
notes at first. Full of 
flavour, a bowl of 
grapes, musk & honey, 
a lovely lemon verbena 
counterpoint. Nice 
palate weight, 
flavoursome and good 
length, definitely some 
sweetness but a crisp 
close so drink cool. 
Great appeal, I’d love to 
see this in a frizzante 
style; a touch of spritz 
could lift it even further.