Dry January is behind us, but non-alcoholic wine and other alcohol-removed beverages aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But you can’t talk about alcohol-removed wine without raising the question: how do you remove alcohol from wine?
Alcohol-free wine and beer starts out as alcoholic wine and beer. The alcohol has to be removed. There are four methods approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for removing alcohol from wines, but the most common methods of alcohol removal are vacuum distillation and reverse osmosis.
Vacuum distillation is also known as thin-film evaporation under reduced pressure. The first nonalcoholic wine was produced through this method. Vacuum distillation is the least expensive process and takes the least amount of time. Unsurprisingly, those two benefits make it the most popular. However, the results are less reliable. Vacuum distillation involves heating the beer or wine to a temperature where alcohol evaporates. There are a few different technological approaches to this feat, but the trick is taking care not to heat the wine to the point of cooking it.
Reverse osmosis removes the compounds responsible for aroma and flavor before distillation. These phenolic compounds are then later returned to the filtered wine before the product is complete. Reverse osmosis is actually used in standard winemaking as well as it delivers a more concentrated flavor and allows winemakers to manipulate the alcohol levels in the wine. Unfortunately, reverse osmosis uses a significant amount of water, rendering it not very environmentally efficient.
Furthermore, the ethanol removed in vacuum distillation can be used to create other products. The ethanol removed via reverse osmosis is too diluted and therefore cannot be repurposed, making reverse osmosis less sustainable on two counts.
While these are the two most common alcohol removal processes, another approach utilizing advanced spinning cone technology has gained recognition for delivering a delicious result.
Most alcohol removal methods utilize expensive technology, but over the last few years more and more winemakers have determined it to be a worthwhile investment. We should mention that not all “alcohol-free” wine is “alcohol-removed” wine. As we mentioned, alcohol-removed wine starts as fully fledged wine. It goes through the entire vinification process before the alcohol is removed. Alcohol-free wine could simply be grape juice. It hasn’t necessarily gone through fermentation or aging. So keep an eye out for words like “alcohol-removed” or “dealcoholization” on the label to ensure you’re not overpaying for grape juice.