“Sometimes the best wine is a beer” is the title of a chapter in my book Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated. The chapter begins with a situtation that most wine drinkers have experienced. Stranded at a charity reception with only tasteless donated wine to drink, I long for the craft beer that others seem to be enjoying so much.
At really low price points (and sometimes at higher price levels, too), I am afraid that the best wine probably is a beer, at least if you care what you’re drinking.
Recently I’ve had an opportunity to explore another situation where wine fares poorly compared to beer: when you need to avoid alcohol for one reason or another.
Non-alcoholic wines are available but they are not really much of a thing here in the U.S. — at least not yet — although they are getting more attention in Europe. Sue and I learned about Matarromera Group’s innovative “Win” alcohol-free wines during our visit to Spain, for example. Matarrommera sees potential in the non-alcohlic wine market and has made significant investment in production and marketing.
Non-alcoholic wine is a narrow category here in the U.S. I am not sure I would even think to ask for non-alcoholic wine at a bar or restaurant. On-trade people — what is your experience? Do customers request non-alcoholic wine?
Non-Alcoholic Choices Everywhere
But beer is another matter. Every bar and restaurant I surveyed during my dry week offered a non-alcoholic beer option — most at the 0.5 % abv level that qualifies as non-alcoholic (that’s about the same abv as orange juice, for example). And some had 0.0 % options, too. A Whole Foods store we visited had seven different choices, including two 0.0% options.
What did they taste like? Well, the first non-alcoholic beer I tried was an old school O’Douls and it was just like I remembered it. No offense, but I’d rather drink warm tap water.
But at dinner at a French restaurant one night and then an Italian place the next night I was introduced to a couple of German import brands and they were terrific, with the aroma, body and flavor of real beer. I guess the Germans take beer seriously and that attention extends to non-alcholic products.
I really didn’t miss the alcohol and I appreciated the fact that, because they were priced like bottles of beer, these products were considerably less expensive than many of the by-the-glass wine offerings.
I’d still rather have the wine, but I didn’t suffer with the non-alcoholic beers. It is clear that that the non-alcohol beverage market is growing and that some producers are making significant investments in both product development and marketing.
Is there space for a decent non-alcoholic wine in a single-serve container? Yes, I think so. But someone’s going to have to make the investment to establish the market. Hey, Gallo — why don’t you give this a try? You are already expanding your Barefoot brand to include hard selzer in cans. Why not take the next step with a non-alcoholic wine in a single serve can? Barefoot 0.0!
As the week was ending I found an affordable six-pack of Clausthaler Dry Hopped non-alcholic beer imported from Germany. Complex with a rich nose, amber-colored, made with Cascade hops, it seems ideal for a craft beer consumer who wants or needs to avoid alcohol.
And the perfect choice for those times when the best wine is an alcohol-free beer.