What is a wine alternative?
Language is important. What do you think of when people say ‘non-alcoholic’ or ‘alcohol-free?’ That it’s missing something. The entire focus on the substance is something that isn’t even there. At Three Spirit, and the wellness industry in general, we’re shifting the focus to something more positive. You may have heard the term 'alternative wine' cropping up, so what is this exactly, and is it just another way to say non-alcoholic?
Wine alternatives are not the same as non-alcoholic wines
This may sound confusing but hear me out. When Blurred Vines was soft launched last summer, we presented them as wine alternatives, not non-alcoholic wine. It wasn’t just to present something adjacent to traditional wine rather than lesser than, but because it really wasn’t non-alcoholic wine! Sure, there’s no alcohol in Blurred Vines, but there’s also zero grapes. Most non-alcoholic wine is de-alcoholized wine -essentially grape juice and essentially 'non-alcoholic wine.' There’s nothing wrong with that (in fact it’s a great way of still getting the natural antioxidants found in red wine without the hangover), but Three Spirit as ever are searching for innovation. Was it possible to create an alternative to wine with complex taste and all the benefits, not only without the alcohol but without the grapes too? Could we build from the ground up?
No grapes, no alcohol, how is it similar to wine?
Alternative wine is designed to be consumed in the same way as traditional wine; chilled in a glass and paired with delicious food. Complex and functional, Blurred Vines’ ingredients have done just that. Rather than imitating the exact taste of wine or making a mockery of it (see overpriced mocktails filled with juice, soda and ice), it’s a unique taste with a huge amount of care.
Fermentation expert Dr Johnny Drain explains his part in Blurred Vines. "In wanting to create something as faithful to the experience of wine just without the booze we knew fermentation had to be in the mixer. I worked to source the perfect strain of yeast that would work with our fruits to create those subtle fermented notes. There's a touch of funk, a hint of must, and barrels of winey-ness. And it's in part down to our very clever fermentation!"
Like wine - but healthier
Our resident drink expert Robin Honhold looked into recreating the benefits of wine, but from a healthier standpoint. "From the bottom up we looked at all of the individual elements that are in a glass of wine - proteins, minerals, acids and many other minute ingredients swirling about. We sought out some of the very best teas on offer for fine fermented notes, and wonderful fresh juices from British currants for tannins, colour and acidity. Carefully putting them all together at the peak of their flavour means we are left with fresh, vibrant drinks without the need for any noticeable sweetness, drinks that you want to show to your friends and drink in company."
Chief winemaker at London Cru, Alex Hurley brings up the problem of sugar in many non-alcoholic wines. "Alcohol is actually a very important part of the wine not only of the flavour but of the sensation too. The solution to this has typically been to add sugar as a substitute to the weight of the liquid that's removed when the alcohol is taken away, but then you run into the next problem which is you suddenly have a product that is incredibly sugary. So Blurred Vines are coming in from a different angle by innovating the methodology and finding a new solution using different ingredients and flavour influences -and keeping it low sugar."
The end result
Alternative wines are becoming more and more known, and industry experts are taking note. In the International Wine and Spirits Competition, Blurred Vines score were 98 for Sharp and 94 for Spark, and Three Spirit were crowned No & Low Producer of the Year. In the World Alcohol Free Awards, Spark also won gold.
Talia Baiocchi, editor-in-chief of Punch, was impressed with Sharp, the white alternative in Blurred Vines' range. “This is the first one where I’m like, Give me another glass."
After all the hard work, it like there's plenty of substance in alternative wine to celebrate.