Country store at Wellbrook Winery.

Celebrate safely over the holidays

The new virtual zero tolerance on drinking and driving need not suck the festive from this season’s festivities.

The reason – the renewed interest in de-alcoholized wines and beers.

Now, even the designated driver can enjoy a drink.

De-alcoholized wines have been around almost before there were cars. The Carl Jung Company, which was established in 1868 in Germany, began making such wines in 1908.

Carl’s wife, Maria, handled the sales of her husband’s wines. Some clients included doctors, and she became aware that doctors, for various health reasons, sometimes forbade their patients from drinking. Maria recognized that those patients might drink after all if the alcohol was removed, but not the flavours.

The winery developed a process that involves putting wine under a vacuum. At normal atmospheric pressures, wine would need to be heated to 80 C before the alcohol would evaporate, and the heat would ruin the flavours. But in a vacuum, it takes very little heat to boil off the alcohol and the flavours remain more or less intact.

As a result, you can find the Carl Jung wines in grocery stores all over the world.

In California, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines now makes about 120,000 cases of de-alcoholized wines annually under the Ariel label. The wines currently in food stores include a Merlot, a white Zinfandel and a sparkling wine, all priced around $10 a bottle.

The Ariel process, developed in 1985, involves no heat. The wines are passed beside membrane filters. This concentrates the wine while removing the water and the alcohol by reverse osmosis. Then the alcohol is evaporated and the water is added back to the concentrate.

The process for making de-alcoholized beer is similar. The legal definition of a non-alcoholic wine or beer is one that has no more than half of one per cent alcohol. (That’s a concession to the fact that it is very hard, and probably pointless, to remove the alcohol totally.)

How do these products taste? Most of the beers are surprisingly good. With the wines, it takes a bit more exploring to find those that suit your palate.

Your taste buds likely will tell you that something is missing. The alcohol is an important part of the structure and even flavour of a finished wine. But the reason most of us drink wine is to enjoy the taste of the fruit – and you certainly find those tastes in these wines.

There are other options as well to keep this season festive without leaving your guest vulnerable to blowing a breath sample. Cranberry juice mixed with sparkling water looks good, tastes good and pairs with food. Terry Bremner, who operates the Wellbrook Winery in Delta, produces quite superior fruit juices in the Bremner label. These are sold in many food stores and in London Drugs.

John Schreiner is one of Canada’s best-known wine writers with 15 books published since 1984. Contact John at goodgrog@shaw.ca

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