Cult Insider


No alcohol wine – suitable option for a dry January?

Written by - Aaron Rowlands, Cult Wines Research Editor - Cult Wines

I’ll admit, alcohol-free wine has never really appealed to me. Non-alcoholic beer makes more sense; it can still be refreshing and thirst-quenching. But I expect a lot more from a glass of wine: complex long-lasting textures and flavours to ponder over. I have always assumed that only the real stuff can provide the authentic experience of a signature style or terroir.

However, ‘tis the season' for many to scale back or even abscond from alcohol altogether with a dry January. So, in this spirit, I thought I’d look closer at non-alcohol wine at the end of the holidays.


How non-alcohol wine is made

First off, non-alcoholic wine is not just grape juice that hasn’t fermented into wine. It is more accurate to use the term ‘de-alcoholised’ wine as most options on the market are made via processes that begin with normal alcoholic wine. One method is known as vacuum distillation and involves evaporating the alcohol out of the wine using a vacuum chamber.

The other method is known as reverse osmosis and has been said to make the ‘best’ de-alcoholised wines. Here, a semi-permeable membrane separates out the aroma compounds and other elements of wine that impart flavour and texture. This creates a ‘wine concentrate’ and leaves just water and alcohol in the liquid portion. The alcohol is then evaporated away, and the remaining water is mixed back into the wine concentrate to form the de-alcoholised wine. This method retains more of the original aromas and flavours than the vacuum distillation method.


Any good?

I tried two wines over the holidays – Noughty Sparkling Chardonnay from Thomson & Scott and a Spanish Grenache-Syrah blend from Sangre de Toro.

The sparkling was made with the vacuum chamber method, and I instantly noticed a lack of almost any aromas aside from a vague citrusy sweetness. However, the palate was refreshingly dry with just 2.9g of sugar per 100ml (other non-alcoholic wines can be sickly sweet). It featured pleasant flavours of citrus and apple and an energising acidity. I don’t think anyone would confuse this with a ‘real’ sparkling wine, but it works as a non-alcoholic aperitif that pairs well with most snacks and canapes that you’d have with Champagne. Yes, I’d buy it again.

I’m not so sure about the Sangre de Toro. Even though it uses the reverse osmosis method, the nose lacked any real primary flavours and instead gave off just a mild earthy mushroom aroma. Aromatic depth is often the most difficult aspect of wine to capture in the de-alcoholised version even if made via reverse osmosis. Evaporating alcohol forms the primary carrier of the wines’ aromatic profile. Tannins are also typically not as pleasant in de-alcoholised wine, meaning white or sparkling wines are often said to be better than reds. The Sangre de Toro palate initially showed promise with a smooth, surprisingly full body with nice ripe tannins present. But again, the flavours were missing, and the wine became thin quite quickly. Alas, my initial hesitation seemed confirmed.


Some names to look for

At the same time, the Sangre de Toro was still drinkable and made me think others from different producers and grape varieties might show more depth. The Drinks Business’ Global Wine Masters recently announced medal winners for the Global Low and No Alcohol Wines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sparkling, white or rose wines dominated the top scorer list.

The top reds included Southeast Australia’s McGuigan Wines’ McG Zero 0.5 Shiraz and Accolade Wines’ Hardys Zero Shiraz. Chilean Comercial DYP Sinzero Cabernet 2020 also showed well. Notable whites included Starla Wines Sauvignon Blanc from California. In the sparkling category, I’m keen to try Strauch Sektmanufaktur’s Blanc Pur from Rheinhessen.

Until then, however, I remain sceptical that de-alcoholised wines can come close to replicating what I love about a good fine wine. Alas, I’ll pass on dry January this year.


News in brief

News 1


Upgrade for British Airways’ wines

Good news for wine-loving travellers as the UK’s flagship airline seeks to improve its wine offerings by bringing Tim Jackson MW on board as their in-house Master of Wine. This new position at British Airways (BA) will hopefully improve the line-up of wines as well as other drinks offerings, which often came under criticism as below industry standards. Jackson will draw on his wine expertise to improve and diversify BA’s wine list to reflect its status as a leading global carrier. Chateau Haut-Batailley was reportedly among the offering in first class in December.

News 1


Burgundy’s Mâcon to get new 1er crus

Four ‘climats’ in the Mâcon region in the south of Burgundy appear set to receive official recognition as Premier Crus in the coming months. A ‘climat’ is a specific vineyard site and the four that are reportedly slated for Premier Crus status are Les Mûres in Pouilly-Loché and Les Quarts, Les Longeays, and Les Pétaux in Pouilly-Vinzelles. The request for official designation was made back in 2010, and the French national appellation authority (INAO) is reportedly likely to grant recognition starting with the 2024 vintage.

News 1


UK extends duty freeze on alcohol

The drinks industry received welcome news just before the holidays when the UK government announced it would extend a duty freeze on alcohol until at least 01 August. The freeze had been set to end on 01 February which raised concerns that higher taxes in the UK would further increase the prices of wines and other drinks that are already facing inflationary pressure. The new duty freeze end date aligns with the government’s plans to implement a new system for alcohol taxation in August that will likely take into account alcohol strength.


Patrick Thornton-Smith, Chief Customer Experience Officer - Cult Wines - ‘Dirupi’, Valtellina Superiore DOCG Riserva, 2017

What we’re drinking

‘Dirupi’, Valtellina Superiore DOCG Riserva, 2017

Patrick Thornton-Smith, Chief Customer Experience Officer - Cult Wines

  • • This is a perfect winter wine from a boutique alpine producer in Valtellina, a region close to the Swiss border. St Moritz is just across the valley!

  • • Made from Nebbiolo, known as Chiavennasca locally, grown on steep slopes and aged for 18 months in oak barrels.

  • • Intense cherry and plum flavours, elegant, intense, smooth with great warmth.

  • • Lots of pairing options from Bresaola to alpine cheeses and great with roasted red meat and wild game.

  • • Luca Desi of Passione Vino in London introduced me to this wine, which drank wonderfully over the festive season! Luckily, I still have a few bottles left for post-dry January!


Our fine wine feature

American fine wine’s historic pedigree

Written by - Atul Tiwari, CEO Cult Wines Americas - Cult Wines

While the quality of American wines is now world renowned, many might assume American fine wine lacks the history of its Old World cousins. But American fine wine didn’t just suddenly appear out of nowhere at the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting – the country has a long and proud history of wine making that goes back 400 years. Recently, I got to sample some old vintages of some of the finest American wines. This got me thinking again about the history of fine wine in the country that is currently the world’s leading consumer of wine and the 4th largest producer.

Many Americans have had an outsized impact on the world of fine wine. Thomas Jefferson was a world-renowned expert, creating his own classification of Bordeaux wines in 1787 long before the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification. He ranked Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion and Lafite Rothschild as the four vineyards of prime quality and subsequently in 1855 they were classified by the French as First Growths!

American fine wine’s historic pedigree

More recently, Robert Parker Jr. introduced critic scores to the world. Although often a divisive topic, you have to agree that he greatly contributed to the exposure of French wines and the quality of wine making globally. His widely read ratings and reviews moved markets and spurred a host of other critics to follow his 100-point system.

Americans have also made big contributions on the winemaking side. Unencumbered by the ancient and restrictive laws governing wine making in Europe, Robert Mondavi and other pioneers made innovations such as labelling bottles by grape variety, introducing new varietals, and experimenting and trying new winemaking techniques.

The person most influential in putting American wines on the global map was, however, a Brit named Steven Spurrier. In May of 1976, Mr. Spurrier organized a blind tasting by noted French wine judges of top-quality wines from France and California. He expected the French wines to clean up. Yet, surprisingly, the French judges chose a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon as the number one red wine ahead of a 1970 Mouton Rothschild. The judges also chose the 1973 Chateau Montelena as the top white wine – ahead of such French luminaries as 1973 Roulot Meursault Charmes and 1972 Domaine Leflaive Les Pucelles. The “Judgment of Paris” created great awareness and respect for “New World” wines and was made into the Hollywood movie Bottleshock.

I was fortunate to try the 1973 Stag’s Leap, arguably the most famous wine of the 20th century, and the 1970 Mouton Rothschild, in a blind tasting this past September. We are not certain how many bottles of the Stag’s Leap remain in existence, but a bottle released by the winery sold at auction in March for $12,300! I am thrilled to say that the California wine was holding up extremely well and had a youthfulness that belied its 49 years of age. Red currants and cherries leapt from the glass. The 1970 Mouton was losing some steam as the fruit was not quite as prominent, although black currant was evident underneath the secondary notes of cedar and cocoa. It was a lighter Mouton with very soft tannins. The panel of tasters once again chose the California red as the winner in a 7-3 vote!

Other wines tasted included a 1974 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet, one of the finest old California Cabs I have ever tasted. Wines from California made in the 1970s are certainly demonstrating their quality and longevity!


Explore & travel

Sleeping next to the Tignanello vineyards

Written by - Patrick Thornton-Smith, Chief Customer Experience Officer - Cult Wines

The term ‘wine tourism’ does a good job describing the joys of wine, food, travel but it just sounds so much better in Italian - doesn’t everything? So, we prefer to use ‘enoturismo’, especially when describing the Fonte de’ Medici Resort in Tuscany.

This agriturismo hotel and resort is owned by the renowned Antinori family, who have been making wine since 1385, and is surrounded (and when we say surrounded you can almost touch the grapes) by the vines that produce one of the most iconic wine labels in the world, Tignanello. There can be few greater pleasures of sharing a bottle of this Super Tuscan as the sun sets over the famous ‘fishtail’ rows of vines that produce the Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that make up this famous label. The even more prestigious Solaia is also grown on these slopes; Fonte de’ Medici lies within the heart of wine aristocracy.

A favourite of Cult Wines and our customers, the resort is essentially the renovation of the small village of Fonte de’ Medici that dates back to 1400 and located right in the heart of the Chianti Classico region.

Sleeping next to the Tignanello vineyards

The name comes from a freshwater spring used as a resting place for pilgrims between Florence and Rome, but today’s choice of beverage is far more appealing for the weary 21st century traveller.

Rooms are located in restored medieval houses and the heart of the resort is around a water well area overlooking the gardens, pool, bar, restaurant and, of course, the views across to the vineyards and Tenuta Tignanello, one of the Antinori family’s country estates. Each room (there is also a separate, private villa that sleeps six) features Tuscan furnishings with wood beamed ceilings and terracotta floors. A small chapel and the extremely helpful staff regularly curate beautiful weddings for small or large parties, InstaGram always invited. The restaurant serves great seasonal, local dishes and a huge selection of Antinori wines. Guests can also enhance their stay with private cookery classes, wine tastings and local expeditions on supplied bikes or walking routes.

What else is there to say? The Resort is beautifully understated, peaceful (unless there is a wedding so check first) and an oasis for short mini-breaks to the region. It is less than an hour drive from Florence and forms a perfect base to visit the Chianti Classico region and enjoy the local wines. Perhaps best of all is that open bottle of Tignanello being enjoyed in the early evening gazing over the hill that it came from. It really is a rather special experience.


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