Non Alcoholic Wine in France? Mon Dieu!

wine in paris, low alcohol wine

One of my favorite things about Paris was the wine. And I drank a lot of it.

So returning after I became teetotal was a new experience (one which I wrote about for a new anthology called “That’s Paris” now available on Amazon, link here). Of course the City of Light has a lot more to offer than wine, but I brought a bottle of non-alcoholic red with me, just in case.

And it’s a good thing I did, because I couldn’t find a single bottle of low-or-no-alcohol wine in any supermarket, let alone a bar or restaurant. (Though I admit I was too intimidated to ask for it.)

Yet it’s not unheard of in France, especially since the French have come to realize they have their own problems with “Le Binge Drinking.” (Of course they left that untranslated). Apparently I wasn’t the only one overdoing it with the vino. The government is considering fines and jail time for people who encourage it.

The bill, which is to be debated in the Assemblée Nationale this year, mostly targets youth and university students. Binge drinking is still something rather isolated in France, said Didier Quémener, executive chef at Chef Q Paris and the food and wine consultant at Food Me, also based in Paris. Wine is still a matter of national pride, and altering it in any way will take some time to get used to.

“Honestly, the general statement across the country is, if you can’t drink alcohol, drink water!” he said.

Quémener says it’s practically impossible to find non-alcoholic or low-alcohol wine in regular French supermarkets. Outside of Paris, it’s a bit easier to find at larger supermarkets but it’s not really that common, he said. He doubts it’ll ever be accepted widely in France.

A quick search of “vin sans alcool” produced a few sites where one can order non-alcoholic wine in France, which gave me hope.  A list of French non-alcoholic winemakers like Pierre and La Côte de Vincent and retailers can be found here.

Nicolas Follet, winemaker/oenologist and principal at Oenosense Consulting based in Bordeaux, says wine “sans alcool” is no longer something winemakers spit at.

“The wine industry is taking health matters into consideration and so it’s considering this process,” Follet said.

“Considering” being the key word.

Low-alcohol wines in France tend to be made by unknown vintners because major wine producers don’t want to be included in a category that may be regarded as “low quality,” he said. Meanwhile, he believes the lack of interest among French consumers may be down to the fact that they are more often attracted to the name of a producer or a precise wine region when they pick wines. Still, there’s budding interest among wine producers in the technical aspect of making non-alcoholic and low-alcohol wines, he said, but it’s still largely in the research phase. Technology is more focused on how to create better quality and bigger harvests than removing alcohol, he said.

Most “non-alcoholic” wine has 0.5% alcohol or less by volume. They start with real wine and remove the alcohol.

Ariel Vineyards in California has a cold-filtration process which uses reverse osmosis. German winemaker Carl Jung uses a patented vacuum distillation process invented by its founder.

Both of these brands make quality non-alcoholic wine. It’s never going to be as good as the real stuff, I’m sorry to say. Removing the alcohol eliminates the aromas and tannins that give wine its essence. But once you’ve acquired a taste for it you can really enjoy it. And the quality is getting better and better.

When I returned to Paris this summer, I brought a bottle of EminaSin Doce Meses non-alcoholic red wine which has a beautiful label that hides the alcohol content (0.5%). I took it down to the Canal St. Martin in the 10th Arrondissement and had a glass along with the hip Parisians who convene there evenings to drink wine and laugh and be merry.

No one noticed I was drinking wine without alcohol. But then again, maybe it never occurred to them that there was such a thing.

DryChick lives in London. She started DryScene to show people that they can have fun without alcohol. She wants to promote a healthy lifestyle and connect like-minded people through her events, where the focus is on the fun and not what’s in your glass. Contact her at drychick@dryscene.com.

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