Altina, a non-alcoholic alternative?

Over the past couple of years numerous low or zero alcohol wines have appeared in stores. We enjoy regular wine but there are occasions when it might be good to reduce or eliminate alcohol intake so we have tried various non-alcoholic wines as we have found them.

The results have been uniformly unsatisfactory. Red, white, or sparkling they taste like grape juice with none of the complexity of flavour we have come to expect from regular wine. A Wolf Blass Zero Shiraz was the best I had tried; it was drinkable with some of the tannin and other characteristics of real wine but Majella found it had the same ‘grape juice’ quality as others we had tried and could not face more than a sip.

We have had more success with non-alcoholic beer and cider. I’ve been buying and enjoying 4 Pines Ultra Low and Great Northern Zero. Both seem to have been able to eliminate the alcohol but retain sufficient flavour to be enjoyable. Majella has found those less objectionable than non-alcoholic wine but a recent discovery topped that. Kopparberg Cider with Strawberry & Lime has long been a favourite and a few weeks ago we found our local Woolworths stocking the non-alcoholic version which Majella finds retains all the attraction of the regular version but without the alcohol.

With acceptable options for non-alcoholic beer and cider settled I was wondering if we would ever find a drinkable non-alcoholic wine. None of what we had found in the supermarkets or the nearest Dan Murphys would do but I had seen online advertisements for at least one company specialising in non-alcoholic wines. If they see a way to stay in business selling only non-alcoholic wine then I thought they might have something that people would buy more than once. None of the sideline efforts in the supermarkets would encourage a second purchase!

Altina is an Australian company based in the ACT. According to their website, their point of difference is that they add native botanicals to their dealcoholised wines. I had not found a retail outlet selling their product so I could try it and I hesitated to invest in more than one bottle of something that might be no more drinkable than what we had already tried. In December I weakened and ordered their taster collection of six bottles of non-alcoholic wine and three cans, one of a non-alcoholic pilsener and two of other sparkling products. With the seasonal parcel rush it did not arrive until after Christmas and then it took us time to work through the variety of offerings.

Majella has enjoyed rosé for as long as I have known her so I thought that the Kakadu plum rosé might be a good place to start. I took the chilled bottle from the refrigerator and offered her a taste with dinner. Her instant reaction was that it had the same ‘off’ taste as other non-alcoholic wines we had tried. That was there on my first taste too but after I had some food, our Thursday fish and chips, I began to taste other flavours. There was an unfamiliar flavour that I took to be the Kakadu plum and a distinct pepperiness that may come from the Shiraz that is mixed with Sauvignon Blanc to make the base wine. Rosé is typically a lightly flavoured wine and this one fits that style with enough interesting flavour to make it sippable through a second glass.

The following week I opened the bottle of Sparkling Brut which we both managed to enjoy. Perhaps it was the addition of bubbles that made the difference.

We often enjoy a pre-dinner drink on a Saturday evening. That seemed an appropriate time to try the small can of Altina La Vie en Rose. I opened it for me but Majella tasted it before starting on her Kalki Moon pink gin and tonic. She found La Vie en Rose acceptable and I enjoyed the fresh and slightly acid taste. There was a hint of something spicy which the can suggested was cayenne or similar.

Next evening I tried the Parc Pilsener which lived up to its claim of being crisp with real beer qualities. The website says that it “is brewed just like full-strength beer, using a special yeast that naturally makes delicious beer without alcohol.” It certainly tastes as good as other non-alcoholic beers I have tried and is quite drinkable but it is twice the price of the Great Northern I can buy in the local supermarket so it would be difficult to justify buying it.

When Thursday rolled around again I opened the bottle of Finger Lime Sauvignon Blanc to try with our fish and chips. I poured a glass and invited Majella to try a sip. To my surprise she declared it sufficiently drinkable that I had to pour another glass for myself. Majella did comment that it still had that ‘grape juice’ quality but she drank her glass. Although it lacked the ‘bite’ of alcoholic wine, it did have the fruity quality of Sauvignon Blanc and there was an acidic something extra from the finger lime. That persisted in my mouth after I had swallowed and made for a more interesting drink than it might otherwise have been.

On the following Thursday I poured us both glasses of Sparkling Rosé without comment. Majella enjoyed this one. Perhaps her taste is changing or, as happened with the Brut, the bubbles and slightly acid finish sufficiently masked the typical dealcoholised taste if it was present. I enjoyed this one too. Clearly it’s a winner.

The Le Blanc can was true to its description as a crisp bubbly and had a peppery finish. Refreshing and very drinkable.

The last sparkling bottle was the Sansgria, a variation on sangria, a Spanish drink with orange added to red wine. As with the other sparkling items we both enjoyed this one. It was refreshing with tingle from the bubbles and the citrus and had a touch of pepper at the end.

Pepperberry Shiraz was the last bottle out of the box. Our first attempts with non-alcoholic wines were reds, mostly from reputable wine brands but all lacking real depth and tasting like barely modified grape juice. This one was better than that. Majella accepted a small glass, enjoyed that, and happily had some more poured into her empty glass. We both found it refreshing and the tingle at the end made it much more interesting than other non-alcoholic reds we had tried.

It has taken us a little over a month to work our way through the Altina Taster Collection. Majella did not enjoy the first bottle we opened, finding it similar to other non-alcoholic wines we had tried, lacking anything beyond grape juice. Perhaps her resistance was worn down over the weeks or the later offerings were more interesting. Whatever the reason, we did find most of the contents of the box drinkable and even enjoyable. I don’t think I’ll be permanently replacing real wine with these, especially since I can pay less for real wine that I enjoy than for one of these. However, if there is a time when I’m in need of a drinkable substitute for real wine these would make the grade.