Recently I was sent three bottles from Castello di Amorosa called either non-alcoholic wine or grape juice. They seem to use the words interchangeably. More on that later. I have obviously done “lots of wine reviews” but this is the first “non-alcoholic wine or grape juice” review in my portfolio. I provided these wines to some of our local Wine Society drinkers as well as two “non-alcoholic drinkers in the neighborhood” to get their reactions, combined with mine.
The Director of Winemaking (Brooks Painter) and the Winemaker (Peter Velleno) were responding to customers who wanted a “healthy, flavorful and non-alcoholic alternative to wine”. The process of making the juices are similar to wine making (hand-harvested, delivered to crush pad, destemmed and pressed and chilled to 32 degrees). The key exception is yeast is not added to convert the sugars into alcohol.
So let’s discuss the three non-vintage 750ml bottles that were sent. I will start off with the least favorite and move upward in acceptance.
- Gewurztraminer Grape Juice. This is from a vineyard in Anderson Valley, northwest of Sonoma in Mendocino County. The wines are screw cap and as soon as this was opened and smelled, you immediately got it was a Gewurztraminer grape. Loved the nose on this but one sip and the sugar content was beyond belief. All three wines by sugar content were shown in Brix (18.5). The reaction of wine drinkers was fairly unwelcoming. The reception of non-wine drinkers was also similar. While enjoyable to taste Gewurztraminer grape juice knowing the wine, I don’t think anyone was too anxious to buy a bottle.
- The second white wine tasted was a Muscat grape juice. The nose was extremely aromatic with lime & orange fragrances. Then on the palate, pear and stone fruit burst in the mouth. The finish had a strong honeysuckle taste. This was extremely enjoyable and thought it could easily pass as an after dinner cordial or white port drink. The non-drinkers state they would enjoy being at a holiday party or social gathering with this in a wine glass and feeling “less conspicuous” being a non-drinker.
- The third wine is their Sparkling Grape Juice, which is a red blend of 90% Gamay, 5% Grenache and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon juice. Very aromatic with red berries, primarily strawberries and cherry. This was a big hit with the non-wine drinkers stating this was equally as good as “sparkling apple cider” and provided a new option for gatherings. Die hard wine drinkers still felt it was a tad too sweet to be a considered option.
Some of the goals of Castello di Amorosa were to provide a healthy alternative to soda, provide a flavorful non-alcoholic drink, a fresh non-pasteurized product, express the fruit and flavor of a varietal through aroma and taste, offer it in a screwcap closure to ensure easy opening and retain freshness and lastly to provide a unique beverage. These are many of the items that Millennials, Gen X and Gen Y are seeking in alternative drinks. The “tasting group” as a whole also liked it as a new alternative to non-alcoholic beer and could possible use the Muscat as an after dinner drink.
Two thoughts or item were brought up by the “tasting group”. One of the items brought up by three folks was wanting to understand the caloric and sugar content which is not labeled on the bottle. Some were pre-diabetic and thought the sugar levels were too high but lacked specific understanding on the label by the winery. Believe this needs to be improved to be a more universally accepted alternative drink, i.e. Percentage of Daily Sugar intake or Carbs. The item mentioned was in the naming of the product: Is it non-alcoholic wine (label) or grape juice (data sheets)?
In conclusion, there definitely was interest in the product and perhaps, allowing for a different demographic (we are all baby boomers) might have given this a decidedly “thumbs up”. Yet despite some objection to the sweetness, merit was established with both the wine drinkers and non-alcoholic drinkers. All three of the “non-alcoholic wines or grape juice” goes for $14 a bottle. So worth a try to taste something unique and somewhat uncommon, no matter what you call it!