I remember when O’Douls beer was introduced. I wasn’t old enough to drink yet but I thought the idea was really cool. It’s not that I never had a sip of beer as a kid, but the idea of being able to drink a full beer and legally sounded great. I didn’t actually try one for real until I was an adult however. I had been drinking for a few years and saw it on the menu at a restaurant, so I figured I would give it a go. I can’t say I was disappointed because I had low expectations. The problem is that it didn’t even live up to that. It was therefore a mix of enthusiasm and excitement when I ran across a champagne at my local grocery story (in my state they can’t sell alcohol) called Fre. Again going in with low expectations I decided to give it a try. The results were surprisingly good.
This was the bottle that caught my eye, just at the end of the specialty cheese counter:
I thought to myself, “Oh one of those apple cider things again.” But I actually stopped to read the label and discovered this whole “alcohol removed wine” concept. This is produced by Trinchero Family Estates. If you haven’t heard of them you have probably heard of their biggest and most famous label, Sutter Home. You probably have also heard of their wine innovation that took the United States by storm in the 1980s, the white zinfandel. Apparently they have gone on coming up with innovations because they developed this technique for removing the alcohol from wine.
According to their website the fermented full alcohol wine is run through some sort of centrifuge process which they describe as, a “state-of-the-art spinning cone technology to remove the alcohol while preserving delicate aromas and flavors.” I think there is a bit more to it than just that, but that’s probably the core of how they do it? Does any alcohol remain? Actually, about half a percent of the alcohol remains. This is pretty much statistically insignificant. The analogy they use is that there is more alcohol in orange juice that is left out for 8 hours. So for all intents and purposes it is alcohol free. The question is how is the flavor?
We popped the bottle, just like a regular champagne, after putting it in the freeze for 90 minutes. Much to my chagrin ice crystals started forming in it. “Why would that happen?” I thought to myself. That never happens with champagne. Of course, champagne has alcohol in it, so that answered that question. It didn’t turn entirely into slush so it didn’t ruin the pour or the carbonation. I took a sniff and it smelled like a champagne. I took a taste. The front tasted like champagne. I let it linger and then roll off my tongue down my throat. The aftertaste tasted like champagne too. Wow! I was actually blown away this didn’t taste like total crap!
I took a few more sips to get a little more nuance. While this is listed as a brut, I would definitely not rate it that dry. This is more of something between a sec and an extra dry. This is especially true as it lingers on the palate. The initial bite is exactly what you would expect from a champagne in the extra-dry range. I think brut is pushing it. It has a very light and crisp flavor. I would like to tell you what the notes were, but frankly I had it while eating dinner and I just don’t recall at this time. I’ll update this later with that info. The finish however is where things go slightly off. You are expecting the sweetness level to sort of hang out in the same place but this just gets sweeter and sweeter. Unlike a champagne there is no sharpness in the after taste. It just gets sweeter. I looked at the package and they added grape juice to the white wine. I imagine this was done to help carbonate the wine once it was spun. That would certainly explain that lingering flavor. The flavor is by no means unpleasant, it’s just something you would expect more from a sweet champagne than a dry one.
So just because it tastes good, once you expect it to be sweeter than the label, why would anyone want to drink this? I hear this a lot on some podcasts where people were talking about ways to neutralize the alcohol in beer. The comment was, “then what’s the point of drinking the beer?” For me drinking is never about getting a buzz, much less getting drunk and shitfaced. At the same time I like doing everything in volume. I like liters of seltzer (or soda, when I’m drinking it), pounds of salad, huge packages of tomatoes and lots of enjoyable wines, beers and spirits. The problem is I don’t have the type of alcohol metabolism that affords me the luxury of drinking heavily without paying for it the next day. If I get more than a slight buzz I will have some lingering effects the next day. I’m not exactly a light weight, but I’m not going to win any awards for drinking stamina either. This is especially true during the week, when I’d like to have more than a glass or two of wine without worrying about my stomach being a little off the next day or having a slight headache. A product like this, that actually tastes good too, actually solves that problem.
I honestly did start having some psychosomatic buzz feeling half way through the bottle. It’s funny how the mind tricks us into believing something is happening that is not. Once I consciously realized that everything snapped back. I also didn’t wake up with any hangover. That may sound obvious, but I did have in the back of my mind the thought that it may be the extra sugar in the drinks that was causing some dehydration. I don’t drink juice or sugary beverages in volumes so it was technically a possibility, but it was a long shot at that. So all around it’s a win win wine.
Actually it’s a triple win wine. Not only could I have a bottle, or maybe even two if I was feeling especially saucy. Not only could I enjoy that rather than feel like I had to tolerate it, sort of like I do with my seltzer water when I really want a Coke Zero. On top of that it has far fewer calories than not only wine but the grape juice as well. Remember, the alcohol comes from the yeast metabolizing the sugars. It therefore eats up a lot of the sugar. With the alcohol removed those calories are now gone. An ounce of wine has anywhere between 18-25 calories per ounce. Your typical grape juice is the same. The Fre champagne has just under 9 calories per ounce. It’s pretty cool that not only do you get the full flavor and feel of drinking a champagne, but you actually get less sugar than in the original juice. I’ll give you a fourth win, because it has gone through real fermentation and hasn’t been boiled to death to get the alcohol out (which would have destroyed the flavor) I’m willing to bet a lot of the pro-biotic effects of drinking wines is still there.
I will definitely be buying this champagne again, probably regularly. They have a whole selection of reds and whites. I don’t know if they will be able to pull this off as successfully with a red wine as a white, but based on this one experience I will certainly be willing to give it a try.