Christine Parkinson: Sommeliers should take no- and low-alcohol wine more seriously

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

06 November 2019

Customers are changing, the drinks portfolio is changing, and sommeliers will need to embrace these changes, too. That was the stark message from Sommelier Wine Awards’ head of judging, Christine Parkinson at a recent workshop for the competition’s senior judges in London.

Parkinson was talking specifically about the rise in non-drinkers and its impact on the restaurant offering. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. Despite a huge social shift in consumption trends, restaurant wine lists have barely changed. Low- or non-alcoholic wine is an area where sommeliers often don’t feel comfortable or, frequently, ignore it completely.

‘Most sommeliers don’t put any effort into finding the good products,’ she said.

Low- or non-alcoholic wine is an area where sommeliers often don’t feel comfortable or, frequently, ignore it completely

A survey of the senior judges backed this up. Few offered much in the no and low space at their venues, while most had no 0% abv wine products at all.

‘We tried listing a zero alcohol sparkling in January, and even though it was clearly marked at the bar it didn’t work at all,’ said ETM group’s Guillaume Mahaut. ‘It tasted more like Appletiser.’

The patchy quality of what’s on offer was borne out by a mixed range of no- and low-alcohol wines. Some were reasonable, others were strange, and some were undrinkable. It was clear that the existing production technique of creating an alcoholic wine, removing the alcohol then adding other products to put back body and texture is incredibly hard to get right.

‘So perhaps the answer is to consider something very different,’ said Parkinson, who backed up her point by serving our panel (blind) a sample of Nine Elms No 18.

Initial scepticism at its spicy, vermouth character gave way to pleasant surprise when the drink was tasted. Structurally, if not flavour-wise, it was closer to behaving like wine than a de-alcoholised Tempranillo that was also in the line-up, even though it had no grape juice in it at all.

‘I’ve tested it with food and it’s brilliant,’ said Parkinson. ‘We are definitely going to be seeing more products like this.’

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