NA Heats Up - Wine & Spirits Magazine

NA Heats Up

“A couple years ago, I didn’t have a single bottle of non-alcoholic wine,” says Donaciano Betancourt of The Frog and the Peach (New Brunswick, NJ). “Now we try to keep a couple different ones, like Wölffer Estate from Long Island—I buy the sparkling non-alcoholic rosé from them. And we go through at least a case every month.”

Non-alcoholic wines and non-alcoholic cocktails are driving one of the biggest new trends at restaurants. For Betancourt, NA wines started with private parties, as something to serve underage attendees. Some sommeliers cited Dry January as having a major impact this year, while others think it’s gotten into people’s newsfeeds that alcohol is not good for you and the trend is here to stay. Still others said that some of the guests buying NA cocktails are those who wouldn’t have otherwise ordered anything with alcohol, so they are not necessarily a replacement but an opportunity to reach more people.

Whatever the reason, beverage directors are getting creative with non-alcoholic pairings for tasting menus. At Mägo in Oakland, California, Stephen Shafer reports, “non-alcoholic sales are up easily 500 percent, and there have been nights when we sold equal amounts of alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings.” At Houston’s March and New York’s Eleven Madison Park, the teams set out to craft their non-alcoholic cocktails so they feel like the real thing: EMP’s non-alcoholic pairings are made with herb-and-fruit-infused grape juice instead of using a branded wine alternative. At New York’s One White Street, Wine Director Suzanne DeStio offers a juice pairing with her tasting menu, as well as options for “non-alcoholic white and red wine, sparkling apple cider, a couple of fermented pét-nat teas from Spain, non-alcoholic beer and three non-alcoholic cocktails.”

Ian Krupp, of LA’s Anajak Thai, is also adding an NA pairing for the first time. “I’ve been disappointed mostly,” he said, having tasted through a range of wines. “They don’t really taste like grapes, and sometimes they’re really sweet. But I finally found one that I have by-the-glass, a Crémant d’Alsace from Ribeauville, called Reb0. It’s similar in profile to a Crémant d’Alsace but doesn’t have the weight because you’ve taken out the alcohol. It’s a little more on the tart side, green apple, some lilac.”

Nicholas Berggren of Chicago’s The Purple Pig agrees that spiritless or low-abv cocktails generate significant community interest; he also struggled to find a product he was happy with. “There’s a range in quality. We’re going through this process right now, weeding out a lot of very mediocre stuff that’s been coming out,” he said. “It has to be good. One of the biggest successes is the Leitz Eins Zwei Zero, the sparkling riesling. It’s bone-dry and zero-alcohol. I’m probably going through about a case a week by the glass.”

“I’m sure the non-alcoholic category is impacting sales quite a bit at the this point. I mean, this year, Dry January, it’s basically like it’s half the world. This is the first year that I feel like it’s part of the zeitgeist.” —Christine Wright, Hearth, NYC

Christine Wright is also on the hunt for good NA alternatives at Hearth in NYC. “I’m sure the non-alcoholic category is impacting sales. This is the first year that I feel like it’s part of the zeitgeist. We did find a really, really good non-alcoholic, sparkling riesling from Leitz,” she says, echoing Berggren. “It really tastes like wine, which is exciting.”

With so many restaurants adding year-round non-alcoholic programs, this is shaping up to be more than just a Dry January fad. Claudia Rosselini of Los Angeles’ Saffy’s and Bavel said that she can’t keep her de-alcoholized pinot noir sparkling wine stocked, and mused, “The non-alcoholic category is popping off. It makes sense in the age of health, right?”

The next essay in our sommelier interview series, Bubbles are Up, details the rise in Champagne and sparkling sales.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Alissa Bica is the Associate Editor and Spirits Critic at Wine & Spirits. She is also a sommelier at 71 Above and co-runs the home wine tasting company, Côte Brune and Blonde. In any rare moments of free time, she writes about obscure grape varieties in the blog Off the Beaten Wine Path.

This story appears in the print issue of Spring 2024.
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