Does 0.4% alcohol in a bottle of wine still count as wine?
There’s a much-loved cricketing tale, which sits happily in that blurred space between urban legend and outrageous truth, regarding an almighty feat of beer-drinking.
The Australian cricketer David Boon supposedly spent a flight from Sydney to London amassing the sort of record the Australians would cherish: over the course of the long haul crossing, Boon supposedly drank his way through 52 cans of beer. It’s a claim that begs many questions: Who was counting? How do you stay sober enough to keep going? And how on earth are you still alive after quite that much beer?
For today’s purposes, I’ll ignore the queries and take the claim as true (Google a picture of David Boon – he does look like someone who could manage this feat), and make an important announcement: I’m planning to beat Boon’s record. I’m doing it on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town. And I’m swapping cans of beer for bottles of wine. But before you cry out in alarm or disbelief – or call my wife and insist such foolery be stopped – a disclaimer: the wine I’m planning to drink in such industrial volumes is from Van Loveren’s newest range: three pleasant-looking bottles that comprise the Almost Zero range, a selection that has a mere 0.4% alcohol per bottle. To save you the maths, the alcohol in one glass of regular wine would match 36 glasses of Almost Zero. Suddenly, shattering David Boon’s record isn’t quite such a challenge.
I was at Van Loveren last week, in the warm and welcoming valley of Robertson, as the new range was presented to the world (and by world, I mean a small group of media, collectively suspicious of wine sans alcohol).
Van Loveren is a large operation, responsible for the smash hit that is Four Cousins. Their Retief range is smaller but gets good traction; the Christina range celebrates single vineyards; and now there’s Almost Zero, an investment into what might just be wine’s next big growth area.
Whether you’re pregnant, driving, having a quick lunch before heading back to work, or you just don’t like the taste of alcohol in wine (in which case, I’m afraid, we can never be friends), an (almost) alcohol-free wine probably sounds very appealing to you. But does it taste any good? Turns out it’s better than I was anticipating.
The Sauvignon Blanc has a big bouquet of a nose, but with a far lighter, crisper, green apple mouth. The Rosé is an unmistakable burst of Muscadel, from which it’s made, until you actually drink it, when it’s a lot sharper and narrower than the nose suggests. And the Merlot comes across as an extremely light, fruity; almost a cooldrink Cinsaut. None of the three matches the best of the grape employed in traditional wine-making – but they’re all surprisingly pleasant, and while I’m far too fond of wine as I know it to make a non-alcoholic wine (and its resultant taste) my new drink of choice, I could happily get through a few glasses. Even 53, if I needed to beat an Australian drinking record at 38 000 feet.
What I’m drinking this week: Last week I spent an evening with Ricardo Cloete, assistant winemaker at Durbanville Hills, and probably Steinkopf’s greatest export. Ricardo’s been through the excellent Cape Winemakers Guild Protégé Program, has worked around the Cape (and done a harvest in Burgundy), and is now the rising star of one of South Africa’s iconic wineries. Ricardo introduced me to the Collector’s Reserve, the new take on the old Rhinofields range, all enhanced with Theo Vorster art celebrating the Cape. The Pinotage was a particular delight: not too heavy or earthy, the cool Table Bay breeze bringing a lightness of touch to a wine emblazoned with Theo’s penguins. And with the new Wine Of Origin Cape Town designation, it’s a nice tie-in for the new range.
Want to see what else Dan Nicholl has been drinking? Watch his latest episode of Dan Really Likes Wine!