Some childhood memories stick with you.
On New Year’s Eve, while adults in suits and sequins clinked glasses with a golden bubbly liquid that spilled over when they kissed and hugged at the stroke of midnight, some would also pop a bottle of sparkling cider for the kids and pour it into plastic coupes. More often than not, the bottle was white foil-capped Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, its label bedecked with red cursive writing and gold medals signaling the many contests that the cider had won.
For modern-day adults, that childhood treat may have lost some of its luster. Its sticky-sweet flavor pales in comparison to terroir-driven grower Champagnes, as well as an array of other options available to grown-up consumers.
And yet, there’s a market for a next-generation Martinelli’s. Many people seek nonalcoholic beverages, especially those that mirror the flavors and ecological consideration of truly great wines.
“Would you ask Château Pétrus to make you grape juice?” Eric Bordelet said when first approached with the prospect of making nonalcoholic cider.
According to the beverage industry analytical group IWSR, “The opportunities for spirits and wine producers… makes the no- and low- alcohol category one of the most exciting areas of the drinks industry at the present, and one that’s likely to see some of the most innovation and evolution over the next year across the whole industry.”
Douglas Watters, owner of New York City’s first and only nonalcoholic bottle shop, Spirited Away, put it even more plainly.
“I expect to sell a lot of [nonalcoholic sparkling wine] for the holidays and New Year’s Eve,” he says. “Many New Yorkers are re-evaluating old habits, including drinking alcohol, this year, but we still want to drink something bubbly that feels celebratory and fun.”
That reevaluation is happening at some of the country’s finest restaurants, too.
Geiger, a chef, restaurant owner and orchardist, makes wine alternatives from nonalcoholic heritage ciders mixed with herbs, fruits and spices. His nonalcoholic PriSecco “Aecht Bitter!” is made from green hunter pears, gooseberry, quince, wormwood and bitter herbs. Some of the ingredients are foraged from nearby forests.
“We are always beyond impressed [with] the intricacies and depth of flavor [that] the Geiger products exhibit,” says Pelletier.
Sparkling ciders are also being made by world-renowned producers like Eric Bordelet, a former sommelier who took over his family’s cider business in South Normandy, France. Bordelet produces organic and biodynamic ciders, but at first he balked at the idea of making his ciders nonalcoholic.
“Would you ask Château Pétrus to make you grape juice?” Bordelet snapped when Bruce Blosil of Delmosa Artisinal Beverages, an importer of nonalcoholic wine alternatives, first approached him with the prospect.
“It took three visits to his family estate in southern Normandy to assure him that we had no interest in his making anything other than an alcohol-free cider worthy of his name and brand,” says Blosil.
Other brands like Leitz from Rheingau, a well-regarded winemaker and storied German region for Riesling, are making nonalcoholic sparkling wine alternatives that exhibit depth and character from grapes.
Pelletier says that Leitz’s nonalcoholic sparkling Riesling exhibits terroir, as well as “great mineral character” and a “lengthy finish.”
Amanda Thomson, of Thomson & Scott, created a nonalcoholic sparkling Chardonnay, Noughty. She says she set out to make a non-alcoholic sparkling wine “that was as close as possible to a grower Champagne, but alcohol-free.”
Not an easy task, she says.
“It needed to be pure, organic and elegantly [balanced],” says Thomson. “Importantly, it had to have that touch of saline that makes you start thinking about food, and ultimately makes you look forward to the next pour.”
Her sparkling Chardonnay was recently released in the U.S. Watters thinks she hit the mark.
“It’s a whole different beast,” he says. “Sparkling cider is delicious if you’re in the mood for something sweet and simple, but a true sparkling Chardonnay like Noughty feels much more like an adult celebratory drink.”
There’s room for celebration on many levels.
“It is exciting to see the world of nonalcoholic options become more detailed and expansive,” says Pelletier. “I believe the only limits to these products in comparison to something like Martinelli’s is the accessibility and affordability.”
And, perhaps, whether they satisfy the palates of children who generally prefer things sweet and easy.
As for adults, the option to enjoy golden bubbly that’s both nonalcoholic and sophisticated as they toast the long-awaited end of 2020 is more possible than ever.