When Jillian Barkley opened Soft Spirits, a non-alcoholic bottle shop in Los Angeles, in October 2021, the selection of non-alcoholic (NA) wines fit on one very small shelf. A year later, there’s a whole wall of the store dedicated to the beverages.
That’s due, in part, to demand. Non-alcoholic wine is “our fastest growing category and the option customers seem most excited about,” she says. In fact, NielsenIQ found a 23.2% increase in demand for NA wines in 2022 as compared to 2021.
If you’re looking to try some NA bottles or just want to have sans-alcohol options on hand for your next gathering, it’s important to know how to pair these booze-free wines with food. While some wine and food pairing rules still apply, there are distinct differences.
But, before we get to the pairings, here’s a brief look at NA wine basics.
What Is Non-Alcoholic Wine?
At Sipple, an NA bottle shop in Houston, founder Danny Frounfelkner stocks two different styles of NA wine. The first is alcohol-free wine, in which fermentation was stopped during the winemaking process. These offerings tend to be more fruit forward, according to Frounfelkner. Then there’s dealcoholized wines, which began as fermented wine but have had the alcohol removed, often through vapor distillation.
Of the two, customers “gravitate more towards dealcoholized wines, as they’re more wine adjacent,” he says. Frounfelkner’s favorites include dealcoholized wines by Prima Pavé, Buzzkill, Surely, Noughty, Giesen, Sovi and Jøyus.
There are also bottlings like those by Proxies. These beverages aren’t wine but aim to recreate the experience of enjoying it with a meal.
“Proxies are built from the ground up, by layering ingredients like fruit, tea, acid, spices, bitters and more, in order to preserve the complexity, tannin, texture, acid and body intrinsic in wine, without any alcohol,” says Devin Campbell, co-founder and chief product officer at Proxies.
Now that we have the basics down, here’s how the pros recommend pairing NA wines with a wide array of appetizers.
How to Pair NA Wine with Cheese
“I’d pair a soft brie with NON1 Salted Raspberry & Chamomile,” says Frounfelkner. The Australian brand “makes some interesting lightly sparkling, easygoing blends with a nice hit of salinity that can make them fun to pair with food.”
For creamy burrata or buffalo mozzarella, he recommends Prima Pavé’s Blanc de Blancs or its Rosé Brut. The former is a dry blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer grapes. The rosé is fruity and crisp and made with the same grape trio along with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
For a salty Pecorino, he’d pair it with Giesen Sauvignon Blanc. Barkley is also a Manchego fan, and says this buttery Spanish sheep’s milk cheese “pairs beautifully with Studio Null Prickly Red, a Tempranillo and Syrah blend.”
Campbell’s pick is Proxies Pastiche, a Gewürztraminer-style blend. “The undertones of lychee, peach and pineapple work great with hard, stinky cheeses,” he says.
When it comes to mixed cheese boards, what’s a host to do?
How to Pair NA Wine With Non-Cheese Appetizers
Fruits make a great addition to cheese boards or can help balance out heartier meals.
Barkley also suggests LYSERØD Sparkling Tea from Copenhagen, which is a rosé-like bubbly that’s smooth and dry for another oyster pairing. It would work well with other light and refreshing appetizers, too, like a crudo.
Pair salty olives and mixed nuts with SipClean French Colombard White Blend.
Prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe, a classic Italian summer starter, calls for a refreshing sparkling wine, like Prima Pavé’s Blanc de Blancs, says Frounfelkner.
As for a spread of cured meats, “NON 1: Salted Raspberry & Chamomile is a charcuterie board’s match made in heaven,” adds Barkley. “The salinity feels right at home with cured meats, the fruity sweetness provides balance and a warm floral finish lingers on the palate.”
Know Your Non-Alcoholic Whites from Your Reds
Frounfelkner tells customers looking for bottles that “the NA sparkling wines, still whites and rosés that we stock can be paired as you would with an alcoholic wine.” But that’s not quite the case for NA reds. “They have the farthest to go and the most to gain, although we’re seeing innovation and improvements as time goes on.”
For NA still reds, he says, no matter what grape used or region it’s from, approach them as if they were a light- to medium- bodied dry Italian red wine. “That’s what most of the current reds on the market are most akin to. People have a much more enjoyable pairing going into it with those expectations.”
Take Inspiration from Restaurants
You’re going to see more NA wines on restaurant drink menus. “Restaurants are looking to extend hospitality to and capture revenue from all patrons, who may or may not be drinking,” says Campbell.
Plus, drinking NA wines at a restaurant is a great opportunity to try different options and see how they pair with your meal.
Proxies has collaborated on special blends with Sean Brock, chef and owner of Audrey in Nashville, and sommeliers André Huston Mack and Miguel de Leon. They also have their products on the menu at Aquavit in New York City and at The French Laundry in Napa Valley. Campbell says they anticipate further growth in 2023.
Keep an Open Mind
“Just like when you’re transforming a classic cocktail into a non-alcoholic version, it’s usually not a one-for-one substitution,” says Frounfelkner. “You have to build the NA classic cocktail with more mindfulness, by taste and with an open mind. It’s important to approach pairing wine and foods in a similar manner.”
Don’t fear though. As Barkley says, “the possibilities are endless!”