Given the whole pregnancy thing, I’ve been sourcing non-alcoholic alternatives to my usual alcoholic libations. Cocktails aren’t too hard to fake with mocktails, because while you may miss the satisfying bite of the gin or the underlying sweetness of rum, at least you can still make it a tasty drink with high-end mixers, homemade syrups, fresh herbs, and fruit, right?
It’s harder when it comes to wine and beer. My findings on near-beer will follow in another post, but first I tried to find a sub-in for my comforting glass of red Italian table wine with dinner. With that goal in mind, I bought a bottle of Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon, and threw in a bottle of Sutter Home’s Fre “sparkling wine beverage” for kicks.
Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon
I saddled my plate with wild mushroom ravioli in a homemade chorizo ragu and poured myself a glass of the CaberNOT Fauxvignon. The smell was promising, if a little weak, so I forked up a mouthful of pasta and paired it with the wine.
1. Having a selection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay (instead of just “red” or “white”) was enough to convince me Ariel knew what they were doing. So, kudos on that marketing scheme, Ariel.
2. Personal edification bonus points: I finally taste-experienced the definition of wine “structure.” More to the point, I now know what it means when there’s such a complete lack of structure that the only thing keeping the wine vertical is the stem of the glass. Call it the Joey Potter of wines.
1. If you drank a glass of actual wine, then swirled water around in the same glass to catch all the dregs, and then drank that water, you’d have a very good idea of what Ariel CaberNOT Fauxvignon tastes like.
I was all set to let loose with another scathing name and derogatorily dub this non-alcoholic sample “Shampagne,” but it’s actually really quite good. While called a “brut,” it’s actually slightly sweeter than a full alcohol brut would be, but it’s not sweet, either. Nor is it too washed out. Also, it has a fine and elegant mousse of bubbles, which makes it even more enjoyable as a champagne stand-in.
It puts me in mind of the heady days of my youth when Ann and Jane and I would traipse down to Milt’s Grocery on Lake Street and spend our allowance on bottle after bottle of Catawba juice. After this pleasant surprise, I’d be willing to try the rest of the Fre line.
Navarro Grape Juice
I do like the Navarro grape juices — made from their Pinot Noir and Gewurtztraminer grapes — but both offerings tend to be overwhelmingly, cloyingly, throat-chokingly sweet. A splash of tonic water or club soda with a squirt of lemon or lime vastly improves them for me.
I far prefer Navarro’s Verjus, because it’s way more intense and sour. It’s supposed to be used in cooking, I think, but I just chill it and drink it. The Verjus can also be cut with club soda or tonic water if you find the flavors too much for you. Plus, that sort of treatment really stretches the bottle in these financially tight times.
Though findable by the glass in local restaurants — Zuni and Nopa, for sure — in order to start your own juice cellar at home, you just might have to force yourself to drive up to the beautiful Anderson Valley and buy yourself a case. (If so, I recommend a night or two at the Sea Rock Inn. Affordable with views of the ocean from cozy cabins and a complimentary split of local wine in your room, this place is a very special retreat.)
“Let me tell you, I have never met such a beverage. Sparkling ciders — both grape and apple — have never been dry enough for me. They’re tasty and juicy but that’s what they really are: juice. The sweetness that overwhelms these teetotalling options is not found in the limpid depths of a perfectly chilled flute of Golden Star.
The uniquely refined sour flavor in Golden Star comes from the fermentation process, and though you might think the heady florals of jasmine might turn your tipple into Grandmother’s eau de cologne, but it really doesn’t. It’s simply a remarkably balanced glass. It’s simply a remarkable drink.”
Golden Star Tea is now available at Whole Foods in 750 mL bottles; it was my “champagne” over the holiday season.
Fizzy Lizzy Cranberry Juice
Of all the Fizzy Lizzy juices, the cranberry is the most wine-like. Tart to the point of having an almost fermented-tasting sourness, this has become my preferred tipple of an evening.
Vignette Wine Country Sodas
Effervescent and dry, they’re really not bad at all. Vignette offers Pinot Noir, Rose, and Chardonnay. The Chardonnay reminds me of pear cider and is my favorite of the three, thirst-quenching versions.
Available in “Gold” and “Red,” these juices are only so-so. They’re overly syrupy, not very complex, and while they might make it into a mocktail, they don’t really do it for me in a glass on their own.