A sensory product review: the sparkling wine alternatives worth popping this Christmas.

Posted by Debbie Parker on the 12th December, 2019
Consumers are very good at telling us what they do and do not like about a product, however they are notoriously bad at telling us why. This is why sensory analysis is invaluable as a research method; it allows us to measure up to 100 sensory characteristics of a product to identify which assets need to be kept or changed.

It’s no secret that alcohol consumption habits are declining in the UK – and the rationale as to why that is broad and varied. Our research shows that a fifth of our pub-loving nation does not drink alcohol, while a quarter of our drinkers are actively attempting to reduce their alcohol consumption. With this in mind, a surge of low and no alcohol products have hit the shelves.

The rise of the alternatives entering the market in response to this shift means non-drinkers, and those drinking less, need not miss out on the experience of indulging in a bottle of fizz this Christmas. Research shows that consumers are genuinely intrigued by the taste of low and no-alcohol drinks, with a third of the UK’s drinkers reporting they are interested in low and non-alcoholic drinks that really do taste as good as the alcoholic versions.

As a sensory scientist, our very own Dr. Debbie Parker can detect, recognize, accurately identify and rate intensities of individual flavours. Her sensory work at Walnut Unlimited has helped leading food and beverage brands to produce, test and optimise recipes, ensuring brands undertake a quality-driven approach to product development.

With Christmas on the horizon and a multitude of low and no alcohol options available on supermarket shelves, Debbie undertook sensory research of seven sparkling wine alternatives. Below are her descriptions of the different tipples based on their sensory properties. So, what can you expert from the leading low/no-alcohol prosecco’s on the market this festive season?

Rawsons Retreat 0.5% (Tesco)

With the loudest ‘pop’ ever, this yellow effervescent wine with its aroma of Chardonnay-like vanilla and grape was full of promise. The taste for me, however, was a little too sharp and acidic and gave a very dry finish. If you like hardly any sweetness in your wines and sour lemon, gooseberry and grapefruit tartness, then this wine is for you!

Sainsburys Fresh & Fruity

Pale yellow and fresh and fruity, this wine adheres somewhat to what it says on the bottle. Slight eggy sulphur soon flashes off to give a fruity, sweet drinkable wine with moderate acidity. A bruised apple and grape juice flavour and slightly earthy notes give this jovial wine an ok flavour.

Eisberg Alcohol-free Sparkling Blanc: 0.0% ABV (Waitrose)

This German classic wine is very pale coloured with a good fizz and is very effervescence in the glass. A light aroma with a touch of initial sulphur that flashes off to give sweet, grapefruit notes. The taste is sweet and fruity, with grape & apple flavours, low acidity and a syrupy sweet finish. This cheerful wine is a bit too sweet for my palate but pleasant enough.

Tesco Low Alcohol 0.5%

Very good bubbles accompanied this pale yellow and effervescent wine which smelled like Sauvignon Blanc. Ebullient effervescence gave a ‘bite’ to this wine with pleasantly sweet lemon, grape & apple flavours and light acidity led to a pleasant enough, enthusiastic & drinkable wine.

Benjamin Truffer (M&S)

With an enthusiastic ‘pop’ and sweet, honeyed aroma of toffee apple, this wine also has a sweet, cooked apple crumble flavour and sweet, honey taste from the Muscat grape. With good acidity and fuller body, this is a balanced and pleasant wine to drink anytime.

Nonsecco Spumante: DA Angelo Taurini: Less than 0.5% Vol (Sainsburys)

This French Edizione Speciale Spumante looks a little pale but certainly sounds the part with an expressive pop and effusive bubbles. A sweet elderflower and lemon citrus aroma lead to a sherbet lemon taste with grape and apple sweetness and refreshing tart acidity. A pleasant, lively and sweet/acidic balanced offering that I would be happy to drink anytime.

Freixenet 0.0% (Tesco)

If you want bubbles up your nose, then this classic will provide! Another well-known brand giving a massive explosion when uncorked and very much looking how you would want a sparkling wine to be. A pale colour gives a champagne-like appearance and the wine also has a more wine-like aroma and flavour. Sweetness from the grape is combined with vanilla and almost toffee notes and is balanced with sharper gooseberry notes, (reminiscent of Sauvignon grape). The wine also had some yeasty notes which provided depth of flavour. All round a fuller, medium sweet, balanced acidity, bright & fruity wine which I found very drinkable and didn’t miss the alcohol at all.

So, you’ll be spoiled for choice this festive season – no household needs to have a shortage of bubbles this year. Depending on the sensory characteristics that best suit your palate, there is an option for all to enjoy this Christmas.

Debbie Parker is Head of Sensory at Walnut Unlimited, the human understanding agency. She is a sensory scientist with an honours’ degree in biochemistry, a post graduate certificate in sensory science and a doctorate in brewing science. She leads sensory panels in the assessment of all food, beverage and non-food projects to use sensory science to provide a complete understanding of brands. Debbie is also a certified trainer, a regular lecturer and presenter and one of the UK’s few female beer sommeliers.

Using these skills, Debbie judges regularly at The Quality Awards and The Great British Beer Festival, and has led tutored tastings at the British Embassy in Stockholm and the European Parliament. Debbie has provided expert opinion for Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped programme, BBC Radio’s 4 Food programme and the World Service. It is safe to say that Debbie knows her flavours!

Meet the Author: Debbie Parker
Share this blog