Never mind official histories about Finland enacting a war-effort “Sober January” back in 1942 or “Dry January” being launched in Britain nine years ago. Starting the New Year by taking a break from alcohol is a tradition that tracks all the way back to that primeval hangover on the morning of New Year’s Day. It’s just the monthlong extension of abstention that’s modern.
But Dry January-ites needn’t eliminate the actual enjoyment of drinking handcrafted beverages anymore, as the world of nonalcoholic wine, beer, and even spirits is more advanced than ever. Here’s what to find from Santa Barbara and beyond when it comes to wine. For beer, click here to read our interview with Zero Beer Guy.
Cat Cora’s Hand on Heart Wines
Cat Cora, the celebrity chef and cofounder of Mesa Burger, teamed with the Miller Family Wine Company — which owns Bien Nacido Vineyard as well as such brands as J. Wilkes and Butternut — to create a zero-alc new wine brand called Hand on Heart. The 2020 vintage features a rosé, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon that were crafted by veteran winemaker Jonathan Nagy, who aims to retain fine-wine aromas, flavors, and textures while removing the alcohol. Explained Cora, “For some time, I’ve been on a mission to find a nonalcoholic wine for people like myself who are seekers of superb flavors, want to enjoy a delicious wine, even in the dry times, and aspire to embrace a balance of health, wellness, and great food.”
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Municipal Winemakers’ January Drinks
Few winemakers ride the cutting edge better than Dave Potter, who set the standard for hip approachability when he launched Municipal Winemakers in 2007. Among his ever-expanding menu of boundary-busting bottlings and brands — including the single-vineyard Potek Wines and the Nowadays natural wines — Potter revealed the no-alcohol January Drinks a year ago.
“I was looking for a way to drink a little less booze, but there’s not much out there that’s really that interesting to drink and has a similar ‘moment’ to opening a bottle of vino,” said Potter. “The idea here is to make a drop that works for happy hour or snack plates.” He’s still working his way up to something that can tackle a full meal, but the initial results are fascinatingly delicious.
These are not dealcoholized wines. They’re hybrids between a piquette — where water is added back to already-pressed wine grape skins — and a tisane, where dried fruits, herbs, and spices are steeped in hot water. His latest release, the Juniper Grenache, for instance, includes juniper berries, bay leaves, black tea, sumac, angelica root, smoked sea salt, and black peppercorns. Also coming soon are a Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir with shiitake powder, black tea, and walnuts, and a Kick-on Ranch riesling with citrus zest, ginger, jasmine, and rosemary.
“Since we’re essentially working with grape juice, the challenge has been keeping good flavor without diluting too much, but also keeping the sugar in check,” he explained. “I think there’s something here that as a booze lover I can get behind, once we can crack the code a little more. There’s a strong and growing market out there for this type of thing.”
Just a Bit of Booze?
Simply want to cut down on the booze a little bit? Spritzes of sparkling wine (or just sparkling water) topped with short pours of flavorful aperitifs are a great way to do so. Try Appetizer, a new aperitif by Municipal Winemakers based on a 1960s recipe that blends house-freezed riesling ice wine with chenin blanc, chardonnay, and 24 more ingredients, from hibiscus to gentian root. It disappears way too quickly.