R.W. Knudsen's Blueberry Pomegranate Juice

I had this at the same time we tried Ariel's White Zinfandel & R.W. Knudsens' Black Current Nectar

My Experience: I don't have much to say about this. The blueberry taste is the strongest, and it tastes like a juice. It's sweet, and has a slight tang to it. The aftertaste is mostly blueberry and tangy. Much better with ice.

Works as a wine Alternative: Not really. It's a juice. An interesting juice, but it's not subtle enough nor is it complex enough.

Did I like it: I liked it through about one glass, didn't want to reach for another, though. 4 out of 10.

Would I Recomend it: Not as a wine alternative, maybe for a juice-o-phile.

Who Might Like it: People who love blueberry.

R.W. Knudsen's Black Current Nectar

R.W. Knudsen's Black Current Nectar

The same time I tried Airel's white Zinfandel I also tried a few juices, this being the first. (This being the second)

My Experience: It looks like a red wine in the glass. Guess what it smells like? (Black Currant, duh!) It's nice to have experienced this to know exactly what it smells like when someone says a wine smells of black currant. Now I know! It was smooth, with a hint of better, like the dregs of grape juice. It's sweeter than wine, but not sugary like many juices. The aftertaste has a touch of tang. I had it a room temperature and liked it better that way, compared to being iced. It'd probably be best just a bit under room temperature (like red wine.)

Works as a wine Alternative: Yes, I think it does. It's subtle, though not terribly complex, I think it does work. Just barely acidic enough to pull it off.

The ingredients also list Apple, so this isn't quite a "Pure Juice" so under the blended juices label it goes.

Did I like it: Yes, both my wife and I thought it was worth trying again. 6.5 or 7 out of 10.

Would I Recomend it: Yes, again if for no other reason than to taste black currant. It's so common to hear that a wine tastes or smells like black currant, so it's worth it to try it out.

Who Might Like it: I'd think this juice would have a very wide appeal. Sweet, but not sugary, not too acidic, easy to drink.

Ariel's White Zinfandel

I hid something embarrassing when I told you about the Fre White Zinfandel a few posts back. I got home, ready to try it, tore off the foil... And my mind started to race. Surely, surely we had a corkscrew somewhere. As always in this situation, my first instinct took over. "Honey, do you have any idea if we have a corkscrew around here anywhere?" She had a small swiss army knife in the house somewhere. After some time, I gave up. We had to find another way to get that cork out of there. I went to the garage, got a small screw, and washed it well in the sink. The screw went less the half way down the cork after I'd grabbed a screwdriver and and spun, spun away. I tried pulling the head up with my fingers, and the screw quickly ripped out of the cork. Great, just great, I'm going to have to hack away at it until it crumbles into the bottle I thought. In one last desperate measure, I went back to the garage, and dug to the bottom of the pile of screws, and I found a very large one with wide threads. I don't even know what it was for, just that the end wasn't pointed, so it was going to be hard to get in there. I tried to get it to catch in a new part of the cork I hadn't torn up yet. After a few minutes of working it down, I had to go get some pliers, and slowly but firmly pull it up, and thankfully the cork came with it. I had no way of removing the screw from the cork. That poor screw sacrificed itself for the drink, and into the garbage it went.

Lesson #1: Own a corkscrew.

I have a Lesson #2, but that will be for another day.

So, when I went to Total Wine (which opened up right next to where I work on my birthday) I had two missions. Not only did I have to find my way to the "non-alcoholic" section through tens of thousands of bottles, I had to find a corkscrew.

After I entered, the first thing I realized is that this was much more organized and well labeled than anywhere else I'd been. The place was so big I had no idea where to start. So, again, I had to ask that question. The man who answered sounded like car salesman. "All my non-alcoholic stuff is right over here." My stuff? Surely I wasn't talking to the owner nor the winemaker. "I've got Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Brut." I saw they also had several types and sizes of Martinelli's. "Heh, Martinelli's" I said half to myself. "Yeah," he said "That's really popular during the Holidays." Really? I didn't know. Did you just see that in the training video? (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, they were really nice and helpful, this guy was just too much eager and not enough genuine.)

They had, as far as I could tell, all of the Ariel and Fre stuff, in addition to the Martinelli's. It was all in a small section labeled "Non-Alcoholic." I was secretly hoping to find a Carl Jung or some varietal grape juice, or *gasp* even some EGA. But I can't complain, so far they had the best selection, they even had both major brands, not just one or the other. So I grabbed the Ariel White Zinfandel (to compare to the Fre I'd recently had) and then got pointed to the accessories aisle.

I don't want to say they had tons of accessories, but the variety and absurdity of some of them was impressive. Some were absolutely essential, like corkscrews, and in being so essential (and the task being somewhat difficult - I can imagine certain people who, due to whatever physical circumstance, would have a hard time popping the cork out) there were many types. I think I even saw a battery operated one. But some of the accessories seemed like they were relying on an ignorant but enthusiastic wine fan to think they needed all of these things to "truly" enjoy their drinks. Some were just plain weird.

Anyway, I got me a simple, cheap butterfly corkscrew (something like this), it seems to work well.

Anyway, I get home with the Ariel in hand and find out my wife has prepared the perfect birthday meal. Cheese. Lots of it, too. Brie, a wet Goat's Milk, a dry Sheep's Milk, Blue Cheese and Extra Sharp Cheddar. In addition to that, there was a fondue with Irish Swiss and some of the cheddar, and home made bread to go with it. Throw in some apple slices and pear slices, and we had quite the meal!

We had a few other drinks to try as well - Blueberry Pomegranate and Black Currant Nectar.

My Experience: We had a lot of things to try it with, it was soooo much fun. In general, it was less floral smelling than the Fre White Zinfandel, but still quite fruity. It was a bit darker smelling (that is to say it smelt more of dark fruits or berries) than the apple-ly and rosy Fre. This time we had it somewhat under room temperature, which I liked the taste of better, but makes it a bit harder to smell. It seemed smoother, less tingly, and just a touch less strong than the Fre, perhaps slightly sweeter. Less acidic, so it didn't cut through the food as well as the Fre. The finish was bland and watery, and short.

Works as a Wine Alternative: (This section is intended for wine alternatives that are not dealcoholized wine)

Did I Like it: Both my wife and I found this one much more enjoyable than the Fre. It was great with a variety of the foods we had. Lets give it an 8 out of 10.

Would I Recommend it: Yes, I think this is a particularly easy entry point for people who are new to this.

Who Might Like it: It's not strong, it's not bold, it's not adventurous, but it is safe.

(See the Fre White Zinfandel post here)

Trader Joe's Just Cherry Juice

The same night I tried the Fre White Zinfandel, I also had some pure cherry juice on the table. It was from Trader Joe's, called "Just Cherry Juice."

My Experience:
When I read a review of First Blush (which review I can't find anymore) the reviewer didn't like how sweet it was (I'm guessing being very used to wine) so he called them up! They suggested cutting it with water or sparkling water, to dull the sweetness.

So, I've decided that some of the juices I'll be trying might need a push in the right direction to really shine. I'll be trying them straight, cut with water, and cut with sparkling water.

I got a few glasses out, and mixed away.

When I tried it as is, it was very tart and a very strong taste. Tastes like what, you ask? Cherries, of course. It tasted like tart black cherries. It reminded me of the sauce that goes with Ris ala monde.

With Water:
This was gentler, and was a strong palette cleanser, however I now detected a bitter aftertaste.

With Sparkling Water:
The effervescence brought out the bitterness more than plain water. I did not like this much.

I tried them all again slightly chilled, and I accidentally chilled it a bit too much, I think, but I liked it straight and chilled the best. My wife preferred this drink over the Fre White Zinfandel, mostly do the stronger bite the Zinfandel had. I preferred the Zinfandel over the tart cherry juice.

Works as a Wine Alternative: I think so. Maybe find something strong and not at all sweet to go with it, to let the sugar sing out a little.

Did I Like it: It was ok. I think finding a killer pairing is key. My wife and I agree that you could make an amazing cherry juice and vanilla ice-cream float! A 6 out of 10.

Would I Recommend it: Yes, and here's when and why. It will help you build your tasting vocabulary. The next time I taste hints of cherry in a drink, there is no way I will miss or misidentify it.

Who Might Like it: If you like tart, strong flavors, this might be for you.

Sutter Home's Fre White Zinfandel

Well, this is it! My first dealcholized wine!

My Experience:

I was in Sprouts looking around with my wife. She knew I'd been on this wine alternative stint for a while, reading everything I could find online about the subject. It was much easier for us to look at the pomegranate, cherry, and black currant juces. I wandered through the wine section, confused and wondering how in the world I would find any dealcoholized wine in what looked like a sea of identical bottles to me. There is a part of our brains that activates when we see faces, helping tell apart very similar details. This part of the brain changes in people who study cars, and activates when they see a car, helping them tell the difference between a '71 and '72. I wonder if that part of the brain will someday help me as I wander through this sea of seemingly identical bottles.

I was hoping to avoid this, but I was determined to leave with something besides apple juice in hand. So I asked the most awkward question. "Do you have any non-alcoholic wine?" "You mean Fre?" he said. Well, I just figured out which one-and-only brand they carry. I picked the White Zinfandel quickly. I'd read it's a good starter wine, not too dry (some might call dry the opposite of sweet).

We got home and I threw a frozen Bertolli's (roasted chicken) in a skillet and got out some stemware that had only until then seen water and Welch's.

I poured some in, gave it a swirl and a sniff. Wow! Cherries, apples, flowers! So fruity, it took me by surprise.

I knew to expect something much less sweet than I was used to, but I was not prepared for the bubbly tingle I felt on the fist sip. I almost spit it out! The bubbly sensation reminded me of some kimchee I'd once had! That makes it sound much worse than it was, I was just surprised. I thought only sparkling, bubbly wines like champagne were carbonated. This wasn't bubbly like soda, it just had a touch of unexpected sparkle.

So, I braced myself, took another sip, and was ready for the tingles this time. Having already had a taste, it didn't have as strong of a bite, but still had one. It slightly smoothed out as I sipped slowly, but it was a little tart. As I ate and drank, the acid helped cut through the food and cleanse the palate. I wish I could say how dry it was compared to other wine alternatives, but it was drier than anything I've had before.

Works as a Wine Alternative: Sure? I'm including this section more for the things like varietal juices and such. I think dealcoholized wines are a given.

Did I Like it: Well, my opinion might change, but with the right food pairing I think it worked. I stopped up the bottle and stored it in the fridge. The next day I pulled it out before dinner with enough time for it to warm up, but not to room temperature. I liked it better chilled somewhat, as the tart bite was a bit less, and the acid was a bit more forgiving. Lesson of the day: serve your drinks at the right temperature! Read my next review for some more thoughts. Lets give it a 6.

Would I Recommend it: It's my first try! Read my next review.
[EDIT] after having tried a lot more stuff, I would recommend giving this one a try. Though I liked the Ariel White Zinfandel better, this has a lot to offer and might appeal more to those used to normal wine.

Who Might Like it: It is not sweet, compared to juices. Get that out of your mind, and pair with a light meal like chicken or pasta with a white sauce, and it might work for you. It's tart so that might put some off.

Hey, this is getting exciting!

Tasting Experiences vs Reviews

I'd love to be able to give tons of reviews of all these different drinks, but I have a few problems with that.

First of all, I hardly feel qualified to offer any sort of defnitive or objective advice. Not only am I just embarking on this wne alternative journey, I am also inexperienced with wine in general. It'd be misleading call my opinion on a drink a review, as if I've tasted hundreds of drinks I'd consider a "culinary beverage."

Secondly, I strongly believe that different people have the right to like different tastes! Not only that, but our unique history and biology more than likely affect what we actually taste, even two people drinking the same thing may literally taste something different, and will likely have a different opinion on the matter. My history comes never having tasted traditional, alcholic wine, and surely this will effect my point of view.

I do, however, want to share with all of you what I've tasted. I am hoping as I go tasting all these alternatives, I can share with you a few things.

What I tasted, smelt and experienced in general.
My opinion of the drink's status as a wine alternative.
Did I like it?
Would I recommend it?
Who might like it, and under what circumstances.

So while I hesitate calling these reviews, I'm hoping to provide what I've decided to call "Tasting Experiences."