A Drink for All Seasons: One man’s mission to create a better non-alcoholic wine, by a self-confessed ‘liquid Willy Wonka’

Wine writer Matthew Jukes spent years looking for a decent zero-alcohol alternative to wine — and in the end decided to start making his own. He tells the story of how he did it.

It seems a strange thing for a wine writer to devote himself to something other than the real thing. Country Life’s taste test of Matthew’s ‘Jukes Cordialities’ drinks found them unusual and intriguing, if a little disconcertingly different at first sip — but certainly worth a try for those who are looking for a non-alcoholic option which doesn’t involve sugar, carbonation or both. 

We wine writers are a funny old breed.  Infamous for using non-grape-based terms for describing the flavour of our beloved grape-based drinks we have an unfortunate habit of baffling wine lovers and confusing amateurs with our sometimes florid descriptions of taste.  I find that using too many disparate terms can put people off and so I tend to stick to where the wine is made, who makes it and what it goes with, from a food point of view, but there is no doubt that the story of each wine needs a reference to flavour, too, to help people out.  The main problem is that wine does not taste of grapes!

A few years ago, I set out on a mission to make a series of genuinely delicious, adult, alcohol-free drinks which would do the same job that wine does on the aroma, palate, aftertaste in the hope that they would work perfectly with all styles of cuisine when you wanted to swerve a bottle of wine for whatever reason.   People are more conscious of their health these days and more people are teetotal than ever, particularly in younger age groups.  My philosophy was not to necessarily aim entirely at non-drinkers but to provide health-conscious low calorie, sophisticated drinks for those drinkers with experienced palates something to drink on their days off.  But where does one start with a challenge like this?

My eureka moment came when I made a list of all of the wine flavour descriptors I had used in my 34 years in the wine business and set about blending these fruits, vegetable, herbs, spices and flowers together to attempt to come up with drinks which were every bit as complex as the finest wines imaginable.

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While this might sound rather romantic, in reality, it was anything but.  I found a wonderful lady called Sylvia who is an expert in making smoothies, veggie shots, ginger drinks and all manner of healthy, well-being-centric delights.  She agreed to help me with the research and development stage of my quest.  I hopped on my motorbike and drove the four miles from my house in Battersea, in south London, to her studio in Camberwell to kick off this sensory odyssey.

Whizzing backwards and forwards, for nearly a year, tasting, refining, re-blending and tinkering, like a liquid Willy Wonka, I inched closer and closer to making a drink whose perfume was beguiling, whose flavour was complete and rewarding and, crucially, whose ‘finish’, to use a wine term, was long, dry, fine and memorable.

The miracle ingredient in this drink is organic apple cider vinegar which can draw out the flavours and perfumes of any ingredient which you soak or ‘macerate’ (another wine parallel) in it.  The apple cider vinegar forms the backbone of the Jukes series of drinks and from this framework, I can ‘hang’ all of the stunning fruit, vegetable, herb, spice and flower ‘notes’ which make these drinks sing.

Who would have thought that a couple of years later, after deliberating over packaging, boxes, labels and all of the other details which seem so straightforward but which, in reality, also take so long to finesse, I now have a brand new series of drinks which are somewhat unique in their packaging, message and flavour.  In addition, I now spend much of my time talking about drinks which do indeed contain blackberries, plums, lemons, cucumber, peach, raspberries, strawberries, apples and the like.  It certainly makes a difference from trying to explain why a Sauvignon Blanc tastes citrusy or a Syrah has lashings of blackberries and cracked pepper!

You can see more about Matthew’s drinks at his website, www.jukescordialities.com.