Positioned as a prestige cuvée fizz without the alcohol, French Bloom has launched a vintage-dated top-end sparkling wine called La Cuvée, which launches today in the UK, where its exclusive retail partner is Harrods – with the department store selling a 75cl bottle for £109.

The new product is a bold move in a category where the UK’s best-selling de-alcoholised sparkling wine is Nozeco, which is made by Les Grands Chais de France (GCF), hails from Bordeaux, and retails for £3.50 in supermarkets.

But La Cuvée is not for selling in mainstream retailers; it is aimed at high-spending teetotallers, as well as sippers of fine Champagne, when they are taking a break from booze, primarily when dining in top-end restaurants.

Notably, creating a fine fizz without any alcohol requires a base wine that’s far from fine, in the traditional sense.

French Bloom winemaker, Rodolphe Frèrejean-Taittinger, explained, during an exclusive interview with db earlier this month.

“I think the biggest mistake we usually see in alcohol-free wines is taking a wine made to be a wine, and de-alcoholising it, thinking it will be a good wine,” he began.

Continuing, he said, “It is usually disappointing,” adding, “For example, if you took Petrus, or the best Chassagne-Montrachet, and de-alcoholised it, it will be a bad de-alcoholised wine.”

In fact, as Rodolphe has discovered following “four years of R&D”, is that “to make a complex de-alcoholised wine, you need to create a base wine that is made to be de-alcoholised.

“Instead of being dogmatic in winemaking, you have to think from the beginning, and everything is different [for de-alcoholised wine],” he recorded.

As a result, La Cuvée is not a great vintage Champagne that has seen its alcohol removed, as one might expect from a winemaker with familial connections in the famous French sparkling wine appellation – both with Taittinger and Frèrejean Frères (with the latter maison co-founded by Rodolphe).

Rather, this new product from French Bloom, a brand which launched two years ago with a pair of sparkling wines called Le Blanc and Le Rosé – which retail for around £33-35 in the UK – sources its wine from a very different climate to Champagne.

Employing Chardonnay grapes grown in the Languedoc, Rodolphe went to this southerly part of France because it was here where he could find a base wine with plenty of flavour, even when the grapes were picked early to ensure a high acidity, while also being a part of France with plenty of organic viticulture – La Cuvée is positioned as being as natural as possible, not only with an organic base wine, but no added sulphites too.

“We realised that Chardonnay from the Languedoc was the best fit,” he said, before commenting, “Because it is very important to overdo everything,” when referring to creating a base for de-alcoholising.

The process of removing alcohol from wine for La Cuvée sees the alcohol extracted in a vacuum at sub 32 degrees Celsius, allowing for its slow evaporation, without boiling the wine.

However, as Rodolphe told db, this technique, called ‘vacuum distillation’, does result in the loss of 60% of the wine’s aromas, and 20% of the base product’s volume, and hence the need to exaggerate the aromatic profile before the process begins.

Indeed, not only is the base wine for La Cuvée fruity – if high-acid – Chardonnay from the Languedoc, but it’s partly aged in new French oak barriques for six months, because “we want to get as much wood taste as possible” – that is, before the alcohol removal process strips much of that character from the wine.

The base is also acidified with tartaric acid to create a wine that “is overly acidic and overly oaky; it is almost undrinkable, and then we de-alcoholise in three steps, from 12% abv to 2%, then 2% to 0.5%, then 0.5% to 0.0%,” he said.

As for the fizz, that comes from carbonating the de-alcoholised wine, which has also required Rodolph to research to find “really thin bubbles, with persistence,” having worked with a company that carbonates “fine water”.

Finally, to give La Cuvée, which launched with a 2022 vintage expression, at least two years shelf-life, the product is flash pasteurised.

“There is no alcohol, no dosage, and no sulphites,” said Rodolphe, noting that all the elements that might create a long-lived product are absent, before pointing out that an “oxidative” aromatic character was desired.

“We wanted some oxidative notes, and there are no sulphites during the vinification, so the base wine is pretty oxidative, and we wanted that, because it brings some texture, the hardest part [in de-alcoholised wine] is getting the texture,” he said.

And while many zero-alcohol sparkling wines make up for the missing alcohol by creating something sweet, La Cuvée is bone dry.

In essence, the aim according to Rodolphe was to create something with the characters of an “old sparkling wine,” adding, “we wanted the little maderised oxidative note that brings a lot of charm to a wine with 15-20 years of ageing, as well as flavours of coffee, brioche and apricot.”

Agreeing with Rodolphe, co-founder of French Bloom, Maggie Frerejean-Taittinger told db, “We looked at the most memorable experiences we shared, and we have a strong passion for old vintage sparkling wines, with oxidative notes of coffee and caramelised nuts and dried apricots.”

With a two-year shelf life, La Cuvée has had to capture these characters in a young fizz, which has meant “capturing the wine at its pinnacle maturity,” added Maggie.

Concluding she said, “Our conviction is that when you drink fine wine, the first reason is for the complexity, pleasure and emotion, and the alcohol is secondary – we are trying to capture everything we love about the fine wine experience without the alcohol, and create something that pairs well with food.”

Flavour-profile and winemaking techniques aside, with a retail price of more than £100, La Cuvée is the first of its kind, and limited in volumes in its launch vintage to 17,000 bottles, compared to 400,000 of French Bloom’s blanc and rosé sparklings.

Already, Maggie says that La Cuvée is “out of stock” in the US, and believes that “the market is there for premium, alcohol-free, complex wine”, adding that the “no-alcohol wine market is premiumising”.

As for who is drinking such products, it is not what Maggie had thought when she co-founded French Bloom.

“I thought our target market would be pregnant women or religious people but actually it is 80% flexible drinkers, those who drink wine one moment, then they don’t,” she recorded.

Rodolphe agrees, with an analogy. “I’m not a vegetarian, but I like to take the vegetarian options from time to time: this is a good benchmark to explain who are our target customers.”

As for the next step in crafting a fine fizz without alcohol, Rodolph can see French Bloom going further upmarket, and maybe bringing the concept of single vineyards to the no-alcohol wine sphere.

“We can go into more details, and why not one day have our own little clos,” he said, adding, “There terroir in Limoux is very interesting in terms of the personality of its Chardonnay.”

Read the full article at TheDrinksBusiness.com HERE.