We have plenty of good alcohol-free beers, both from Irish craft brewers and from the bigger brands, and some interesting alcohol-free “spirits” too. Until now, however, most alcohol-free wines have been less impressive. Many contain large amounts of sugar and other additives. Most taste very confected. This could all change with the arrival of Hollow Leg.
Hollow Leg is the brainchild of Ronan Farrell and Richie Byrne of the drinks business WineLab, the restaurateur Jamie O’Toole and the Spanish winemaker Pablo Martinez. WineLab are among the most innovative people in the Irish drinks trade, distributing wine and cocktails on tap, canned wines and spritzers, bag-in-box, and CBD drinks.
The trick is not to try to re-create the exact character of wine. There are things you just can’t have without the alcohol, but you can have something that is refreshing and enjoyable
Farrell came across Martinez a few years ago. “He’d been working for a year on alcohol-free wines,” Farrell says. “We talked, and he came to me with rough cuts. I tasted them and thought they were amazing. For a commercial palate they needed a little polishing. He came from winemakers’ perspective, and we knew what consumers wanted.
“The trick is not to try to re-create the exact character of wine – the same aroma, weight and fruit. The goal was to have something gastronomic, but don’t think it’s going to taste like wine. There are things you just can’t have without the alcohol, but you can have something that is refreshing and enjoyable.”
They may not taste like wine, but Hollow Leg’s four wines – one white, one red and two sparkling – do taste very good. They have fresh genuine fruit flavours and finish dry. I enjoyed my samples solo, and they went really well with food too. They keep well once opened because of the grape extract and lees.
“The most difficult was the red wine, so it’s the one I’m most proud of. It was very challenging to get what people expect from a red wine – the heat of the alcohol and the weight. We constructed it with a little oak and extract; duck or lamb is what I think of whenever I taste it.” All four wines are made using Spanish grapes, sourced from Rías Baixas and Rioja. The list of ingredients is short: dealcoholised Cabernet, grape extract, and sulphur, a preservative. A 150ml glass contains six calories.
“Reaction has been really, really strong. I am convinced that it will work. We have tasted everything on the market, and there is a lot of drivel. [The] beer [segment] is so strong, spirits is so strong, and we have an opportunity to take a bit of the market.” He feels the natural market will be alternators – younger people who want to drink less and will change from alcoholic to alcohol-free and back again, depending on the time and place.
Hollow Leg Alcohol Free Albariño
From Galicia, this has a slight spritz, fresh apple fruits, refreshing but not searing acidity, and a pleasant dry finish. Drink solo or with fish or chicken dishes.
Hollow Leg Alcohol Free Cabernet
Fresh raspberry and strawberry fruits, with a touch of spice, and a good tannic finish. As Farrell suggests, this would be good with lamb and duck. Or try it with vegetarian mushroom dishes.
Hollow Leg’s Albariño and Cabernet cost €12 each; its sparkling wines cost €15. You can buy directly from drinkhollowleg.com or from Deveneys, Neighbourhood, Pete’s Provisions, The Vintry, Blackrock Cellar, Jus De Vine, 64 Wine, Grapevine, Redmonds, Higgins, Swans on the Green, Lennox Street Grocer and Clontarf Wines