If you have kicked off the new year seeking an alternative to alcohol, it’s likely that you have tried one or more of the libations on offer at your favorite beverage shop. Zero-proof botanical distillates, adaptogen-rich elixirs, and alcohol-free craft beers are among the many options available for Dry January. But until recently, dealcoholized products designed to be sipped like wine have largely failed to deliver when it comes to complexity and character. So what a delight to encounter a growing number of selections that feel worthy of a wine-drinking occasion! One example from Denmark provides a gratifying place to start.
With its crown cap closure topping heavy green-glass, Muri Drinks “Nuala” Non-Alcoholic Red has the look and feel of a bottle of wine. But this beverage is not crafted from grapes, nor is it merely an alcohol-removed derivative. And here is what’s truly surprising: The process that transforms juice into wine serves as the basis of this genre-defying pour.
At the heart of the Muri process is a series of short fermentations — the kind that yield nuanced flavors but don’t produce significant alcohol. To make the base of Nuala, water is added to the pressed skins and seeds of blackcurrants, creating a piquette. A specialized strain of yeast then goes to work, performing a brief burst of fermentation. And that’s just the first of three more microbe-assisted preparations: French-oak aged kombucha, chamomile-infused kefir, and kvass crafted with fig leaves and pine needles are crafted in separate batches, then combined with ingredients like sloe berries, sourdough starter, and malt. Wondering how these disparate components play together? Never fear: A master blender is at the helm of production.
Murray Paterson, a UK expat residing in Copenhagen, has long been part of Denmark’s thriving gastronomic community, widely known for its boundary-pushing explorations of fermentation. Before branching out on his own to launch Muri Drinks in 2020, Paterson worked as a distiller at Empirical Spirits, one of Copenhagen’s most progressive, flavor-minded distilleries, founded by two alums of acclaimed Nordic restaurant Noma. Today, Muri’s wine-adjacent beverages — with their layered, sophisticated flavors — are changing how consumers think about the non-alcoholic category.
Lift off the crown cap of Nuala and thrill to a gentle hiss of escaping CO2. Pour a splash in your glass and you’ll spy hazy liquid sporting a dusty rosy hue. Scents of raspberry and cranberry compote take the lead, with confectionary, pastry-like aromas bringing up the rear. The palate is where things get really interesting: Softly tart and textural with a whisper of tannin, this beverage offers appealing viscosity that carries flavors of berries, lemon spritz, and subtle earthiness, all masterfully layered together. This pour — whose name means “beautiful” in Gaelic — lives up to its moniker, leaving a lasting impression that is multidimensional and wonderfully energetic.
While this pour is labeled as a non-alcoholic red, don’t expect it to be an inky, full-bodied red wine. It’s more akin to a pét-nat — the lightly fizzy, unfiltered style you’ve likely encountered at natural wine bars — but without overt effervescence. So while you might not reach for this as a pairing for steak, this libation would be most welcome as an aperitif, or alongside roast chicken with succulent, herb-rubbed skin. It’s also marvelous to sip when you’re lingering with friends but want to stay light on your feet.
Gazing into my crystal ball for 2023, I foresee Muri in our glasses long after Dry January is done.
Muri Drinks “Nuala” Non-Alcoholic Red Distributed by Oz Wine Co. Average mid-$30s. Retailers include: Formaggio Kitchen (Huron Avenue) Cambridge; Dear Annie, Cambridge; Bacco’s Wine + Cheese, Boston; Helen’s Bottle Shop, Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org