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30 May 2022

Best low- and no-alcohol alternatives to wine as recommended by experts

Discover the tastiest ways to cut back on the booze this summer, and how to keep your drinks cool as the temperature rises

If you're always the designated driver, or just looking to cut back, finding a lower-alcohol alternative that isn't too sweet and still feels 'grown-up' can be a challenge.

We asked our expert wine-tasting panel for tips on choosing the best low- and no-alcohol alternatives for easy summertime drinking as part of our summer series of expert taste tests. 

Read on to find out their suggestions, plus some handy hints and tips for serving and storing drinks in hot weather.

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1. Bring the holidays home with a jug of sangria

If you're gearing up for an afternoon of festivities, a jug of sangria is the perfect crowd-pleaser to keep everyone happy. Traditional recipes call for the addition of brandy, but you'll find it much fresher (and lower alcohol) without.

All you need to do is select a fruity wine (usually red, but rosé would also do) and mix it with your soft drink of choice - lemonade or flavoured sparkling water should do the trick nicely.

A generous amount of ice and a few handfuls of fresh fruit will add to the festive feel. Lemons and oranges are the most common choice, but you can add any of your favourites.

A good starting point is equal parts wine and soft drink, then you can adjust according to your personal taste.

Head to our guide on the best red wines for summer drinking to find out which bottles to buy

2. Sip on a spritz

A spritz is defined as any wine-based cocktail, and is a good way to reduce the amount of alcohol in your drinks without losing the classic flavour notes.

As a rule of thumb, it's best to use one-third white or rosé wine and two-thirds soda water. This will lighten the taste of the wine and add an element of carbonation to keep things interesting.

If you fancy giving it an extra refreshing twist, try adding something sharp-flavoured, such as ginger or lime. Make sure your chosen glass is large enough to fit plenty of ice too.

Prefer a sparkling wine instead? Read our round-up of the best proseccos and sparkling wines for this summer

3. Try a tonic

If you're looking to avoid alcohol altogether, or alternate with soft drinks, a plain or flavoured tonic is an excellent alternative with a refreshing bitter edge.

There's a vast array of options available now, so you shouldn't struggle to find one to your liking, whether you prefer something a little fruitier or a drink with a sharp or even herby edge.

Tonic is fresh, not too sickly and full of flavour - it'll do a decent job of keeping you hydrated in the summer heat too.

Best gins - see which gins came on top in our expert taste test, for the times when you want the full G&T experience

4. Consider kombucha

A slightly more off-piste suggestion from our experts was that of kombucha - a fermented fizzy drink made from yeast, sugar and black tea that's become more widely available and popular in recent years.

It has a similar texture and body to alcoholic drinks thanks to the fermentation process, although it contains less than 0.5% ABV in most cases (the same as most alcohol-free beers).

Kombucha can be an acquired taste - think fizzy and slightly sour - but like tonic, there are plenty of flavour options around, so it's worth experimenting to find a fit for you. 

Find out which low-alcohol and alcohol-free beers came out on top in our taste tests

How to keep drinks cool in hot weather

Regardless of whether you're drinking alcohol, summer drinks should be refreshing, not lukewarm. Cooling your drinks correctly helps to enhance the fruit and brings flavours into balance.

Our wine-tasting experts gave us their tips for keeping your drinks cool come summer:

  1. Grab a wet tea towel - this will help any bottle cool down through the process of evaporation. Simply wrap it around the outside and leave for a few minutes.
  2. Don't forget your fridge door - even half an hour inside the door of your fridge will make all the difference, so clear some space if you can.
  3. Ice cubes are your friend (in most cases) - if you're serving rosé wine or something lower in alcohol, there's no problem with adding a handful of ice cubes to keep things cool. More is better, as it means it will melt more slowly and avoid diluting your drink too much.

Check out our reviews of the best wine bottle coolers to see which one came out on top.