Welcome to Like A Virgin, a new column in which we’ll recommend a different zero-ABV drink each week. They’re not “near beers,” they’re not “mocktails”—they’re delicious beverages that anyone and everyone should try at least once. Got an idea for a future Like A Virgin column? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I never thought I’d be enthusiastically recommending a beverage whose first sip made me spew it across the room in overly dramatic fashion, but here I am, sitting at my desk with a glass of Luminara Napa Valley Red, still in awe of its existence. I’d written off alcohol-free wine years ago after struggling to find a bottle that didn’t taste like gussied-up grape juice with a higher price tag. Then, a few weeks ago, I received a bottle of Luminara from Better Rhodes (an online “liquor store” that only sells non-alcoholic beverages), and since I was never much of a casual wine-drinker, I thought it might be a good reason to have a fancy family dinner at home—something I don’t think we’ve ever done before. My husband dug out our nicest tablecloth from the back of the linen closet, the kids lit candles and made a centerpiece out of Legos, and I spent hours over the stove making a big pot of Sunday gravy with meatballs and braciole. For the first time in months, the four of us were all wearing respectable clothing inside the house at the same exact time. It truly was an occasion.
My husband poured us glasses of Luminara while I dished up the food, then we sat and clinked glasses like sophisticated people do. I took one sip, spit it out across the table, and lurched across the table to seize the bottle because I was positive I’d accidentally been sent a bottle of actual wine. I was also beginning to freak out because it only took just one sip to remind me that the reason I was never a casual wine drinker is because I really, really like red wine. Even when I did drink I needed to steer clear of it, because wine goes down so easy it was impossible for me to enjoy in moderation.
Even though the bottle assured me that, yes, it had over 99.5% of its alcohol removed, I felt I was perched atop a slippery slope. Even though I haven’t touched alcohol in nearly six years, being sober will always be a conscious choice I make every day. For most people, myself included, it’s not exactly easy to pick up a good bottle of non-alcoholic wine at a local shop; I worried that after I’d polished off the bottle, I might be tempted to “cheat” until the post office could come through with another delivery. That’s why I need to insert the following disclaimer into this otherwise glowing endorsement: If you’re not yet secure in your own sobriety, or do not want to face any unnecessary temptation, you may want to avoid Luminara because it tastes almost exactly like actual wine. Its excellence is both a blessing and a curse.
Like most reds, Luminara red needs to breathe for a few minutes after pouring, and it benefits from being sexily swirled around your glass while reciting poetry or outlining the ways you intend to crush your enemies. It’s a crowdpleaser of a wine, with light acidity, medium tannins, and pleasant notes of black cherry and oak. I seriously cannot stress this enough: if it wasn’t for the fact I was able to drink a whole bottle without taking my top off, I would not have been able to tell this was non-alcoholic wine. It’s mind-blowing.
Once I’d finished cleaning spit-take wine from the Lego centerpiece and my youngest son’s face, we recomposed ourselves and began our sophisticated dinner anew. I raised my glass of Luminara, toasted my blessings, and gave thanks for the chance to have a perfect evening with the people I love. I sealed the bottle and put it away to be enjoyed another night; three days later, it tasted just as good. I toasted to that as well, and hope I’ll be doing a lot more celebrating in the future.