Over the past few years, non-alcoholic wines have flooded the market, hoping to appeal to the growing number of people who are either attempting to stop drinking alcohol altogether or who are just looking for ways to limit their intake. But in my humble opinion, most non-alcoholic options still have a long way to go before they appeal to people who are actually into wine. Oftentimes, these “wines” taste nothing like actual wine, and for me, they leave a lot to be desired. I’d rather just grab a can of LaCroix if I’ve decided not to indulge for the night.
But some brands have surprised me, one of those being Proxies from Acid League. These wine-adjacent, alcohol-free drinks do not purport to be wine, but they attempt to function like wines. Because of the unique blends of ingredients, they sometimes come surprisingly close to a decent bottle of the real stuff. Although the brand has boasted several different whites, reds and rosés for a while now, a recent collaboration has launched the brand into in all-new territory.
Proxies has joined forces with Miguel de Leon, the 2021 Michelin sommelier of the year. After working at iconic restaurants like Chez Panisse and Momofuku, de Leon became the wine director at New York’s Pinch Chinese. He’s now released a new Proxies flavor, Vinta, a non-alcoholic beverage that’s meant to imitate the flavor of skin-contact wine.
What Is Skin-Contact, or Orange, Wine?
For those who aren’t familiar, skin-contact wine (also known as orange wine) is essentially a white wine that’s made like a red wine. While many modern-day conventional wines separate the juice of the grapes from the skins before fermentation, when a winemaker opts to make an orange wine, they keep the grape skins in contact with the grape juice for a period of time. This process can give a white wine more body, tannin and structure, often resulting in wines that have a very different flavor profile than what you may be used to from conventional white wines.
This method of making white wine is very old, but it’s become a trend over the past several years. Skin-contact wine has been making appearances on trendy bar wine lists and popping up in natural wine-focused bottle shops, intriguing new wine drinkers with its vibrant color and unusual palate. It’s no surprise, then, that de Leon and Proxies have come out with Vinta.
What Does It Taste Like?
I recently got the chance to try Proxies’ Vinta, and I’ll admit that I was pleasantly surprised. However, it’s important to note that this beverage is not actually a wine. While it does contain juice from Riesling grapes, it boasts a long list of other ingredients as well, including pineapple juice, peach concentrate and a blend of different teas. If you’re already a wine drinker, you should keep your expectations in check—this isn’t going to replace your orange 100% Pinot Gris.
All that being said, the blend of ingredients does work together especially well, offering a beverage that doesn’t taste dissimilar to some of the better orange wines I’ve had. Some skin-contact wines have the tendency to lack fruit on the palate, offering drinkers a Band-Aid-like flavor that has plenty of funk to it but not much else going on. As you can probably guess from the addition of fruit juices and concentrates in this blend, you won’t find that with Vinta. But that juice refrains from coming across too sweet—the overall impression is lightness, acidity and a vibrancy that makes you want to take another sip.
A Step in the Right Direction for Non-Alcoholic Beverages
Just because someone opts out of drinking for the night (or forever) doesn’t mean they should be forced to peruse a sad list of alcohol-free options that fail to capture the complexity and sophistication of a beverage that a producer has put real effort into. By offering sober and sober-curious drinkers nothing more than over-sweetened cocktails essentially designed to appeal to the palate of a child, we further stigmatize sobriety.
Whether you’re a fan of skin-contact wine or not, there’s no denying that giving people more alcohol-free options that actually taste good and that have some complexity to them is a step in the right direction. Proxies and Miguel de Leon are making this widespread wine trend more accessible to those who may not always want to indulge in the real deal. Hopefully, as more and more drinkers explore versions of sobriety, more brands will attempt to reach them by crafting more thoughtful, refined non-alcoholic beverages.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.