The Perfect Substitute For Red Wine Is Actually Non-Alcoholic

Hands holding red wine
Hands holding red wine - CandyRetriever/Shutterstock

Whether pairing it with a homemade steak dinner or enjoying it as a nightcap, red wine is a timeless libation that's been enjoyed for centuries. But when you don't have red wine on hand or simply want to enjoy a non-alcoholic beverage reminiscent of a juicy pinot noir or a spicy chianti, turn to black tea. Although a humble box of black tea sachets might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering red wine substitutes, you'd be surprised to discover they have more in common than you think.

The most significant common denominator between red wine and tea is that they both contain tannins. What are tannins, you might ask? Tannins are polyphenolic compounds — naturally occurring chemicals found in plants like grapes and, you guessed it, black tea leaves. Tannins are responsible for the pleasantly bitter bite of red wine and the astringency that lingers in your mouth after a sip of black tea. Generally, the darker red your wine is, the more tannins it has. The same is true for the depth of color in your black tea.

Not only do red wine and black tea share surprisingly similar flavor profiles thanks to the satisfying sting of tannins, but you can also use black tea in cooking, much like you would with red wine. You can make the swap in meat or veggie marinades, and it will tenderize your food while infusing it with dynamic yet subtle new flavors.

Read more: 10 Of The Healthiest Beers You Can Drink

Considering Black Tea Variations

Black varietals in boxes
Black varietals in boxes - Lunanaranja/Getty Images

Lucky for tea aficionados, black tea comes in many shades and flavors. By cluing yourself in on the nuances of black tea variations, you can tailor your selection to mimic the spirit of an analogous red wine. Assam tea is a bold and robust black tea with malty undertones likened to unshrinking and tannic red wines like cabernet sauvignon. Both Assam tea and cabernet sauvignon flaunt a full-bodied character with rich flavors that can stand up well to hearty dishes. Known for its delicate flavor with floral and fruity notes, Darjeeling tea can be compared to light, aromatic red wines like pinot noir. Darjeeling and pinot noir both exhibit elegance, freshness, and a marked complexity. If you're skeptical of swapping red wine for tea, Darjeeling is a good place to start as it's considered a go-to for vino fans.

Infused with bergamot, Earl Grey tea has a floral and citrusy flavor analogous to fruity red wines like the zippy zinfandel. Although Earl Grey is not a pure black tea due to its flavor infusions, it boasts an approachable touch of sweetness and zest perfect for balancing punchy tannins. All black tea contains caffeine, so if your aim is to mimic the intoxicating effects of red wine, any varietal will give you an invigorating rush of energy. The key difference? Drinking black tea will prevent a hangover.

Making Black Tea Taste More Like Wine

Person squeezing lemon into tea
Person squeezing lemon into tea - Victoria Popova/Getty Images

We'll be the first to admit that black tea and red wine aren't exactly alike, and it might take a little getting used to when you first make the switch from grapes to dehydrated leaves. If you find that black tea isn't quite stacking up to your favorite rosy vino, there are some easy ways to mold it into the red wine alternative of your dreams. Although there are traditions to tea tasting, no laws dictate what exactly goes into a tea blend. To zhuzh up the fruity notes of your black tea, consider infusing the blend with dehydrated berries to give it a more fruit-forward flavor reminiscent of a juicy wine. Don't limit yourself, either, as blueberries, raspberries, or even oranges will bring you closer to the true taste of red wine.

The acidity in red wine aids in the development of tart, refreshing, and lively flavors. To introduce a touch of acidic vitality into your tea, turn to citrus juice. Once your black tea is brewed, drizzle lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice into your cup to give it a vibrant twist. Finally, give yourself the deceptively delicious gift of the placebo effect by drinking your black tea in a wine glass. By enjoying your tea out of a sturdy, long-stemmed glass, you can trick yourself into thinking it's a heaping glass of wine.

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