You know about SodaStream, right? The kitchen-countertop gadget that adds bubbles to tap water? They call themselves the world’s largest supplier (by volume) of sparkling water; they position themselves as a healthier alternative to sweet drinks like Coke and Pepsi, and a less expensive beverage than mineral waters. Mixers, too, if you’re making drinks for a crowd.
Flavorings are what you’d expect: lemon, lime, orange, mango, coconut, assorted berries. Also cola, cream soda, Dr Pepper, Ginger Ale, Root Beer, Tonic, even “Energy Drink.” Seventy flavors in all, costing from $3 to $6.
You carbonate a bottle of tap water with the SodaStream device, then add the concentrate. A single bottle of syrup flavors 9 liters.
And now, in Germany, a riesling-flavored wine concentrate. Not as a mixer for cocktails but as an alcoholic base for a celebratory glass or two.
The German SodaStream website stops short of calling its concoction “champagne” or even sparkling wine. (It uses the word prickelnd, meaning “tingly.”) So far it’s only available in Germany, and only online.
A single 200-ml “bottle” of the concentrate costs 5 euros (about $6). Unlike the regular syrups, it’s not a flavor additive to the soda bottle; rather, it goes directly into your glass, which is then topped up with five parts of soda.
Germans (and Italians) are a thirsty lot; they drink more mineral water than anyone on earth, almost twice as much as Americans. (Scandinavian countries rank at the bottom.)
SodaStream’s pitch, according to its website, is that “by making ordinary water fun and exciting to drink, SodaStream helps consumers drink more water. “
This assumes, of course, that “drinking water” is a worthy objective.
Similar sentiments were expressed earlier this year by Veronique Penchianati, the president of Evian Volvic World, who spoke of a “need to reinvent” the brand, which is part of Danone SA. Evian and Volvic are two of the top brands in the bottled water category, which includes “purefied” waters as well as natural spring waters. “Minerals help hydration,” she explained, recommending two liters a day, “the cleaner the better.”
Evian, which emerges from a pure alpine spring overlooking Lake Geneva, started selling flavored waters earlier this year.
LaCroix, owned by National Beverage Co., markets 20 flavors of sparkling water in the US, With a 30% market share, it is the number one brand of sparkling water in the US. The company is notoriously secretive and makes no health claims for its products; it says only that the water contains “essences,” rather than fruit flavors.
Back to that wine concentrate for a moment. Real wine is about 12% alcohol, with the rest being, basically, fruit-flavored water. There’s a patented process to remove most of the water and to micro-encapsulate the alcohol; the resulting product, often called Palcohol (for “powdered alcohol”), is sold under a variety of trade names.
In the USA, several state legislatures–fearing abuse or to protect local distillers and brewers–have banned the substance, but the federal government has taken no action.
But because the concentrate is legal in Germany, that’s where SodaStream has launched SodaStream Gold. The target audience? That after-work glass of bubbly, that night with the gal-pals, or that intimate moment for two.
However, warns Evan Wallace, the inventor of the Perlage system to retain carbonation in sparkling wine and the Perlini systems to carbonate cocktails, there are no shortcuts and no comparisons. “You can turn crappy ‘wine’ from a pouch into crappy carbonated ‘wine’ from a pouch, but you cannot turn it into Champagne,” he says.