If you can't pop open a beautiful bottle of red wine for Christmas dinner, what do you drink?
That question plagued me this holiday season.
We always eat prime rib for Christmas dinner. But there's just nothing in the non-alcoholic space that gets me excited to pair with a big steak. Yes, there are plenty of non-alcoholic wines on the market. We've just yet to find one we enjoy.
But I had planned for the occasion. As you would with a fine wine, I had something special set aside - something I had been saving for such an occasion.
It's easy to plug alcohol into special occasions... you open the early 2000's Bordeaux for an anniversary or pour some 25-year old scotch to toast a graduation. But, frankly, there's not much in the nonalc space that calls for such high ceremony.
We love a good non-alcoholic beer (Athletic Brewing is our current favorite) and there are plenty of distilled spirits you can mix up for an interesting drink. Still, where do you turn to celebrate something special?
Enter Proteau Ludlow Red and it's over-the-top, beautiful packaging.
John deBary, the former Momofuku bar director, is the founder.
Given John's pedigree, the media onslaught around the drink and the fact that it's served in New York City's Gramercy Tavern and Momofuku... our expectations were sky high.
Here's the first thing you need to understand about Proteau Ludlow Red...
Despite being packaged in a wine bottle, looking like red wine and the marketing showing the liquid being poured into red wine glasses, this is not a red wine replacement.
And to be fair, Proteau doesn't directly claim it's trying to sub for red wine. It's a "botanical aperitif." The drink is a blend of blackberry, violet, roasted dandelion root, rose, licorice, black pepper, fig vinegar and other fruits and botanicals.
Complex, we know...
So we popped a bottle for dinner (which required near superhuman strength to unscrew the cap), excited to drink it alongside our red meat.
Rule No. 1 of drinking Proteau - this is not a substitution for red wine. Get that expectation out of your head.
Because, frankly, if you're expecting red wine, you're going to be disappointed.
The first thing you get when drinking Proteau is the fig vinegar. And that's going to overpower whatever is on your plate.
We'd recommend serving Proteau chilled. Also, let it sit in your glass a few minutes before taking a sip. Swirling it around also helps.
Some of the heat from the vinegar will die off.
Once you get past the vinegar, Proteau is quite nice, sweet and complex. As the drink matures on your palate, you pick up the berries and a strong, peppery flavor. Let the drink sit and work your way through all the subtle components.
While we enjoyed Proteau, it didn't answer our prayers for a "food wine."
Proteau is best served chilled. And the drink is a sipper. The vinegar and pepper give you pause, which we consider a positive.
It's nice as an aperitif... something to sip on while the rest of your guests have champagne or a cocktail. And it would likely go well with cheese or chocolate (or even a cigar after your meal).
You can also mix it with some club soda for a spritzer of sorts (something our guests enjoyed). Our friend Zach Giglio even made a tasty Cosmo with Proteau (see the recipe below).
At $35 a bottle, we hoped for more from Proteau Ludlow Red. Still, it's a nice, interesting drink. And the beautiful packaging makes it a nice hostess gift.
A couple final notes on Proteau...
The longer it sits out, the smoother (and better) it gets. Also, you have to drink it within three days of opening the bottle. So we'd recommend popping a bottle with friends.
Also, Proteau is working on its Rivington Spritz - a warmer weather blend of strawberry, rhubarb, hibiscus, chamomile and Champagne vinegar - which we're excited to taste and review.