Reality check: in the United States, people are drinking way more soda than they are sipping wine. We get it. Soda is sweet, bubbly, and delicious but full of waist-expanding high-fructose corn syrup. Hey, we're not judging - we love sweets too, but as adults, if we’re going to take in all those liquid calories, it would be nice to get a little buzz going.
If you’re trying to transition from soda to a more "adult" beverage, we've got you covered with wine alternatives to some of your favorite soft drinks. Keep in mind: while all sodas are sweet, not all of the wines suggested are, but that just means fewer calories. We’ll drink to that.
Lemon-lime sodas are crisp and refreshing with bright citrus flavors. German Rieslings are a great substitute, because they have mouthwatering acidity balanced by a touch of sweetness. These wines taste like lemon and lime, white blossoms, and wet stones, but can also have delicious notes of pineapple and white peach. Sauvignon Blanc is another a great option, especially from Sancerre in France. You won’t find any sweetness in these wines, but you’ll get the same high levels of acidity with flavors of grapefruit, chalk, grass, and gooseberry. If you’re not sure what a gooseberry tastes like, think cat pee, but in a good way. And if you already like the taste of cat pee, that's cool, but we're… going to stand over here now.
Often associated with sick days at home or an upset stomach, ginger ale is an underappreciated soft drink, but we happen to love its subtle spicy warmth. Ginger beer is even better if you like an extra punch of gingery spice to balance out the sweetness. For wines with a similar kick, we turn to Gewurztraminer, with its tasty tropical flavors (pineapple, lychee, and cantaloupe) but underlying notes of candied ginger. Not all Gewurz is dry, so if you like a little sweetness, there are versions out there for you!
The main flavor of cream soda isn't cream, though it can have a creamy mouthfeel. Rather, this exceptionally sweet soft drink tastes heavily of vanilla. In wine, vanilla isn’t a naturally occurring flavor but instead comes from aging a wine in oak barrels. It’s difficult to find that singular flavor in wine, but in oak-aged Chardonnays, especially from California, you’ll get a complex, dry palate that includes notes of crème brûlée, spiced apple pie, lemon curd, roasted hazelnuts, and of course, vanilla. If you want a sweet option, you won’t find many by way of Chardonnay - we suggest a cream Sherry or Tawny Port.
Orange soda tastes somewhat orangey, but definitely not like fresh orange. While some versions have a twang of citrus, most of them come across as pretty artificial, akin to an orange popsicle. Moscato, in all its variations (from bubbly Moscato d’Asti to the boozy Muscat Beaumes de Venise), tastes like every form of orange: candied zest, marmalade, and orange blossom. These wines also have notes of pineapple, grape, and nectarine. Best of all, most versions of Moscato have some level of sweetness, so they won’t feel too far off from the sticky-sweet orange soda we all love.
Whether you’re drinking the blue or red can, the flavor of cola, which supposedly comes from the kola nut, is a difficult-to-distinguish blend of caramel, vanilla, nutmeg, and a touch of citrus. Colas don’t necessarily have an immediate fruitiness, so we’re thinking Old World Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab hails from Bordeaux, where winemakers blend it with Merlot and a few other grapes and age the final wine in oak barrels. The oak adds caramel, vanilla, and sweet spice notes. Bottles from Napa Valley will be beefier and more fruit-forward but will still have the oak influence to remind you of cola.
Root beer is surprisingly complex for a soft drink. Its flavors include cream, vanilla, sarsaparilla, molasses, liquorice, and various roots and spices. As gluttons for sugar, our favorite way of enjoying root beer is poured over a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Shiraz from warm areas like Australia or California offers a great alternative because these wines are spicy and loaded with ripe fruit notes. Shiraz is the same grape as Syrah, but when a wine is labeled Syrah it implies an Old World style, which can taste more earthy and meaty (like smoke, bacon, and beef jerky).
With a secret blend of 23 flavors, Dr. Pepper (and the non-credentialed Mr. Pibb) taste like cherry and plum, with hints of vanilla and spice. There’s a slight medicinal quality there, and some swear it tastes like almonds. Either way, I got a bad case of lovin' you. When we want a juicy cherry flavor in wine, we turn to Pinot Noir. You’ll find Pinot from Burgundy to have earthy, floral notes, while bottles from slightly warmer growing areas like the Willamette Valley in Oregon tend to show the fruitier side of Pinot.
If you’re still hesitant to give up soda, Lambrusco and Asti Spumante are great options. They are inexpensive, sweet, and lighthearted sparklers that will help you transition into the world of wine. Or, take a cue from the Basque in Spain and mix equal parts cola with red wine - the best of both worlds!