Last week, we explored the non-grape wines of Maine. This week, I want to look beyond Maine for other non-grape wines in the United States. It turns out that you can find many non-grape wines on the East coast, where many of the fruits used in these wines thrive.
I wanted to know how challenging it is to make non-grape wines. It turns out it’s pretty challenging. While most fruits and berries have the potential to produce wine, “few foods other than grapes have the balanced quantities of sugar, acid… [and other elements] to naturally produce a stable, drinkable wine.” So most non-grape wines (known as “country wines” in the United Kingdom) are adjusted in one or more respects at fermentation. Water or sucrose is sometimes added. A process called chaptalization is often used to make sure there is enough sugar to produce sufficient alcohol levels in the finished wine. In addition, creative blending is frequently used.
I had a lot of fun with my online research. One of my favorite articles was in smithsonianmag.com. It’s called “Beyond Grapes: It’s Wine, But Not From the Vine,” and it’s by Lisa Bramen.
Bramen introduces us to her friend Shelle Bailey, who lives near her in the Adirondacks. Bailey “makes wine out of carrots, elderberries, apples and, yes, pumpkins—pretty much everything other than grapes… Aside from the above, the varieties she plans to make include tomato, lemon-ginger, gooseberry, dandelion, beet, rose hips and maple.” WOW!
Bailey says that non-grape wines have a long history, starting with mead, or honey wine, which is one of the oldest wines around.
Bailey is adamant about not wanting her wine to taste like grape wine. She calls it an “unwine.”
When Bramen tasted Bailey’s wines (apple, elderberry and pumpkin). She said, “They definitely would not be confused with a grape wine, although they didn’t taste how I expected… The pumpkin, the biggest surprise, was my favorite—slightly vegetal and almost imperceptibly sweet. The best description of her wine is probably Bailey’s own: she calls it ‘a light, dry, country-style/table wine with a fresh and uncomplicated taste.’”
In doing my research, I found it interesting that some of the descriptions made non-grape wines sound exactly like grape wines (e.g., “Blueberry wine is perceived as heavy in the mouth, and for that reason it serves to anchor and tame more vibrant wines made with malic fruit or berries.”), while others made non-grape wines sound more like fruit smoothies (e.g., “Let us suppose we have a gallon each of gooseberry and apricot and three gallons of a citrus wine made from Clementines and Valencia oranges.”)
Being spoiled in California as we are, we are accustomed to a wide variety of flavors in “regular” grape wine. I say that there is a whole ‘nother world, as it were, in non-grape wines. Luckily, you may be able to find some of these worthy, adventurous wines through VinoShipper.com.
Next time: What food do you pair with Blueberry Wine?