The wine industry is a global phenomenon. People of all ages and social groups drink wine from all over the world, and a multitude of countries and regions are famous for the wine they produce. People have been drinking wine for thousands of years, in fact, and the cultures of antiquity, particularly those of Greece and Rome, placed a great deal of religious and social value on the consumption of wine. Wine comes in a variety of forms, making the process of buying and selling wine far more complex than simply differentiating between reds and whites. One of the many varieties of wine is fruit wine, which is made differently than traditional wine. This guide to fruit wine will broaden your wine knowledge and introduce you to a new kind of vintage.
How is Wine Made?
Developing a basic understanding of wine is necessary before learning about how unique wines are produced. Most people know that wine is made from fermented grapes, but the process can be a bit more complicated than simply waiting for grapes to age. The number of wines available in your local grocery store should indicate how many unique methods there are for making such a variety.
The process of fermentation is essentially a fancy way of saying that you’re leaving something alone with its own chemical components and reactions for a long period of time. Grapes are unique among most fruits and vegetables in that they do not require the addition of sugar, water, any kind of acid, or other additives to properly ferment. They can be left on their own, most often in vats or barrels, for a set amount of time, and the grape juice will be turned into wine through the fermenting process. The sugar present in the grapes is consumed by yeast, which is present on the skin of the grapes, and the yeast converts that sugar into mostly alcohol, with a carbon dioxide by-product. The multitude of wine varieties is due to the fact that each kind of wine is made from the fermentation of different types and combinations of grapes, all of which are grown in different areas of the world and in different climates. Some wine grapes are more adaptable, and can be grown in several regions of the world. Cabernet Sauvignon red wine, for example, is named after the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, which can be grown and fermented in varied areas of France, Italy, Spain, California, Australia, and South America. The taste of Cabernet Sauvignon differs depending on the region in which the grapes were grown, and the fermenting particulars of the specific vineyard that produces the wine, but the name always refers to the presence of that particular kind of grape in a particular wine. Other popular red wine grapes include Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Rouge, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, and Syrah. Well-known white wine grape varieties include Chardonnay, Elbling, and Emerald Riesling. Wines are not always named after the particular grape or grapes that are fermented in their production, however; wines are often named after the region in which they are produced instead. One of the most popular wine regions is the Bordeaux area of France; you will often see red wines labeled as Bordeaux wines. These can be made with different types and combinations of grapes, but they always come from the Bordeaux region. Though there are exceptions, in general the majority of wines labeled by region are produced in Europe, while most non-European wine producers label their wine by grape.
Grapes are fermented after having been pressed, creating what is called a must, a mixture of grape skins, seeds, stems, and juice. This entire mixture is left to ferment, and the liquid wine is strained and the impurities are removed at the end of the fermentation process. White wines are often fermented in large stainless steel containers, while red wines are often fermented in wooden vats or barrels. Some wines are fermented within the bottle in which they will be sold; this is sometimes the case in the production of sparkling wines. Winemakers have to carefully monitor the amount of oxygen present in the must, the length of the fermentation process (which can last as little as a few days and as long as a month), and the temperature at which the grapes will ferment (the fermentation process produces a good deal of natural heat); differences in these factors will result in differences in the finished wine product.
What is Fruit Wine?
While the wine that most of us drink is made from fermented grapes, many other types of wine exist that don’t involve grapes at all. The term fruit wine is used to describe any alcoholic wine-like beverage that is produced by the fermentation of a fruit other than grapes. Sometimes, the definition of fruit wine is expanded to include anything that is fermented and turned into alcohol, as long as it does not include grapes. Traditional Japanese sake, for example, is a wine-like beverage made from the fermentation of rice, and it is sometimes categorized as a fruit wine, since it is made using the process of fermentation. Mead, as well, is sometimes considered a fruit wine, because it is made by fermenting honey, water, and a variety of fruits and spices. Fruit wines are usually made using a base of fruit, herbs or flowers. Fruit wine is referred to by the name of its main ingredient in most cases, Within the European Union, the term ‘wine’ is legally defined as referring to the product of grape fermentation, so different terms are sometimes used to describe fruit wines.
Fruit wine fermentation is often a more involved process than that of grape wine fermentation, because grapes have an ideal chemical balance, making them relatively easy to ferment. Fruit wines, on the other hand, often require the addition of sugars, yeasts, acids, water, and sometimes salt, in order to ferment and create a drinkable finished product with the proper alcohol content. Sugar is turned into alcohol during the process of fermentation, and many fruits have a very high sugar content. Many fruits also contain a lot of acid, and the combination of sugar and acid can make the fermented fruit taste very bitter and acidic. Therefore, water is often added to the fruit must to balance out the sugar and acid levels. In addition, chemicals like nitrogen and potassium are sometimes added to the fruit before fermentation to make up for a lack of yeast, which is necessary for turning sugar into alcohol. Grapes have an ideal amount of yeast on their skin for fermentation, but other fruits need to have additional yeast added to the mix in order for fermentation to produce a proper wine.
Popular Fruit Wines
There are a multitude of fruits, herbs, and flowers that can be made into wine through the fermentation process. Some examples are: dandelions, figs, lemongrass, strawberries, pomegranates, rose hips, tomatoes, raspberries, peaches, passion fruits, mangoes, huckleberries, plums, apricots, apples, blueberries, cashews, cranberries, elderberries, kiwifruits, bananas, watermelons, and cherries. Though almost any fruit or flower can be fermented into wine, some of these variations of fruit wine are more popular than others, and are produced with more regularity.
Apfelwein is a German alcoholic beverage made from fermenting pressed apples. Though it is often referred to as a cider, apfelwein can also be considered a fruit wine because it is made using the same fermentation process as that of grape wine. Yeast is added to the must, which includes apple juice, seeds, and skins, and the mixture is fermented to produce a beverage that usually contains an alcohol level of around six percent. The mixture often includes juice from German Speierling trees as well. Apfelwein is produced almost exclusively in the Hesse region of Germany, but is consumed throughout the country and all over the world as well. Apfelwein is most often served hot, and is sometimes accompanied by lemon, cinnamon, or cloves. Unlike traditional apple cider, Apfelwein can be taste far more dry than it does sweet.
Plum wine is a very popular fruit wine eastern Asia, particularly in China, Japan, and Korea. While most plum wine is made by steeping plums in clear liquor, another similar drink called plum jerkum is made with fermented plums, in much the same way fermented apples are used to produce cider. Fermented plum wine tends to be very sweet, significantly sweeter than most grape wines, so it is often served and consumed as a dessert wine.
Dandelion wine is produced more often as a homemade recipe than it is as a commercial product, but it still qualifies as a fruit wine. It is made by taking a mixture of dandelion petals, sugar, and acid, often from lemons, and allowing the combination to ferment until the sugar becomes alcohol. Dandelion wine makes for a very light beverage; it does not usually possess a heavy body or very strong aftertaste. It is sometimes used as a cooking wine, though people drink it as well. Some homemade dandelion wine recipes suggest adding fruits or other flavors to the dandelion must to give the wine a stronger flavor and body.
Apart from these examples, there are many other popular fruit wines that are consumed all over the world. Orange and grapefruit wines have recently become popular beverages in the state of Florida. These wines are dry and crisp, and pair well with food that agrees with dry white wines. Passion fruit wines are popular in Israel and other Middle East regions. Tropical locations are great places to partake in pineapple, mango, or banana wine; these all have a sweet and fragrant flavor to them. Elderberry wines, too, are very popular these days; elderberries have a dark color and intense flavor, so elderberry wine is a bit heavier than other fruit wines, and similar to traditional red grape wines.
Learning More About Wines
As you can see, fruit wines offer a huge variety for wine drinkers, in terms of taste, color, flavor, and weight. Nearly any fruit, flower, or herb can be made into a wine with the proper adjustments made for the fermentation process, and there are a surprising number of fruit wines available that many traditional wine drinkers aren’t even aware of. If you consider yourself an expert on red or white grape wine, and want to broaden your taste, or if you’re brand new to the world of wine, learning about and drinking fruit wines is a fun and exciting way to get your wine fix.