I opened the paper this morning and found an article about an amateur winemaking competition here in Maryland that focuses heavily on fruit wines. Fruit wines? As opposed to…root vegetable wines? Fungus wines? Legume wines?
As it turns out, in the European Union, the word “wine” applies solely to those comprised totally of grapes. In the UK and across all fifty of these United States, however, wines can be made of other things and are usually delineated by adding a qualifier to the title: cherry wine, or blackberry wine, for example. The standard definition, though, is fermented grape juice. So what’s so special about grapes?
First, let’s talk fruit. I’ll go ahead and say that the best wine (“best” implying quality of ingredients, longevity, attention to detail, and careful construction) always comes from grapes and we can argue that however you like, but there are plenty of other wines made from alternative fruits.
Fruit wines are about as old as beverages get and probably generated from where so many wonderful things come from: necessity and accident. Think about it: you plant crops or stumble across a patch of wild berries of one kind or another, you pick as many as you can, eat as many as you can, but maybe there’s excess. Left alone in a pot or bucket, the juice starts to ooze out as the berries crush each other. Maybe you forget about it for a little while, and come back and it’s a little foamy, a little less sweet, and when you taste it (because obviously you taste the mystery pot of foamy liquid…) makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And voilà: accidental fruit wine.
I’m not terrifically well-versed in alternatively fruited wines, most of my experience hinging on the sippy cups of apple juice my sisters would leave in the back of a hot van for a few weeks, but I have sipped a few from blueberries or blackberries and I have a pretty basic understanding of what this is all about. They’re generally a little sweeter than your standard grape wine, they’re often a little simpler as far as production goes, and their shelf life isn’t all that long—that is, drink ‘em young.