I am not a wine snob, but I have long-considered that only wines made from grapes could be called wines and that any other kind of wine made from blackberries, elderberries, etc. were just alcoholic fruit juices.
I am not a wine snob, but I have long-considered that only wines made from grapes could be called wines and that any other kind of wine made from blackberries, elderberries, etc. were just alcoholic fruit juices. Some go even further and differentiate between
European-based vinifera grape wines and American-based non-vinifera grape wines.
We have a similar segregation in the fiber industry where only fibers from sheep are called wool and everything else is alpaca fiber or llama fiber or something like that.
I attended a wine-making workshop recently where the instructor explained that the reason that grapes got that status as the wine fruit is that grapes are the only fruits that have enough sugar naturally to actually make a wine with enough alcohol to preserve it for many years.
It takes about 11 percent alcohol in a fruit juice to protect it from other organisms that would destroy it over time. Yeasts require sugar for energy and there is not enough sugar in most fruits in nature to get to 11 percent. Additionally, yeasts from long ago seldom, if ever, produced alcohol above 11 or 12 percent.
Yeasts are killed by their own alcohol production and the most modern yeasts will probably not go over 16 or 18 percent. Anything higher than that has to be distilled.
All that being said, we have enough sugar produced from several sources since the early part of the last century that we can now produce good wines from any fruits. Actually, some people make wines from anything that will impart some flavor, for example, from dandelion or elderberry flowers, onion skins, beets, and tomatoes.
I plan to stick to making wines from actual fruits like blackberries, strawberries, apples, elderberries, and blueberries. Technically, you can produce a wine, if you want to call it that, from any solution with enough sugar to feed the yeasts and enough minerals for the yeasts to make their bodies.
We actually add yeast nutrients to the batch and try to use hard water so that there are enough minerals in the solution for the yeasts to prosper. It is very much like farming, except at the microscopic level. I highly recommend that anyone with an interest in biochemistry try making wines because you will learn a lot about biology and chemistry.
You actually can learn some interesting things related to cooking. For example, a wine that tastes too sweet can be made to taste better by making it more acidic. The same goes for baking. A bit of lemon juice or other acid blend in a jam will enhance the flavor. We humans can easily sense this delicate balance of sweet and acid.
For a few hundred years, making hard apple cider and apple wine was essential for good living because so many people were drinking water from surface sources that were likely contaminated by their neighbor's livestock upstream. Making a drink that could be preserved and that was essentially protected from harmful organisms by its alcohol content was critical to good health in colonial America.
Now that we have modern sources of sugar with which to feed the yeasts, we can make great fruit wines from anything that pleases us. It may take generations to settle the issue of snobbery when it comes to the sources of wines, but I plan to continue to make my fruit wines, including that from good grapes.
Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.