Fleshy, sweet, and blessed with an ideal balance of sugar, acid, and tannin, grapes naturally lend themselves to the alchemy of wine-making. But grapes (botanically classified as berries) are not the only fruit that winemakers can use to make fermented alcoholic beverages. Apples, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, plums, oranges, tangerines, cranberries, pears, rhubarb, and even bananas and pumpkins can all be transformed into highly enjoyable wines that can span the spectrum from sweet and fruit-driven to
dry, complex and nuanced.
But the production of fruit wines entails a challenging set of problems. Since the sweetness, acidity levels and mouth-puckering tannins of non-grape fruits and berries can vary considerably, winemakers must use a variety of compensation techniques. After harvest and crush, a highly acidic fruit mash can be topped off with water to dilute acid levels, while tartaric acid (found in grapes) can be added to a crush with high pH values. Low-sugar fruit will require the addition of sucrose or honey to enable fermentation to produce proper levels of alcohol in the finished wine (usually 10 to 11 percent to allow the natural flavors of the fruits to shine). Additional tannins may be added to low-tannin fruits, and, since fruits and berries can contain significant amounts of solids and fiber, filtration is usually necessary.
Fruit wines — also called "non-grape" or "country" wines — have not always enjoyed the praise of professional critics, who argue that these wines are excessively sugary sweet and lack structure and complexity. But under the auspices of skilled winemakers, fruit wines can be produced just as full-bodied, balanced, and dry or off-dry as their grape-based cousins, exhibiting aromas of flowers and the pure essence of the dominant fruit. While most fruit wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks, some producers barrel-age their wines.
Non-grape fruit is also ideal for the production of effervescent sparklers, decadent dessert wines, and distilled beverages like brandy.
Like white wines, fruit wines should be served chilled (45 to 55 degrees) and should be consumed young.
Expert Wine Recommendations
• Christina Anderson-Heller Tasting deVine, Wheaton
-2011 Lynfred Petit Verdot Reserve $35, deep red in the glass with a fragrant nose of garden flowers, mulberries, and licorice. The palate is smooth and luscious with hints
of coffee beans, chocolate, and cloves.
- NV Lynfred Apple Wine $14, blended from Fuji, Golden Delicious, Gala, and Honey Crisp apples, this pale golden wine unveils a cornucopia of baked apple aromas.
• Julie Balsamo Downers Grove Wine Shop
-2012 Provenance Cabernet Sauvignon $39, from the stellar 2012 vintage, this elegant Rutherford Cab is packed with concentrated aromas and flavors of dark cherry and blackberry fruit, currants, and plums, overlaid with nuances of almonds, hazelnuts, coffee, and dark chocolate.
- 2013 Lyric Pinot Noir $23, From the glass waft opulent aromas of cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, while on the palate succulent red fruits and spices tantalize the senses. Silky tannins and good acidity round out this Santa Barbara Pinot.