Sipping in your Chevy by the levee. The heady fragrance of ripe strawberries, your arm around your babe, the song by Deana Carter on the radio drowning out the trance-inducing nighttime crickets under the full moon.
We get asked about fruit wines all the time. A common experience at wine festivals is seeing other wineries rolling out cases of this stuff to enthusiastic drinkers. So, why don't we do them?
First, I am happy for people to drink whatever they choose. However, when asked whether we have any sweet wines, my usual not-very-political response is, "We only make quality wines."
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I do this with a smile. There are some great off-dry and dessert wines, but they are in a class of their own, not your low-priced supermarket wines, which are usually poor quality with a bit of sweetness (and other tricks, like overripe fruit, malolactic fermentation, added oak flavor from bags of oak chips).
You can make fruity wines by fermenting any fruit juice. They are just fruity, that's all. So far as we know, the only fruit that can make wine of the astonishing complexity you get from Vitis Vinifera, the range of European wine grapes, is Vitis Vinifera.
Have a look. Here's a recipe for Strawberry wine from the Internet: • 7 pounds whole fresh strawberries, (fresh picked, if possible), washed and hulled • 2 gallons boiling water • Juice of 1 lemon • 5 pounds sugar
Five pounds of sugar??? It looks like a Paula Deen recipe. But here's the deal . . . They all need heaps of added sugar.
More from the Net, Wikipedia:
Few foods other than grapes have the balanced quantities of sugar, acid, tannin, nutritive salts for yeast feeding and water to naturally produce a stable, drinkable wine. Many kinds of fruit have a natural acid content which would be too high to produce a savory and pleasant fruit wine in undiluted form; this can be particularly true, among others, for strawberries, cherries, pineapples, and raspberries. Therefore, much as to regulate sugar content, the fruit mash is generally topped up with water prior to fermentation to reduce the acidity to pleasant levels. Unfortunately, this also dilutes and reduces overall fruit flavor; on the other hand, a loss of flavor can be compensated by adding sugar again after fermentation which then acts as a flavor enhancer (known as a back-sweetener), while too much acid in the finished wine will always give it undesired harshness and poignancy.
People often ask me what makes a "good" wine and how it differs from lesser wines. Obviously, it's subjective. I love those wine events where people give the judges at a competition the same wine twice in blind tastings, and their score varies by anything from two to10 points on the same wine. One of the things I say is there's no such thing as stasis. Things either grow or wither, they either get better or worse. They never stay the same.
Even a rock is gradually worn away over time.
Try sipping a glass of Coke. First hit is stunning, especially on a hot day -- a chilled glass full of ice, maybe a slice of lemon. Keep sipping. It never is that good again. And it gets less and less interesting.
Now try a wine. A lot of them can fool you at the first sip, and this is where a lot of us are inclined to make our judgment. Wow! Lots of fruitiness. Yum.
Keep it up. You find it less interesting. There's a bit of residual sugar, it fools you initially, but it's not as interesting. There's that hint of oak, but it's one note, and the sugar isn't hiding all the astringency.
Sugar, one of our wondrous tools, like fat and salt, is used in excess to fool us into liking mediocre fare. It actually suppresses our taste buds. That's why we have dessert at the end of the meal.
Now, try another wine. If the second sip is a little more interesting, keep going. It can take you on quite a journey.
Here's a quote from one of my favorite wine writers, Therry Theise, writing about a 25-year-old German Riesling in his wonderful book, Reading Between the Wines:
"It begins with an up-close miasma of quince and ginger and a subtle stoniness. After an hour or so it gets a little crazy, like some potion of wild mountain herbs, Chartreuse almost, and tart berries like juniper. It's as if the wine were releasing something, its id maybe. And after about two hours, with the final bit in my glass, it's all burning leaf and kiln, but the oddest thing is how the flavor both compounds and retreats, on one hand growing ever more complex, on the other drawing even further away. That sense of something wafting to you from across the hills and fields is awfully haunting . . . I find myself swimming in a liquid ether of leaves, trees, winds, burning."
Now, this represents the passion of someone who truly loves and understands wine, and opens the door on the profound joy it is possible to experience when you have a great wine and the time (and ability) to appreciate it.
This is what great winemakers love and strive for.
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You will not get this from strawberry wine with five pounds of sugar.
As I have stated before, some people prefer sex with blow-up dolls. Go figure.
Sam Pillsbury has made dozens of documentaries, TV series and feature films in New Zealand and Hollywood as writer, director and producer, and now grows grapes and makes 100 percent Arizona wines in Arizona. He lives in Phoenix. You can get more information about his wines and tasting room at pillsburywine.com.