Fruit wine is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of an organic material that is not grapes.  Some common varieties of fruit wine include peach wine, plum wine, and blueberry wine. But, it is possible to make wine out of organic materials that you may not expect, such as dandelions and potatoes.  Renowned for its production of world class grape wines, the Niagara Region is also a producer of award-winning fruit wines.

How is fruit wine different from grape wine?

It is thought that fruit wines first came into being as a way of adding value to damaged fruit that could not be sold to be eaten.  While grape wine must be made from top quality grapes that have not split open on the vine, fruit wines can be made from damaged, or even once-frozen fruit, with very little negative effect to the quality of the final wine.

Grapes naturally contain all of the necessary materials in the right balance to make a great tasting wine. These ingredients include water, natural sugar, acid, tannin and yeast nutrients.  Non-grape fruits (NGFs) contain these materials as well, but they are often out of balance to make a good tasting wine.  For this reason, adjustments are made to NGF juice prior to its fermentation.  NGF juice will often be too acidic, which will result in a harsh tasting wine, so the acidity is brought into balance by adding water.  NGFs will usually not contain enough natural sugars to permit a proper alcoholic fermentation. This means cane sugar may be added as well.

Also, NGFs usually lack a high quantity of yeast nutrients (the yeasts require more than just sugar to survive) so commercial yeast nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium may be added.  The average level of alcohol in a grape wine is 13% alcohol by volume (abv) whereas fruit wines contain 11% abv on average.

They’re Cost Effective!

Fruit wines are less costly to produce.  To begin with, NGFs are less expensive to grow than grapes. NGFs also enjoy the benefit of several harvests per year. For example, cherries are harvested in July, and apples are harvested in September. In contrast,  grape vines produce only one crop per year.  This means that producers of fruit wines can get more out of their winemaking equipment on an annual basis than producers of grape wines can.  Unlike grape wines, fruit wines do not require a long period of maturation in the winery before being bottled and released.  They therefore do not tie up a business’s capital costs and can be sold at a lower rate.  Fruit wines are best consumed when they are fresh, usually no more than one year after bottling.

Consumers who are new to wine may find fruit wines more approachable than grape wines for several reasons.  It can be easier to anticipate if you will enjoy a fruit wine before tasting it than it is with a grape wine.  For example, if you enjoy the taste of fresh peaches, you will probably enjoy a peach wine.  Grape wines can be more challenging to decipher.  Unless you are an experienced wine drinker, it can be difficult to ascertain what ‘Merlot’ or ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ tastes like if you have never tried it before.  Fruit wines do not possess any significant expression of terroir. Terroir: taste reflective of the specific site on which the fruit was grown. Therefore, fruit wines can be more predictable and less intimidating than grape wines.

How is fruit wine the same as grape wine?

In Ontario, both grape wines and fruit wines are held to strict standards of quality and are subjected to a taste test by a panel headed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.  Both products offer a guarantee that 100% of the grapes or NGFs were grown in Ontario.  When it comes to grape wine, look for the seal of the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA). When it comes to fruit wine, look for the Quality Certified (QC) seal.

Both grape wines and fruit wines have the potential for complex flavours to arise that are different from the flavour of the fresh base material.  For example, wine made from Pinot Noir grapes will often taste like cherries and earth. In comparison, wine made from blueberries will often taste like cinnamon.  Both varieties of wine may or may not be matured in oak barrels to add further layers of complexity.

Like grape wine, fruit wine can be made in a variety of styles.  There is a misconception that fruit wine is always very sweet, but this is no longer true.  Today’s fruit wines are made in all styles: dry, sweet, sparkling, dessert and fortified.

Like grape wine, fruit wine pairs well with different foods.  For instance, apple wine is known to pair well with sharp cheddar cheese. Whereas, pear wine pairs well with blue cheese.

Southbrook Vineyards’ Canadian Framboise ($18.95 for 375mL)

Southbrook Vineyards’ Canadian Framboise is a fortified raspberry wine.  For a time, it was the largest selling Canadian wine in the United Kingdom.  Intense flavours of ripe, juicy, sweet, red raspberries make this a great wine to enjoy on its own. But it also makes a fantastic pairing with rich chocolate cake.  Because it is a fortified wine, it will remain fresh after opening for four to six weeks. That’s if you can make it last that long!  Canadian Framboise also makes a superb constituent in cocktails.  Try adding one ounce of this to four ounces of dry sparkling wine for a Canadian Framboise Mimosa!

Sunnybrook Winery’s Estate Series Cranberry 2015 ($23.95 for 750mL)

Sweet wine can be made from cranberries too! Sunnybrook Winery’s Estate Series Cranberry 2015 was a Double Gold winner at the All Canadian Wine Awards.  With flavours of sweet cranberry with strawberry tones and a bit of allspice, it makes a great pairing with grilled pork or sausage.

By: Michael Twyman
Sommelier and Niagara Wine Country Guide