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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I’m a food tech student. I’d like to do a project regarding wine. Is it possible to make wine from fruits other than grapes? Is there any wine preparation problem that needs a solution?
In most cases the word “wine,” by itself, refers to the beverage made from grapes (though the U.S. government’s Tax and Trade Bureau defines it as made from grapes, other fruit, and even “other suitable agricultural products.”) I’ve heard of other fermented fruit beverages made out there from rhubarb, elderberries, bananas, coconuts and cranberries. Often these wines are made in sweeter styles, and are best consumed young.
Wine grapes are unique in that they can get really ripe, with high sugar levels that make fermentation easier than with other fruits. By contrast, if you imagine the ripest pear you’ve ever had, it’s not nearly as sweet. Moreover, the riper a pear gets, the more susceptible it is to bruising or rotting before you get a chance to make it ferment.
Most fruit wines start by mashing the fruit and adding sugar, and sometimes water. Depending where you go from there, there are all kinds of adjustments to make—mostly to avoid a syrupy mess and balance the acidity level. Grapes also have tartaric acid and tannins that help turn them into wine, so there’s plenty of fiddling to do if you’re trying to get a product that’s as stable, with as much structure and as good a mouthfeel as wine made from grapes.
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