Fruit-forward, massive fruit, fruit-driven—these are all terms we wine commentators toss around, in our berry basket of terminology, when talking about wines that are fresh and lively and, yes, fruity.
Maybe we should really be saying merlot-forward or massive viognier or pinot-driven, those grapes being the prime components. Today, some bottles are truly fruit-forward, propelled by apples and pears, cherries and plums, crab apples and blackberries. Not a grape in sight.
Which causes some folks to come over all apoplectic, insisting that if it isn’t made with grapes it isn’t wine. Well, go ahead, fight it out then; I’m sitting here on the sun deck, sipping my face off, with a clutch of fine wines in the ice bucket.
It’s true that fruit wines often don’t get the respect they should, probably owing to the fact that everybody remembers a grandparent or an uncle who made wretched plonk from something that fell off a tree in the back yard. One of the most terrifying lines I’ve heard, and keep hearing, from proud amateur winemakers: “You’ll never guess what this one’s made from!”
But when you add a skilled winemaker to the equation, there are endless palate delights to be obtained from stuff that isn’t Vitis vinifera—or even Vitis aestivalis, labrusca, riparia, or rotundifolia.
There are quite a few fruit wineries in British Columbia. One of the best is Elephant Island Orchard Wines, on the fabled Naramata Bench in the Okanagan. Another, more recent arrival on the scene is Forbidden Fruit Winery, at the sunny southern end of the Similkameen Valley. FF has a bewildering portfolio of a dozen or more sweet, dry, and fortified wines. EI is well known to regular readers of this corner, for the sumptuous Stellaport, among other treats.
This is a tasting of a few table and dessert wines from both houses. Think of it as a starting point. When you’re in the wine regions this summer, don’t limit yourself to the familiar labels and the familiar grapes—take a walk on the wild side and check in at either one of these.
Since we don’t really want to compare apples with oranges, I’ve grouped them so we can compare pears with pears, berries and cherries, dry to sweet.
Forbidden Fruit Pearsuasion Pear Table Wine ($16.90 for 750 millilitres), one of the proprietarily named products from that winery, is first out of the chute this time. It’s made from Bartlett pears, and tastes pretty peary. With lots of fullness, great colour and clarity, it’s fresh and bright on the tongue. They suggest serving it with pork, salads, egg dishes. I suggest you fill up a tall, cold glass and add a shot of Okanagan Spirits’ Poire Williams eau de vie, for an aperitif with a kick.
Elephant Island Pear Wine ($15.90 for 750 millilitres) is a little lighter in terms of pear essence on the palate, with good weight on the tongue and a long, rich finish. Their call is also for pork, as well as chicken or greens with a creamy dressing. I can taste it in my mind, with pork roast, lots of crackling, and fresh horseradish.
Forbidden Fruit’s Adam’s Apple Dry Apple Table Wine ($16.90 for 750 millilitres) is the result of a juice blend incorporating six different apple varieties; that’s an aroma, and subsequent front-palate flavour hit, of apple-butter right off. One of the tastiest of the FF portfolio of dinner wines, it works well with all that’s suggested: “vegetable dishes, salads, salmon, shellfish, cheese”. We kept coming back to this.
Elephant Island Crab Apple Wine ($17.95 for 375 millilitres) is a glorious wine that suffers only from being expensive. The Islanders have done this—magnificently—since the beginning, and it sells out in no time. Starting with a beautiful shy-pink colour, it opens up with stunning flavours, definitely crab apple, crisp and fresh. I guarantee it to be one of the best fruit wines you’ve ever tasted and will likely ever taste. The suggested pairing with “Thai curry prawns, stinky cheeses or dessert” is spot-on; I’m there for the prawns, for sure.
Elephant Island Cherry Wine ($15.90 for 750 millilitres) is one more example of what EI does best: working with cherries—straight, dry, fortified, Ported, whatever. This is a most mellow, smooth, velvety wine; blue cheese would welcome it (so would certain potato chips, like Tim’s Cascade Style Jalapeno), or, from the back label, “Venison, lamb, tomato-based pastas”. How about rabbit with cherries or aged Mimolette cheese?
For dessert, there’s Forbidden Fruit Bliss Fortified White Cherry Wine ($29.95 for 200 millilitres). Now there’s a whopper, pricewise: it costs as much, maybe more, as most icewines. But it is the rarest of the rare—100 percent organic, estate-grown Similkameen white cherries, frozen and then crushed. The cost reflects the fact that it is the only such wine in the world. Most unusual taste—they point to “aromas and flavours of cognac”—luscious and massive on the palate. As is often the case with B.C.’s proudest wine export, icewine, I wouldn’t serve it with dessert; I’d serve it as dessert.
Forbidden Fruit Plumiscuous Fortified Plum Mistelle ($29.95 for 375 millilitres) is a plum-nectar wine produced from a mix of European and Asian plums, all organic fruit from the valley. (Mistelle refers to juice whose fermentation has been stopped by the addition of alcohol, hence fortified.) Despite its initial pale colour, this one simply overwhelms the nose with the aroma of fresh plums, and carries through to the taste. Excellent acidity and, yes, massive fruit! The suggested accompaniment of cheesecake is a brilliant idea, if you know of a good cheesecake, of course. And if you do, tell me. I find most cheesecake mediocre at best.
Elephant Island Cassis Fortified Wine ($19.90 for 375 millilitres) is the apotheosis of sweet fruit wines. Huge aromas waft from the bottle before the wine even gets to the glass. Inhale them—that’s pure cassis. So, this is the must-have ingredient for the best Kir Royal ever—make it with Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut and steel yourself for calls for more. Also lovely with vodka, on ice. Incredible colour, great acidity, sweet through and through, but very fresh and fruit-forward, sticky but never cloying. Bring on the really good ice cream, and the Thomas Haas chocolates.