Struggling to pair wine with your Thanksgiving spread? Consider looking to that jiggling cylinder of cranberry sauce — or even your horn of plenty centerpiece — for inspiration.
Wines made from fruits other than grapes — long considered overly sweet plonk — are taking a sophisticated turn as more small vintners experiment with wines crafted from pears, peaches, apples, cherries, blueberries, black currants and cranberries.
“People are surprised, and surprised is often good,” says Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, a trade group. “The whole secret is, does it smell and taste like the fruit that it’s made from?
“I don’t think it has a reputation problem to surmount, maybe an awareness problem,” he says.
Long popular with home winemakers, fruit wines are more numerous in cooler climates, such as the Northeast and Upper Midwest, but offerings pop up from China and the Czech Republic to Florida, where Trezise has judged competitions featuring star fruit, kiwi and grapefruit wines.
At least 50 of New York’s 273 wineries are branching into fruit wines, a tiny but growing segment of the U.S. wine industry. And the quality now is good enough that last year the New York Wine & Food Classic, the state’s top wine contest, added a fruit wine category.
While fruit wines often are assumed to be sweet or one-dimensional, “the best ones are medium dry and very pleasant,” says Trezise. “A perfectly ripe apple is medium dry. The sugar gives the nice sensation of fruit and the acid gives you the tart. That’s what a good fruit wine is like, it’s very much in balance.”
Bill Martin switched from commercial beekeeping to making fruit and honey wines a decade ago, opening Montezuma Winery next door to a namesake national wildlife refuge outside Seneca Falls in west-central New York’s Finger Lakes wine country.
His prizewinning Cranberry Bog “starts sweet because it’s very high in residual sugar,” Martin said. “But it’s high in acid, too. So it balances out quickly and has this distinctive tart finish, which pairs very well with food.”
In Montezuma’s tasting room, Celeste Brianne Satie, 52, of Cincinnati, a discerning wine drinker who favors rich cabernets and merlots, was reluctant to check out the cranberry wine.
“I have a problem with anything flavored which, to me, tastes artificial,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to like this.’ And then once that sweetness went away, it had the perfect flavor of crunching a sharp, tangy cranberry in my mouth. This one hit it right on the head.”
At Honeymoon Trail Winery, 20 miles north of Buffalo, Garry and Lori Hoover produce 27 varieties of wine, including apple, cherry and cranberry. Fruit wines now account for 20 percent of their sales, up from 5 percent when they opened in Cambria in 2005.
“We like to blend two or three types of apples to give it a little different sparkle,” Garry Hoover, a former trucking company manager, said of his apple wine. “People always like something different. I try not to stay with the same kinds of wines all the time.”