Going beyond the grape: Making wine from exotic fruits

Going beyond the grape: Making wine from exotic fruitsFruit Wine story from Indonesia…

By: Yohan Handoyo

It was around a year ago, after a sop buntut lunch at the legendary Warung Pondok Indah in Bogor, that a friend of mine, J.L. Nawan, gave me this suspicious golden liquid in a half-empty Marjan syrup bottle with a small-hand written label on it that read “rambutan wine”.

“You should try it, Pak. I love it so much. And if you want, I can introduce you to the winemaker” he said. Well, frankly, I was not that convinced at the time.

Of all the wines that I have tried, fruit wine has always intrigued me. It sounds so exotic, but it is rare to find here in Indonesia, and to be honest I know very little about it. Therefore, I would never miss the opportunity to taste fruit wine no matter how unconvincing it may look.

When I was visiting Thailand few years ago, I sampled mangosteen wine that look like normal red wine but tasted wildly different. At the Wine for Asia Expo last year, one of the busiest booths was a mango wine producer from the Northern Territory, Australia. People lined up every day just to taste his lip-smacking sparkling mango wine and on the last day of the expo, the winemaker didn’t even bother attending his booth because he had sold everything.

In VinExpo that was held in Bordeaux in 2005, I also tasted Korean wild raspberry wine called bokbunja for the first time. This sweetish red wine is delicious and was served during APEC Summit reception in Korea a few years ago and I was happy to know that some Korean restaurants in Jakarta are also serving this wine, which is a very nice substitute to the delicious head-smacking soju that accompanies Korean BBQ.

But since few months ago, this wine — along with practically every other kind of wine — has been disappearing from the market due to the recent actions taken by Indonesian customs. It may sounds stupid, but it is easier now to get illegal drugs in Kota than to find legal drinkable affordable wines.

If you go to some Japanese supermarkets in Jakarta, you can also buy famous Japanese plum wine called umeshu made from unripe Japanese plums. It is normally sold in clear bottle with some peeled plums floating inside, showing its gorgeous greenish color. This wine is definitely easy on the palate and nice when mixed as cocktail or on hot humid days. I often mix it simply with ice-cold sparkling water for a good adult thirst quencher.

In East Java there’s also one famous drink called legen, which is basically made from the fresh drip of Siwalan tree flower (you just have to cut the flower, catch the drip, and voila — a sweet, fruity, refreshing liquid from heaven).

Its ripe fruit is very delicious with its chewy whitey meat, but legen is known for being the best thirst quencher and is served with ice in a bamboo tube around the kampungs in Surabaya. Kids love it, but men keep it for one night and it becomes a wine called tuak. Women who hate their hubby’s drinking habits usually keep it under the sun for one more night so it turns into very good and strong vinegar. People in the Minahasa area also have similar drink called saguer.

But this rambutan wine is particularly intriguing because it is made by a Briton who was a navigator with Royal Air Force and now works as the Principal of Gandhi Institute of Business and Technology. His name is Michael J. Goodwin and his winemaking hobby started ages ago in UK. Now he is making fruit wines from Indonesian exotic fruits.

My jaw dropped when I read the list of his wines. He makes wine from mangoes, rambutan, rice, coconut milk, beet and ginger, apple and celery, guava, and even belimbing sayur (a very sour fruit from the starfruit family normally used in cooking). Once a year after Ramadhan, Mike usually goes around buying cheap dates and makes it into sweet fortified wine.

One day Mike invited me over to his house to show me how he makes his wines. It was totally different world compare to any other winery I’d been to. He uses the second story of his house to make and to keep his wines. It was his cave.

Filled with big clean plastic buckets, thick plastic containers, hoses, and a table where he put all his imported yeasts, campden tablets, a hydrometer, and his recipe book. It was fun to be there; smelling the aroma of half-fermented wine and spending time talking about which fruit should he try next. I suggested durian but he dismissed the idea right away.

I was excited when he offered me to taste his wines. The mango wine made with Burgundy yeast tasted like sherry with sharp acidity, but I didn’t taste the mango. His date fortified wine, rich with dried fruit nuance and subtle cinnamon and palm sugar character — delivered in a big punch of alcohol — definitely not for the faint hearted.

His other mango wine that he made in 2003 (we tasted it in June 2007) offers a flavor that reminds me of orange peel, but that’s it; no other exciting flavor was discernable.

But when we met for the second time at my wine club event, I prepared a curry pineapple fried rice sprinkled with lots of raisins and surprisingly this nasi goreng goes very well with his fortified wine. I think it was the raisins that paired so very well with his wine.

At the very least, fruit wine is interesting to try. It’s exotic, unique, and it opens my eyes and my palate to the completely different experience of wine tasting.

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