Every once in a while something reminds me that wine doesn't have to be all serious. Sometimes it happens when I'm at a wine tasting, watching and listening to folks chew, spit and cogitate with great effort about wine that is served in a plastic cup the size of a NyQuil cap. Sometimes it comes with finding a great $5 bottle and telling folks about it. This month, it came in the form of nine bottles of fruit wine sent to me from three different Virginia producers.
Though fruit wine has a reputation as a silly, juvenile diversion from the real thing hardly worthy of a column all its own it's worth remembering that fine wine is a delicate balance of a variety of flavors that either remind us of fruit or taste directly like the fruit itself. Consider the last wine review you read. Odds are the reviewer used words like, "hints of apple and pear," or "black currant and cherry notes on the finish."
Fruit flavor is the essence of wine. But what happens when the fruit taste is from the fruit itself?
Recently, we tasted seven kinds of fruit wine apple, pear, apricot, plum, blackberry, raspberry and blueberry from three Virginia producers: Horton, Willowcroft and Wintergreen.
Of the producers, Horton has the most extensive lineup under the label Chateau le Cabin; an ungainly name but the most serious of the lot.
These "Cabin" wines six in all are closer to wine than fruit cider. They're firm, fun and subtle with a daring layer of acidity over the sweet fruit.
The apricot and pear selections are nearly the color of water but have great strength and flavor, particularly the pear, which really blossoms on the finish, or aftertaste. Either would go well with hard cheese as an aperitif.
Cabin reds include a delightful blueberry wine, which tastes exactly like blueberries, and a plum wine, which is at once sweet and dry and may go well with Chinese food. The raspberry and blackberry selections marry well with chocolate.
The only apple wines were Wintergreen Mill Hill Apple Wine and Willowcroft Applause. If you like tart, Granny Smith apples, go for the Willowcroft, which also offers a little spritz kick. Mill Hill has a thicker, fuller flavor more like Red Delicious apples.
Finally, we were a little intimidated by the enormous aroma of the Wintergreen raspberry wine. Thick and rich with huge flavor, the only way I can think to serve this jammy wine is with chocolate and lots of it like chocolate torte, or even as dessert itself.
Lacking any capacity for long-term aging, Virginia fruit wines are wines of the moment, and the moment is now. As afternoon shadows grow longer, these down-home harvest wines are a flavorful diversion for fall weekend