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Why isn't plum wine a bigger deal?

Yaqo Homo May 25, 2007 10:32 AM

Hapa Dude's recent thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/402661) has led me ponder a more specific question that's been nagging at me for many years:

Why isn't there any amazing, marketable, historically revered wine made from plums? Plums seem to have plenty of tannin, plenty of varieties, plenty of juice and grow in many of the same climates as grapes.

I've had sickly sweet plum "wine" at a neighborhood Thai restaurant (and enjoyed it, I will admit), but it left me craving something more noble made from plums.

Has anyone else wondered this?

I actually think prune juice has a more interesting, complex flavor than most unfermented grape juices.....

  1. s
    Seldomsated May 25, 2007 10:35 AM

    I too have wondered this. I will drink the sweet plum wine, over rocks, as a refreshing drink, but do wish that there was a bit more gravitas to it. Are any of the brands less sweet? I have yet to find one that is not a bit soda poppy!

    1. z
      zin1953 May 25, 2007 12:56 PM

      >>> Has anyone else wondered this? <<<

      Generally? No. Several individuals have, but not the marketplace as a whole.

      The overwhelming majority of fruit wines (i.e.: wines produced from fruit other than grapes) tend to be too sweet and too inexpensive (if not "cheap," in all its connotations) to be taken seriously by consumers and the wine press alike. And the way things are -- at least in the U.S. -- until the wine press takes it seriously, there is no way the average wine drinker will do so.

      I've only had one Plum wine that I thought was complex, "serious," and truly worthwhile. It was produced by a winemaker who made it in his garage, and it was never commercially released.

      Oak Knoll in Oregon made a superb Cherry wine -- dubbed "the Chateau Lafite of Fruit Wine" by one famous California winemaker -- but I don't think they make it any more. They *do* make a Raspberry wine that's quite good. http://www.oakknollwinery.com/

      Bargetto, in California, produces some great fruit wines under their "Chaucer's" label -- Olallieberry, Raspberry and a Mead. http://www.bargetto.com/chaucers.shtml

      2 Replies
      1. re: zin1953
        maria lorraine May 25, 2007 03:13 PM

        Hi, Zin/Jason, could you write me at my email please?

        1. re: zin1953
          Yaqo Homo May 27, 2007 10:54 PM

          Beddell Cellars on Long Island also produces a lovely raspberry wine, although it approaches liqueur territory. http://www.bedellcellars.com/store/wi...

        2. Bill Hunt May 25, 2007 07:41 PM

          While I have had a very few, that were enjoyable with the fare, most are cloying, and poorly made. I could not even come close to naming the few good ones, as they have been decades apart. It is probably akin to asking why Concord[e] grape wines are not revered - there may be 1%, that are worthy of consideration, but how long would one have to search to find them?


          37 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt
            Yaqo Homo May 26, 2007 10:05 AM

            hmmm... I don't really like that comparison. Concord grapes are but one specific variety with a simple, purple Jolly Rancher-esque flavor. Plums, on the other hand, are highly variable and I have to think that *some* varieties of plums have a structure conducive to making beautiful wine.

            1. re: Yaqo Homo
              Bill Hunt May 26, 2007 07:13 PM

              And they might. The analogy is for non-vitis vinefera wines, that are done in a very heavy-handed style, as are most plum wines. If you are trying to make a point that some plum wines are on par with vitis vinefera wines, then give some examples. My guess is that there are none, analogies aside. To re-ask your question, "Why isn't there any amazing, marketable, historically revered wine made from plums?" Maybe Helen Turley can be hired to do some.

              Do you have some examples of your "idea wines?" Are they available in the US? Where can we try them? Maybe you need to contact her, or someone of her level, and ask them.

              Why not ask why great wines are not produced from rhubarb? Anything with sugar can be fermented and wine, of sorts, can be produced.


              1. re: Bill Hunt
                Yaqo Homo May 27, 2007 04:28 PM

                Plums (as opposed to rhubarb) stand out to me because their skins, flesh and, juice have much in common with those of grapes. And, yes, I would love to see a winemaker of Turley's calibre tackle this question.

                1. re: Yaqo Homo
                  zin1953 May 27, 2007 04:53 PM

                  Keep in mind they don't get sweet enough without the addition of sugar.

                  1. re: zin1953
                    hazelnutty May 27, 2007 05:08 PM

                    Why would you want them sweet? Wine isn't sweet, gin isn't sweet...
                    liquor for the most part isn't sweet...

                    1. re: hazelnutty
                      zin1953 May 27, 2007 05:35 PM

                      You misunderstand. I'm not talking about the WINE; I am talking about the FRUIT.

                      One of the reasons wine grapes (vs. table grapes) make such good (and stable) wine is that they ripen (relatively easily) to between 22-25° Brix, or more. (In contrast, table grapes are fully ripe at 16° Brix.)

                      Plums do not *naturally* get that sweet.

                      1. re: zin1953
                        hazelnutty May 27, 2007 06:37 PM

                        Oh, clearly I misunderstood. So are you saying it's harder to make alchol from plums b/c they aren't sweet? I'm asking, I really don't know anything about making liquor.

                        1. re: hazelnutty
                          zin1953 May 27, 2007 09:12 PM

                          In making wine, sugar is fermented into alcohol by yeast, generating heat and carbon dioxide as by-products. (This is EXTREMELY simplified.)

                          If you eat a fully-ripened table grape (not overripe), be it Thompson Seedless or Red Flame Tokay, and then eat a fully-ripened wine grape -- be it Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet, whatever -- the wine grape will 50% sweeter. One *rarely* needs to add sugar to wine grapes in order to produce a stable wine.

                          In the case of plums, the winemaker must add LOTS of sugar in order to make a plum wine. For example, compare this:

                          For Five Gallons of Plum Wine --
                          15–20 lbs pitted, ripe plums;
                          12 lbs Corn Sugar (have 1 extra lb in case you need to add more later)
                          5 gal. Distilled Water (have 1 extra gallon for topping up later)
                          2 -1/2 tsp Yeast Nutrient (Diammonium Phosphate)
                          2 -1/2tsp Pectinol (pectin enzyme)
                          5 Campden Tablets (sodium-bisulfite), initially: later 12-15 more needed
                          7 tsp Tartaric Acid
                          10 grams Epernay II Wine Yeast (can purchase in 10-gram bottles)

                          to making Zinfandel:

                          grapes + yeast (either added or what is found on the grapes themselves) = wine

                          1. re: zin1953
                            Yaqo Homo May 27, 2007 10:48 PM

                            Thanks, that recipe is very englightening. I had no idea plum wine required such a chemical kickstart in order to ferment properly

                            1. re: Yaqo Homo
                              zin1953 May 28, 2007 08:01 AM

                              EVERYTHING -- other than V. vinifera -- tends to require the addition of sugar, water, and acid . . .

                              1. re: zin1953
                                Eat_Nopal May 29, 2007 12:28 PM

                                Definitely not true.... Agave Nectar & Pineapples only require yeast. The Aztecs made a white wine from Agave as described by the Spaniards (no I am not referring to Tequila, Mezcal or Pulque)

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                  Robert Lauriston May 29, 2007 02:09 PM

                                  What are you referring to, then? Those are the only agave products I've read about the Spaniards calling "wine." From what I've read, they weren't able to get it above 8% without distillation.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    Eat_Nopal May 29, 2007 05:13 PM

                                    Pulque was the more of a commonly consumed health beverage... that was typically consumed at 3% alcohol... the nobility did not drink Pulque they had a more refined product that the Spaniards referred to as wine... I have no idea what the alcohol level was or if it was made from a distinct variety of Maguey. When I get a chance... I look up the writings of Fray Bartolme de las Casas.

                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                      zin1953 May 29, 2007 05:25 PM

                                      Pulque dates back to Aztec times, and while technichally wine, it hardly qualfies in the "mainstream usage" of the term.

                                      Pulque is still made and drunk in limited quantities in parts of Mexico today. However, because it cannot easily be stored or preserved (its character and flavor change over a short period of storage time, as little as a day), it is not well known outside the country.

                                      There is, FWIW, an attempt to capitalize of the popularity of Tequila/Mezcal by canning Pulque -- at 6% -- and selling it in the U.S.

                                      HOWEVER, it should be pointed out that -- as far as the US Government is concerned -- Pulque is NOT wine. To wit,

                                      Wine as defined in section 610 and section 617 of the Revenue Act of 1918 (26 U.S.C. 3036, 3044, 3045) [must contain] not less than 7 percent, and not more than 24 percent of alcohol by volume.

                                      1. re: zin1953
                                        Eat_Nopal May 29, 2007 08:04 PM

                                        I am not referring to Pulque... there was a distinct product.

                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                          Robert Lauriston May 29, 2007 08:13 PM

                                          Do you know its name and how they made it? From all the histories I've read, they had pulque dulce and pulque fuerte, nothing stronger until the Spaniards introduced distillation.

                                          They did have variations where the potency was increased by adding various intoxicating herbs, roots, or barks.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            Sam Fujisaka May 29, 2007 08:39 PM

                                            Robert, Eat, zin...just an observation: pulque is one of the only things on the face of the planet that I think is foul! Slimy, disturbingly viscous, all in one strand, fermented using unimaginable sources of bacterial and fungal soups...

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                              Robert Lauriston May 29, 2007 09:32 PM

                                              I've heard that it's better when it's fresh. The bottled pulque I've tried was not tasty.

                                              On the other hand, the naturally fermenting must I tasted at Herradura was interesting, reminded me of gueuze. I could easily imagine chilling and drinking it.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                Eat_Nopal May 30, 2007 07:55 AM

                                                Sam, I think you might be alluding to a set of urban myths started by the owners of Cerveceria Moctezuma... back when pulque had much wider acceptance than beer. As Mexico industrialized... they made a huge, marketing blitz about the sanitary superiority of shiny, metallic factory production.

                                                With that said... in Mexico State there are some serious students of Anthropology & beverage making who are trying to put pulque back on the map... by trying to stay as true to possible to the original product (while avoiding the 1800's bastardization by the huge pulque haciendas). I've had good & bad pulque.

                                                Good pulque is an acquired taste... bad pulque can be pretty damn bad.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                  Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 10:23 AM

                                                  EN, I was referring to personal experience last time in rural Mexico. I like just about everything even vaguely consumable, and was surprised myself that I didn't like the stuff. And I never worry about sanitation--its just that the flavors I experienced would have needed some interesting indeed biological organisms. We'll again be in Vera Cruz and Chiapas in August (in the coffee growing zones). Any tips on where to go for the good stuff?

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                    Eat_Nopal May 30, 2007 11:05 AM

                                                    I assume you are inquiring about Coffee? I would do some tasting in Xalapa... the cafes there are usually pleasant & proudly advertise the beans they use... and finding stuff & getting around is very easy.

                                                    San Cristobal, I've only been for part of a day.... but I remember Cafe Chipaneco on "16 de Septiembre"... the coffee is 100% organic and of course high altitude. Plus you can meet their roaming parrot that shows up to drink coffee & eat bread every day.

                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                      Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 12:32 PM

                                                      No. We work with coffee producers who sell specialty, organic, fair trade coffee that ends up at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in Vermont. We're looking at impacts on poverty and food security. We get to taste a lot of good coffee.

                                                      I was hoping to find a better class of pulque.

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                        Eat_Nopal May 30, 2007 01:26 PM

                                                        At Los Girasoles in Mexico City I've had unbranded pulque served alongside with Mixiotes steamed in Pulque..

                                                        Here is a brand of decent commercialized Pulque http://www.pulquelalucha.com/pulque.html to look for at supermarkets.

                                                        If you are willing to make the trip there is a Pulque mercado in the town of Apan in Hidalgo... that is home to the best regarded Pulques... (the chic restaurants & bars in Mexico City that offer pulque usually source from Apan but they keep their sources anonymous),

                                                        The Autonomous University of Chapingo is leading the charge to put Pulque back on the map.... one of the professors there is working with local pulqueros to come up with world class products as part of their Maguey conservation project (which probably would interest you from an academic perspective anyway).

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                          Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 02:55 PM

                                                          Last stuff I had was homemade on the road to Huatusco in the area prior to the coffee zone.

                                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                            Eat_Nopal May 30, 2007 03:20 PM

                                                            I am not going to vouch for any Pulque made in either Veracruz or Chiapas... because I've never had it... they are not known for it, and I wonder if they even have the correct plants?

                                                            One thing that I learned from one of the old school Pulquerias in Xochimilco is that fermenting it in Clay versus Plastic Buckets is key. Otherwise you get a nasty chemical flavor.

                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                              Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 04:50 PM

                                                              The plants are the right ones. Some large plantations just in the area near where we had the pulque. Was about the same as I'd tasted nearer to the DF.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                Eat_Nopal May 30, 2007 08:13 AM

                                                Alright.... gees the Spaniards sucked at codifying, here is what I learned. There were two versions of Agave "Wine":

                                                > Poliuhqui which is roughly similar to modern Pulque

                                                > Octli which was the beverage reserved for the upper castes... and yes I was wrong... it was fortified, typically adding Agua Miel, cut up Agave leaves (for additional yeast)... and depending on the occassion (spiritual etc.,) & who it was for... one of several intoxicating herbs.

                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                  Robert Lauriston May 30, 2007 10:05 AM

                                                  Octli was the most general term. Octli poliqhui was the most common version, and the term from which "pulque" derived. The rarest version was teooctli (sacred octli).

                                                  Under the Aztecs, all kinds of octli were reserved for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, drunkenness was prohibited, and commoners weren't generallly allowed to drink it except during special festivals. The Spanish turned pulque into a big, profitable business.

                                              3. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                zin1953 May 29, 2007 09:38 PM

                                                And what was that product?

                                            2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                              Robert Lauriston May 29, 2007 05:32 PM

                                              In the Florentine Codex, "maguey wine" = octli = pulque.

                                          2. re: Eat_Nopal
                                            zin1953 May 29, 2007 03:43 PM

                                            A recipe for making, at home, FRESH PINEAPPLE WINE
                                            4 lbs ripe pineapple
                                            >>>>>> 2 lbs granulated sugar <<<<<<<
                                            7 pts water
                                            1/2 tsp acid blend
                                            1 crushed Campden tablet
                                            ½ tsp pectic enzyme
                                            ¼ tsp tannin
                                            1 tsp yeast nutrient
                                            1 pkt Champagne wine yeast

                                            Commercial pineapple wine runs about 10%, isn't very stable, and dies rather quickly once bottled.

                                            * * * * *

                                            La Paz, the producer of margarita mix and margarita salt, etc. imports something they CALL "Gold Agave Wine." It is 20% alcohol and CLEARLY fortified -- it's not wine so much as nectar and fortifying spirits.

                                            1. re: zin1953
                                              Sam Fujisaka May 29, 2007 04:13 PM

                                              Now I remember: it was the Food Science and Technology Department at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (the Philippines' main ag university) that made wines out of a wide range of tropical fruits. One made from I can't remember what was OK. The rest were too sweet for me.

                                        2. re: Yaqo Homo
                                          rworange May 28, 2007 09:30 AM

                                          From a site that has recipes for every imaginable wine including cabbage wine ...

                                          "Plum wine can be very aggrevating to make, but once made, can well be one of your most satisfying vintages. It tends to lack body ... It is also notoriously slow to clear, but it does clear. The flavor, aroma and bouquet of finished plum wine is really a treat"

                                          There are two recipes too

                                        3. re: zin1953
                                          hazelnutty May 28, 2007 09:58 AM


                                      2. re: zin1953
                                        ttriche May 28, 2007 02:15 PM

                                        Late harvest vintages can be 40-50 brix!

                                        Down with dry wine snobbishness! Parker can handle sweet wines, can you!?


                                        1. re: ttriche
                                          zin1953 May 28, 2007 05:09 PM

                                          What does ANYTHING I have said here have to do with dry or sweet WINE? I was talking about the degrees of Brix at harvest of the FRUIT itself.

                                          To the best of my knowledge, Botrytis does not affect plums -- the topic of this thread.

                                          As far as Sauternes is concerned, I have many in my cellar, along with Coteaux to Layon, Bonnezeaux and Vouvray Moelleux, not to mentioned some Auslesen, Beerenauslesen and other *naturally* sweet dessert wines.

                                          But this is something one cannot produce from plums (again, the topic of this discussion) without a major addition of sugar,

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            ttriche May 29, 2007 12:09 PM

                                            I'm not sure how my comment got threaded onto yours. Someone wrote (paraphrased slightly) "wine should not be sweet" and I had to take exception to that nonsense. But I was not disagreeing with anything you wrote.

                                            (edit: found it! Earlier in the thread, 'hazelnutty' wrote:

                                            > Wine isn't sweet, gin isn't sweet... liquor for the most part isn't sweet...

                                            My initial reply was to this post, questioning the logic behind it, especially since sweet wines predate dry wines by several centuries. For whatever reason, that comment got deleted -- I guess it's declasse to point out that some of the finest wines on the planet are full of residual sugar. As you noted, the irony of all this is that plums are *not sweet enough* to make such things unadulterated!)

                                            My apologies for any confusion, as I greatly enjoy reading and learning from your posts on the wine board. I simply had to take exception to the "wine isn't sweet" comment, and somehow that reply got attributed to one of your posts.

                          2. Sam Fujisaka May 25, 2007 07:58 PM

                            There is absolutely no reason a serious wine couldn't be made from plums. How it would then be received in terms of the criteria we all hold dear in evaluating wines would have to be seen--if it were to get a fair trial.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                              zin1953 May 25, 2007 07:59 PM

                              I've HAD a serious plum wine, and I thought it was excellent.

                              1. re: zin1953
                                Sam Fujisaka May 25, 2007 08:33 PM

                                zin1953, I'm really sorry, I see that you said that in your previous reply. How was it, in the terms we use for grape wines?

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                  zin1953 May 26, 2007 07:59 AM

                                  This was a number of years ago -- like probably 10-12. The winemaker has since passed away. He used Santa Rosa plums for his wine, and indeed started making this long before "turning pro."

                                  The color was sort of a dusty red -- not ruby or garnet as one would expect with a (V. vinifera) grape wine -- and somewhat hazy/cloudy, though not completely opaque. The bouquet was pure fruit, focused, but in a sense, more like eaux-de-vie -- essense of the fruit, without the sweetness one gets when cutting into a fresh, ripe fruit. The palate was medium-bodied, very flavorful -- again, plums, but with only a slight amount of residual sugar -- enough to carry the wine through the palate and long finish, but not enough to be syrupy sweet or cloying. Actually, I remember being surprised when I was told just how high the r.s. actually was -- much higher than I thought by tasting the wine -- but it came across as, say, an off-dry Chenin in terms of sweetness. Both sugar and acidity had to added to the wine, IIRC, though at what point during the production I do not recall.

                                  Anyway, I've had three U.S.-made fruit wines that I would buy again, two of which I would drink: this plum wine, which was never released commercially; the Oak Knoll Cherry Wine, which I don't think they make anymore; and the Bargetto Olallieberry Wine, which is great over very rich, vanilla ice cream, perhaps with a slice of olallieberry pie . . .

                                  Then again, I recall from my youth that Manischewitz Cherry wine and cranberry juice in a tall glass over ice made a great summertime cooler!

                                  1. re: zin1953
                                    Sam Fujisaka May 26, 2007 08:19 AM

                                    I've run across people--often Europeans far from home--scattered over the globe who make wine from local fruit. I'm trying to remember one made from a local berry that was quite good.

                            2. h
                              hazelnutty May 25, 2007 08:02 PM

                              that's a good question...I don't have an answer. But I've really enjoyed plum made liquor.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: hazelnutty
                                soupkitten May 30, 2007 01:34 PM

                                hungarian plum liquor! (slewawitcz--sp????) yow!

                                1. re: soupkitten
                                  zin1953 May 30, 2007 01:49 PM

                                  Yes, but that's plum brandy -- i.e.: brandy made from plums; aka eau-de-vie -- not wine.

                                  1. re: zin1953
                                    soupkitten May 30, 2007 03:30 PM

                                    right-- i do realize that, zin1953, i was responding to hazelnutty, not the op. i don't have much to contribute to the excellent conversation, the highest quality commercial plum wine i've tasted was probably the fu-ki brand stuff i used to pour while bting at a minneapolis chinese-american restaurant 10 years ago LOL :) i mainly checked out this thread because the LOW quality, very sweet, available plum wines have been the doc for some folks i know--in the distant past, my brother included, and i was curious to see if i could stumble upon an upgrade that would take them back w/o being too saccharine and one-dimensional. when i saw hazelnutty's post it took me back to--other memories, involving plum brandy rather than wine, though.

                                    sorry for the chattiness-- did i miss any decent recs for more sophisticated plum wines available nationally? i must admit i really skimmed this whole thread. tia!

                              2. SmallB May 26, 2007 05:59 AM

                                I too have had the plum wines from neighborhood oriental restaurants. My nephews father-in-law is from Russia and makes a glorious plum "wine" from plums in his backyard and vodka. You might try experimenting on your own.

                                1. Robert Lauriston May 26, 2007 12:23 PM

                                  Japanese umeshu is a pretty big deal, but contrary to the English translation "plum wine" it's actually made from a variety of apricot.

                                  1. c
                                    cloud9farmer Aug 14, 2009 10:48 PM

                                    Actually this year I made a Santa Rosa plum wine that I believe taste better than any Merlote I have ever tasted. In fact i used a a good portion of Merlote grape juice to increase the Alcohol content and to create a drier flavor. I did not wish to replicate Boones Farm strawberry wine. I want to create something better than just a grape wine and I did with out a doubt. I am surrounded by wineries here in this location of California. I have fooled the best tasters adn they are saying i've created a master piece. I agree

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