Exotic Wines: Are you kidding me?

rhubarb wine, exotic wine, exotics, cherrywine.com

Rhubarb wine is a small-town classic, now available from adventurous professional winemakers. Photo by Edible Grande Traverse.

Did you know that pumpkin wine tastes more like Chardonnay than pumpkin pie? Did you know that jalapeno wine can make a fresh steak taste like it had been soaking overnight in a spicy marinade?

Welcome to wine’s most exotic varieties.

Now, let’s remember, farmers and home vintners have been making wine from wild edible plants, vegetables, herbs, roots, nuts, barks and saps for generations.

A commercial grape grower  in northern Michigan recently told me that the first wine he ever had was when he and a friend raided his dad’s homemade rhubarb wine stored in the farm’s root cellar. Since the days of his youth in the ’50s, a few wineries here and there across the country have adopted the rural tradition of exotic varieties and have been experimenting with and perfecting the do-it-yourself recipes of our parents, grandparents and great grandfolks.

That’s great news that some of these wines are now available commercially (to some states) because getting to taste these exotics for yourself has always been near impossible — and it’s still not easy if you rely on what’s found on the wine shelves of local stores.

But now you can use our exotic wine search function and in seconds you can find producers of these hard-to-find wines who are licensed to ship their wines directly to the state you live in.

The Wine Frontier

Of course, wine is mostly made out of grapes and, to a much lesser degree orchard fruit and berries. But anything with naturally occurring sugar — scratch that — anything edible that has sugar added to it, including vegetables, barks, roots, seeds, weeds, nuts, herbs and plants — can be made into wine and somewhere, by someone, probably is.

Why not have bottles of pumpkin wine on the table for Thanksgiving? What could be a better mood-setter than rhubarb wine or dandelion wine on a summer day? Hey, maybe elderflower, rose hip or ginger wine is awesome, or has some medicinal efficacy for you? You never know until you try.

And remember, each vintner you find on cherrywine.com makes, say, carrot wine, differently than the next vintner you find. No two pumpkin wines will taste the same. And no two winemakers will approach maple wine the exact same way.

Each bottle you order is a unique, boutique, artisinal experience. Wine is kind of like rock ‘n’ roll albums: no two are exactly alike, even if they both have the same guitar-bass-drums instrumentation.

Have fun.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why aren’t there exotic wines at the local wine shop for me to buy and try?

The small and mid-sized wineries — most privately owned and family-run — that tend to venture into such a small niche as say, hazelnut-chocolate wine, have limited resources and make it in such small batches anyway, that stocking lots of retail outlets with the wines via distributors just makes little logical or financial sense. Most of these wines are made for fun, and most sell-out through the tasting room.

Is there really such a thing as “dandelion wine,” or is that just the name of a book?

Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (1957) is a classic work of fiction set in a small Illinois town in 1928, loosely based on Bradbury’s own childhood.

The novel gets its title from the main character’s grandfather, who made his own dandelion wine so he could drink it in the cold, overcast winters when it was done fermenting. Drinking it reminded him of hot summer days back when the dandelions, which he refused to get rid of, dotted his lawn. In the novel, which celebrates simpler times, Bradbury’s main character Douglas says, “Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

So, just what might have Bradbury’s grandfather’s wine tasted like?

Jack Keller, who blogs about home-winemaking from Texas says dandelion wine recipes call for as much as two gallons of dandelion flowers per gallon of wine, or as little as half-pint, and describes it as a wine so light in texture that winemakers often boost the body by adding raisins, golden figs or white table grapes to the blend.

Keller writes, “If you omit the body-building ingredient [raisins, etc.], dandelion wine is light and invigorating and suited perfectly for tossed salad and baked fish (especially trout). If you ferment with a body-enhancer but shave the sugar, the wine will serve well with white-sauced pastas, heavier salads, fish, or fowl. Sweetened, it goes well before or after dinner.”

Does pumpkin wine taste like pumpkin pie?

More like a Chardonnay. A winemaker could add cloves and cinnamon to create a liquid pumpkin pie-like experience, but most pumpkin wine is made from the mild-tasting flesh of raw pumpkin. The blogger at pumpkinpassion.com describes a bottle of wine made from pie pumpkins by Three Lakes Winery in Wisconsin this way:

“Unless you saw the bottle, you would never know it was made from pumpkins, but I can’t really begrudge them. Pumpkins don’t have a particularly strong taste. However, I wouldn’t have described it as a semi-sweet wine. It’s really sweet but I like sweet wines.

“I shared it with three other people. One person hated it and described it as ‘gross’ (she’s super picky), but everyone else including myself gave it was a lukewarm ‘good.’ It tastes different than what you’d expect. There’s an indescribable aftertaste that isn’t bad but not great either. It only took one glass to get my cheeks red and to make me a tad bit tipsy.

“I think the novelty factor of serving a pumpkin wine at Thanksgiving, or at a fall dinner party, is this wine’s best asset.”

What are some other “exotic” wines?

Hazelnut-chocolate. Key lime (found in the “fruit wine” search function). Ginger. Banana (also in “fruit wine” search). Rosehip. Elderflower. Maple. Tomato. Kiwi (fruit search).  Chokecherry (fruit search). Jalapeno. Rhubarb. To name a few.