Article

Stone Fruit Wines

The wonderful flavors and aromas of stone fruits — including apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries — can be captured in homemade wine. The best fruits are those that are fully ripe and freshly picked — so keep an eye out for farmer’s markets or an orchard that allows you to pick your own. At harvest time, these fruits are bursting with flavor. Making great wine from stone fruits involves choosing the most flavorful varieties, pairing them with the right grape juice (or banana water) and following sound winemaking procedures.

Making Wine From Drupes

Many wines remind us of stone fruit, or drupes. We say a wine possesses the delicate aromas of sweet plum and apricot, has undertones of ripe peach and nectarine, and finishes with subtle notes of dark cherry. The question is, why settle for these subtle reminders when we can capture the real thing?

When asked to name examples of stone fruit, most people can easily come up with peach, nectarine, plum, apricot and cherry — all members of the genus Prunus. It takes some thought to come up with jujube, olive, mango, sloe, and chokecherry, or damson, greengage, cherry-plum, pluot, plumcot, and aprium (which come from a variety of genera). Almond (Prunus), coconut and most other palms in the genus Arecaceae (including dates) are also drupes. With the exception of the olive, a good wine can be made from each of these fruits.

In this discussion, we will ignore the date, olive, almond and coconut and concentrate on their juicy cousins — fruit with distinctive, vibrant qualities that imbed themselves in the brain’s register for later recall when we sniff or sip particular wines.

When making stone fruit wine, use fruit fresh from the orchard or no more than a day from being picked. If you don’t have your own trees or a generous friend or two, find a you-pick-it orchard, roadside farmers’ outlet or reliable greengrocer. By all means, use fruit that are at the peak of ripeness when picked from the tree. Windfalls may look sound, but they are bruised on impact even if the bruise is not yet visible. You want fruit that sends rivulets of juice dripping from your chin when bitten into.

The stones in stone fruit should be removed from the processed fruit so as not to crack the stones. Most contain bitter components which will leech into your wine and some — including apricots, cherries, peaches and plums — contain cyanogenic glycoside which can transform into hydrogen cyanide. (Hydrogen cyanide is very toxic, but present in extremely low concentrations in fruit stones. The possibility of accidentally poisoning yourself with a botched fruit wine is very small.)

When confronted with several varieties of the same fruit, ask the grocer, farmer or other knowledgeable person which is the sweetest and the most flavorful — these are not always the same variety. Buy one of each and do a taste test before selecting what you want. Ask if the host fruit trees have ever been sprayed after fruitset. If so, ask how to best rinse the fruit to remove any residue insecticides, fungicides or other treatments.

Most stone fruit wines lack body by themselves and require a second ingredient to increase the mouthfeel. Traditionally, golden or dark raisins were used for this purpose, but raisins can overwhelm the subtle flavors you are trying to coax from the fresh fruit. Bananas also contribute to body-building and actually enhance rather than mask the flavors you are trying to capture, but frankly do not work as well with dark fruit as they do with light colored fruit. The third alternative is frozen grape concentrate — Old Orchard, Welch’s or another brand. The red grape concentrates are almost universally Concord; the white are Niagara. If you are one who simply does not like the flavor of Concord grape, use the white concentrate with your dark fruit.

The key to incorporating banana into a must is to use one pound of ripe bananas per gallon (~120 g/L) of wine. Ripe bananas have dark yellow peelings spotted or streaked with dark brown or black; the flesh inside is soft, turning slightly translucent, but still holds its shape while feeling slightly mushy. Peel the bananas and slice crosswise ¼ to ½ inch (0.64–1.3 cm) thick. Place slices in saucepan with one pint of boiling water per pound of banana (~1.1 L/kg). Simmer 20 minutes and strain without squeezing. Retain and cover liquid and set aside to cool. Water should have reduced to about 12 ounces (360 mL). Whatever the volume, this is the amount used in any recipe on the following pages calling for banana water.

Yeast can be sprinkled directly on top of the must, hydrated separately as all yeast manufacturers instruct, or added in a starter solution. Sprinkling directly onto the must may be easiest, but it takes about two days to be certain the yeast was viable and a good fermentation resulted. Making a starter solution lets you know within a reasonable time if the yeast is viable before the must is ready for the yeast.

To make a yeast starter, add dried yeast directly to 1 cup (240 mL) of 100 °F (38 °C) tap or spring water (the harder the water the better; do not use distilled water) in a quart (liter) jar. Stir gently, cover and allow to hydrate for at least 30 minutes. Check to be sure it is viable (yeast particles will have noticeably swollen), and then leave it another 3 1⁄2 hours. During this time, allow the starter and must to attemperate to within 10 °F (5 °C) of one another, and then add to the starter 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) of strained must or white grape juice (not concentrate). Re-cover the starter, set it in a warm place and leave it alone. Check on it 4 hours later to ensure it is viable and add to it another 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) of juice or strained must. Again, cover and leave it alone for 4 hours. You can now add it to the must or add another 1⁄2 cup  (120 mL) of juice or strained must to really increase the yeast population (at the end of an additional 4 hours, the colony will be approximately 64 times as large as it was when first hydrated).

Stone Fruit Wine Recipes

Peach Wine

If you want to start an argument, ask a group of farmers which is the best tasting peach (Prunus persica). While it is true that they are all good when ripe, some are pure ambrosia. For absolute reliability, the ageless, freestone Elberta delivers the classic, rich peach flavor everyone knows. (Freestone drupes are those in which the pits are easily separated from the flesh when the fruit is ripe. The opposing term is “clingstone.”) A garden favorite is the medium-sized, freestone Redhaven, a fine-grained, sweet and juicy peach of superior quality. The very large J.H. Hale is an old variety that is still around because it has superb flavor. Another old variety — unattractive compared to modern market hybrids — is Indian Blood, whose creamy white interior has purple and red swirls that tastes of raspberries when still firm but more like floral Muscat when softened by ripeness. But my personal favorite is the white-fleshed and exceptionally flavored Georgia Belle, wrapped in a creamy white skin with red blush.

Whichever peach you select, wash gently in a mild bleach solution (1 part bleach to 40 parts water) to remove dust, wild yeast and bacteria and anything that may have been sprayed on the fruit. Rinse thoroughly twice to remove all traces of the bleach and pat dry. Halve and destone the fruit, cutting out any brown spots.

Peach Wine
(1 gallon/3.8 L)

Ingredients
3.0 lbs. (1.4 kg) ripe peaches w/skins (or 3.5 lbs./1.58 kg w/o skins)
12 oz. (0.34 kg) can frozen white grape concentrate (or banana water)
1.75 lbs. (0.79 kg) granulated sugar
1.5 tsp. acid blend
0.5 tsp. pectic enzyme
0.25 tsp. tannin water to one gallon/3.8 L (about 3 qts./3 L)
1 crushed Campden tablet
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
Lalvin ICV-D47 or K1V-1116 wine yeast

Step By Step
Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash, rinse and halve fruit, remove and discard stones, and tie fruit in nylon straining bag. Put bag in primary and mash and squeeze with hands until no solids remain except skins. When water boils, dissolve sugar in it. Pour over peaches. Add can of frozen white grape juice or banana water (see page 26). When must cools, add acid blend, yeast nutrient, tannin, and finely crushed Campden tablet. Make up a starter solution for yeast. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme and set aside another 12 hours. Add yeast in starter solution and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation begins to subside, then drip drain pulp without squeezing. Siphon wine off sediments into secondary and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days until wine clears. Set aside two months and rack again into bottles. Taste any time after three months.

Nectarine Wine

Once thought to be a natural cross between peach and plum, most botanists now accept the nectarine (Prunus persica) as a natural variant of the peach that went its own way. Think of it as a thin-skinned peach without fuzz. It is difficult to name one variety that outshines the rest, but here are four with superior flavors for winemaking. The bright red, freestone Independence has firm yellow flesh that is richly flavored, tangy and sweet and considered one of the very best nectarines. The large, red-skinned, freestone Merricrest also has yellow flesh and a rich, tangy flavor. The deep red, freestone Redgold has firm, golden flesh with a rich, satisfying flavor. The red-blushed White Freestone has white flesh of excellent, sweet, juicy flavor and creamy texture and a joy to make wine with. But perhaps the best nectarine ever (in my humble opinion) is the freestone Snowqueen, a very large, light skin with a hint of russet blush, white flesh, juicy beyond your dreams and very finely textured. But in truth, any ripe nectarine will make good wine.

Nectarine Wine
(1 gallon/3.8 L)

Ingredients
4.0 lbs. (1.8 kg) nectarines
1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) finely granulated sugar
12 oz. (0.34 kg) can frozen white grape concentrate (or banana water)
1.5 tsp. acid blend
0.5 tsp. pectic enzyme
0.125 tsp. grape tannin
Water to one gallon/3.8 L (about 3 qts./3 L)
1 tsp yeast nutrient
1 crushed Campden tablet
Lalvin ICV-D47 or K1V-1116 wine yeast

Step by Step
Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash, destem, and destone the nectarines. Without peeling, cut fruit into small pieces over a bowl, saving the juice. Pour into nylon straining bag, tie bag closed, and place in primary. Mash the fruit with your hands, pour sugar and white grape concentrate or banana water (see page 26) over bag, and pour boiling water over all. Stir well with wooden spoon to dissolve sugar. Cover the primary. When cool, add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient, and finely crushed Campden tablet. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, recover primary and set aside additional 12 hours. Add yeast as starter solution, stir and cover again. Gently squeeze bag twice daily to extract juice and stir. After five days of vigorous fermentation, drip drain bag without squeezing, return drippings to primary and discard pulp. Recover primary and let stand another week. Rack into secondary and fit airlock. After 30 days, rack again, top up, and refit airlock. Rack every 30 days until wine clears. Stabilize wine, add 1⁄4 cup simple syrup, wait 30 days, and rack into bottles. Age 6–12 months. Serve chilled.

Apricot Wine

The apricot (Prunus armeniaca) is undoubtedly of Asian origin, but exactly where is in dispute because it has been domesticated for well over 5,000 years. The apricot is more fibrous and less juicy than most stone fruit, but that does not retard its flavor or sweetness. One of the juicier varieties is the Harcot, known for being sweet, juicy and richly flavored. The Moongold has large, plum-sized fruit that are very sweet and sprightly. Perfection is another large, outstanding apricot, with bright, yellow-orange skin and flesh and a delicious, esteemed flavor. But perhaps the favorite of apricot fanciers and winemakers is the Moorpark, known for its exceptionally rich flavor and aroma.

Apricot Wine
(1 gallon/3.8 L)

Ingredients
4.5 lbs. (2.0 kg) chopped apricots
12 oz. (0.34 kg) can frozen white grape concentrate (or banana water)
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) light brown or Demerara sugar
1.25 tsp. acid blend
Water to one gallon/3.8 L (about 3.25 qts./3 L)
1 tsp pectic enzyme
0.25 tsp. grape tannin
1 finely crushed Campden tablet
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
Lalvin K1V-1116 wine yeast

Step by Step
Wash and chop fruit and tie in nylon straining bag. Combine all ingredients in primary except pectic enzyme and yeast, stir to dissolve sugar, cover, and set in warm place for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, cover, and set aside additional 12 hours. Add activated yeast in starter solution, cover, collapse bag and stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides. Drip drain nylon bag into primary, pressing pulp lightly. Discard pulp, transfer wine to secondary and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock after 30 days and again after another 60 days. When brilliantly clear, rack again and bottle. Allow to age one year.

Plum Wine

There are literally hundreds of plum varieties, deriving from several species of Old World and New World plums, and it is extremely difficult to mention but a few. I believe the Japanese-American hybrids offer the best qualities in general for winemaking and two are superior. Formosa is large, oval, greenish-yellow with reddish blush; the flesh is sweet, juicy, firm but melting, pale yellow flesh and excellent flavor. Fortune is a very large, bright red skin on yellow background, firm-fleshed, clingstone — perhaps the very best tasting Japanese plum. Queen Ann is large, purple, semi-freestone with amber flesh streaked red; it has superb flavor, is a fine dessert plum and makes excellent wine. Satsuma is medium to large, almost round, dark red fruit, small pit, firm, juicy, red flesh; it is sweet with excellent flavor for wine. For an unusual wine, Howard Miracle is large, yellow fruit with red blush, yellow flesh, and an unusual tart pineapple flavor that is quite enjoyable. Finally, any of the European plums called gage, such as Greengage; these are generally small to medium in size, richly flavored, sweet and juicy.

Plum Wine
(1 gallon/3.8 L)

Ingredients
6.0 lbs. (2.7 kg) plums
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) fine granulated sugar
12 oz. (0.34 kg) can frozen white or red grape concentrate (depends on juice color)
Water to one gallon/3.8 L (about 2.75 to 3 qts./2.5–3 L)
1.5 tsp. acid blend
1 tsp. pectic enzyme
1 crushed Campden tablet
0.75 tsp. yeast nutrient
0.25 tsp. yeast energizer
0.125 tsp. grape tannin
Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

Step by Step
Put water on to boil. Wash the fruit, halve and remove stones, then chop fruit and tie in nylon straining bag in primary. Pour boiling water over fruit. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Cover and allow to cool to 70 °F (21 °C). Add acid blend, pectic enzyme, tannin, nutrient, and energizer, cover, and wait 12 hours before adding yeast in a starter solution. Recover primary and allow to ferment 5-7 days, collapsing bag and stirring twice daily. Drip drain bag without squeezing, transfer wine to secondary, and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days, adding finely crushed Campden tablet and topping up; refit airlock and repeat every 30 days (without adding Campden) until wine is brilliantly clear. Stabilize wine, sweeten if desired, wait additional 30 days, and rack into bottles. This wine can be sampled after only 6 months. If not up to expectations, let age another 6 months and taste again. I have aged plum wine up to four years and the result was exquisite, but that was only because the wine got hidden away and forgotten. I suspect it was ready much earlier.

Cherry Wine

Like plums, there are hundreds of cherry varieties from many species. Most commercially cultivated sweet cherries are from the species Prunus avium and many winemakers go straight for the sweet Bing, Craig’s Crimson, Lambert, Rainier, Black Tartarian or Queen Anne varieties. While they do make good wines, it is the tart cherry (Prunus cerasus) that shines in winemaking. There is nothing wrong with mixing in 25–33% sweet cherries, and if I had to add one sweet, it would be the Craig’s Crimson because of its spicy flavor. The sour cherries of choice are the English Morello, deep red to nearly black and only half tart so a nice compromise; the Bali, another dark red with sweet-tart balance and a flavor unique unto itself; the North Star, deep mahogany in color, dark red flesh, surprisingly juicy, and fully sour; and the legendary Montmorency Sour, a large cherry with light red skin, yellow flesh, and exceptional for wine.

Cherry Wine
(1 gallon/3.8 L)

Ingredients
8.0 lbs. (3.6 kg) cherries
2.5 lbs. (1.1 kg) sugar
12 oz. (0.34 kg) can frozen white or red grape concentrate (depends on juice color)
0.25 tsp. tannin
1 tsp. pectic enzyme
Water to one gallon/3.8 L  (about 3.25 qts./3 L)
1 crushed Campden tablet
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
0.25 tsp. yeast energizer
Lalvin EC1118 wine yeast

Step by Step
Bring water to boil. Meanwhile, destem, wash and crush the cherries in the primary without breaking any stones. Pour sugar over cherries. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and cherries and stir well to dissolve. Cover and set aside until cool. Add remaining ingredients and ferment 5 days. Strain juice into dark secondary (or one covered with a paper bag to prevent exposure to light), top up, attach an airlock, and discard pulp and stones. Rack every 30 days until wine falls brilliantly clear, racking again and adding finely crushed Campden tablet. Age two additional months and bottle. Store in a dark place.