Don't overlook fruit wines - they offer intense flavor

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When asked what got me started on my interest in wines, I say something about how it started in Italy while in the Navy, enjoying their bubbly and Chianti.

Or, when I experienced rhubarb wine from the Maple River Winery in Casselton, N.D.

The taste of rhubarb wine was one of those "Wow" experiences that encouraged my wife and me to explore utilizing our abundant rhubarb crop for something other than an array of rhubarb desserts.

Wait a minute, some of the readers may be saying, "Rhubarb isn't a fruit; it just has sour stalks and poisonous leaves."

True, but in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, New York, declared that botanically it is a vegetable, but can be legally marketed as a fruit, since that is how it is principally consumed. The result was a tax break for those who imported rhubarb.

With the apple harvest season wrapping up or by now completed, it is time to think outside the grape and about the abundance of apples on the market.

Like wine grapes, apples go through a fermentation to produce the final product. With homemade apple cider, the juice is often not filtered, and continued the fermentation produces bubbles which, if you are sporting, can be enjoyable.

Commercial production of 'other fruit wines' goes through the same regulations and sanitation criteria to be in business, as do the wine grape growers. Quality fruit is paramount to produce quality fruit wines, along with all the rest that is needed to produce a quality, drinkable product.

My former colleague and friend, NDSU Horticulturist Steve Sagaser, is just such 'an other fruit' amateur wine maker. He has produced chokecherry wine, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry and plum wines along with others.

In some cases, the fruits don't contain enough sugar to get or keep fermentation going, so sugar is added to kickstart it and enhance the flavor of the final product.

It is highly doubtful that a St. Michelle or Gallo will ever get into massive growing or producing wines from fruits other than grapes. This is small lot stuff, which at present, much of North Dakota and Minnesota wineries can be considered. Expect to find such treats at our local wineries and farmer's markets, where they are happy to provide samples and talk up their wines.

One of the best fruit wines I've tasted is the strawberry-rhubarb wine from the Maple River Winery. It was so good I said it could almost be a breakfast drink (just kidding).

Most fruit wines are low in alcohol, 8 percent or less; so a little glass in the morning might just put enough of a blush in your cheeks to get your day off to a good start.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at tuftruck1@gmail.com.