I am a big fan of dessert wines, so I am constantly trying to find new variations on the traditional notion of using grapes to make dessert wines. I got my first taste Japanese plum wine when I was at Ippudo, NYC – I was an instant fan. So, a couple of months ago, when I ran across a bottle in my local liquor store, I immediately bought one to relive my culinary adventures in The Big Apple.
Ume can be had neat, on the rocks, or as part of a tasty cocktail. I tried it neat to get a undiluted taste of the liquor itself.
Appearance: very clean, light straw-coloured golden hue
Aroma: sweet apricot, plum, peach flavours (I can’t distinguish between them anyways)
Taste: very sweet, light, and clean tasting liquor. No harsh or lingering after-taste. Doesn’t burn your throat (it’s only 10% ABV). Mouth feel was very crisp.
Palate: my palate isn’t very well-developed, so I have nothing really to add. I can’t taste things like grass, honey-dew, cilantro or other kinds of crazy shit the real pros taste. I think they make that shit up anyway…
So all in all, a pretty delicious way to end your dinner if you have the craving for something sweet. Ume, unlike dessert wines, is also actually pretty dead simple to make. In fact, in Japan, it is common to make it at home, according to this blogger. There’s no real fermentation process involved, although patience is a must as it takes up to a year for the plum to infuse the liquor. If you are interested in making some, check out this youtube video as well.
A Side Note…
I would consider plum wine to be a dessert wine, although in the strictest sense, it really isn’t. Also, plum wine isn’t really a wine, it’s more a liquor as the plums are literally steeped in a white liquor for a year before the “wine” is ready. Dessert wines, on the other hand, are fortified wines where brandy (distilled wine) or other neutral spirits are added to the fermenting must (freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit). The spirit kills the yeast before the fermentation process is complete, thereby leaving some sugars behind and making the resultant beverage sweeter and stronger in terms of ABV (usually in the 20% range).
The Niagara region is famous for its wines, but a lot of people don’t know that Canada is, in fact, the world’s biggest producer of ice wines. The consistent winters allow the grapes to be frozen while still on the vine, hence concentrating the sugars and other dissolved solids in the must. Unlike dessert wines, ice wines are fermented from the must of ripe grapes that were frozen at −8 °C or colder on the vine, i.e., no distilled spirits are added. These grapes are then crushed mechanically and the resultant must fermented for months using special yeast strains that are able to process the larger quantities of sugars present.
Fortunately, Japanese plum wine or umeshu (ume for short), is a much simpler and easier wine to make. It also quite easy on the palette and can be appreciated universally. So, if you come across a bottle in your neighbourhood liquor store, don’t be afraid to pick one up and give it a taste.