This July, Tasting Table celebrates the great state of American food and drink.
The pantry shelves of America's homesteads weren't just lined with pickles and preserves: fruit wine—legally defined as the fermented juice of any fruit other than grapes—enjoyed equal pride on the rural table. Though fruit wine isn't as common as it once was, there are still some producers making bottles—be they dry or sweet, made from Idaho huckleberries or Florida mangoes—that serve to showcase the pure fruit of their labor. Here are four of the best.
Chateau Fontaine Cherry Wine
As the nation's tart-cherry capital, Michigan naturally leads the way in cherry wine production. Don Matthies of Lake Leelanau's Chateau Fontaine uses fruit "grown just down the road on my son's farm"—not only sour but also dark and yellow cherries—to make his version, which has proven so popular that he sells out of his 1,000-plus cases annually. Full and ripe rather than exceedingly sweet, it has all the makings of a stellar barbecue wine, especially when served chilled.
Availability: Though you wouldn't know it from his website, Matthies can and does ship out of state; call or e-mail for details.
Carlson Vineyards Peach Wine
Palisade, Colorado, is home to a majority of the state's vineyards, but it's most renowned for its peaches. Upon founding his namesake estate in 1988, Parker Carlson set out to capitalize on that fame by capturing the fruit's essence in a bottle—and to this day, winemaker Garrett Portra aims to replicate the "experience of biting into some of the best fruit in the world." His peach wine is peachy indeed—fresh, crispy floral and delicately juicy.
Availability: Though retail distribution is limited to Colorado and Wisconsin, Carlson has an online shop for shipping direct to several other states as well.
Maui Wine Maui Blanc
If the sight of the words "caramel color" on the label gives you pause, just close your eyes and open your mind. The off-dry flagship wine of this 40-year-old Kula, Hawaii, operation couldn't be a more delightful surprise, tasting almost exactly like pineapple juice (because that's what it is), only lighter in body and much drier on the finish. Though sales director Joe Hegele recommends pairing it with creamy cheeses or Asian cuisine, you couldn't possibly go wrong with roast pork—even if it isn't pit-cooked at a luau.
Availability: Distributors and online retailers cover at least 25 states.
Bishop's Orchards Apple Wines
For the past 10 years, winemaker Keith Bishop has been having a field day, literally, on his family's nearly 150-year-old Guilford, Connecticut, farm. With a plethora of homegrown fruit to choose from, he says, "I can try all kinds of things" to yield a catalog of dry, dessert, blended, spiced and sparkling styles (for instance, he's currently experimenting with strawberry bubbly). Bishop's apple-based bottlings in particular reveal the potential for poise and precision fruit wines possess—check out the Stone House White, which he compares to Chardonnay.
Availability: Bad news—Bishop's neither distributes nor ships out of state. Good news—you Eastern seaboarders have a great excuse for a road trip.