Earlier this spring, I've been contemplating niche market wines. These are wines generally made on small scale because, while they have a following, they serve a smaller market base. Dessert wines are a good example. How many folks have a wine cellar full of sweet dessert wines? I have a few, but it's definitely not my first choice to sit down and drink. But there is a definite market for them--Sauternes, sherries, ports, and ice wines. I started thinking of what kind of niche market dessert wine could be made from New England fruits. Blueberry, cranberry, and apples come to mind, but there are already wines on the market made from those fruits (for a great apple ice wine, see Still River Winery in Harvard, MA).
Hmmm, what's another quintessential New England food product containing sugar...
What about maple syrup? Classic New England flavor that's loaded with sugar and can already be found in flavored liquors. I found tons of examples of maple mead recipes on the internet, but I'm not a fan of mead. I also found a few examples of maple syrup wine, but generally that's made by greatly diluting the maple syrup and finishing it slightly sweet. I'm thinking of a big rich, indulgently sweet dessert wine made from maple syrup. Something made like an icewine starting with high Brix must so that even at 12-14% alcohol, it's sinfully rich and sweet.
First things first, get some maple syrup. I got on the trusty internet and found a Vermont family maple house that had syrup still available. Pretty soon, 4 gallons of syrup from Branon Family Maple Orchards of Bakersfield, VT arrived at my doorstep. I ordered 2 gallons each of Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B syrup to see how different the flavors are.
Second, start the wine. I started with the Grade A Dark Amber syrup so I didn't have 2 batches of wine to struggle with initially. I won't divulge all the details, but will just share some generalities:
1) Maple syrup is some high Brix stuff! I was measuring almost 75% sugar in the pure syrup
2) I diluted with H2O to get into more of a usable range
3) Maple syrup has literally no acid. The diluted must had a pH = ~7.
4) Maple syrup flavor changes dramatically when acidified with tartaric acid. Takes on some brighter citrusy flavors.
5) Fermenting with a yeast recommended for late harvest or ice wines.
It's been very slowly bubbling away in my basement for the past 4 months. I'm down to about 10% abv so it's still got a ways to go although it looks like the yeast is slowly shutting down. I have to admit that I'm really liking the result so far. Dark, lots of maple flavor, but strong hints of vanilla and citrus. Could fool me for a sweet sherry.
Stay tuned because this will be interesting.