Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maple Season: Wine & Spirits Made With Maple

(I am a few weeks late sharing this column from the Hippo. But the good news is you can enjoy these maple products past maple season).

It is maple syrup season here in New Hampshire and many sugarhouses recently participated in open house weekend. With the abundance of maple syrup here in New England, it only makes sense that many wine and spirit producers take advantage of this ingredient, incorporating it into their products.

Maple Blue from Hermit Woods Winery
(Photo courtesy of Hermit Woods)
Maple syrup is made when tree sap is boiled and the excess water is removed.  Because it takes 40 parts sap to make one part syrup (or 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup, according to Tap My Trees.com) it is a labor of love, much like wine. A lot of work goes into the little bottle we appreciate when it is time to have pancakes, waffles or even ice cream.

Maple syrup might seem like an unlikely ingredient for wine because it is so sweet, but used thoughtfully during the winemaking process, it can really add depth and even some smokiness.

Ken Hardcastle, winemaker at Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith, doesn’t shy away from using different products in his wine and takes advantage of local resources whenever possible. It’s no surprise to me that he found a way to nicely incorporate sap from the trees at their former tasting room site in Sanbornton with some blueberry wine.

The result was a 2012 and 2013 Maple Blue, which are both very similar but the 2013 wine has a slight and subtle sweetness over the 2012 bottle. Both wines are made with 35 percent blueberry wine and 65 percent maple wine. Maple sap from the Sanbornton trees was concentrated over a wood-fired syrup pan during the winemaking process. The result is a wine that resembles a pinot noir, but is bursting with blueberry flavors, a touch of oak and a smokey sweet finish from the syrup.

My mom and I had an opportunity to try the 2013 Maple Blue upon a recent trip to the winery, poured by Ken himself. We could tell he was very proud of this wine and he should be. It is definitely a wine that captures the essence of both ingredients very nicely.

Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee already embraces honey, but has two regular and two seasonal meads made with New Hampshire maple syrup. Their award-winning Sugar Maple is a honey-maple syrup wine also known as an acerglyn, fermented with black tea. Though it sounds sweet, it actually has a low amount of sugar, resulting in a wine that is velvety and buttery (this is sometimes how people describe chardonnay). It can be enjoyed many different ways: iced, chilled, at room temperature, warmed or even mulled. 

Sap House’s Hopped Blueberry Maple is another regular and award-winning mead made from wildflower honey and low bush blueberries with maple syrup added to balance out the fruit and sweetness. Surprisingly, this mead has aromas of grapefruit due to the use of Willamette hops. Enjoy this wine iced, chilled or at room temperature.

The seasonal Peach Maple is a semi-sweet, honey-peach maple syrup wine similar to the Sugar Maple, but with whole peaches added in the winemaking process. This gives it a delicate peach aroma and floral notes of honey. Blackberry Maple, another seasonal, is a semi-sweet mead made with local blackberries. It is aged with Hungarian oak, giving it notes of vanilla, coffee and black pepper. These seasonals are not always available, so if you see one, grab it!

The good news is you do not need to travel all the way to Center Ossipee to enjoy Sap House’s meads. Locally, they are available at Bert’s Better Beers, Candia Road Convenience and Vino Aromas in Manchester, Harvest Market in Bedford, Concord Co-op and Barb’s Beer Emporium in Concord.

Flag Hill Winery and Distillery in Lee blends their General Stark Vodka, made from New Hampshire apples, with maple syrup to make their Sugar Maple Liqueur. This liqueur is pretty good any time of the year, but especially great in the spring and fall seasons. You can sip it at room temperature, chill it or add it to an array of beverages like apple cider or tea. You could even try it over vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.

There are a few other ways to enjoy maple. Jim Beam and Crown Royal make maple versions of their whiskey and Knob Creek makes a Smoked Maple Bourbon.

Being able to enjoy real maple syrup will always be one of my favorite things about living in New Hampshire, whether it comes in a jug, wine bottle or glass of mead. Either way, it’s a bottled labor of sweet, old-fashioned love. 

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