Uncommon Pairings: Wines That Go Beyond Grapes

Welcome back to Uncommon Pairings, a series all about wine! Take a trip through the archives if you wanna learn more about how wine labels work, what really makes vermouth different from wine, and how to age wine yourself for a fraction of the cost.

When I was first learning about wine, I learned about it from a really old school lens. We were taught the difference between “Old World” and “New World” wines — thankfully, the Court of Master Sommeliers has moved away from this language, but literally only a few months ago!! — and spent an entire class session passing around vials of scents that, if we found them in a wine, would indicate the wine had a fault. If we were to actually adhere to that logic, a lot of the natural wines I’ve had recently would be considered faulty (when in fact, they’ve been quite good!). Honestly, I think we do wine a disservice by teaching it in such rigid ways. It’s a fermented beverage! It’s supposed to be fun and playful, not precious and buttoned up.

I was taught that wine is fermented grape juice, but that’s way too narrow in my opinion! In fact, some of the most exciting things in the wine world are happening on the fringes of that definition. If we expand it slightly (and I think we should!), we can use Merriam-Webster’s second definition of wine: “the alcoholic usually fermented juice of a plant product (such as a fruit) used as a beverage.” I like this one better because while it still includes the grape-based beverage we know and love, it also leaves room for things like palm wine and pomegranate wine and banana wine… things that might not fall under the strict, Western definition of what wine is, but what culturally feel like wine siblings.

Fruit Wine

Fruit wines are wines that are made with more than just grapes, and often, without grapes at all! They’re nothing new; early homesteaders in America used to preserve seasonal berries by turning them into fruit wine. Palm wine dates back way further — to possibly 16,000 BC. However, what is new is the idea of taking traditional winemaking principles and applying them to fruit wine — like this Champagne method sparkling blueberry wine. Another modern development is that producers are leaning into co-ferments (making wine with more than one kind of fruit) to get some really interesting results that blur the line between cider and wine!

It’s a bittersweet development if you ask me. On one hand, we’re on the precipice of a fruit wine renaissance, but in many cases, it’s been borne out of necessity. Grapes are sensitive little guys, and because of climate change, we can’t count on grapes the same way we used to!

If you want to dip your toes into the fruit wine world, I’d recommend checking out your local farmer’s market! You might be able to find someone turning local produce into wine. I’ve heard rumors (read: watched TikToks) of a strawberry wine producer at the NYC Greenmarkets (and the bottles are apparently shaped like HEARTS), but I unfortunately haven’t seen one IRL!


I know that mead doesn’t fall under the definition of wine — not even the expansive, generous one — but I think we should just make room for it under the wine umbrella because honestly, it’s similar enough. Mead is fermented honey and water, and while the ways that mead can be made vary, a lot of them look similar to the winemaking process (racking, filtering, etc.). Like fruit wine, mead goes back for millennia. In fact, it’s managed to retain most of its name from its Proto-Indo-European ancestor!

Also like fruit wine, mead is seeing a resurgence in popularity. From 2003 to 2020, the number of US-based meaderies grew from roughly 60 to 450. And that’s just in the States! Apparently, terroir is just as much of a thing in the mead world as it is in the wine world. It’s not super surprising; where honey comes from can change how it tastes, and honey is the core ingredient in mead.

It’s easier to find a meadery than it is to find a winery that exclusively produces fruit wines (at least, that’s been my experience). I know that Enlightenment Wines (a local meadery in Brooklyn) ships to several states, but if you’d rather try things IRL, they have a bar aptly named Honey’s. I’m sure at least some of the 450 domestic meaderies (and honestly, maybe more — that number was from 2020) have tasting situations too!

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Ashni is a writer, comedian, and farmer's market enthusiast. When they're not writing, they can be found soaking up the sun, trying to make a container garden happen, or reading queer YA.

ashni has written 47 articles for us.

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