Rhubarb is a vegetable that is often mistaken for a fruit. The stalks are edible, but the leaves are poisonous. Rhubarb has a tart, sour taste and is commonly used to make sweet pies, jams, and drinks. The most popular drink made from rhubarb is rhubarb wine.
What is Rhubarb?
Rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows from short, thick rhizomes. It produces large green leaves and edible stalks that range in color from bright pink to deep red. Rhubarb is native to Siberia and has been cultivated in Europe and Asia for thousands of years.
Some quick facts about rhubarb:
– Rhubarb is a vegetable, though its sweet-tart stalks are often used like a fruit. The leaves, however, are toxic.
– It is a cold-hardy perennial that grows well in cooler climates. The stalks emerge in early spring.
– Botanically, rhubarb is part of the Polygonaceae family, along with buckwheat and knotweed.
– Its scientific name is Rheum rhabarbarum.
– It has thick, red stalks with leaves that spread outwards from a central crown.
– The stalks have a strong, tart flavor. They are rarely eaten raw but make delicious pies, jams, and wine.
The most popular alcoholic drink made from rhubarb is rhubarb wine. This is a sweet, tart wine that highlights the delicious flavor of rhubarb. Rhubarb wine can be still or sparkling. It ranges in color from pale pink to deep ruby red.
To make rhubarb wine, the stalks are chopped and combined with water, sugar, yeast, and other ingredients. The mixture ferments for several weeks, allowing the natural sugars in the rhubarb to convert to alcohol. After fermentation, the wine is strained, clarified, and bottled.
Some key points about rhubarb wine:
– It has a fruity, tart flavor profile. The taste is often described as cherry-like.
– Sugar is added during winemaking to balance out rhubarb’s tartness. The finished wine has some sweetness to complement the sour.
– The color varies from pale to ruby-red, depending on the rhubarb variety used. Deeper red stalks result in darker wine.
– Rhubarb wine alcohol content is around 9-12%. It is lower in alcohol than grape wines.
– It can be still or sparkling. Sparkling rhubarb wine is made using the traditional Champagne method.
– Rhubarb wine pairs well with desserts, sharp cheeses, and seafood dishes. It makes a unique apéritif.
How is Rhubarb Wine Made?
Rhubarb wine is made through a process of crushing the rhubarb stalks, adding sugar and yeast, allowing time for fermentation, straining, and maturation. Here are the basic steps:
1. Harvest and clean fresh rhubarb stalks. Discard the leaves – they are not edible.
2. Chop the stalks into small pieces. This exposes more surface area for fermentation.
3. Place the chopped rhubarb into a fermentation bucket or vat. Add hot water and let sit for 48 hours. The hot water helps extract flavor and color.
4. Remove the rhubarb and set the liquid aside. Add sugar to the liquid, then add back the chopped rhubarb. The amount of sugar can vary based on desired sweetness.
5. Add wine yeast once the mixture cools. The yeast converts the natural sugars in the rhubarb to alcohol.
6. Let the mixture ferment for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dark place. Temperature affects fermentation time.
7. Once fermented, strain out the solids. Clarify and filter the remaining rhubarb liquid.
8. Transfer the clarified wine to bottles, demijohns, or oak barrels for aging and maturation. Aging can last several months to over a year.
9. Enjoy the finished rhubarb wine! Rhubarb wine improves with 1-2 years of aging but can also be enjoyed immediately.
Rhubarb Wine Ingredients
The primary ingredients needed to make rhubarb wine are:
– Rhubarb – Only the stalks are used. Around 5 pounds yields 1 gallon of wine.
– Water – Added to the rhubarb during maceration and fermentation.
– Sugar – Supplies food for the yeast. Adds sweetness to balance tartness.
– Wine yeast – Converts sugar to alcohol. Champaign yeast is often used.
– Yeast nutrient – Provides essential nutrients to support fermentation.
– Campden tablets – Added to sanitize and prevent oxidation.
– Pectic enzyme – Breaks down pectin, improving juice extraction.
– Acid blend – Balances pH levels. Tartaric acid is commonly added.
– Tannin powder – Provides structure, mouthfeel, and color stability.
– Finings – Bentonite and isinglass clarifies the wine before bottling.
Rhubarb Wine Fermentation Process
Fermentation is the key process involved in converting rhubarb juice and sugar into rhubarb wine. Here is an overview of the multi-step fermentation process:
Step 1 – Maceration
Chopped rhubarb is combined with water and left to sit for 48-72 hours. This “maceration” helps to extract color, flavors, and juice from the rhubarb. Enzymes are released that break down pectins in the cell walls, aiding juice extraction.
Step 2 – Yeast and Sugar Addition
The liquid is drained from the rhubarb and filtered. Sugar is dissolved into the liquid to reach the desired starting Brix, or sugar content. Wine yeast is pitched once the temperature drops below 75°F. Yeast nutrient provides necessary nitrogen for healthy fermentation.
Step 3 – Primary Fermentation
The yeast begins converting sugar into alcohol and CO2. This primary fermentation lasts around 5-7 days. A layer of rhubarb solids forms on top called the “cap.” This must be mixed back down into the liquid periodically.
Step 4 – Pressing
After primary fermentation slows, the liquid is drained and pressed from the solids. Pressing maximizes the amount of juice extracted. The liquid is known as “must.” Additional sugar may be added to the must to continue fermentation.
Step 5 – Secondary Fermentation
The must goes into a secondary fermentation vessel for 4-6 weeks. This is when the majority of fermentation takes place. The wine clarifies as sediment falls to the bottom. CO2 produced during fermentation protects the wine from oxidation.
Step 6 – Racking, Fining, and Filtration
The new wine is carefully racked (siphoned) off the sediment into a clean vessel. Finings like bentonite are added to clarify the wine further. The wine may also be filtered if needed to remove remaining particulates.
Step 7 – Aging and Maturation
The finished wine is aged anywhere from 6 months to 2+ years. For rhubarb wine, shorter aging retains more fruit character. Longer aging develops more complex, oaky flavors. The wine is bottled once ready.
How Long Does it Take to Make Rhubarb Wine?
From start to finish, making a batch of rhubarb wine takes approximately 2-8 months depending on the process. Here is an overview of the timeline:
– Harvesting and preparing rhubarb: 1-2 days
– Macerating, fermenting, pressing: 1-2 weeks
– Secondary fermentation: 4-6 weeks
– Racking, clarifying, filtering: 1-2 weeks
– Aging in bottles or bulk: Minimum 6 months – 2+ years
So at a minimum, expect the entire process to take around 6 months if doing only a quick 3 month aging. Many winemakers age their rhubarb wine for 1-2 years or longer though to develop the flavor profile and smooth out the wine. Proper aging results in a better quality finished rhubarb wine.
Factors like temperature, yeast strain, and ingredient amounts affect the fermentation time. Colder temperatures slow down fermentation. The right amounts of yeast and nutrients speed up the process. An efficient fermentation system reduces the overall timeline as well.
What Does Rhubarb Wine Taste Like?
Rhubarb wine has a fruity, tart, and sweet flavor profile. It is lighter-bodied than grape wines. The taste is often described as cherry-like.
Here are the main flavor notes found in rhubarb wine:
– Sweetness – Some residual sugar balances out rhubarb’s natural tartness. Sweetness levels vary from brut (dry) to dessert-sweet.
– Tartness – Tangy and sour flavors from malic and citric acids in rhubarb. Gives a lip-puckering quality.
– Fruitiness – Distinct rhubarb aroma and flavors of strawberry, cherry, apple, pear.
– Acidity – Crisp and refreshing tasting. Should have good acid backbone.
– Tannins – Adds structure and mouthfeel. More apparent in oak-aged wines.
– Herbal earthiness – Can have subtle spice and herbal notes. Adds complexity.
– Dryness – Brut styles ferment nearly all sugar leaving primarily tart fruit flavors.
The specific aroma, sweetness, acidity, and mouthfeel depends on the rhubarb variety, yeast strain, fermentation method, and aging decisions. Overall, rhubarb wine offers a unique fruit-forward flavor profile.
Different Styles of Rhubarb Wine
Rhubarb wine is made in a range of sweetness levels and styles:
Sweet Rhubarb Wine
These wines have 45-80 g/L of residual sugar. They taste juicy and jammy with intense rhubarb fruitiness. Sweet rhubarb wine pairs well with spicy foods and desserts.
Semi-Sweet Rhubarb Wine
Semi-sweet rhubarb wines have 12-45 g/L of residual sugar. They offer a balance of sweet and sour flavors. These are very drinkable table wines.
Dry Rhubarb Wine
Dry rhubarb wines contain under 12 g/L residual sugar. They showcase rhubarb’s natural tartness. Dry wines pair well with rich dishes and acidic cheeses.
Sparkling Rhubarb Wine
Sparkling rhubarb wines undergo a secondary fermentation to produce CO2 bubbles, like Champagne. They have a crisp, elegant mouthfeel.
Dessert Rhubarb Wine
Dessert-style rhubarb wines are vinified to be very sweet, thick, and high alcohol. They are similar to Port wines. Enjoy them with cheese, fruit, and sweets.
Oaked Rhubarb Wine
Some styles are aged in oak barrels to impart vanilla, smoke, and tannin flavors. Oaked rhubarb wine takes on added complexity.
How to Serve and Pair Rhubarb Wine
Here are suggestions for serving and food pairings with rhubarb wine:
– Chill light, dry styles to 45–50°F. Warmer temperatures accentuate tartness.
– Serve sweeter styles at 50–55°F. Cooling muted sweetness.
– Sparkling rhubarb wine should be chilled to 40–45°F to preserve effervescence.
Pairings for Sweet Rhubarb Wine
– Cheesecake or fruit-based desserts
– Vanilla ice cream or custard
– Strong cheeses like blue cheese
– Sweet barbecue dishes
– Spicy cuisines like Indian and Thai
Pairings for Dry Rhubarb Wine
– Goat cheese, brie, or camembert
– Seafood like crab and salmon
– Herb roasted chicken or pork
– Salad with vinaigrette dressing
The possibilities are endless. Rhubarb wine’s fruity flavor profile pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes. Its bright acidity cleanses the palate and stands up to bold flavors. Experiment with different pairings to find your favorites.
Where is Rhubarb Wine Made?
Rhubarb wine is produced in small batches around the world, but is especially prevalent in:
– United States – Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York
– Canada – Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan
– United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales
– Northern Europe – Poland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden
– Australia and New Zealand
The best region is determined by climate. Rhubarb thrives in areas with cool summers and cold winters. It needs a long enough growing season to produce juicy stalks. The Pacific Northwest and Upper Midwest provide an ideal climate in North America.
Rhubarb wine is often made by home winemakers. It’s not as common commercially as grape wine. Some small wineries specialize in fruit wines including rhubarb. Family-run farms may sell rhubarb wine using their own crops.
Wherever it’s made, rhubarb wine offers a taste of the unique terroir. It reflects the climate and soil conditions of the region.
Health Benefits of Rhubarb Wine
In moderation, rhubarb wine can offer some potential health benefits:
– Source of antioxidants – Rhubarb contains polyphenol antioxidants that combat free radicals. These may help prevent heart disease and cancer.
– Anti-inflammatory – Compounds in rhubarb have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. This can reduce risk of chronic diseases.
– Supports gut health – Rhubarb contains prebiotic fiber. This feeds beneficial bacteria in the intestines.
– Boosts immunity – Antioxidants in rhubarb support the immune system.
– Aids digestion – The fiber and water content in rhubarb promotes healthy digestion.
– Improves heart health – Rhubarb stalks are low in fat and sodium. They provide trace minerals that support circulation.
Of course, moderation is key. Excess alcohol consumption negates any potential benefits. Stick to 1 glass per day for women and 1-2 glasses for men. Consult your doctor before consuming alcohol if on medication or managing health conditions.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Most healthy adults can safely consume moderate amounts of rhubarb wine. However, there are some risks and side effects to be aware of:
– Allergic reaction – Rhubarb allergies, though rare, may cause itching, hives, or swelling. Discontinue drinking if this occurs.
– High oxalic acid – The leaves contain high oxalic acid levels, but the stalks contain less. However, those with kidney disorders should be cautious.
– Drug interactions – Rhubarb may interact negatively with anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs. Speak with your doctor.
– Headaches – Tyramine compounds in fermented rhubarb can trigger headaches in sensitive individuals.
– Alcohol overconsumption – Excessive intake leads to impaired cognition, liver damage, and addiction. Moderation is key.
Pregnant women should avoid rhubarb wine due to potential toxicity and the alcohol content. If any adverse symptoms occur while drinking rhubarb wine, discontinue consumption and speak with your healthcare provider.
Rhubarb wine is a unique, tart, and fruity wine made from fermented rhubarb stalks. The most common version is rhubarb wine, though sweet to dry styles are made. When well-crafted and aged, rhubarb wine offers complex cherry, apple, and botanical flavors. It pairs deliciously with both sweet and savory foods. While not as ubiquitous as grape wine, rhubarb wine is cherished by home winemakers and specialty wineries, especially in rhubarb-growing regions. In moderation, this singular wine can be enjoyed for its distinctive taste profile and potential health benefits. Open up a bottle and savor the magic of spring’s first harvest transformed into wine.