Atlantic Canadians love wild blueberries in our pies, muffins and other desserts. We eat them on their own. And increasingly, we’re drinking them. They make tasty wines, with complex peppery/fruity flavours. They are versatile, working as sweet and dry wines, and in fortified wines and liqueurs.
Brewers are also using blueberries to good effect as proven well by Pump House and Gahan House, although breweries tend to use an extract rather than fresh berries. You can make distilled spirits from fermented berries of any kind.
There is an added advantage to blueberry wine: it’s good for you, particularly when made from the “wild” low bush variety. The smaller, more flavourful berries have much more potential as anti-oxidant boosters, and the wines taste better than cultivated blueberry wine.
It’s well documented that any health benefits related to blueberries, which mainly originate from anthocyanin found in the skins, will end up in blueberry wine. The fermentation of the berries extracts the “goodness” from the skins and into the wine. This also provides an attractive bluish-purple colour to blueberry wine, plus its peppery, fruity aromas and flavours.
There is evidence suggesting wines made from wild, low bush berries—the ones grown mainly in Maine, Quebec and Atlantic Canada—have more health benefits related to antioxidants than grape based wines, and that the fermentation process might even result in more availability of the antioxidants than you’d get by simply eating the berries.
Lunenburg County Winery in Nova Scotia has had great success with blueberries. “Our blueberry wine has been the number two best- selling wine, amongst 100-per-cent Nova Scotia made wines, as of 2013, in NSLC general listings for a long time,” says president Heather Sanft.
Wild blueberry wine is similar to a lighter red wine like Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir in that it benefits from being served slightly chilled, and, when dry, works with basic red meat and poultry dishes, including game. Sweeter blueberry wines are more suitable with desserts, or for drinking on their own, almost like a fruity cocktail.
The wines do not have much natural acidity, but this is made up for by the tannins in the skins, or by an acid adjustment. It is also not uncommon for Atlantic wineries to blend blueberry and grape wines to make a balanced product.
Blueberry wine is a bonus for berry growers, and a viable business for folks like Janet and Jeff Everett, who own Magnetic Hill Winery in Moncton, and use frozen blueberries to make wine. “We promote the idea that in every one of our bottles there is three-quarters to a pound of fruit,” explains Janet Everett, “so basically a glass of wine is a serving of fruit.”
Rodrigues Winery and Distillery in Markland, N.L. has been a big player in the blueberry wine market for decades, noted for its kosher wines. “We presently sell about 60 per cent of our wines, including blueberry, outside of Newfoundland,” general manager Lionel Rodrigues explains.
McKay’s Cottage Winery in Pennfield, N.B., is a new player in the blueberry wine market in 2014, selling dry and sweet wines from their own wild blueberries. Chris Weir, part of the family that owns McKay’s, is well aware of documented health benefits of wild blueberries. “We don’t use health benefits to sell wine directly,” Weir notes, “but we are very glad to benefit from the ‘health halo’ that surrounds that fruit right now.”
Plus, it tastes great.
Some atlantic blueberry wines to try
Newfoundland & Labrador
Rodrigues Exotique Wild Blueberry Wine (dry)—$14.48 at winery or NLC. Balanced, slightly spicy, fruity wine with real wild blueberry flavours and aromas.
Lunenburg County Blueberry Wine—$13.99 at NSLC or the winery. Fruity style, medium sweet, with the distinct character of low bush blueberries.
Magnetic Hill Winery Bay of Fundy Blue—$13.99 at the winery.
Dry style, with a bit of oak, best with grilled meats.
Prince Edward Island
Rossignol Wild Blueberry Wine—$16.75 at the winery or PEILC. Fruity, off-dry blueberry wine made from Island berries.