Think fruity, think sweet, think chilled down to be refreshing and of course, think Asian. That is plum wine at its simplest core. Many people do not care for sake, served warm or served cold, but plum wine has that pleasant sweetness to make it accessible to many oenophile neophytes. Being lighter in weight it pairs well with many Asian dishes, especially spicy ones, since it has that residual sugar on the palate. Think cocktails for a new twist or an Asian sangria, using plum wine as the base. You’ll be surprised how versatile plum wine can be.
The first rule of plum wine: not all plum wine is made from plums. Most plum wine is a fruity white wine base with plum flavor added. There are a few that are truly fermented from plums, though they tend to have a stronger flavor and a thicker mouthfeel, sometimes tasting almost like a white port. The most common brands of plum wine are the Fu-Ki Plum, Gekkeikan Kobai Plum and the Takara Plum, and all are white wine with plum essence. Of the three I like the Takara best since it’s a little more crisp and tart. I get strong plum perfume notes, making the wine seem almost artificial, and in a sense it is, since plum essence is added artificially. The Takara has some balance to its flavors between acid and fruit, leaning to acid. It is also the least sweet having the highest level of alcohol, 12%, and as with Moscatos, the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine. The Fu-Ki Plum has only 9% alcohol so tastes the sweetest. It is also the only one that says “100% Made in Japan” since many of the others are made domestically, like many sakes, to save on the expense of transport.
The Kobai Plum smells strongly of floral, “old lady” perfume with a hint of cough syrup on the finish, so it was my least favorite. Though I did find that it tasted much better when mixed half and half with cold green tea. Therefore think mixed drink options like a “Steamy Passion” which is plum wine, brandy, sugar and passion fruit juice, or maybe a “Tokyo” which is plum wine, Cassis, Midori, vodka, lemon juice, sake and sugar syrup. Both garnish with some fresh plums and amp up the berry fruit notes to balance out the concentrated plum. A “Sake Martini” is just equal parts dry sake and plum wine, but I find a Plum Wine Sangria to be the most appealing option, bringing in more fresh fruit acidity to balance the sweet plumminess.
Gekkeikan also makes their Plum Gekkeikan, fermented from plums, so it has stronger plum flavor and a thicker mouthfeel and the most alcohol, 13%. Being made from plums it is still sweeter than the others, though it has the highest alcohol content, with hints of apple and pear as well as plum. On their label they list three cocktail options in a 2/3 plum wine, 1/3 other additive proportion: Plum Tonic, Plum Soda, and Plum Gold. The last is made with orange juice bringing some nice citrus fruit acid to the mix. They also mention a simple Plum Wine Spritzer using selzer water, or lemon-lime soda if you like extra sweetness.
All of these options are under $15, with the Fu-Ki Plum and the Plum Gekkeikan as the most expensive and available locally at ABC Fine Wines and Spirits. All are served cold and would pair well with spicy Asian dishes to balance their own sweet flavors. Pick up some Dragonfly Sushi , spicy, and explore the pairing options. If you’ve never tried a plum wine, and you like a little sweetness to your wine, give them a try at your next Asian repast. Or try one of the many mixed drink options to find your own perfect plum experience. Enjoy!