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Barbara Pleasant: Homemade Mint Wine

 
Apple mint
Apple mint

Wine-Worthy Mints

You can make wine for any type of mint, though spearmint may produce a wine that tastes like chewing gum. Peppermint (and its cousin, chocolate mint) and fuzzy apple mint (and its cousin, pineapple mint) are better choices. I use mostly apple mint because of the rich flavor of the tea. Like other mints, apple mint can be terrible invasive. We allowed it to overtake a hillside that’s too steep to mow. In late summer, apple mint flowers are great favorites of bumblers and other native bees.
peppermint
Peppermint

The refreshing flavor and aroma of punchy peppermint or musky apple mint comes as a surprise in chilled wine, and a very nice one at that. Recently when a group of fellow gardeners tasted a few of my upcoming country wine vintages, it was the mint wine that won the most praise. I made my first batch in 2010, but based on impressive early tastings I went to two gallons this year. Homemade mint wine is that good, by itself or combined with fruit juice or soda water in delicious wine coolers.

 

Making wine from mint and other aromatic herbs is not a new idea. Egyptians were capturing the essence of mint in wines more than 5,000 years ago, perhaps less for drinking than as digestive medicine (see Herbal Wines in Ancient Egypt by herb expert Steven Foster). Rather than wines as we know them, these would have been metheglins – herbal flavored wines fermented from honey (metheglin means “healing liquor” in old Welsh). There is a good mint metheglin recipe in Wild Wines and Meads that uses orange juice to help achieve good acid balance.

 

Personally, I generally like wines (made with sugar) over meads (made with honey), and I would be afraid to load up delicate mint with the huskiness of honey. I’m using Terry Garey’s recipe from The Joy of Home Winemaking, (below) with excellent results.

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Mellow Mint Wine Recipe

4 cups fresh mint, packed lightly

1 gallon water

1 teaspoon yeast nutrient

One-fourth teaspoon grape tannin

3 teaspoons acid blend

3 pounds sugar

1 packet champagne or Montrachet yeast

 

This wine needs only 5 days in the primary fermenter, and there is no drippy must because you start with a strong mint tea. Garey warns of stuck fermentation, so keep the wine from getting chilled during its first few weeks of primary and secondary fermentation. The wine clears quite early, accumulating very little residue. I racked four times and bottled after 9 months. Garey recommends aging this wine for a year.


If you're a new winemaker, mint wine will make a good first project. Begin by studying home wine making with the help of a good book like Garey's. When it comes to home wine making, the devil is in the details!

Correcting Color and Sweetness

 

Garey suggests using a few drops of green food coloring to perk up the color of mint wine, but I like its warm yellow-amber color. Natural coloring agents like beet juice or berry juice can be used to impart a peachy hue, a fun move in some cases.

 

I ferment my wine out dry and bottle it that way, then consider back-sweetening after the bottle is opened. This way I don’t have to worry about exploding bottles, which is enough of a risk if you don’t use added sulfites. Besides, I think mint wine should be sweetened according to the occasion for which it is enjoyed. Nearly dry with just a touch of sweetness is great for after dinner sipping, but more sugar would turn mint wine into a memorable party beverage, served over ice.

two bottles of homemade mint wine
Maple River Winery in North Dakota makes apple-mint wine, and I do, too! They do it on purpose, but I did it by mistake by racking one bottle of finished mint wine with four bottles of apple wine made with half sugar, half honey. It's good!
With three bearing apple trees in the yard, I make apple wine almost every year. My method is unusual because I use frozen, thawed apple chunks to do a whole fruit ferment. My recipe for Frozen Apple Wine produces a light, dry wine that blends beautifully with other flavors.            
My new book, Homegrown Pantry, includes a section on making wines from homegrown tree fruits and berries. After all, wine making is a form of fermentation, a fascinating method for preserving garden food.