Last month, Tom answered a direct question about cork staining. This month, instead of drawing on a specific question, we asked Tom to tell us about how to make a pyment (mead/wine hybrid).
Recently, I was asked if I have ever made a pyment. A pyment is a type of mead where grapes or grape juice has been added. This means it’s also a type of melomel, as those are meads with fruit added. Yes, I have made one.
Mine was made with leftover Gewürztraminer juice and some pulp. I had enough must to make seven gallons of wine, but only a six-gallon carboy. With the extra gallon’s worth of wine must, I made three gallons of pyment.
I believe the same rules for making both drinks really apply here. The first thing makers have to decide is if they want a honey mead with hints of grapes and the complexity that can result or a grape wine with hints of honey, leading to more alcohol because you’re adding honey instead of sugar. The latter would not really be a mead, because honey should be the first aroma and flavor.
What Do Grapes Contribute to the Pyment?
What should you expect to gain from using grapes? First, acidity. Remember that mead is honey wine, and most good wines have acidity as part of the balance within their flavor. If you typically add acid blend or some other form of acid to balance your mead, be aware grapes can go a long way bringing about this balance about. Acidity really perks up the flavor components of a mead. Second tannins will also be there. These give a back of the tongue bitterness that is perceived as a clean and sharp flavor. A great addition to many meads. Tannins also aid in clarification. Finally, nutrients from the grapes aid the fermentation so that it comes to completion without taking forever to do so.
Which Grapes for Pyments?
Now let’s talk about the varieties of grapes you can use. For a mead just about anything that is ripe will work. Ripeness is key, though. Remember that alcohol accentuates all flavors so if the grapes are green or overripe this will come through in the finished mead.
If you are going to make mead from backyard grapes keep this in mind. Most wines or meads made from backyard grapes suffer from being underripe (vs overripe), as most backyard grape-growers haven’t learned how to properly gauge ripeness. More bitterness and sourness will result. How can you tell if they are truly ripe (without doing endless testing like a winery would)? Wait for the grapes to start falling off the vine. They will be very sweet. Far sweeter than, say, a grocery store table grape. Indeed, sweetness to taste is not a good test. Grapes good enough to eat can still be underripe. To get truly ripe grapes for your pyment, you will have to share a lot of the grapes with birds and squirrels.
One the most common backyard grape varietals is the Concord. If you love this flavor use them. The flavor will not change much. Grocery store canned juices and concentrates are also usable and will add the expected flavors. Canned juices from the grocery store are usually in the concord family.
Any grape can be used. If you are buying wine grapes, then by all means save a few pounds and make a pyment. Wine grape concentrates also exist but can be quite expensive.
In my opinion white grapes and juices make wonderful meads. After all, some white wines are often described as having honey overtones. They are mild yet fruity, acidic, and nutrient rich. Grapes like Riesling, Muscat, and Sauvignon Blanc are complex and the honey comes through beautifully.
Red wine grapes, however, tend to overpower the honey flavor of the mead and yet fall flat because not enough were used to give the expected result. They tend to seem weak because we were expecting fuller grape varietal flavors. To use red grapes, the maker should know that they are making a honey-flavored wine and will end up with a full or light-bodied rose (depending on the grape).
How Much Fruit or Juice to Use?
How much fruit you use is really open here. I would think about four to seven pounds of fruit per gallon of mead. If you purchase grape juice, you’ll want about a gallon of juice to two of water and then enough honey to give you your 10% + alcohol. Rely on the honey to give you your fermentable gravity. With canned concentrates dilute them as instructed and again make enough to be about one third of your volume.
Remember by using grapes you are making a pyment; a mead more like a grape wine, so expect the issues of clarification, fermentation, and aging to be those of wines.
Have a great time this summer fermenting your first pyment!