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Fig wine is a fermented fruit drink made primarily from the juice of fresh figs. Some fig wines may also be made from reconstituted dried figs, though the process is often much more burdensome. In either case, wine made from figs, while alcoholic, is not really wine at all. Most of the time, the term “wine” describes a specific sort of grape fermentation process. Using figs yields similar results where taste and appearance are concerned. The main differences are in structure and process.
Grapes are the crux of wine-making operations because of their naturally high acid content and their ability to ferment easily. The same is not usually true of figs. A fig is a much fleshier fruit than a grape and often contains much lower concentrations of sugar and natural acid both. Making fig wine usually requires a lot of additives to induce fermentation.
Fermentation happens when introduced yeasts interact with sugars present in fruit juice. This reaction converts the juice to ethyl alcohol while retaining all of the juice's nascent flavors, colors, and bitterness. The conversion is slow and usually happens in a closed container or chamber. One of the hardest parts of fig wine production is extracting enough juice from the fruits to induce fermentation, then monitoring the sugar levels to ensure that the yeast is adequately fed.
Figs are not typically very juicy fruits. For this reason, winemakers often leave figs to ripen as long as possible, often using fruits on the verge of going bad to ensure maximum juice content. Preparing figs for juicing often involves pulverizing them, then straining out the solids, including peel and seeds. Large quantities of figs are usually required for even a modest bottle of fig wine.
Cooks and fruit wine makers often combine figs with dates, currants, and other fruits to make a blended wine with a more robust flavor. It can be hard to get a pronounced fig flavor from most varieties of fig juice, at least right away. Most pure fig wines age for upwards of a year in order to ensure fermentation. The process is usually faster the more sugar the juice contains, but too much sugar can overpower the delicate flavor of most figs.
Fig wine is sometimes available commercially, often from local shops or large-scale fig farms. Most of the time, however, the wine is homemade. There is simply not enough demand in most places to support regular fig wine production, and the time involved is often not worth the cost.
Some home cooks make a sort of fig-flavored wine that captures the taste of fig without the hassle of actually extracting and fermenting juice. In this version, cooks purchase a mild-bodied white wine, then steep sliced figs in it for a period of time. This sort of beverage is more properly labeled wine, as it is simply a flavored grape base.
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