Plum Wine Recipe: A Wine to Celebrate Friendship
Plum wine is known by many different names. In Japan, it is made with shochu (a sweet distilled alcohol) to produce umeshu; in Taiwan it is brewed with oolong tea to produce the smoky wumeijiu; and in China, it is called meijiu, a deceptively strong drink which packs quite a punch!
In Asian cultures, plum wine can hold a huge significance. It represents springtime and renewal in Korea, and friendship in Japan. In China, it is often used medicinally or to promote wellness – you will often find it being served at important family occasions or poured out for visitors as a way of wishing them good health.
While it is possible to make Asian versions of plum wine at home, it can be tough to source the right ingredients (in China, for instance, shaved antler is often added during the fermentation stage to add body to the wine and improve its medicinal benefits). So this article will be focusing on the sort of plum wine that you can make with your friendly neighbourhood plums…and it’s so delicious that you won’t want to wait for a special occasion before cracking open another bottle.
Read on to learn more about turning the humble plum into a mighty wine. This plum wine is sweet, fruity and extremely adaptable, and although it requires a little more patience than some other fruit wines, it is well worth the wait.
Section 1: What equipment you will need to make plum wine
You don’t need to buy a lot of fancy equipment to make plum wine – just as long as the items you use are well sterilized ahead of time.
I have added a few links to the list below so that you know what it is you’re looking for, but you can substitute some of these for regular household items if you like. A fermenting bin could be made out of an old barrel or food-grade container; a demijohn could be substituted for a couple of empty milk cartons or one-gallon jars; and if you really can’t find a straining bag or muslin cloth, a (clean!!) pair of stockings will do the job just as well.
When it comes to choosing your wine-making equipment, the most important thing to bear in mind is the sterilization. You can use hot water or bleach to sterilize everything, but if you’re using bleach you need to be extra careful to wash every last drop of residue out before use. I prefer to use campden tablets, which are easily available from most home-brew stores and just as effective as the strongest bleach, without the throat-burning side effects. Just crumble up a couple of tablets in water, soak your equipment for ten minutes, then let it dry naturally. Repeat this process every time you need to use or re-use an item.
- A sterilized fermenting bucket with a capacity of at least one gallon.
- 2 glass demijohns (at least one gallon in size), plus a fitted airlock and bung
- A large straining bag or muslin cloth
- A vinyl siphon tube (at least 3ft in length)
- 6 glass wine bottles, plus fitted corks and a corker.
- A large funnel
Quick Tip: If you're new to making wine at home, and don't want to purchase all of the equipment separately, make sure you check out our Homemade Wine Starter kit. This contains all the equipment needed to get started right away!
Get Your Equipment Below
Food Grade Bucket
Demijohn / Carboy
Vinyl Siphon Tube
Clear Wine Bottles
Section 2: What ingredients you will need to make plum wine
- 5lbs (2.2kg) fresh plums. And only fresh plums will do – canned or frozen plums tend to lose a lot of that deep flavor, and you won’t get that lovely pinky peach color that comes fermenting the raw skin. NEVER use dried plums (AKA prunes), as they are nowhere near as absorbent, have a much, much higher sugar content than fresh plums.
- 3lbs (1.35kg) granulated sugar
- Juice of one lemon, or 0.5oz (15g) citric acid.
Choose organic lemons if possible, as they have a much stronger flavor and a higher natural content of citric acid. If you like your plum wine to have a sharp tanginess to it, grate in a little lemon zest along with the juice – just make sure that the lemons you’re using are unwaxed!
This is not absolutely necessary for your wine, but it will help to break down the fruit solids which are left after the fermentation process. Plum wine is notoriously hard to clear, so you might appreciate the extra help!
Get Your Ingredients Below
Pectic Enzyme Powder
White Wine Yeast
Plum wine is deliciously sweet on its own, but it also works well with a few added flavorings. Feel free to experiment with the fruits and spices of your choice, but the most commonly used ‘added extras’ are:
- Cloves (don’t use any more than 2 cloves per gallon of wine or you will completely overpower the taste of the plums).
- Cinnamon (half a crushed stick is all you need).
- Star anise (my personal favorite – one star or less is enough).
- Apples (choose a bitter green variety such as Granny Smiths, which will offset the sweetness of the plum beautifully).
- Licorice (use sparingly).
- Orange or lemon peel (I would strongly advise against adding these ingredients directly to the wine itself, as the citric content will disrupt the fermentation process and change the final flavor of the wine. If you want to add a few orangey or lemony notes to your plum wine, try infusing some peel in your sugar for a few days - or weeks - beforehand, then remove them before you add the sugar to your mix. The sugar will absorb the oils and scents of the fruit without changing the acidity).
Section 3: Quick step by step instructions on making plum wine
STEP ONE – Picking your plums
Forget spring, summer, autumn or winter - Plum season is the best season of the year. Plum trees blossom in cold weather, their delicate flowers pale and beautiful against the stark, dark branches of winter. In early spring, the fruits start to appear, tiny and green and full of promise. By the start of summer, the first fruits start to ripen, and then suddenly plums are everywhere – growing wild out of hedgerows; stacked high at your local market; peeking out from behind a country wall; or hanging heavily from branches in your own garden.
There are anywhere between 200 and 300 different species of plum in the US alone, and each type has its own merits. I like to use damsons for plum wine, as they have a natural sugary sweetness that works well with the flavors of the wine, and I also happen to have an abundance of these dark, juicy plums within ten minutes walking distance from my home.
But even bitter plums have what it takes to make a rich and sweet wine – in fact, the Japanese prefer to use slightly under-ripe green plums to get the unique sweet and sour taste of their plum wines.
In my opinion, the best plums are usually the ones which grow closest to your home, so from late spring onwards, start foraging…
Plums can grow just about everywhere, so if you’re determined to score a haul of wild plums for your winemaking adventures, just set aside a sunny weekend between June and August and go for a relaxing hike, keeping your eyes open the whole time.
There are around 30 varieties of wild plums growing in the US, and they range from light yellow, to rosy pink, to blackish purple. They might be as small as a cherry, or as large as a lemon. They could be growing in forests, on country paths, or even near the beach. You just need to grab a bucket, get out there and see what you find.
When you find your plums, check that they’re ripe enough by giving them a gentle squeeze (the same way you would test produce at your local market). Ripe plums should come off the branch with just a gentle twist, but be careful that you don’t break the skin while you’re picking them, as this may allow a few creepy crawlies or other undesirables to sneak in, ruining your fruit.
Finally, whether you are picking your plums from a home-grown tree or a wild bush, watch out for those thorns! They aren’t immediately obvious, but trust me – they are there, all along the branches.
After you’ve picked your plums, they should last for around one week before you need to use them. However, if the skin on even one plum has broken, then your entire haul is at risk of the dreaded mold… As soon as you get home, check your plums and discard any that are over-ripe, under-ripe or have any visible tears along the skin.
Then just wash them, weigh them, and you’re ready to start preparing your wine!
STEP TWO – Preparing the plums
Stones in or stones out? You will find this question on just about every wine forum on the internet – and you’ll struggle to find a definitive answer.
Personally, I take the stones out but that stems from a hatred of plum stones which has endured ever since a tooth-cracking incident from my childhood.
Leaving the stone in means that you have a tiny bit less work to do at this stage, and it may or may not help to impart a stronger flavor to the wine, but my plum wine has always done pretty well without them.
So all you have to do to prepare your plums is chop them up and drop them in a large pot.
While I have the chopping board out, I also prepare my other ingredients.
Add the sugar to your chopped plums, then pour approximately one gallon of water over the top, and gently heat the pot to a simmer. Do NOT allow the plum mix to boil. If in doubt, cook them ‘low and slow’ – you want to start releasing the natural sugars from the plums without actually allowing them to disintegrate in the water.
Then strain your plums through your mesh bag, and wring it tightly to release as much juice as possible.
PRO TIP: In Asian wine-making, the plums are not strained until much later – instead, the plums are allowed to ferment away for another week or two in the fermentation bin. If this is the kind of wine you want, you should definitely invest in a hydrometer which will let you keep an eye on the gravity reading of your wine as the plums ferment. This recipe produces a light and summery plum wine with a moderate alcohol content, but once you start fermenting whole fruit in your mix you can dramatically increase the final ABV – to the point where it may not actually be drinkable, or even safe for bottling (exploding wine, anyone?). Use a hydrometer to test the wine every day, and stop the fermentation once it reaches a gravity reading of 0.990 (that’s approx. 14.4% ABV – the absolute maximum ABV that you should be aiming for with home wine making). To be extra safe, add a wine stabilizer or wine stopper at this stage so no further fermentation occurs.
Pour the plum juice into the fermenting bucket and add your yeast, yeast nutrient, pectin enzyme (if using) and citric acid or lemon juice. Then seal the fermenting bucket and leave the mixture to sit for around five days.
STEP THREE – What to expect when you’re fermenting
The fermentation process can be an unnerving one for the first-time wine maker. As the plums soak, all of the fructose (sugar) inside the plums is released into the mixture. The yeast and citric acid helps to draw these sugars out, and then the yeast and yeast nutrient work to convert the natural (and added) sugars into alcohol.
On day one, there isn’t much to see, as the process is just getting started. But by day two or three, the sugar/yeast reaction should have well and truly begun. Like all the best chemical reactions, this results in a bubbly, foamy, swirly performance along the surface of the liquid – just give it a stir and leave it to do its thing.
By the fifth day, the bubbling should have stopped, although it may take another day or two depending on the plums used, temperature of the mixture, and other minor variables.
Once this first fermentation has stopped, you may be left with a thin layer of foam or scum along the top of the fermentation bin (this is more likely to happen if you haven’t used pectin enzyme, which works to break down any solids in the liquid) – just skim this off with a metal spoon and discard.
Now you’re ready to move on to the next step.
STEP FOUR – Seeing things more clearly
What you have at this stage is a very crude imitation of fruit wine. It will be cloudy, with a lot of sediment along the edges and bottom. In order to get a clear, rosy-colored wine, you may need to strain off your liquid again.
As before, simply pour your wine mixture through a straining bag or piece of muslin, and discard any sediment. Make sure to sterilize the pot or bowl which set to hold the strained wine.
Now, it’s time to move your wine into the first demijohn.
I find that the easiest way to do this is by placing a (sterilized) funnel over the top of the (sterilized) demijohn, then use a (sterilized) soup ladle to start things off.
When all the liquid has been transferred, you may find that it doesn’t quite reach up to the top of the demijohn – that’s ok. Just top it up with a bit of filtered or bottled water.
Then put the bung and the airlock tightly onto the top, and place your demijohn in a cool, dry place where it can undergo its second fermentation for at least two weeks.
During this time, you will notice a rush of bubbles to the surface of the wine, and the airlock will be bubbling away nicely. Once all this bubbling starts to tail off, it is almost time to move on to the racking stage.
STEP FIVE – Racking your wine
Racking your wine helps to clarify the liquid even further, leaving you with a beautifully colored, professional looking drink.
Plus, its great fun.
To rack your wine, you will need to assemble your second demijohn (sterilized of course) and your siphon tube.
Very carefully, move your wine-filled demijohn out of storage and place it on a flat ledge, chair, or table. Try your best to avoid disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the bottle – if a few tiny pieces of residue start floating up, leave the demijohn to sit for a few hours until they drop down to the bottom again.
Place the empty demijohn on the ground below, and you’re ready to go!
Remove the bung and airlock from your wine-filled demijohn and lower your siphon tube until it is sitting around half an inch from the bottom of the bottle. Make sure that the siphon NEVER touches the sediment at the bottom, or you will end up undoing all your good work.
Then suck on the other end of the siphon until the wine starts flowing freely, and quickly pop it into the empty demijohn – avoiding the temptation of just drinking your wine straight out of the tube.
When the first demijohn is almost empty, you can lower the siphon tube down a little further to get as much wine as possible out of it, but just be careful that you don’t accidentally suck up some sediment as well.
Within a few minutes, your once-empty demijohn should be full, and your once-full demijohn should be empty. Top up the newly-full bottle with a little filtered water, put the bung and airlock in place, and leave it in a cool and dark place for another three weeks.
Then repeat the racking process again.
Because of the high tannin content in plums, this wine will produce a lot more sediment than others, so while some wines only really need to be racked once, plum wine really does benefit from two or even three rackings. The more you rack it, the less cloudy your wine will be, but make sure you leave at least three weeks between each racking, to allow it to be effective.
STEP SIX – Bottling up!
You will be ready to start bottling your wine once you have a nice, clear, plum-colored liquid that is starting to taste pretty good!
If you’re using a hydrometer, check for a gravity reading of between 1.010 and 0.990 – the lower it is, the higher the alcohol content will be, but while this might sound appealing, an ABV of over 15% will result in a drink that tastes more like sweetened paint stripper than fruit wine.
Before you bottle your wine, rack it one last time, then line up your bottles on the ground below your demijohn and using the same trusty siphon tube as before, start moving your wine into each wine bottle at a time, one by one.
Cork and seal your bottles, and add a label to each one with the bottling date, ABV (if known), ingredients and plum variety used.
And that’s it! You can start drinking your plum wine right away, but it will taste better after its been left to sit for at least three months, and it will be even better after a year (if you can wait that long).
Unlike other fruit wines, I think plum wine actually benefits from being drunk when its ‘young’. This is a light and sweet wine which is great just on its own, especially if you have added any extra ingredients into the mix at the pre-fermenting stage.
You can drink your plum wine chilled or at room temperature, and it also works surprisingly well as an alternative to mulled wine at Christmas time – just heat it to a simmer with a couple of slices of orange, and serve with a cinnamon stick. Delicious.
In the summer time, try a 50/50 mix of plum wine and soda water for a refreshing afternoon cocktail or aperitif.
I also find that plum wine is a versatile and flavorsome cooking ingredient. I’ve used it in a pork marinade and as part of a dressing for red cabbage, but one of my favorite is plums gently poached in plum wine, then sliced into a frangipane tart and served with custard. Absolute perfection, especially when enjoyed with a fresh glass of plum wine on the side.
How do you plan on enjoying your plum wine? Are you appalled at the very idea of using this delicious wine in cooking? Or are you delighted to have another excuse to brew up a batch of this amazing fruit nectar?
Get in touch in the comments box below and tell us all about your favorite plum wine recipes, and how you drink it.
Section 4: Conclusion
It’s no surprise that plum wine is so popular all across the world. It is a fun and easy process which can teach novice wine makers all the basics of fermenting, racking and bottling, and the end result is a beautiful, fruity wine which tastes great in every season.
I hope that this article has encouraged you to go out there and find your favorite strain of plums, then honor their unique flavors and colors by creating a show-stopping wine. Plums are one of my favorite fruits in the world, and plum wine is a brilliant way to keep on enjoying them all year round. And the best thing about it is that you can start drinking it just in time for the beginning of the next ‘plum season’. If you like it (and believe me, you will like it), you can start making your next batch almost immediately, and you may even be brave enough to start experimenting with your recipes the second time around (the star anise plum wine combo will blow your mind!).
If you have enjoyed learning about the wine-making process, you might want to try one of our other fruit wine recipes – after all, you’re practically a pro now!
Have a look on our site for other recipes that you can make using locally sourced or foraged ingredients, and let us know how you get on by sharing your experiences and advice in the comments below.
If you enjoyed reading this article, and want to spread the word – please share this page via social media and with your plum-loving, wine-drinking friends. Cheers!