By Fred Decker

Wine can be made from almost any fruit, but some -- such as jaboticaba -- are better suited to winemaking than others. The dark, glossy fruit are remarkably grape-like, despite growing on a lofty tree rather than a sprawling vine. They're often compared to the cherished muscadine grapes of the American South, both in flavor and in winemaking potential. If you already have the necessary home winemaking equipment, your standard fruit-wine recipe can be readily adapted.

Jabuticaba fruit on tree bark
credit: KathyKafka/iStock/Getty Images
Grape-like jaboticaba fruit are unusually well-suited to wine making.

The Grape That's Not a Grape

Although jaboticaba are unrelated to true grapes -- they grow on a tropical tree, not a temperate vine -- the resemblance is startling. The fruit has a pale, grape-like pulp and small seeds, and a dark, tannin-rich black skin that gives structure and color to the wine just as grape skins would. It lacks a wine grape's perfect balance of sugar and acidity, so you'll need to add both during the winemaking process as you would with most other fruits.

The Starting Point

Begin by weighing your jaboticaba fruit, so you'll have a yardstick for the remaining ingredients. Crush the fruits with a masher or pulse them in small batches in your food processor, then either pour them directly into a sterile fermentation bucket or into mesh bags. The bags make it easier to remove the fruit at the appropriate stage. Next, add distilled or purified water. The water should weigh about half as much as the fruit for a light wine, or 40 percent for a fuller-bodied wine. A pint weighs roughly a pound, so for 10 pounds of fruit and a full-bodied end result you'd add 4 pints, or 2 quarts, of water.

Sweet and Sour

Jaboticaba skins are filled with wild yeasts, which must be quelled with an additive such as potassium metabisulfate at this stage. You'd also add an enzyme called pectinase, which helps the fruit break down more quickly and improves fermentation. The enzyme is more effective if you add just half of your water first, then the rest after it's had a day or two to work. When you add the balance of your water, use a winemaker's hygrometer to test the juice's sugar content and add enough sugar to bring its specific gravity up to about 1.09. Jaboticaba is relatively low acid, so test it with winemaker's pH strips and add blended acidification powder as needed. Finally, add your yeast.

Skin Deep

Leaving the fermenting juice in contact with the fruit for up to a week will deepen its flavor and give it more body, but jaboticaba skins -- like grape skins -- complicate the issue. They add color and tannins to the wine, which is a good thing in moderation but bad in excess. Leaving the skins in your bucket for 12 to 24 hours will produce a blush or rose wine, while 72 hours creates a bold, red-wine hue with plenty of tannins and structure. When you feel your wine has enough color and tannin, remove the bags -- or strain out the fruit -- and press the jaboticabas through a sterilized colander to remove the skins. Return the pale pulp to your fermentation bucket.

Wrap It Up

Once you've removed the skinless pulp from your fermentation bucket, the finished juice or "must" will ferment like any other fruit or grape wine. The usual rules apply, most importantly the scrupulous sterilization of all hoses, filters or other equipment to prevent contamination with undesirable yeasts. When your wine is finished, taste it and assess its flavor. If it's too sweet, try blending a small portion of it with a dry wine from one of your previous batches. If it's too acidic, sweeten it with added sugar or simple syrup. That can provoke secondary fermentation, so add potassium sorbate or another stabilizer to stop the yeasts. When you're satisfied with the flavor, bottle and store your wine.