For as long as I’ve been canning, I’ve wanted to do something with wine grapes. I had in mind some sort of wine jelly that would be like a traditional British condiment for roast meats. Usually much less sweet than what we think of as jelly, these preserves are either served on the side or sometimes used as a glaze. We Americans don’t seem to make much use of these jellies — other than the despicable mint jelly that sometimes gets dolloped near roast lamb and is, in its commercial incarnation, a ghastly green not found in Nature. Unfortunately, despite having what I believe is one of the greater collections of canning and preserves cookbook libraries, I couldn’t find any recipe that was remotely what I wanted. The closest I found were some recipes for “wine jelly” which involved making jelly out of already produced wine. But if I go through the trouble of making wine, I’m not turning it into jelly. And let’s be clear, I’m not wasting a single Cabernet, Mourvedre or Grenache grape on preserves. What I had my eye on are the three short rows of Cinsault we’d planted.
Let me just detour here and tell you about Cinsault. It’s one of the Rhône’s blending grapes, but not one of the main ones. (Those would be Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.) There are about eleven or so red grapes that are recognized as Rhône grapes and each section of the Rhone allows some specific combination of some of them to gain a Rhone appellation. (California’s Rhône Rangers have a good explanation here.) The wine we are attempting to duplicate are the reds of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. But other than the big three I mentioned before, you have to look at most of the other grapes as condiments. You’ll find maybe one or two percent of each in a blend. Which brings me to that Cinsault. A little of it goes a long long way. No one in France would make a 100% varietal from it. I only know of one California producer who does, Frick Winery up in Dry Creek Valley. While Frick makes some excellent wines, I still question why they would do a 100% Cinsault. In the hands of a skilled winery like Frick, Cinsault tastes a little too strawberry for my liking. Here at Two Terrier Vineyards, when unskilled winemakers attempted to make a 100% Cinsault, we had to dub it Chateau Bazooka. As in bubble gum. Not only is Cinsault too sweet on its own, the vines themselves produce great bunches of huge fat berries that rival table grapes in size. So after we finish adding what little Cinsault we think is enough for a blend, we always have enough left to make a teen graduation party’s worth of Boone’s Farm style strawberry wine. You can see now why I’m looking for alternative grape products. Cousin John came to the rescue with the idea of making Verjus. But we still have a lot of Cinsault on our hands.
Now I had another dilemma on my hands. While I make a mean jam, I’d given up on jelly. Quite simply, my jellies never gel. So it was with some trepidation that I scanned the InterWebs for a non-sugary wine grape jelly. Anyone who makes jelly knows that it’s sugar that causes the whole mixture to gel. So if you are attempting something with little sugar, well, you are heading where only experts dare to preserve. Then I found this recipe from The Troika Table for Wine Grape Jam with Ginger. They had me at “jam”. They sealed the deal with “ginger”.
Actually, what sold me on this recipe is that it, unlike every other grape jam recipe I found, did NOT ask me to use the skins. In case you don’t know, you can’t just take a recipe for a table grape — usually the ubiquitous Concord — and substitute wine grapes. There is a big reason why wine grapes make wine and Concord grapes don’t. It’s all about the skins. Wine grapes have a lot of tannins, those wonderful polyphenolic compounds that give structure to wine and allow it to age without turning to vinegar. In the context of wine, tannins give that nice dry or slightly puckery feeling to the tongue. But jams are concentrates. Would you want to concentrate tannins? I think not, unless you want your mouth to collapse in on itself. So, nobody’s grape jam made the cut except for Troika’s which expressly kept the skins out.
Now the third dilemma: Is it really jam? I’d always thought the demarcation between jellies and jams was that jellies were just fruit juice mixed with sugar. Jams, in contrast, included the pulp. (Marmalades take it all one step further with the addition of the peels.) Clearly I was getting all caught up in the semantics. But since what came out of the food mill was like a thick pulpy juice, I guess we’ll call it a jam.
Well, I’m pleased to say that, after all the mashing and food milling and boiling and adding the Pectin and the sugar in at the wrong time and trying to guess how to adapt a water bath canning recipe to the pressure canner, the final result was…FANTASTIC! Yes, it’s a little sweeter than I’d planned on, but I do know enough about jellies to know that you mess with the sugar volume at your peril. So I’m not sure that I ended up with something that I’ll serve with meat. But it’s a thousand times better than the grape jelly (or is it jam?) made from Concord grapes. And the ginger kicks it up to something that is definitely for the adult palate. Back in my ad agency days, some clients drove me to my ultimate comfort meal: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a stiff Scotch. This jam would definitely elevate the PBJ to the level of a good single malt.