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cotton candy wine is more than you'd assume

As a wine enthusiast keen to explore new expressions, I couldn't resist the intriguing fusion of carnival nostalgia that the concept of Cotton Candy Wine brings to the table. With my background and education in winemaking, I've had the delight of exploring unique vintages around the world and well ... this is certainly a unique blend. But a question begs, is it crafted from actual cotton candy or is it merely a clever marketing ploy?

Surprisingly, I found that (like everything in winemaking), the answer is considerably more complicated than I initially assumed. The simple answer is that many different products are using the same name and while "Cotton Candy Wine" can be made quite literally from cotton candy floss found at the carnival food stands to the Shiava grapes in Italy to the hybrid table grapes found at your local supermarket - the simple truth remains. If something tasty can be distilled or fermented, people will find a way to do it. In situations like this where it makes people happy ... they will do it again and again!

While I hold a deep respect for classic wines from the world's top wine regions, I find myself equally drawn towards the audacious innovations emerging from areas like Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina. Here, the focus isn't just on producing 'fine wines' (although Michigan is home to some of my favorite wineries). Instead, the winemakers are more concerned with creating something that's enjoyable to drink and brings joy. Cotton Candy Wine perfectly exemplifies this. So, join me as we embark on this flavor journey together, unraveling the delightful mysteries of Cotton Candy Wine and what you need to know if you want to make your own at home.

Key Takeaways

  • Cotton Candy wine is made from a unique grape variety, offering a sweet, cotton candy-like flavor profile.
  • Varieties of Cotton Candy wine come from different vineyards, each providing a unique twist to the overall flavor.
  • Schiava grapes can produce Cotton Candy wine with complex flavors like strawberry and bubblegum, balancing sweetness and tartness.
  • Cotton Candy Floss wine can be homemade using cotton candy sugar, allowing creativity in flavors and colors.

Is Cotton Candy Wine Made With Cotton Candy?

So, does cotton candy wine actually involve the use of cotton candy in its production process? Typically the answer is no. Most winemakers use other grapes that are available and add sweeteners and flavors to enhance the wine. However, don't let that disappoint you because some enterprising folks have indeed created "wine" usually Cotton Candy Floss (sugar), generally though, when we talk about true cotton candy wine - the magic truly lies in the grape.

The cotton candy flavor in the wine comes from a particular variety of grape, not from the fluffy, sugary carnival treat we all know and love. The grape is carefully selected and cultivated to bring out its natural cotton candy flavor. The process is a delicate one, and the result is a wine that tastes just like our favorite childhood treat.

Now, you might be wondering, 'How can a grape taste like cotton candy?' Well, it's all about the art of fermentation. The winemakers carefully control the fermentation process to bring out the grape's natural sweetness, resulting in a wine that's sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. It's a perfect balance that truly captures the essence of cotton candy. So, while cotton candy isn't used in the making of the wine, the flavor is there in every sip, making it a true delight for the senses.

How Are "Cotton Candy Grapes" Made?

Cotton Candy grapes, with their uncanny taste resemblance to the fluffy carnival treat, are fascinatingly created through a meticulous process of hybridization and careful cultivation. These grapes, introduced by Grapery in 2011, were born of a hybrid combination of Concord and Princess grape varieties. The brainchild of David Cain, these grapes underwent thousands of cross-pollination experiments before achieving their unique sweet candy flavor.

The creation process involved:

  • Hand-pollination of grape varieties
  • Rigorous flavor testing
  • Cross-breeding of soft Concord grapes with firm Princess grapes
  • Patenting the unique Cotton Candy grape in 2010

The Grapery, co-founded by Jack Pandol and Jim Beagle, focused on developing flavorful and unique grape varieties, with Cotton Candy and Moon Drops being their most popular. These grapes are grown in the fertile soil of San Joaquin Valley, northern California, and are harvested in late summer to early fall.

Most Cotton Candy Wines Are Just Sweetened Flavored Wines

For those with a sweet tooth and a penchant for novelty, cotton candy wine, often simply a sweetened flavored wine, could be an intriguing choice. Despite the name, it's not typically made from cotton candy grapes. These grapes are a hybrid species, distinct in taste and biological makeup from traditional wine grapes. Their high sugar content gives them a cotton candy flavor but attempts to transform them into wine have failed to achieve a balanced taste and pleasant aroma.

Instead, most cotton candy wines are made by infusing regular wine with sweeteners and flavorings to mimic the taste of cotton candy. This creates an appealingly sweet, fruity wine that caters to those who enjoy unique flavors. So, while it may lack the authenticity of wine made from cotton candy grapes, it's a fun, accessible option for the adventurous wine lover.

Cotton Candy Wines We've Tried Recently In Michigan and Ohio

Recently, I've had the pleasure of sampling a variety of cotton candy wines from vineyards across Michigan and Ohio. These unique wines, while not made from cotton candy itself, evoke the same sweet, whimsical flavor profile that takes me back to childhood days at the fair.

Here are a few standouts that I believe deserve special mention:

Emerine Estates Winery - Cotton Candy Wine

This Ohio winery features "100% natural Greenhouse Grown" dry and sweet wines. Clearly their cotton candy varietal is going to sit on the sweet end of the spectrum and frankly at first taste I assumed that it was just pure sugar and food coloring due to the blue hue. However, they tell me that it is actual fruit and produced with a mixture of raspberry and cotton candy grapes.  Among the three that I tried last night at Toledo's Glass City Wine Festival this was by far the most authentic "cotton candy" experience.

Old Schoolhouse Vineyard & Winery - CircAss Wine

Why pretend to be sophisticated - we're tasting sweet, sugary cotton candy flavored wine here so this bottle is an immediate winner with the name CircAss and a photo of a horse on it. Unlike the blue cotton candy feel of the first one we tried, this had a pink hue but more subtle cotton candy flavor. It was a white blend with notes of blueberry and acai.

Buckey Winery - "Cotton Candy" Wine

Why mess around with quirky names? Buckeye Winery gets right to it with a label that simply says "Cotton Candy" (their quotes) and describes it as "Cotton Candy in a bottleE? No mess here. Your fingers stay on the outside of the glass."  Frankly speaking, this winery positions itself as more of an experiential offering that encourages folks that are interested in learning how to make their own wines to join them for winemaking classes and even create their own vintages. This wine was exactly what you'd expect - sweet, pink, and a fun wine to bring out at the next bachelorette party or sorority mixer.

St. Julian Winery - "Cotton Candy" Wine

Ohio isn't the only place that is producing cotton candy wines though, so we've reached out to our friends at St. Julian to learn more about their offering as well. 

Other Cotton Candy Wines We're Interested In Trying

One of the exciting things about traveling around the country tasting different wines is that every region has a different perspective. While I'd find it hard to believe that we'll ever see a serious "Oakville Cotton Candy Wine" ... it almost doesn't matter. Wine is about having fun and making people happy. The reality is that different grapes grow in places like Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia than they do out on the west coast where they have hot dry weather during the day and cool breezes during the day that keep things like bugs and mold at bay naturally.  

As a result, aspiring winemakers sometimes need to seek alternatives that appeal to the local population.

Duplin Winery (NC) - Cotton Candy wine made with muscadine grape blend

Gatlinburg Winery (TN) - Not only do they have one but THREE Cotton Candy wines here - Peach, Blueberry, and Original flavor! This trio of sweet wines is also made with a blend of fruit and North Carolina muscadine grapes but here they advise serving ice cold and mixing it with spirits or serving with baked goods for dessert.

Urban Vines (IN) - This "Carnival Candy" wine is made with western NY grapes grown on the shores of Lake Eire and is slowly fermented to keep the natural cotton candy flavor of the grapes.

Each of these wines offers a unique take on the cotton candy flavor, providing a sense of belonging and shared experience for those of us with a taste for the sweeter things in life.

What Does Actual Cotton Candy Wine Made From Schiava Grapes Taste Like?

While most cotton candy wines that you will find at wineries in states like Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia - as well as Michigan and Indiana are designed to have a palette that matches exactly what someone would think of if they put a big hunk of spun sugar in their mouth - there's a different, more subtle option out there too.

Actual cotton candy wine made from Schiava grapes, it's intriguing to note the light and feminine characteristics that align closely with Pinot Noir, coupled with an unexpectedly enchanting bouquet of aromas. The Schiava grape, primarily grown in Alto Adige, Italy, and Würtemberg, Germany, produces a wine that's anything but ordinary. This is sometimes seen marked as Vernatsch or Black Hamburg in England or Trollinger in Germany. Italy's Alpine valley growing regions are the primary production areas.

The taste profile of this wine is an adventurous rollercoaster for the palate. Imagine the rush of cotton candy, strawberry, and bubblegum flavors, balanced by the tartness of lemonhead candy. It's a delight that's mesmerizing yet complex, with a subtle elegance that's hard to resist. This is no overly sweet, gimmicky wine, and the more akin to a rose, a dry style to avoid overwhelming sweetness, making it an intriguing choice for those seeking something different.

Don't be fooled by the playful flavors, though. This wine carries a respectable 12% ABV due to the cooler climate in which the grapes are grown. Expect to invest around $10 to $18 for a bottle of this unique wine, a small price for a taste of such whimsical sophistication.

You Can Also Make "Cotton Candy Floss" Wine From Cotton Candy Sugar

While Schiava grapes offer an exquisite cotton candy wine experience, and sweet muscadine grapes or even cotton candy grapes can produce a sweet wine that evokes the carnival atmosphere, there's another solution too. Now that we've explored traditional fruit wines - let's look at how cotton candy sugar, easily available on Amazon, can be employed to create a unique 'Cotton Candy Floss' wine. This alternative approach is important to consider and far from unique in the wider world of East Coast wines (we've seen it used in a winery in South Florida for instance) and allows for a greater range of creativity regarding flavors and colors than would be possible otherwise.

Here's a breakdown of the process of creating wine from cotton candy sugar:

  • Melt cotton candy sugar into water to create the 'juice'. Remember to let it cool slightly before the next step.
  • Add yeast to kickstart fermentation. Keep in mind, the right balance of yeast to sugar is crucial. Too much yeast could lead to a dry wine with high alcohol content.
  • Allow the mixture to ferment. Unlike traditional wine, there are no fruit parts to filter out, making the process faster and simpler.
  • Post-fermentation, (if needed) add more sugar for sweetness. You can also introduce colors and flavors, like bubblegum, to make your Cotton Candy Floss wine truly unique.

It's a delightful twist on traditional winemaking, giving you the chance to craft a wine that's perfectly suited to your audience.

Cotton Candy Wines Offers A Unique Twist On Traditional Wine Making

As a passionate wine enthusiast with an education in winemaking, I have a profound appreciation for classical wines hailing from the world's most renowned wine regions.

However, my enthusiasm doesn't stop there. I am particularly intrigued by the innovative creations emerging from less traditional areas too. In these regions, winemakers are less focused on crafting 'fine wines' and more on producing unique, enjoyable drinks that bring joy. One such fascinating innovation is the cotton candy wine.

What I didn't realize at the beginning of my journey of exploration is just how diverse these different wines are. The single unifying factor is that they need to be sweet. How they get that sweetness - hybrid grape varietals, pure candy sugar, natural vs artificial flavors etc. is up to the winemaker. This is an important distinction because at the end of the day you can just go grab a can of sugar water from the cooler at Circle K but wine is something special. It is an expression of creativity from someone's mind to the bottle. While your views and desires may not match theirs ... the old saying, If you like it, drink it, applies here absolutely.

Unconventional? Yes. Absolutely delightful and worth exploring? Most definitely!