One is fruit-based. The other is made with fermented honey. But that’s not all that sets wine and mead apart. Discover the main differences between mead vs wine. And get some tips on how to select a good bottle of either.
Historians believe that both the earliest wines and the first batches of mead date back more than 8,000 years. Wine has its roots in eastern Europe and Asia, while the earliest form of mead was discovered in China.
Of course, now both beverages are enjoyed around the world. But just how is each made? And what makes for a good wine or mead?
Read on to learn what sets mead and wine apart, and what to look for in terms of quality so you can buy your next bottle with confidence.
- What is mead?
- What types of mead are there?
- How does mead taste?
- How much alcohol is in mead?
- How do you make mead?
- What to look for in good quality mead
- What is wine?
- What types of wine are there?
- What does wine taste like?
- How much alcohol is in wine?
- How is wine made?
- What to look for in a quality wine
- Differences between mead vs wine
- More wine answers
What is mead?
Basically, mead is made by fermenting honey, water, and yeast. So it’s actually a type of honey wine. But unlike wine made from grapes, mead is often flavored with additional ingredients like fruits, spices, or even hops. That can result in beer-like meads or ones that more closely resemble cider.
While the first traces of mead originated in northern China around 6,000 BCE, it later spread to ancient Greece and Rome, then throughout Europe.
The mead movement has gone through a resurgence in the United States in recent years, with the number of new meaderies (like breweries, but for mead) jumping more than 300% in the past decade — now totaling more than 500.
So if you’ve never had mead, you may be missing out on one of the latest trends in the adult beverage market!
What types of mead are there?
Mead can come in a variety of separate styles, from dry mead to sweet, and fruity to hoppy. Here are few popular ones:
Great Mead (or Sack Mead) is meant to be aged, similar to fine wines. It has a greater honey-to-water ratio than typical mead and a higher alcohol content as well.
Braggot is mead mixed with hops and malt (or even beer). Usually the ratio is half mead and half beer (or grains).
Melomel is mead that’s mixed fruit. The fruit can either be already fermented or added after the honey fermentation is complete.
Hydromel denotes melomel mixed with water. This decreases the alcohol level considerably, to as low as 3%. Because of this, hydromels are sometimes referred to as session meads.
Metheglin is a spiced mead made by mixing in ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla.
Sparkling mead is carbonated, either by adding carbon dioxide or with the addition of extra sugar or honey prior to bottling.
And the list goes on!
How does mead taste?
Because there are so many different types of mead, they can take on a wide range of different flavors.
Those higher in fruits will taste more fruit-forward and may resemble a sort of white wine. Those produced with apples (this mead is called Cyser) may taste like a cider. You’ll taste more honey-forward flavors in traditional mead.
As you might imagine, since it’s honey-based, some meads (like sack mead) can be very sweet, which can be offputting for many wine and beer drinkers. But other types, like some varieties of melomel, have a dry finish.
And others can be spicy and comforting, like metheglin and mulled (heated) meads, which are popular during the holidays.
If you’re new to mead, part of the fun is trying out different kinds to see which type of mead, or types, you prefer!
How much alcohol is in mead?
The alcohol content of mead can vary widely. Typical mead will have an ABV of between 7 and 14%. Hydromel may have an ABV as low as 3%. And a sweet mead like sack meads can hit the 20% ABV mark.
So depending on the type you get, the alcohol content can be either much less, on par with, or much higher than a typical grape-based wine.
How do you make mead?
Standard mead starts with three main ingredients: honey, water, and yeast.
To make mead, first you dilute honey with water so it’s easier to ferment. This “must” mixture, as it’s called, is then usually heated up to kill off any harmful bacteria.
If the mead will be mixed with fruit, it happens at this stage, prior to fermentation.
Next, yeast is added to spark the fermentation process. Once fermentation begins, the mead ages for several months to several years, depending on the type, before it’s ready to drink.
Everything from the yeast, to how much water or fruit is used, can determine the alcohol level of the mead, as well as whether it’s dry or sweet.
What to look for in good quality mead
With so many style and flavor options available, when it comes to picking a good mead it’s best to look for ones that have a good balance between the honey content and whatever other ingredients were added.
A mead that is too spicy or sweet for example may mask the honey. Likewise, one that is too watered down can make it seem bland.
Also, opt for ones with good body and complexity. These will include styles with mid-range alcohol levels, and a nice mix of ingredients, whether you prefer fruity, hoppy, or something in between.
Finally, texture can play a big role in the quality of mead. Ones that are too sour or too sweet can result in an unpleasant mouthfeel when you drink them. Whereas more balanced, structured meads should feel soft and fuller-bodied.
What is wine?
Ok, this is a broad question! In simple terms, what we commonly refer to as wine today is typically made from fermented wine grapes. (Though other types of wines certainly exist, made with everything from apples to pears to strawberries, to name a few.)
Wine also has a long history. Research shows that some of the first grape vines used to produce wine were planted in what is now the country of Georgia, which straddles Europe and Asia. These date back to about 6,000 BCE. Other early growing regions included Persia (modern-day Iran) and Armenia.
From there, wine grapes soon spread to other cultures around the Mediterranean, including Phoenicia (Lebanon), Greece, and Italy, before being grown in other regions of Europe.
Along the way, new mutations and new grape varieties were created. Currently, there are thousands of different types of grapes that can be used to make wine.
And they’re grown all over the world. Some of the most prolific and well-known wine regions include France, Italy, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of South America.
What types of wine are there?
Wine can come in a wide range of varieties and styles, from red to white, from dry to sweet, and from still to sparkling.
Popular red wines
Some of the most common, bigger red wine styles are Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known in Australia). These are full-bodied, red wines high in tannins, that pair well with rich foods like steak. Both of these grapes hail from France but are now grown around the world. They typically grow well in climates with moderate and warmer temperatures.
Other popular red wines are Merlot and Pinot Noir. Merlot is typically a velvety, smooth wine that is easy to drink and can be paired with a variety of foods. Pinot Noir is a lighter-bodied wine commonly grown in cooler regions that often complements lighter meats like pork and turkey, as well as roast vegetables.
Popular white wines
For white wine, one of the most abundant styles is Chardonnay. This widely produced wine is very versatile. It can be either dry and crisp or rich and buttery, which is what makes it so popular among wine lovers.
Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are other widely-consumed white wines. These are generally fruity, crisp, and dry, though their flavor profiles will change depending on the climate where they’re produced.
Sweeter white wines include Riesling and Moscato. Rieslings are widely produced in Germany and can be very sweet in some cases, depending on how they’re made and which style you opt for. For example, some Rieslings verge on dessert wines that tend to be very sweet.
Similarly, Moscato comes in a variety of styles (and colors), but the most common are carbonated white styles called Moscato d’Asti and Asti.
Champagne and sparkling wines
If you prefer your wine with bubbles, then you may opt for a Champagne or sparkling wine. Though both styles are similar, only sparking wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called “Champagne.”
These can also come in a variety of styles from dry to sweet (like some Moscato), and from white to pink (or rosé) to even red sparkling wines.
These types of wines, which include Port, Sherry, and Madeira, are made by mixing wine with spirits, like brandy or cognac, either during or after fermentation. The addition of the spirits “fortifies” the wine and increases the alcohol content. It was originally made to help prevent wine from spoiling during long sea voyages.
These wines can range from dry to sweet.
Other types of wines also exist, but these are among the most popular and widely produced.
What does wine taste like?
Depending on the style, wine can be fruity, earthy, sweet, and even smoky (among others!)
Big, bold red wines can have notes of dark fruit like black cherries or blackberries, as well as earthy flavors like mushrooms, chocolate, leather, and tobacco.
Lighter reds can have hints of strawberry, raspberry, and plums, as well as vanilla and cloves.
White wines can have fruit flavor notes that include apple, peach, pear, citrus, melon, and mango, along with many others. Sweeter whites often feature fruit flavors like mango or pineapple, whereas as dry whites may feature more apple and citrus notes.
Port can feature rich fruit flavors like prunes and blackberries, along with dark chocolate.
How much alcohol is in wine?
Wine can range from about 6% ABV on the low end for some styles like Moscato to around 20% for many fortified wines. But generally, white wines will fall in the 11-13% ABV range, while most reds will contain anywhere from about 13-15.5% ABV.
How is wine made?
Again, wine production methods will vary depending on the grape variety and type of wine, but we’ll focus on common red and white wine varieties.
How white wine is made
White wine is generally made by pressing the grapes, which separates the grape juice from the seeds, skins, and stems. Then the juice is stored in stainless steel containers or oak barrels to ferment, depending on the type of grape harvested. Sometimes this requires the addition of yeast to spark the fermentation. The wine is usually then aged anywhere from 6 to 12 months before bottling.
How red wine is made
To make red wine, the grapes are picked and then usually destemmed. Then the grapes are moved to large tanks with their skins in order to start fermentation. It’s the contact that the grape juice has with the grape skins that gives red wine its color. Typically, the longer the contact, the darker the wine will be.
Fermentation will usually last one to three weeks. Then the wine is ready to be moved to oak barrels (or other containers) to be stored and aged. First, the wine is simply allowed to “free run” from the fermentation tanks to the barrels. Then the remaining wine from the tanks is pressed, and that wine is also moved to barrels. Both of these processes separate the skin and seeds from the wine.
Other steps include a second fermentation called Malolactic fermentation (which helps smooth out the texture of the wine), aging, blending, clarifying (to remove leftover protein particles), and bottling.
Typically, reds are aged 1-2 years before bottling. Then depending on the wine, the final product can age well for several years before drinking. This can allow the wine to mellow out and become more complex.
What to look for in a quality wine
Quality can mean different things to different people, so it will come down to personal preference. But if you’re looking for a high-quality wine, there are a few characteristics to aim for.
A good red wine will be balanced and easy to drink with a nice aroma. For example, an overly acidic red can mean it’s still too young to drink and needs to be aged more. One that smells a bit like vinegar or sharp may have passed its prime (and should be discarded).
So, if you’re new to wine, aim for a red wine with a smooth mouthfeel and balanced tannins, as that will give you a baseline. From there, you can compare other types that may have more tannin or lighter body styles.
Balance is also important in a good white wine. If you like dry wine, look for whites with good acidity and balanced fruit notes. For sweeter wines, aim for ones that moderate the sweetness and fruit notes. Wines that are too sweet can overpower the rest of the flavor profile.
Differences between mead vs wine
While the biggest difference may be the main ingredient of honey vs grapes, there are other distinctions between mead and wine that set them apart. Here’s a quick recap:
|Basic ingredients||Honey, water, yeast||Grapes, yeast|
|Common colors||Pale yellow to amber to dark honey||Red, white, or rosé|
|Taste||Can be fruity to hoppy to spicy||Range of fruits, spices, chocolate, mocha, earthy|
|Alcohol||3%-20% ABV||6%-20% ABV|
|Fermentation and aging||3-6 months before bottling||6-24 months before bottling|
Generally, mead does not need to be refrigerated after you open it. The alcohol content will help preserve the mead. But it’s a good idea to seal the bottle tightly to help keep it fresh.
Unopened mead can last a long time, up to several years in the bottle. Just store it in a cool, dry place like a pantry. Opened bottles of mead can last up to three months at room temperature or in the fridge.
In most cases, you want to store your wine in a cool, dry place like a cellar or wine fridge. The ideal temperature is around 55° F. You also want to store them on their sides so the liquid can stay in contact with the cork. This helps prevent air from getting inside the bottle and harming the wine.
Additionally, keep it out of direct sunlight as this also affects the wine’s flavor.
Color and smell are two of the best ways to tell if a wine has turned bad.
If your red wine has become dull or brown — or a white wine has darkened considerably — that’s a sign that it may be ready to discard.
If your wine smells like vinegar, rotten eggs, garlic, or simply is rancid, those are all signs that it has turned.
More wine answers
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