Raisin wine, also called straw wine, is a sweet wine made from grapes that have been laid or hung to dry, usually in the sun. The type of raisin, drying method and winemaking method can vary between wineries and regions. This beverage was traditionally made in parts of France and Northern Italy, but winemakers around the world had begun making this wine by the late 20th century.
The wine dates back to about 800 B.C., when it first appeared in Greek poetry. Hesiod, a poet, made reference to a raisin wine named Cypriot Manna. Winemakers twisted grape stems to prevent sap from reaching the fruit, causing it to dry, or they'd pick the fruit and lay it out to dry. The labor-intensive method changed little in many regions and artisan wineries, even into the 21st century. This drying process is so time consuming, and it produces few raisins, so quality raisin wine typically is expensive.
Typical raisin wine recipes feature little more than raisins, water, citrus juice or acid and sugar. A winemaker might add wine yeast to the recipe so he or she can sterilize the wine with a potassium or sodium metabisulfite tablet. The tablet sits in the wine for 24 hours, killing any harmful bacteria along with the natural yeast. Package yeast added back to the wine helps the wine ferment.
Straw wine is another common name for raisin wine, because the grapes are traditionally laid out on straw to dry in the sun. Wineries might hang, cover or rack grapes to dry, depending on their location. In Austria, for instance, regulations dictate that grapes for strohwein, or straw wine, must be laid out on straw or reed or hung on string to dry. They sit for several months before pressing. Other common names vary between countries and regions, including slamove vino in Czech Republic, vin de paille in France and commandaria in Greece.
Raisin wine's quality, sweetness and color largely depend on the type and quality of raisins used. Muscat and white raisins add only subtle caramel flavor and light hue, for instance, and dark raisins create a sweeter flavor and darker wine. The raisin cultivation, drying and manufacturing process also effect the wine. Early raisin wine featured naturally dried raisins with no preservatives, and commercial raisins used in the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in home wine making, sometimes had preservatives and an oil coating added, affecting the wine's flavor.
Winemakers also add raisins to other types of sweet, fruity wines. Raisins add body and texture to the wine, almost thickening it. The addition also makes the featured fruit flavor stand out and last longer on the tongue.