When we think of mead, our minds will likely go to Vikings slurping from tankards, or medieval Kings and Queens sipping from golden goblets – and rightly so. Mead is believed to be the oldest alcoholic drink known to man. As the ancestor to all alcoholic beverages, we take a look at how mead compares to wine, and what the differences are between them.
On the most basic level, the thing that sets apart wine and mead is the ingredient with which they are made. Wine is made from fermented grapes, whereas mead is made using fermented honey. Furthermore, wine is largely limited to only being made from grapes, but mead can include a number of other ingredients alongside the honey.
Wine or Beer?
One of the biggest debates in the world of wine and mead is whether mead should be classified as a wine or as a beer. While mead is a drink in its own right – like cider isn’t wine or beer – it is often considered in the same category as wines and is even called ‘honey-wine’ by some. Like wine, mead is fermented rather than brewed, and it similarly contains a higher alcohol content.
Wine and mead both have history dating back to ancient civilisations. Each drink was created somewhat accidentally when the fermentation of yeasts led to the production of wine. While wine is enjoyed globally now, in the past, it did not have as much of a worldwide reach as mead. With access to honey on every continent, mead has been drunk around the world for thousands of years. While wine has a long-reaching history too, grapes were initially only found in Mediterranean regions and Western Asia, so grape wine was not enjoyed in such a widespread manner until traders were able to export the drink globally.
While mead was historically the go-to sip – primarily as it was once the only alcoholic drink – by the end of the Middle Ages, mead had more or less been removed from the table, instead being used mostly for medicinal purposes. In its place was wine, and it has mostly remained the staple alcoholic table drink since then. Nowadays, the wine industry is enormous, with thousands of wineries around the world producing a vast variety of different wines. In contrast, the mead business is almost non-existent in comparison, with only a handful of businesses producing the drink.
This does in some ways tip the scales in favour of mead lovers, however, as the lack of competition means that you can get hold of quality mead for a fairly low cost! Yet, with the historical drink sipped in popular dramas such as Game of Thrones, the demand for the traditional tipple has skyrocketed, with consumption increasing by a whopping 42 percent in 2015!
Varietals and Ingredients
For wine, varietals are determined by the grapes used, which influences the type, flavour and colour of the end product. The many different grape varieties and almost endless combination potentials make for an incredible range of wine types, each with their own classification.
On the other hand, mead is classified by both ingredients included and the levels of sugar in each bottle. Despite being made from honey, some meads have extra sugar added and will be referred to as sweet, or semi-sweet meads. Others will have a less sweet taste and are known as dry meads.
As mentioned, ingredients all play a part in the classification of mead. While wine will only use fermented grapes, mead can contain a number of additional ingredients. Popular additions include spices, fruit juice and hops. The type of mead will, therefore, depend on what else has been added into to the mix.
One of the biggest differences between wine and mead is that wine is often blended before bottling, whereas mead is not. Regardless of whether a winemaker is using a single variety of grape or a mix of different grape varietals, the vast majority of wines will be blends. This means that a number of different vintages, of varying ages, will be combined together to form a delicious ‘blend’. Some of these wines may be new, while others could be around ten years old! For mead, however, such a process does not commonly occur. Instead, the mead that is produced will simply go straight into a bottle.
As wine lovers will know, wine only has a short lifespan after being opened before it starts to taste a little vinegary. While fortified wines, like Port or Sherry, can be stored for a month or so once opened, most wines will only taste their best for around three days. Due to its higher sugar content from the honey, mead can last for a lot longer, and if sufficiently stoppered can last for at least a month once opened. Check out our guide to learn how long different types of wine can remain open for.
If you’re looking to diversify your wine collection, then ensure you have the right storage solution at the ready! Tanglewood Wines offers custom built wine cellars, specifically designed to fit your needs.
Image Credit: Kurt Bauschardt
Image Credit: Didriks