Autumn Olive Taste Test

The 2012 vintage of Invasive autumn olive wine, freshly bottled & off to the cellar for a year, waiting for this day.

It’s time to crack open our 2012 Autumn Olive Wine, and not to brag but more than a third of tasters preferred autumn olive wine to a commercial pinot grigio!

Autumn olive
The September 2012 Autumn Olive Crop

Last September, we lit out for our first collection of invasive autumn olive and came home with pounds of red and silver-flecked berries.  Sweet, a little tart, and a little bitter they turned into a delicious autumn olive jam and spectacular autumn olive thumbprint cookies.  The bulk of the berries however, were cruelly and mercilessly crushed, fermented and bottled.  It’s since been a full year, plenty of time for a sweet fruit wine to age gracefully, so we celebrate by pulling the cork, and passing the bottle.  Metaphorically, that is, since we used screw-tops.  And didn’t pass the bottle so much as do SCIENCE  with a controlled, blind taste test of 19 people I found sitting around the office.

The set-up

Our experimental taste test needed to 1) keep the taster blind to what they were drinking so they didn’t have preconceptions of a wine being made from an invasive species, and 2) have another “real” wine to compare to so they would have to seriously consider the flavors of the wine.  We accomplished both by having each taster try both the autumn olive wine and a 2012 Fish-Eye pinot grigio from California, with the identity of each hidden.  Before telling participants which wine was which, we had them write three “wine-y” words to describe each wine, mark which wine they thought was the autumn olive, and which wine they preferred.

Samples ready to be tasted! Photo credit: Heather Asiala
Samples ready to be tasted! Photo credit: Heather Asiala

The Results

The autumn olive wine compared very favorably to the commercial wine.  As a whole, this small selection of everyday people (ok fine, mostly grad-students), by no means wine connoisseurs, found autumn olive wine to be nearly as appealing and suitable as an inexpensive white wine.  The tasters most frequently described the autumn olive wine as fruity, floral, and bubbly, while the pinot grigio was described as light, sweet, and watery.  Seven of the nineteen tasters (37%) that stated a preference liked the autumn olive better than the pinot grigio.  Meanwhile, a different four of the nineteen tasters concluded that the commercial pinot grigio was probably the wine made from an invasive species!

Having persuaded our peers to subject themselves to our wine, they turned the tables and one other result emerged.  Blindfolded, the vintner himself could not correctly identify the autumn olive from the pinot grigio!

While these results are very interesting, indeed surprising, there are some caveats.  First, the Fish-Eye pinot griogio was selected based on one criteria:  it was the cheapest white wine on the shelf at the corner grocery.  Thus, it’s possible that autumn olive compares to, well, cheap wine.  On the other hand, there is clearly a market for such wine.  Second, in making the autumn olive wine in my kitchen I had free license to add as much sugar and other helpers as I wanted or needed to achieve a nice finish.  Spiking the wine in this way probably biases the comparison relative to commercial wines, which are not allowed to make these additions.  Particularly the sugar.  Nonetheless, I say make it, drink it, and let the people decide.  It seems that they like the stuff.

A word cloud illustrates bubbly, dry, fruity, and strong were among the most common words used to describe our autumn olive wine.
A word cloud illustrates bubbly, dry, fruity, and strong were among the most common words used to describe our autumn olive wine.

Autumn Olive Wine Taste Test Results Table (complete disclosure of the data from our pseudo-scientific study)


Taster Autumn olive (AO) descriptors Pinot Grigio (PG) descriptors Preferred Perceived Invasive
1 light, fruity, floral light, bitter AO PG
2 strong aroma, floral, bitter sweeter, woodsy, long after taste NA PG
3 sour smell, little bite, strong soft PG NA
4 very gentle nose, deep caramel color, Fruity with tangy finish fresh nose, full bodied, sharp finish NA NA
5 fruity, strong nosy, alcohol flavor, smooth NA NA
6 strong alcohol, full, too much Crisp, semi-sweet, light PG PG
7 sweet, bubbly sour, watery AO AO
8 dry, bitter not favorable AO PG
9 hint of apple, skunky finish, just ok light, airy, un-obtrusive PG AO
10 dry, tannic, open, flavorful tannic, oak finish, sour AO AO
11 dry, chemical-like, bubbly, alcoholic smooth, sweet PG AO
12 bubbly, refreshing, deceptive harsh, awful, watery AO AO
13 licorice, dry, earthy sweet, light, standard PG AO
14 soapy, tangy, bitter bland, sweet PG AO
15 bubbly, mild, floral fruity, tart, zing AO AO
16 sweet, light, tasty sweet, light, tasty NA AO
17 apple, creamy, alcoholic fruity, tangy, alcoholic PG AO
18 semi-dry, light, earthy inoffensive, boring, watery AO AO
19 bubbly, rancid, cider weak, insipid, bland PG AO

One thought on “Autumn Olive Taste Test

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *