I GET ASKED which alcoholic beverage first passed our greedy little lips – beer or wine. Since it’s not a case of needing to have one before you can have the other, the first-drink problem isn’t as daunting as the chicken/egg conundrum – but it does seem to linger.
I don’t think there’s actually much of a contest here (I’ll tell you what I think decides the issue in a moment), but noodling the question this week made me think about a number of ways in which viniculture and brewing differ and how these differences affect how we use and think about them.
The main distinction is in the durability of the raw materials. Grapes are supremely perishable. Once ripe, their sugars ferment spontaneously and they can’t really be kept for long without deteriorating.
Although drying can extend their life for weeks or possibly months, the gradual diminution of water content means that it may become impossible to extract the juice needed to make wine, in which case you have to be satisfied to eat raisins. Even if some juice can be pressed out its sugar content may be so high fermentation can’t get started.