English Mead, Lurgashall Winery, Petworth, West Sussex, England (12.5% ABV)
Intense honey aroma; sweet, candyish taste is balanced somewhat by an alcohol bite A smooth, pleasant, straightforward example of the beverage. My drinking companion, Martin Morse Wooster, remarked that it’s not a far leap from a sherry or other sweet, fortified wine. The 375-ml clear bottle includes a quote by Samuel Pepys that mead produces “a humming of the brain.” It also suggests serving the contents chilled or over ice as an accompaniment to a fruit dessert like peaches or apricots.
Honeysuckle Mead, Smokehouse Winery, Sperryville, VA. (12-14% ABV)
This artisanal honey wine is packaged in a slender 500-ml bottle labeled “metheglin” (a spiced mead). Meadmaker Jon Hallberg does add honeysuckle blossoms to the boil, but the floral notes are very subtle (then again, this was a 2001 vintage, and they may have dissipated over time). Instead, I picked up an almost whiskeyish aroma and hints of wood and caramelized sugar in the flavor. Hallberg does not age the mead in whiskey barrels, but he does admit that his products tend to be well-attenuated. Easily the driest of the meads sampled, this would not be out of placed served as an apertif or as a beer chaser. Available at the meadery and at a few select outlets in Virginia.
Saba Tej, made by DiGrazia Vineyards, Brookfield, CT for the Saba Tej Co. (13.9% ABV)
One of several Ethiopian-style honey wines that Arraya Selassie, a native of Addis Ababa now residing in New Jersey, has made for him at several wineries around the country. Tej is flavored with an indigenous plant called gesho, which performs much the same function as the hops in beer. The straw-colored liquid has a rich honey-herbal aroma with grassy notes, a faint medicinal dryness to balance the sweetness, and a lingering, almost tannic aftertaste. The label asserts that “this legendary drink was the toast between the Queen of Sheba (Saba) and King Solomon dating back 950 BC.” It also proudly states that Saba Tej contains no sulfites or perservatives. This and Selassie’s other products (including Axum Tej, Royal Mead and Royal Mead Blackberry) can be found in the New York-Washington corridor (where much of the country’s Ethiopian population resides), as well as in North Carolina, Georgia and a few western states.