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My Honey Wine Story

My first glass of honey wine was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, probably 1995. Habte, the manager of The Blue Nile, was born and raised in the old country, and served a particular brand of tej (as honey wine is called in Ethiopia) imported from Africa. It made an incredible complement to the spicy array of legumes that we dug into with the spongy “injera” bread.

honey wine, mead, wine made from honey, Tupelo Honey, orange blossom honey, clover honey, honey

Honey wine, also called mead, uses monofloral honey like Tupelo, clover or star thistle (pictured above) or blended honey instead of grapes or other fruit. Photo by Edible Grande Traverse.

The honey wine was a crystal-clear and radiant golden color, perfectly balanced semi-dry in sweetness that absolutely dazzled the senses with flavors that included but also went beyond honey.

It was at the same time that I was discovering California wines, and I didn’t think any Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc that I had tried in Napa Valley was any better in quality or offered any more enjoyment than the honey wine Habte served at the Blue Nile.

So what if it didn’t have grapes in it? This wine was special. And if you ask me, having wine made from honey upped the already romantic atmosphere that eating with your hands gives Ethiopian restaurants.

Habte could not sell me bottles of the tej, so I made many happy returns to the restaurant, for the food, sure, but also to go back to the only place I knew that served honey wine.

Since that happy discovery and many more visits to Ethiopian restaurants and glasses of tej — all quite different from one another, one day I discovered bottles of domestically made honey wine in the wine department of a Whole Foods in Berkeley, California in 2007.

Honey wine made here in the U.S.! And at a…STORE! Wow.

I had fallen behind the times, without realizing it. Turns out, meaderies (honey wine is also called “mead”, and wineries dedicated strictly to the production of honey wine are called meaderies) had been popping up around the country for years. And along with the meaderies popping up, a small minority of wineries were making honey wine, too, complementing their rosters of Cabernets, Rieslings and Merlots.

But it’s still very hard to find honey wines in stores.

So rare, that to include “honey wine” as an item to gather in a scavenger hunt would be, well… brutal. Finding a bottle of it in most places is probably just slightly easier than finding a moon rock or meteor debris.

But thanks to your intrepid Google-ing, you’ve found a great way to locate producers of honey wine who are licensed to ship their wine to your door. Check out our honey wine search function… and have fun shopping.

— Todd Spencer, editor

Frequently Asked Questions

What does honey wine taste like?

Honey wine tastes like honey, but there’s a complexity that’s pretty dazzling.

The complexity, which is more profound in dryer wines, comes from the fermentation process, the type of honey used (tupelo honey makes a different flavor of mead than star thistle honey), the aging (usually at least one year) and barreling.

Honey wine with fruit added, of course, offers a honey-fruit flavor, and one with herbs added is a honey-spice experience.

How else do honey wines vary — other than the type of honey used, fruit-spice added, aging and barreling?

Some are, of course, sweeter and some are dryer and some are even sweet enough to be dessert wines. There are also honey wines with zero residual sugar, which makes them absolutely bone dry. Some are cloudy (unfiltered) and some are completely clear. Some are recommended to be served cold, some room temperature, and some have a light carbonation, though most are “still” wines.

Pairing food with honey wine. Suggestions?

Semi-dry and sweeter honey wines will go nicely with anything spicy and anything sweet (teriyaki, Italian red sauce dishes, glazed meat). Producers of honey wine also say that honey wine goes nicely with Thanksgiving dinner. But honey wine is so romantic that the best complement is not really food but the right company. If you know what I mean.

Sweeter honey wines also work as dessert wines: How could a pour of sweet honey wine after a homemade meal not impress your date? Honey wine also sets a romantic evening as a pairing with appetizers. “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”

What makes tej unique from American honey wines?

One big difference is that Ethiopian honey wine is flavored with the powdered leaves and bark of gesho a native plant.

What was the honey wine you found at Whole Foods in California?

Honey Run Winery in Chico, California made that wine, which is a lot sweeter than the tej wines I had tried. The Honey Run wine is also kosher certified  and made without any added sulfites.

Isn’t honey wine an ancient drink?

If mead were a fly ball, it would be on the “warning track” of human history — almost clear out of the ball park. Archeologists have evidence of mead that dates back 9,000 years ago to 7,000 B.C.

Honey wine was the preferred drink in ancient Greece, and of course most of us know of references to mead in movies and epic poems from the European Middle Ages. It also experienced heydays in Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia, etc.) and in the central European Baltic countries. And of course, Ethiopia. Honey wine still has fans in all these cultures.

The earliest discovery of honey wine 9,000 years ago was unearthed at a site in what is today northern China.