It's like Christmas atm here with the seasonal tropical fruits. Right now is the rambutan season. The fruits are ripening and it reminds me of tracking grapes during vintage to select harvest dates. This is exactly what I am doing with our rambutans.
There are many species, but to my knowledge there are mainly red and yellow rambutans. Some of which the flesh comes off clean from the seed while some don’t, and this in local lingo we call loot kang, meaning a bit of the seed comes off with the flesh. It's not ideal for the purist and connoisseur but as long as you can cope with it, and you are a ram enough fan, you are still nearly in heaven and will just about vacuum through any kind of rambutan as long as it tastes amazing.
Rambutans ripen just like any other fruit – a.k.a. grapes – and I’m going to write a little bit about how the rambutan ripens and then parallel it with grapes and I hope you enjoy this. Rambutans don’t need as much TLC as grapes as they are not as fragile, but the process of ripening is fun to discover.
As you can see the rambutan fruit sets and starts off fresh green – I missed catching the pre this stage, next year hopefully! Then it starts to ripen, and the weather kicks that along, the warm temperature, whether it is looking at the sun or away from the sun, are there leaves covering the fruit or are they exposed. Whether the fruit is at the top of the tree or at the bottom or tucked right inside. A fruit that is exposed and facing the sun will ripen the quickest and sugar levels will increase. In grape terms, that is why we manage our canopy carefully so that we don’t over-expose the fruit otherwise it risks sunburn. Grape skin is much thinner than a rambutan’s (we can eat grape skin but you wouldn't want to eat a rambutan skin!) and white grapes have thinner skin than red so that is why we dapple the light on white grapes so that they can ripen and gather flavours gently along the way. With our red grapes, we expose them more and we like to do this after flowering, around December when it is more effective, so that the fruit has time to acclimatise to the sun.
Back to a rambutan. As it ripens the colour changes from green to yellow or red and as it ripens further the furry bits also change colour. You can see from the different pictures here. These are all taken at the same time so you can see the contrast of ripening just based on the local factors as mentioned above. I confirm visual by tasting the fruit and that confirms “ah yes that is not ready yet or yes this part of this tree is.” This takes time to catch the ideal harvest window and this is a real pleasure to be able to watch them grow and ripen and pick at the perfect time.
For grapes, the red grapes are generally closer to the colour they are going to be so they are not as indicative as the rambutan, so we get our clues from the canopy and taste of the grape. Does the canopy look tired? Does it have the strength to ripen the fruit, do we need a little water, are we expecting rain? How are the tannins on the skin? How easily the pips ease off the flesh indicate the stage of ripeness beyond how sweet the grape tastes. And we look at the skin after chewing, what colour intensity is coming off the skins, as that will be adding to the colour of the wine. In a season where we don’t have enough time to develop to the point of optimal then we don’t get all the icing on the cake.
Chateau d'Yquem vs UMAMU Cane Cut
Ever wonder why a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem costs so much? Well, they harvest their blocks several times, picking the ripe grapes as they go. Almost by grape the selection goes. So imagine the number of labour hours to get enough grapes into one bottle of wine. This would be another story to go through the maths of this, but it is quite a lot, take my word for it. So many grapes x many picks = cost! And that is why we hand pick our Chardonnay parcel so that we can hand select the best grape bunches.
Making a good wine is always possible as long as Mother Nature is kind, it is making an exceptional wine that requires a lot more TLC in the production of it. This is why wines have such a range in price. And by putting more into the production, you are able to create a finer product and hence why that product costs more.
“Oh please do harvest some rams yourself,” I say to a good family friend, and next thing I know he has a little pool of red half ready ripeness. So I say “oh no, they are not ready”, he tastes one and says “it is fine".
“I have no doubt it is fine, but is it exceptional?”, I smile, “it isn’t optimum yet!”
“Ah I see, so sorry,” and he heads to the fully ripened red!
My Mum really wanted us to produce an equivalent of an d’Yquem from UMAMU and I was terribly worried about botrytis and green things growing in the vineyard, because we work really hard to keep the fruit as fresh and disease-free as possible! Happily we found a safe enough way to do this and we tried and tried as we also need the weather right to be able to create an environment for the grapes to ripen as far as we need, i.e. get enough sweetness to be able to make a sweet wine given the season on hand. Mum was so excited and she said “don’t tell anyone we made a sweet, we will let them taste it blind against a d’Yquem". So I have been doing this and guess what, the verdict is still out! Which is sooo cool.
Our Cane Cut is a mere 10.2% alcohol, we left some sugar in the system and didn't convert it all to alcohol, to make this lovely elegant to die for sweet wine that can be kept in the fridge for weeks thanks to the sugar preserving it! You get to savour a glass or two whenever you fancy.
I love how we can tie our stories together in what we do and am ever grateful for all that we have. Thank you for sharing this journey with us.
For years I had the pleasure of distributing rams with Mum, and I continue to do this every year. Mum even planted a yellow ram tree for me because I love the yellow ones. And she has her fav red tree.
The flesh of the red is leaner while the yellow more bulbous. Flavour wise, the red is fuller while the yellow is leaner. Fascinating no?
On the food pairing trail, I thought of rambutans with bacon, angels on horseback, inspired by devils on horseback (prunes with bacon). And guess what it pairs well with the sweet wine. Check out this very simple recipe to prepare if you have rambutans handy!
UMAMU Cane Cut is tropical, youthful with brooding forward freshness and ready to encompass you. The wine brings out the flavour of the rambutan.
The d'Yquem's nose is to die for, highly intense, distinctly Yquem and lingering. Palate is rich and beautiful. Initial hint of something austere which wafts off very quickly. Very sophisticated lady. Slight burnt caramelly with subtleness and nuances. Much more developed than UMAMU cane cut. Wonderful to experience them together.
Angels on horseback, well grilled bacon pairs nicely with the freshness of the rambutan's exotic flavours which in turn pairs well with the sweet duo.
Read more about rambutans in this Science Direct article.