Mead vs Wine – What Are The Main Differences?

Most everyone has heard of mead, but it’s not always directly compared vs wine. Still, there’s a reason to look at both.

Every year at the end of May, Americans celebrate National Wine Day, most often by visiting wineries across the country or simply enjoying a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, or perhaps a sparkling Prosecco. Some even indulge in wine-themed treats, such as ice cream and slushies.

But National Wine Day has competition: International Mead Day is celebrated the first Saturday in August, and, like National Wine Day, is meant to celebrate the history and culture around the drink. And as with National Wine Day, the day is mostly spent enjoying mead at its best.

Mead Day was actually first organized by the American Homebrewers Association in 2002. Some brewers actually make mead on that day and share their love for the craft.

While the cultures, taste, and history of mead vs wine may differ, one thing is clear: both wine and mead have a place in both American and international culture.

But when it comes to comparing the two, what really are the main differences, and what are each best known for?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know when it comes to mead vs wine. Compared, the two certainly have overlap, but the difference is noticeable when it comes to flavors, food pairings, and availability.

Whether you love wine and only wine or tend to prefer mead, or are not entirely sure, this comparison article will make the distinctions clear.

What is mead? First of all, let’s cover some basics, in case you aren’t aware. Mead, which is also interchangeably referred to as ambrosia and even honey wine, is a fermented drink. It’s made from simple ingredients: water, yeast, and honey.

Nicknamed the “Drink of the Gods,” mead has commonalities, but also differences, with other alcoholic beverages, including beer, spiked cider, and wine.

However, as those drinks named, mead also has its own distinct categorization. The nickname of “Drink of the Gods” is derived from the ancient belief that bees were a form of messengers for the gods. Bees have also been associated with the heavens and predicting the future.

For some, bees and their honey are linked strongly with good luck and fortune, hence the strong mythological and religious history of mead.

How long has mead been around?

 Mead has been around for a long time–in fact, it’s considered one of the most ancient still consumed beverages. While it is not entirely possible to trace the exact date of origin, mead has been mentioned as far back as four thousand years ago.

China, India, Greece, and Egypt all reference mead. Other nations that mead was also important to include Germany, Norway, and Celtic regions, where the beverage was intertwined with mythology. In Celtic mythology, for instance, there is a river of mead that flows through Paradise.

For a more contemporary example, consider the word honeymoon. The word is actually derived from as far back as the fifth century when it was common to keep calendars in accordance with moon cycles.

In the first moon of being married, newlyweds had the tradition of drinking mead. Mead, of course, is made with honey, hence the name association.

While there are countless ways mead has infiltrated popular cultures around the world, one thing is clear: it remains, to this day, both a popular and symbolic drink.

How does wine’s history compare?

As you can imagine, wine also has a long and storied history, and has made a large impact in terms of shaping and representing cultures around the world. The earliest winery, according to historians, can be dated back as far as four thousand B.C. in Armenia, a site which was only uncovered in 2007.

Wine, or something like it, is thought to have been used in ancient Egyptian ceremonies and also made its way into Israel, as well as Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East as far back as twelve hundred B.C.

Greece and Rome also used wine for a variety of purposes and traveled to the Americas by Spanish missionaries. It’s important to understand that wine was not considered at first a celebratory drink only, but in fact, drank commonly among a variety of social classes and statuses. In fact, in Rome, for instance, the wine was considered a daily beverage.

Wine vineyards came to represent one’s fortune and well being and in some cases was considered a blessing from God.

Is mead closer to wine or beer?

If you had to select is mead was closer to wine vs beer, you’d have to go with beer. Like beer, mead is a more yeasty, lighter beverage, white wine is made from fermented fruits.

However, at the same time, it is important to note that mead is in its own category and in that way, distinct. Mead is different and much of its unique characteristics are derived from the fact that honey is the main ingredient.  And as we will see later, there is a good deal of overlap with wine vs mead.

Where is mead produced?

 One main difference between mead and wine, before we get into more specifics, is where it is produced. Unlike wine, which requires specific grape varieties, and thus, specific climates, mead can be produced virtually anywhere. In fact, it is not uncommon to find recipes for mead or easy to follow instructions. This, mead production is nit as limited, nor attached, to specific geographical locations in the same way wine is, perhaps giving off the impression that mead is overall a more accessible drink–depending on how you look at it.

While both wine and mead are considered multicultural, today mead seems to transcend culture in away. Because mead can be made anywhere, there’s a looser connection, arguably, to the place of origin as there is with wine.

Compared, what are the main differences between mead vs wine?

Now that we’ve established some basic information, as well as some of the history behind mead and wine, let’s take a look at the most significant factors that truly distinguish mead vs wine.

How is wine vs mead produced?

We’ve already discussed the different ingredients in mead vs wine, but how does the production process differ, and does it matter? In fact, it does.

Mead is made is several easy steps than non-experts can handle. Honey, other elements of sucrose (depending on the recipe), some form of yeast and water are combined and then set to ferment for at least four weeks. Different versions will incorporate different ingredients, but the process itself is more or less fairly simple.

Wine production, when compared with mead, is a bit more complicated. First, grapes must be carefully grown in a suitable climate, then harvested. Depending on what kind of wine is being made, there may be many grape varieties. Commodity wines may use grapes from different regions. Grapes are then crushed, set to ferment, and sometimes aged.

  • Red wines are made by removing grapes’ stems, the same way you would with white wines, but the skins are not removed, resulting in a more tannic beverage.
  • Fermentation sometimes, but does not always include yeast to speed up the process. Unlike with mead, however, it is not considered one hundred percent essential.
  • Wine is heavily influenced by the entire process. Harvesting wine earlier results in higher acidity and more prominent tannins. Cooler fermentation methods are often used for white wines. In terms of aging, white wines are more commonly aged in steel for a brighter taste, while oak aging adds toasted vanilla notes and rich complexity.

How are blends made?

Blends are made in a rather different manner for wine compared with mead. Wine blends are produced by blending different varieties before fermentation. While wine blends often combine varieties of differing ages, mead blends typically do not.

How is wine vs mead classified?

Classification tells you a great deal about the key differences between wine vs mead.

Wine is classified by region, climate, and grape variety. You also, of course, have subcategories based on the specific types, such as red wines, white wines, sparkling wines, and more. Finally, wine is also classified by specific characteristics, most notably sweetness, with very brut wines as dry as you can get and dessert wines, such as Moscato, among the sweetness. Sometimes, wines are also noted as high acidity vs low acidity.

Mead is most classified by the slight variations on the way it is produced, which hinges or the exclusion or inclusion of certain ingredients.

  • Traditional Mead is made with honey, water, yeast, and occasionally a little table sugar.
  • Sack Mead simply adds larger portions of honey, resulting in a heavier, and sweeter drink.
  • Melomel is an unusual variety of mead which adds a bit of grape juice to traditional mead, and sometimes some spices

Is there any overlap in terms of how we classify wine?

In fact, yes. As if wine, tannins, body, and acidity all play a role in how mead is categorized.

Body refers to the mouthful, our how heavy or rich the wine or mead feels as you drink. Full and light body versions exist in many kinds of wine. For mead, as a rule, the stronger and sweeter the mead, the fuller the body.

Level of tannins, in both mead and wine, also are important. Tannins add bitter astringency and texture. For mead, high tannins tend to be less common, in part because some of the most desired meads are quite sweet and smooth, while red wines are often prized for a more astringent taste.

Acidity is important in both wine and mead. In mead, the acidity balances the sweetness of the honey. For wine, high acidity can make a wine taste more fresh and bright, while lower levels of acidity make the wine a bit more smooth and, sometimes, rich.

Is there any overlap between mead and wine?

Yes. For one, melomel using some grape juice in the process. There is also Payment, which is actually the term for a wine that adds honey for a sweeter result.

What are the most common flavor notes for mead vs wine?

For both meads vs wine, flavor notes vary widely depending on both the specific variety and method of production.

Wine common flavor notes include bright berries, stone fruits, deep red fruit, citrus, floral and perfumed, earthy and mineral notes, baking spices, peppery notes, and smoky notes. There are also richer notes, such as candied fruit, cocoa, vanilla, and tobacco.

Mead flavors change a good deal depending on both the process and the honey being used. However, you may be surprised to learn that mead, depending on the variety, can also include fruity, floral and spicy notes. Sweeter meads are both richer and more prominent in honey flavors, and as with wine, the more aged, generally, the more complex and rich the mead will taste.

Buckwheat honey will produce a dark, more robust and rich taste, while clover honey is bright, light and less pronounced

The darker the honey, generally the stronger the mead. Lighter honey may taste milder.

How long does wine vs mead last?

One of the perhaps most challenging aspects of wine is properly storing it.

Once the wine is opened and exposed to any degree of air, there is a fairly short time period before it starts to lose its flavors and ‘go bad’. It’s very important to store wine facing sideways in a cool, dark location even before being opened so the cork stays moist and doesn’t risk forming tiny perforations, or holes. Once it has been opened, storing it on a proper wine rack or cooler is especially important.

Wine is good only for a few days after being opened if not stored in a cooler.

Compared, mead lasts up to a month after being opened, due to its higher sugar levels. Storing mead is also less particular.

How popular is wine vs mead?

While mead used to be a commonly consumed beverage, it has been subsumed by the wine industry in modern times. The total sales revenue for wine in 2017 for the United States alone (including both domestic wines and imports) accounted for over sixty billion dollars. By contrast, mead stats are hard to come, especially since there are less professional growers or well-known names, though mead is set to perhaps increase in sales within the next year or so.

What about food pairings?

Generalizing all the best wine with food pairings is nearly impossible.

From beef to pork to salmon, and even fruit desserts of specific cuisines like Mexican, Italian, or Thai, you can find a wine to pair with almost anything. Sweeter wines are usually paired with desserts or fruit or cheese trays, while dry wines suit appetizers and entrees.

When it comes to mead, it’s also hard to generalize, but, depending on the spices and honey, mead goes well with salads, appetizers, marinades, and chicken or pork, as well as some cheese.

Is there a difference in terms of price point?

While you can find quite inexpensive wine, mead averages out to be cheaper. Mead is in some ways less complex to produce and less focused on prestige and signature aging. If you buy the cheapest wine possible, it is likely to bulk wine. Expect to pay a little more for wine.

Are there any other major differences between mead vs wine?

Besides the different flavors, production processes, and other factors we’ve already mentioned, wine tends to be more connected to specific locations, and thus, vineyards, which accounts for a degree of prestige and reputation. Mead is more connected to the method of production and variety. Of course, mead is inherently sweet, but many wines, in fact, a great bulk of the industry is dry, off-dry and even brut.

Do you have any suggestions for mead I can try?

If you’ve never tried mead before, let’s get you started with a few varieties to see if you like it. (If you prefer wine, but don’t know where to start, we recommend trying for one of the most universally popular varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay).

  1. Golden Coast Mead Orange Blossom (San Diego):  This American mead is light-bodied, refreshing, and pleasingly sweet. Orange blossom honey is sweet and mild and is well served with a variety of appetizers.
  2. Redstone Meadery? ?Black Raspberry Nectar Mead: If you want a few fruity flavors in your mead, or you’re a lover of sweeter wines and aren’t sure about mead, this may be a good option. Described as refreshing, with a moderate, not cloying level of sweetness, this mead consists of five parts clover honey and just one part wildflower honey.
  3. Apis Póltorak Jadwiga: Looking for a more robust mead? Consider this Polish version. A very rich mead, it’s considered more traditional with notes of raspberry and a bit of rose for a little complexity.
  4. Dansk Mjød Viking Blod:  This mead from Denmark is considered warm, vibrant, and with a little bit of spice. A bit of hibiscus floral notes is also present.

Further read:

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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