Sugarcane Wine: Back To Basics

Raw sugarcane juice is heavenly. It’s sweet, refreshing, and offers a range of health benefits. Add some yeast to it and you get a throat-raking liquor but if controlled, it can be turned into a fine wine – a wine with 15% alcohol content.

But don’t worry, this type of wine won’t assault your senses or cause a kind of drunkenness that no one wants. Those who drink it are often happy, one would think they ate magic mushrooms. I found myself laughing after having a glass and it felt good. I said to myself, “This isn’t like any of the wines I have drank before – what snobs would call proper wines – the ones that I always enjoyed back home.” And I told my friend, the CEO of Basi del Diablo Wines that I would like some more. She quietly poured me another glass of this fine wine and poured herself some more. It was a fine night for drinking.

While snobs say that sugarcane wine isn’t wine per se because it is not made from grapes, one thing is for sure –it’s good. And it’s as good as any wine you’d find at the supermarket or at a wine shop you always go to. Don’t take my word for it though, get a bottle of Basi del Diablo and enjoy it over dinner – preferably with some nice music in the background and good company. After all, it’s a good social lubricant.

According to Decanter magazine, fermented sugarcane is a class of its own – the way sake is or the way fermented tea is. I found this interesting. But whatever its classification, it did not stop me from appreciating this beauty. Yes, it is beautiful. The CEO said, “Making wine is like writing poetry,” and I remember nodding, agreeing, admiring the labours that went into making this wine.

Making sugarcane wine, the table wine of Ilocanos, is not an easy process but it comes easy for those whose families have been making it for centuries. Truth of the matter is, I was a little stunned that this industry is not well-developed and that the region is not known as a wine region of sorts in this part of Asia. Aside from basi (the Ilocano term for sugarcane wine as I have come to learn later on), the mountainous areas nearby also produce other fermented products the likes of rice wine, plum wine, and such. The slow development of this industry is a story for another day. Today, let’s concentrate on Basi del Diablo and its rather exotic fermented sugarcane blends.

If you have gone to South America, near the Amazon and its environs, this type of drink is available too. It’s called by another name which eludes me at the moment but you get the drift – they have sugarcane, they get the juice, they add some yeast, they wait, and they have liquor. It’s basically the same process everywhere for any other produce that you can make into wine or liquor. I just stated the obvious right there – it must be the wine. Forgive me.

But even if they are similar with what many South American countries produce, Basi del Diablo is different because of its origins. It is grown in the lowlands of Ilocos Norte nestled near the mountainous regions of Cagayan and Isabela. And as one would surmise, the dominacion de origen is always of importance. It makes a world of difference in my opinion. The land in Ilocos Norte is arid but from arid land and a number of hardworking people comes a great alcoholic beverage.

Sugarcane is native to the Southeast Asian region and it consists of several species. Some are red some are greener than others – but they all produce a nice alcoholic beverage. Another thing that makes basi different is the fact that it has a very long history – one that even involves a revolt that happened centuries ago. I was told it was bloody and as I try to think how it must have been like, I realise that the more I drink this wine, the clearer the whole picture becomes. This is definitely a wine worth fighting for.


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