Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.
April 7, 2003
When Brian Smyth of Homebrew Adventures first asked me to write a weblog (blog), I declined because I was simply too busy.
But I did want to do it. When I was asked again a year later I was still too busy but accepted anyway because I still
wanted to do it, and I realized I would probably always be busy. Some things you just have to make time for.
Brian was gracious enough to allow me to write about whatever I desired. Many things came to mind immediately -- so many
it will take a long time to cover them -- so let me simply start now and continue when I can.
I am fond of reminding people that yeast make the wine. We, as winemakers, simply orchestrate the process as best we can.
We arrange the environment yeast live and work in and clean up after they are gone, but they truly do the work. And what
magnificent and efficient workers they are! If we are half as good at orchestrating as they are at doing what they do,
ogether we will make some pretty good wine.
There are two approaches to yeast when making wine. You can use the wild yeast that ride in on the skins of the grapes,
fruit or berries you choose to make your wine from. In this case you are not orchestrating the making of the wine, but rather
leaving it up to chance. You are betting the yeast that dominate the fermentation are good yeast for making wine. Usually,
they will be and the wine will at least be decent and often good. Occasionally, they won't be and the result will make good
vinegar but terrible wine.
You can also use a cultured wine yeast that was isolated and selected because of the unique characteristics it imparts while
fermenting sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Make a 5- or 6-gallon batch of blackberry must and then break it down into
1-gallon primaries. Inoculate each with different yeast. The result will be five or six different wines. The differences
between some may be insignificant, but certain yeasts will make superior blackberry wine. I have run this experiment six times,
making 32 individual batches of blackberry wine. Without doubt, almost all of the Burgundy strains consistently make great
In 2001, I made 13 gallons of blackberry and fermented them with all of the Burgundy strains I could obtain. There were
almost no differences in the young wines, but after 18 months the Lalvin RC212 and RA17 strains each had more complex bouquets,
retained richer colors and possessed creamier mouthfeel. Gervin Yeast No. 2 (Red Label) made a superb full-bodied wine with a
delightful, lingering finish. I regret Vierka had not yet come out with its liquid Burgundy yeast, for I would have loved to
include it in this trial. All three of these wines, by the way, have earned blue ribbons.
Yeast are a tool. Choose the strain you use carefully and it will serve you well. Here are a few online resources to
assist you in choosing a yeast strain:
April 11, 2003
Today I was contacted by the health and medicine editor of the San Antonio Express News
concerning the health benefits of moderate red wine consumption. More than 100 scientific
reports have been published since 1991 providing strong evidence that moderate wine consumption
can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
The French Paradox
Most of these studies center around the so-called "French Paradox," twice the focus of CBS 60 Minutes segments and by far the
recipient of the most press. The "paradox" is that the French eat 30% more fat than Americans but
suffer 40% fewer heart attacks. The evidence that the French consumption of red wine with their meals
countermands the fattier diet seems compelling in light of subsequent research.
The largest study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which monitored 13,000 men and women aged 30 to 70 between 1976 and 1988, found
compelling evidence of the connection between moderate wine consumption and a sharp reduction in human
mortality rates. This study found that daily wine consumers have literally half the risk of dying at
any given age when compared to those who never drink wine.
Both alcohol and antioxidants found in red wine contribute to the results. Certain substances unique to wines, such as tannins and
flavonoids, act as antioxidants and may be the key factors in the positive effects of red wine
consumption. Some 400 substances in red wine apparently raise the levels of high-density lipoproteins
(HDL, or "good" cholesterol) in the blood while decreasing the low-density lipoproteins (LDL, or "bad"
cholesterol) and thereby help prevent heart attacks and strokes. HDL is known to lower the risk of
arteriosclerosis and heart disease by clearing "bad" cholesterol from the arterial walls and helping
eliminate it from the body.
Another study zeroed in on polyphenols such as catechin, quercetin, resveratrol
and others which are found in red wine, but not white. The reason they are found in red wines but not
white is that these substances are natural components of grape skins. Since red wines are fermented on
the skins while white wines are not, it is the fermentation of the skins that seems critical to health
promotion. This contention is supported by a study conducted by researchers from Portugal, Switzerland,
Finland and Denmark. An extract from red-wine fermentation called ANOX (a trademark of IME, Switzerland)
has been developed as a source of red-wine polyphenols. This extract has a significantly greater effect
than either red wine or red wine powder on the inhibition of platelet aggregation in vitro and has
several health promotion benefits.
Despite later studies that tried to show that drinking beer or liquor provided the same benefits as red
wine, a 16-year study found there is no significant reduction in risk found among those who drink beer or spirits instead of
red wine. I have seen web pages use the same studies to convey the impression that beer consumption
offers the same benefits as wine, but this simply isn't what the study found.
Among the many health benefits of red wine consumption research has discovered are reduced risk of
heart disease, improved blood-cholesterol level, reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, reduced risk
of arterial disease in legs, lower incidence of contracting kidney stones, lower risk of suffering
psychological distress, and a longer life-span.
If you want to explore the subject, a rudimentary search will turn up hundreds to thousands of hits,
or just check out a couple of these links:
April 14, 2003
Several years ago I found myself in possession of several brands and forms of Champagne yeast. These
included three active dried cultures in sachets, a dried culture on dried grape media (skins, pulp and
pips) in a paper package, and two containers (one in a mylar bag, the other in a glass tube) of living
cultures. Having just received a large quantity of mixed varieties of apples from a wholesaler, I
decided to run a comparison test.
Champagne Yeast Test
I quartered and crushed the apples and drew off 600 ml of strained juice. This was separated into six
100 ml samples in six beakers. To each sample I added 100 ml of bottled water, 1/4 level teaspoon of
yeast nutrient and one level teaspoon of invert sugar. I added a sachet of active dried yeast culture to
each of three beakers, the envelope of dried culture on dried grape media to another, and 1/2 of each
liquid culture to the two remaining beakers. I covered these with paper towels and set them aside.
I then added water, sugar, acid blend, yeast nutrient, tannin, and potassium metabisulfite to the vat
of crushed apple juice, which contained a modest amount of very fine pulp. My total volume was six US
gallons at a specific gravity of 1.084. I covered this and 16 hours later added pectic enzyme. Ten
hours later I divided the 6 gallons between six one-gallon jugs, reserving a pint from each. All
culture starters were active except the one using dried culture on dried grape media. I therefore
inoculated five of the one-gallon jugs and covered each jug opening with a folded paper towel held in
place with a rubber band. On the third day the sixth starter was reasonably active and I added it to the
After several days, which varied from 6 to 10, each jug's fermentation quieted down. The pint of
reserved must was added to each jug and the paper covering replaced with an airlock. After 30 days
total from the day the apples were crushed, which only equaled 27 to 29 days after activated yeast
cultures were added, I measured each jug's specific gravity. While this did vary as much as 0.015 in
range between samples, I found no significant difference between the active dried yeast and the
liquid cultures. But I did notice that the contents of both jugs inoculated from liquid cultures were
noticeably darker than the contents of the remaining four jugs.
After 90 days and two rackings, all six jugs contained wine at a specific gravity of 1.000 or less--
the lowest being 0.994. The color of the wine in all six jugs was about equivalent, although one jug
inoculated with a liquid culture was slightly darker but well within range for an apple wine. Sulfite
levels for all six wines were maintained as close to each other as possible. The wines were then aged
another 90 days, stabilized, and aged another 60 days before bottling. None were tasted until the first
anniversary of the crush. My observations were as follows:
- Directions for each form of culture specified activating the yeast in a starter solution before
pitching it into the must. Thus, there was no appreciable time advantage to having liquid cultures as
they did not activate any quicker than the active dried yeast cultures.
- Only the dried culture on dried grape media took an unusually long time (three days) to activate.
It also produced the slowest fermentation rate, but I suspect that had I kept the starter solution
another day before pitching it into the must it would have been healthier for the wait.
- The liquid cultures were very dark. This coloration affected the wine initially, but seemed to
settle out with time. Had this been a lighter-colored wine, such as elderflower or dandelion, the
coloration may have made a serious difference in the appearance of the finished wine, but this is speculation.
- Four of the wines were quite decent and would have pleased anyone who likes apple wine. The wine
made with the dried yeast on dried grape media was clearly inferior in apple flavor but equal in body
and nose. One of the active dry yeasts, a culture of UCD strain 505, had better nose, body and flavor.
It also had a longer finish and seemed slightly sweeter than the other five cultures.
The pommace (pulp) from the crush in the above experiment was hydrated with a gallon of water,
balanced with additives, and inoculated with part of one of the remaining liquid cultures used in the
experiment. This was fermented a full two weeks on the pulp and pressed again. It was then fermented
normally in a gallon jug. It threw heavy gross lees (with a lot of pulp) which were chilled and
allowed to separate in order to recover some of the wine in the lees, This wine finished darker than
the other six wines, but had a nice bouquet and decent flavor.
Here are some links you might find interesting:
April 18, 2003
I recently received an email from a gent asking why his wine bottles have sediment in them after he
filtered and stabilized the wine before bottling. He noted that only some of the bottles have sediment.
Here is the essence of my answer:
Wine filters usually come classified as coarse, medium or fine. My guess is that the winemaker did
not use a fine filter -- the only one that will remove yeast cells. If he had, he probably wouldn't
have had this problem -- especially if he had filtered his wine twice. Also, it is obvious he filtered
and bottled the wine before it was finished fermenting.
Here's what probably happened. My guess is that his fermentation slowed down and he decided that
filtering and stabilizing was quicker than waiting for nature to take her course, or the pressure
changed in the airlock (from positive to negative) and he figured the wine was finished. I've made this
mistake myself at least twice, so it can happen to any of us when we get in a hurry.
If he used filtration and stabilization to save a few weeks of time, I assume he has now learned an
important lesson. A filter is no substitute for time, and one should never filter a fermenting
If the pressure changed in the airlock and he thought the fermetation was finished, this could be
(and offten is) caused by a high pressure front or cell moving through the area. Whenever the pressure
changes (reverses) in an airlock, one should wait 10 days, rack and stabilize the wine, and wait another
10-14 days before doing anything more. The first 10 days allows the weather to normalize and the
pressure to return to positive if fermentation is still ongoing. Racking and stabilizing is just a
smart thing to do before filtering or bottling a wine. Indeed, all filter manufacturers warn the
consumer to never filter a wine that isn't already clear and sediment-free -- that requires
racking. The final 10-14 days of waiting after racking allows the yeast to begin working again if it
is still there and alive. If it doesn't start working again, go ahead and filter and/or bottle it. If
it does continue fermenting, wait until it stops.
As to why some of his wine bottles have sediment and some don't, the answer is quite simple. Most
wine yeast are bottom breeders, meaning they live on the bottom of the container. Very few are evenly
distributed in suspension once the initial, active fermentation subsides and fewer still are top
breeders. What he probably did was bottle his wine first from the top and middle of the carboy and then
bottle the remainder from the bottom. The first bottles had little or no yeast in them because the wine
did not come from the bottom of the secondary. No sediment formed in them. The later bottles had the
bottom-breeding yeast in them, which eventually died. The sediment in the bottles are the dead yeast.
I recommended that he open one of those bottles to see if the wine has become spritzy or sparkling. My
guess is that it probably has, since any CO2 produced by the yeast would still be in the bottles.
If you're in a hurry, make beer. If you want to make wine, give it all the time it needs. For
pointers on the final steps in making a wine, see:
April 21, 2003
My traditional Easter wine is dandelion. In this part of Texas they usually begin blooming around
the end of March or beginning of April, so I can always start a batch before Easter arrives. That
means last year's batch is probably old enough to taste. For those who haven't made a dandelion wine
yet, the important thing to remember is it should be aged nine months to a year before tasting. Since
it takes about three months to make, mine is technically only about nine months old when the following
Easter arrives, but that usually is sufficient.
Jack Keller's Dandelion Wine
There are many, many different ways to make dandelion wine. I have 30 recipes posted on my site,
plus another 12 recipes of dandelion-something else combinations. I have probably tried no less than
15 of these recipes, but by far my favorite is the one I developed below. I have never published it
before. Inspired by C.J.J. Berry's classic recipe, it involves infusing the petals for two days before
adding other ingredients to the infusion. The must is then simmered for an hour, allowed to cool, and
finally fermented. I always use this recipe for my first batch of the year, but try different recipes
(and some experimentation) on subsequent batches. I have never made a bad batch of dandelion wine,
although some batches (especially those using the trimmed flower heads instead of just the petals)
require two or more years of aging to lose the slight bitterness imparted by the greenery.
The easiest way to make this wine is to make it a group affair. If you have kids, or friends with
kids, give each of them a small bucket and pay them a set amount for every bucket of dandelion flowers
they pick. Then divide the flower heads among the other (adult?) members of the group and start
plucking petals. I think the best wine is made using two quarts of petals per gallon of wine. Loosely
packed dandelion petals weigh about 80 grams per quart, while one quart of tightly packed petals weighs
approximately 100 grams. Whole blossoms weigh 110-120 grams per quart. Another way of looking at it is
that it takes about 500 flower heads to deliver a quart of petals. The bottom line is that you have to
work for this wine, but it sure is worth it.
- 2 quarts dandelion petals or 3 quarts of trimmed flower heads
- 3 oranges
- 1 lemon
- 1 pound chopped white raisins or sultanas
- 2 pounds of granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon grape tannin
- 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- 6-1/2 pts water
- Sauternes wine yeast
Pick the flowers just before starting, so they're fresh. You do not need to pick the petals off the
flower heads, but the heads should be trimmed of any stalk. Use 3 quarts of trimmed flower heads if you
don't use just the petals. Put the water on to boil and the flowers in a large bowl. When the water
boils, pour it over the dandelions and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Do not be concerned about the
color or the smell. Trust me on this -- the finished wine will be a beautiful straw color and will
Leave the petals in the water for two days, stirring twice daily. Do not exceed this time. Pour
flowers and water in large pot and bring to a low boil. Add the sugar and the peels (peel thinly and
avoid any of the white pith) of the oranges and lemon. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for one hour,
then pour into a crock or plastic pail. Add the juice and pulp of the oranges and lemon. Allow to
stand until cool (70-75 degrees F.). Add tannin and yeast nutrient, stir well, then add the activated
Cover the primary and put in a warm place for three days. Strain off the solids and pour the liquid
into a secondary fermentation vessel (bottle or jug) with one crushed Campden tablet dissolved into 1/2
cup of the liquid. Add the chopped raisins or sultanas and fit an airlock to the vessel. Leave until
fermentation ceases completely. Strain off the raisins or sultanas, put the liquid back under the
airlock for another week, and then rack. Top up, refit the airlock, and set aside six weeks. If the
wine is not perfectly clear, add 1/2 teaspoon of powdered pectic enzyme (or 5 drops of liquid) and fine
with Bentonite according to directions. Wait a week, rack, add another crushed Campden tablet dissolved
in 1/2 cup of the wine, and bottle the wine. Remember, this wine must age nine months to a year in the
bottle before tasting -- longer if you use the flower heads instead of petals. Enjoy it.
April 25, 2003
I just spent an hour picking several pints of blackberries -- dewberries, actually -- from a
fenceline not far from where I work. I spotted the brambles in flower about a month ago and as I passed
them today I stopped just to see how they are doing. Had I waited another week I probably would have
missed them. These berries are destined to fill a pie or two, but if I didn't have 13 gallons of
blackberry and two gallons of dewberry wine at home, I'd have stayed another hour and picked enough for
some of the best red wine man can make.
The main difference between blackberries and dewberries is that the latter grow trailing canes rather
than upright ones as do blackberries. Thus, dewberries are a bit more work to pick and not as easy on
the back, either. And, when you're bent over picking dewberries, it's much more tempting to go ahead and
pick a few that are not quite ready yet -- that still have a hint of redness to them. This is a big
mistake and one only you can correct. These not-quite-ripe berries will spoil the wine. I once aged a
dewberry wine three years waiting for the astringency of unripe berries to mellow out of it, and finally
gave up and sweetened it with simple syrup. Pick only jet black berries.
- 6 lbs of ripe dewberries
- 2 lbs granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1/2 tsp tartaric or malic acid
- 1/4 tsp tannin
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- water to make up one gallon
- Burgundy wine yeast
Use freshly picked and washed berries. Put them in a nylon straining bag and press them in a grape
or fruit press. Save the pulp. Put one quart of water on to boil and dissolve the sugar thoroughly in
it. In a primary, combine the dewberry juice and sugar water and add sufficient cold water to bring the
volume up to a gallon. Dissolve the crushed Campden tablet in the must and stir well. Add the bag of
pommace (pressed pulp) and cover the primary. Wait 10-12 hours and add remaining ingredients except
yeast. Recover primary and wait another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter.
Squeeze the bag twice daily -- more often if you'd like -- but remove bag 48 hours after pitching
yeast. Drain the pommace and press it again. Return all juice to the primary and cover again. When
vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock.
Rack after 30 days, top up and refit airlock. Allow another 60 days to finish and rack again. At
this point I add another crushed Campden tablet and set aside in a dark place to age for 4 months. Rack
again, stabilize, and set aside another month. Sweeten if desired and bottle it. This recipe works
equally well with blackberries. Enjoy it.
April 30, 2003
A reader pointed out that I omitted the quantity of water to use in the Dandelion Wine recipe
of April 21st. My apologies. Another reader asked why, if you taste the fresh dandelion petals,
some taste bitter and others taste almost sweet. I was stumped on this one, but by sheer chance
discovered the answer in a book on wildflowers. The false dandelion or common catsear
(Hypochoeris radicata) possesses bitter-tasting flower petals. The true dandelion (Taraxacum
officiale) does not. The flowers and seed look almost identical to the true dandelion and
would fool most people, but here is an identifier for you. The true dandelion sports a single
flower on each stem rising from the leaves. The common catsear sports 2 to 7 flowers on each
Amateur Wine Competition Judges
Last weekend I entered wines in competitions in two states -- Texas and Arkansas. The quality of
judging for the two competitions was as different as day and night. Given a choice, I'll take the day.
To be fair, I did not observe the judging in Arkansas, but then no competitor did. One of two bottles
per entry was shipped from Paris, Arkansas to Fayetteville, where the judging occurred. All I know about
the judges is what the sponsor of the competition told me -- that the judges are the enology students
of Dr. Justin Morris, University of Arkansas. Meanwhile, the second bottle per entry was retained in
Paris and later opened for participants to taste. At the tasting, competitors had available the judging
sheets. Anyone could taste anyone else's wine and compare their impressions with the judging sheet for
the wine being tasted. This competition brought together some very good winemakers from all over
the United States and Canada. It is not very likely many wines would be entered here possessing major
faults, and yet the judging sheets of the wines that did not place indicate just that -- major faults.
Let's jump to Texas for a moment. The venue was the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2003 Spring
Competition. This club counts some very good winemakers among its members, but more importantly, it
has a cadre of certified Home Wine Judges who have been rigorously tested before being certified. The
tests include the detection and identification of known faults among 10 wines; a consistency test in
which five white wines presented in mixed order must be arranged in a consistent order of merit three
different times, and then the same consistency must be demonstrated three times for five red wines; and
a wine classification test in which ten wines, both grape and non-grape, must be evaluated and correctly
identified as to class (e.g. berry wine dry, red grape wine sweet, fruit wine dry, novelty wine sweet,
dessert wine, native grape wine dry, etc. The judging was in public and the entrants observed it from
a distance. Obviously, judges did not evaluate wines in classes they may have netered. Judging sheets
were available after the competition as were the actual bottles of wine judged. As in Arkansas, one
could taste a wine while reading the judges' evaluations and comments regarding the wine. Amazingly,
very few of these wines possessed major faults. Probably no more than 5% suffered the major fault of
Conversely, in Arkansas, almost every single wine that did not place suffered, according to the
judging sheets, from "oxidation." This seems awfully strange to me -- that some of the best amateur
winemakers in the country would be so foolish as to enter so many wines that had undergone "oxidation"
into a competition. How can one account for so much utter stupidity? Let's look at a wine and see
if we can detect the winemaker's folly.
Pralines are crisp confections made with nuts (typically pecans) stirred in boiling syrup until
brown. One can use both brown sugar and/or molasses to give them different flavors. Last year I made
a Praline-flavored wine, using Savannah Mixes' Southern Praline Mix as the base, which I then
aged approximately nine months in the bottle. The 2003 Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition,
at Paris, Arkansas, was where I chose to "introduce" it to the world.
My praline dessert wine did not place at this competition, although it did very well at the San
Antonio Regional Competition the following day. In Arkansas, the wine was severely judged down for
being "brown" and "oxidized." The wine, in fact, is a golden-brown to amber color, looking very much
like sherry. This color would be a natural expectation of anyone who has ever eaten a praline. Such
confections are, however, evidently beyond the limited experiences of the judges employed for the
Arkansas competition. I guess they expected praline wine to look as if it were made from snow-white
divinity rather than a sugar that is purposely browned through prolonged boiling. However, the San
Antonio judges correctly recognized that any wine calling itself "praline" must necessarily possess a
brownish hue to be correct to the wine's description.
Color aside, the wine certainly is not oxidized. It has neither the odor nor the taste of an oxidized
wine. These obvious tell-tale signs of oxidation seem to be beyond the experience and/or knowledge of
Dr. Morris' students, so what are they doing judging wines? Should not one expect that if you are going
to assign a student to judge someone's wine -- someone who may have been making wine for 40 years -- that
you at least teach that student how to recognize the olefactory and gustatory evidence of oxidation?
And what about the other 25-30 wine faults one might expect a judge to recohgnize?
If it sounds like I am being a sore loser, I assure you I am not. Disappointed, yes. Sore, no.
Rather, I have several emails (okay, four) complaining of the judges' lack of knowledge and experience
as evidenced by the judging sheets. Further, two of these emailers tasted this wine, saw the judging
sheets and thought they demonstrated perfect judging ineptness -- not even knowing that a wine made
from burnt sugar should have a brownish hue is one thing, but not recognizing that the wine didn't
exhibit the smell or taste of the fault they attributed to it is inexcusible. Thus, I am making that
case here -- not to embarrass the students or their professor, but hopefully to inspire better judging
in the future. This will not happen unless the judging body is taught how to recognize wine faults (at
the very least) and how to evaluate and judge non-grape wines in particular. This is not at all the
same as judging grape wines, and if you don't know the base, you have no business judging the wine.
If you are interested in trying this wine, the fourth link below is to the recipe.
May 5, 2003
My previous posting drew a mixed reaction. If you haven't read my previous posting, I suggest you
skip down and do so. You might return here agreeing with the reader who wrote, "Sour grapes by any
other name will taste just as sour." Or, you might be one of the additional two entrants in the
competition in question who agreed that wines were judged as "oxidized" when in fact they were not.
Some people simply will not accept the motives of others at face value. My motive was to inspire
better judging in the future, or at least judging that does not attribute a major fault to wines that
do not possess it. I enter competitions to gain useful feedback that will help me make better wines in
the future. Of course I like to win, but that is actually secondary to improving my skills. Incorrectly
ascribing faults to a wine helps no one.
More on Amateur Wine Judging
The Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition is one of the better competitions around. It has
the right mix of entry categories (classes) for just about anyone, is held in the beautiful remoteness of
the Arkansas Ozarks, and is a barrel of fun to attend. Robert Cowie, the owner of and winemaker at
Cowie Wine Cellars, is the sponsor and patron of the CIAWC. He is also one of the nicest people you
would want to meet. My criticism of the judging of this event is neither aimed at the event itself nor
the prime mover behind it. Indeed, I have nothing but admiration and respect for Robert Cowie. But his
competition will be improved in the future if entrants know their wines are being judged competently.
This is true of any competition.
My complaint is not meant in any way to imply that the wines that took honors at the last CIAWC did
not deserve their placements. There were many, many superb wines entered and all the winners were
deserving. I myself did well, winning a best in class with a Loganberry. My regret is that I did not
taste Raymond Meyer's Cynthiana, Concord or Rhubarb/Strawberry, Charles and Rhonda
Younger's sweet Muscadine, Charley Wilson's Shiraz, or Mark Jurgens' Best of Show
Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc. I have no doubt these wines would have placed exactly as they did
had the judges not faulted a number of wines as "oxidized" when they were not. But, who knows...?
My complaint, then, is that a number of wines (two of mine included) were judged to have been
"oxidized" when they exhibited neither the odor nor taste of an oxidized wine. I do not claim my wines
or any of the wines so faulted would have placed -- only that they were not judged correctly. That is
a legitimate complaint some readers missed or simply dismissed.
It was my mistake, I suppose, to use my own wine as an example of faulty judging. I chose my Praline
Dessert Wine as a critical example because it could only have been judged as "oxidized" based on its
color, and yet its color was absolutely appropriate to the base ingredients. This raises the question
of how one judges color in a wine.
Maynard Amerine and Edward Roessler, in Wines - Their Sensory Evaluation, discuss three aspects
of wine color evaluation. The first of these is the appropriateness of the color to the type
and age of wine being evaluated. It is appropriate for a white Catawba to have some pink in it
and similarly appropriate for a white Zinfandel to be a blush. It is also appropriate for a three-
year old Chardonnay to be a darker yellow that a yearling Chard. That is precisely why most
competitions ask for the entry's vintage. A wine based from Praline, a confection made by boiling sugar
syrup until it burns and browns, would appropriately possess an amber to golden-brown color and the
evaluator should expect this.
The second aspect of color is hue or tint, meaning the specific shade (wavelength,
actually) of color. For example, most white wines are in fact yellow in color, but many new wines emerge as
a lighter, straw yellow while others emerge with a deeper, golden hue. Since all wines darken with age
and darkness in a wine can be an indicator of excessive oxidation, it is important that the judge
knows which wines typically emerge as straw and which emerge with darker hues. The latter do not
necessarily indicate either age or oxidation, but in certain wines would indicate one or the other or
both. Hue, then, is associated with appropriateness and both the hue and its appropriateness change as
The third aspect of color is its clarity in terms of transparency or translucence.
These are not the same thing, nor is clarity in color the same thing as clarity in the wine
itself. A transparent color is one you can read through, while a translucent color is one that
allows the transmission of light while diffusing it sufficiently to deny transparency. While all wines
and all wines' colors should emerge transparent, some colors will yield to translucency with age
as a normal step in their evolution while others will do so only if spoiled or contaminated in some
manner. Thus, the evaluator must recognize that clarity in color does not automatically mean
transparency and that translucency is appropriate for certain wines of certain ages while indicative of
trouble in others.
So, there is more to judging a wine's color than deciding if it is too light or too dark. When a
wine judge looks at a wine's color and sees only it's hue, the wine is at risk of being poorly judged.
It does not follow that it will be poorly judged, but it might....
May 9, 2003
I get more email than I desire, but wouldn't want to part with most of it. This is especially true of
questions I receive from folks struggling to figure it all out. Here is one such inquiry, followed by my
Why is it that so many recipes do not account for the sugar in fruit? Won't some fruit add a
significant amount of sugar? Wouldn't 2 1/2lbs of sugar would bring the s.g. of water up to 1.095? As
an example, your Apricot(4) calls for 3 lbs of sugar. That would bring it up to starting at s.g. 1.115
before sugar from the fruit is accounted for. I am having trouble with this part. I understand these
are guidelines, but I thought it was better to start at around 1.090 and ferment down to 0.995 or so and
sweeten afterwards if you want. Personally, I like dry, but 3 lbs of sugar plus fruit would surely be
very sweet wouldn't it? Is there any advantage to extracting the flavor and sugar from the pulp for 4
or 5 days before straining. That way one could measure the s.g and add sugar as needed. Most recipes
I see say ferment on the pulp, but how do you really know what the starting s.g. will be?
Accounting for Natural Sugars
This is THE big question. Before I go there, let me say a thing or two about some of the recipes on
With few exceptions, any recipe on my site that calls for more than 2 1/2 pounds of sugar is someone
else's recipe I am citing. Many of these recipes are old. Thirty to forty years ago there weren't a lot of yeasts
available that would ferment past 13-14%, so if you put in three pounds of sugar you almost always finished
with a sweet wine of about 13.5% alcohol, which was what most people wanted in a fruit or berry wine. Today we have many yeasts
available that will go to 15-16% and a dozen or more that will go to 18-20%, so if you use three pounds of
sugar and the right yeast you end up with dry rocket fuel. Also, many of the recipes are British, and an
Imperial gallon is about 16% larger than an American one. Three pounds of sugar in an Imperial gallon
is about the same (note the word "about") as 2 1/2 pounds in an American gallon. But both are still a
lot of sugar, especially if the fruit base has any natural sugar in it.
I very often chop and crush my fruit and steep them several days in cold water with pectic enzyme to
extract sugar for just the reasons you cite. But you can't do this with all fruit. Many will spoil on
you. Thus, you are presented with several options.
Over the years I have collected data on the average sugar content of many fruit, but even when this
information comes from a reputable source (a fruit growers' association, for example) it is only an estimate.
As in grapes, the natural sugar content of fruits and berries differs from place to place, climate to climate,
and individual field to individual field. But, you can obtain a range of sweetness this way and, by tasting
the fruit, make an educated guess as to where your fruit are in that range. Once you determine that your
fruit probably contains around x% sugar, you have to do some math to subtract that sugar from the total
required to produce the specific gravity you want to start with. This gets complicated if you are using
the minimum weight of fruit to produce a good flavor and adding water to bring up the volume to a gallon
or five gallons or whatever. Still, it doesn't require trigonometry.
You can also measure the sugar in the juice of the fruit you are using with a refractometer to arrive
at a Brix value. You still have to factor in the dilution of water added, but your assumptions will be
Or, if the fruit will allow it, you can steep the chopped and crushed fruit in water as I described
earlier, measure the specific gravity, and then calculate how much sugar to add to reach your desired
To take this one step further, you can chop, crush and press the fresh fruit, dilute as desired,
measure the specific gravity, and then calculate how much sugar to add to reach your targeted starting
Finally, you can study a variety of recipes and try to determine which will probably make the best
wine to your taste, make minor adjustments as you see fit, and see what comes of it. I have done quite
a bit of this over the years and the results are usually quite satisfactory. When not, I make further
adjustments and try again. It generally works, but more importantly I learn a lot every time I do it.
May 13, 2003
I still keep getting questions on dandelion wine. One of the more interesting ones is why I use
boiling water initially and then, two days later, bring the must to a boil and continue simmering it
for an hour (see April 21, 2003 blog, below).
My recipe is a modification of one of C. J. J. Berry's recipes -- the first dandelion wine recipe I
ever used. When I first used it, I didn't really think about the process all that much. I trusted
Mr. Berry and simply followed his recipe. But as I made more and more wine and returned to Berry's recipe
again, I too began to question why certain steps were being taken. I concluded that the initial heat is
to extract the essence of flavor and aroma from the dandelion petals. The second heating is to invert
the sugar and make fermentation progress much more rapidly and easily. I could be wrong about this, but
inasmuch as Mr. Berry is no longer with us and cannot provide his own explanation, I hope you will accept
mine. Should another explanation surface, I will pass it on.
Cleaning Wine Bottles
You can buy new wine bottles or you can recycle previously used ones. Since it is very easy to acquire
a huge supply of used bottles, the only ones I buy are specialty bottles -- splits or halves. Since the
purchased ones are new, all they require before using is a soak in a sanitizing solution. I use good old
potassium metabisulfite. It is cheap, highly effective, and easily acquired. The bottles are stood upright,
submerged in a pail of the solution, for no less than two minutes. They are then emptied, allowed to drain
for a few seconds, and filled with wine without rinsing.
I obtain used wine bottles from many sources, but mainly from friends, winery tasting rooms, and
restaurants. Of the latter, I prefer steak houses and both French and Italian restaurants. If you
favor hock and Riesling bottles, then add German restaurants to the list. There is a preferred way to
negotiate with a restaurateur for used wine bottles.
First, do this in person, but before the evening dinner crowd arrives. Ask for the manager and
introduce yourself. Explain that you are a home winemaker in need of used wine bottles and ask if it
would be possible for you to obtain some from his establishment. Explain that you can pick up the
bottles at any time he prefers. If he says yes and that 9:00 p.m. would be a good time, be there at
9:00 p.m. sharp! If his staff is boxing bottles for you, the boxes will take up space in the
kitchen or wherever and the time he specifies is usually the time he needs that space back -- either for
cleaning or for closing. Ask about the kitchen entrance and then ask to see it. This is a good time
to meet the kitchen staff so they will accept you later when you return. Ask where the bottles will be.
If for any reason you cannot return that evening, call the restaurant and apologize. To leave them
holding several boxes or bags of bottles for you without calling is inexcusably tacky.
Use the kitchen entrance if this was their preference. Again, be on time. Take all the bottles they
offer you, even if some are not to your liking. They have saved their trash for you, so take it as you
said you would. Load them in your vehicle and leave. Do not bother the kitchen staff. As soon as you
get the bottles home, bring them into the kitchen. Empty each one of any residual wine and then rinse
it in hot water -- as hot as your system will deliver. Drain the bottle for a few minutes and then place
it in a wine case upside down so it can continue draining and bugs can't fall in it. The emptying and
rinsing is very important, as mold will grow on any wine left in the bottle and might then be difficult
You can remove the labels from the bottles later, as time permits. There are many methods used to
remove labels. I will simply recount my own method. If you have another, so be it and use it. My motto
here is that whatever works is fine. There is no wrong or right of it.
I fill each bottle with very hot water and stand it upright in a 5-gallon pail. To the pail I add
1/2 cup of Clorox Advantage Bleach -- you have to look for the word "Advantage" on the label. This
bleach has an oxidizer that I find makes it more effective than other bleaches. I then fill the space
around the upright bottles with hot water, but do not bring the water level quite up to the rim of the
bottles. I simply don't want to worry about removing bleach from the inside of the bottles.
I allow the bottles to soak for a while. This may be two hours or may be overnight. Longer is
generally better and many labels will simply float off, but some labels use stronger adhesives and will
come off easier if the water is still warm. Try peeling the label off. If this doesn't work, use a
paring knife or a single-edged razor blade to help separate it from the glass. A scouring pad or metal
scrubbie will help remove most residual glue, but some adhesives defy this treatment and are best
removed with Goo Gone or another adhesive-remover product.
Some wineries -- especially in Australia -- use waterproof labels that defy removal. I don't even
waste my time with them. But if you learn of a way to remove those stubborn ones, please let me know.
May 19, 2003
Last Sunday I tasted an excellent raspberry wine made by fellow San Antonio Regional Wine Guild
member Bob Wehner. Bob has won many, many first place ribbons for his wines and captured at least two
best of shows. Bob's secret is no secret at all. He freely admits he uses only Welch's frozen
concentrates. Sunday's wine, Raspberry Royale, was made using Welch's White Grape and Raspberry
Frozen Concentrate. As I said, it was excellent, from nose to finish -- so good in fact that I had three
I made a similar wine from the same base last year, although I freely admit that Bob's had mine beat.
I'm hopeful he will examine the recipe I posted on my site earlier this year (see the first link, below)
and tell me how it differs from his own. If he does, I will certainly post the adjustments here. If he
doesn't, I encourage you to make it anyway. Mine was still darned good.
Campden Tablets, or Sulfite
I get a lot of email asking how to make wine without using sulfites. As recently as today I was asked
how to make rhubarb wine without using Campden tablets. I always answer these questions essentially the same way.
The history of winemaking has largely been one of following techniques that minimized spoilage. A lot
of bad batches were made because no one knew how to prevent seemingly spurious spoilage and, to a lesser
extent, control oxidation. About 250-300 years ago, it was discovered that certain sulfurous salts could
be added to the must in small quantities and would prevent almost all spoilage that had been troubling
winemakers for thousands of years. What these salts did was kill most of the troublesome bacteria,
but it also controlled oxidation that prematurely ruined most wines. >From that moment on, winemaking
changed. To ignore the tremendous benefits of sulfites is to place one's wines at risk. You are free
to do so, but I am free to refuse to help you do it.
Both sodium and potassium metabisulfite are the salts most often used in winemaking. An extremely
small amount of either -- 1/16th to 1/20th of a teaspoon per gallon of wine -- is sufficient to raise a
must or wine to an aseptic level of protection. This amount is so small that it is difficult to measure
except by weight, and even this is difficult without very accurate and sensitive scales. Campden tablets
solve this problem by containing a premeasured amount of one of the salts. This measure is bound together
in tablet form by an inert material which will not harm one's wine. To add the dose to one's wine, one
must crush the tablet into a very fine powder and dissolve it in water or some of the base juice or wine.
Crushing a Campden tablet is simplified with a mortar and pestle. The hard tablet can be reduced to
the consistency of powdered sugar in under a minute. It is then added to a half-cup of liquid and whipped
with a small bamboo whisk or the tines of a dinner fork until dissolved. It is then stirred into the must,
juice, or wine where it will add between 55-75 ppm of free sulfur to a gallon of wine. The difference
depends on which salt is used and the pH of the wine itself. As pH increases, the effectiveness of free
sulfur decreases and more is required to attain an aseptic level of protection. The amount needed is
easily calculated using WineMaker magazine's downloadable Sulfite Calculator (see third link,
When making batches of 5 gallons or more, it is more convenient to simply measure the sulfurous salt
than fool around with crushing several Campden tablets. As a rule of thumb, one-quarter teaspoon of
potassium metabisulfite is generally sufficient for 5 gallons of wine. However, this dose is approximate.
Accuracy requires you to measure the pH and any residual free sulfur already in the wine to be treated.
The Sulfite Calculator linked below considers both residual SO2 and pH. You can also add free sulfur
in the form of a 10% sulfite solution (in water). See the literature below for use of this form.
May 23, 2003
My entry of May 19th on Campden tablets prompted one very good question. A reader noted that many of
the recipes on my web site either don't mention sulfites at all or only mention an initial dose of Campden.
The natural question is does this mean that the recipe assumes you will reapply Campden later or that no
further doses are needed? I thank Mark (Mad Dog) DeForest for asking it. The answer is on a page that
almost no one reads called "Getting Started." Under a section called "How to Use Recipes", I offer the following:
"Add the Campden or potassium metabisulfite (pot meta for short) when the fruit is crushed, unless
you are going to use boiling water to extract the flavors, color and juices of the base. The boiling
water will kill off the bacteria, fungus and wild yeast, but when you rack the wine you should add the
appropriate dose of crushed Campden or pot meta. Some of the sulfur in the dose will bind with other
components of the wine but some will exist as unbound sulfur in the form of a dissolved gas called
sulfur dioxide, or SO2. This gas is the sanitizing and antioxidizing agent. As time progresses, the gas
is slowly released into the atmoshere or breaks down and the sulfut in it binds with new components of
wine created as the wine develops and ages. Thus, the dose of SO2 must be regenerated periodically. If
you add the Campden or pot meta to the must at the beginning, add another dose at the 2nd, 4th, and 6th
rackings and just before bottling (it must be added at the same time as potassium sorbate when
stabilizing a wine, as the potassium sorbate will not effect the yeast without pot meta being present at
the same time). If you add Campden or pot meta at the time of the 1st racking, add it again at the 3rd
and 5th rackings and before bottling (when stabilizing the wine). This should be done whether the recipe
mentions it or not." I hope this is clear to all.
Developing a New Recipe
I occasionally receive a request for a recipe I've never enountered. If I can find it, I pass it on.
If not, I might try developing one if the ingredients are available to me. But sometimes I strike out
all around -- no recipe to be found, no one who has ever heard of such a wine, and no available ingredients
to experiment with. Such was the case recently when I was asked for a recipe for manzanita berry wine.
I know manzanita (Arcostaphylos manzanita), having grown up with it adorning the mountains of
California. The smooth, reddish-purple bark frames a handsome evergreen bush that can grow into a 20-
foot tree if watered, with dark to light grey-green foilage. It's beautiful interior wood is prized for
its multi-colors and strength and its drought-tolerance makes it a desirable landscape planting. But it
is the plant's pink, rose-to-red, or mahogany-brown berries that the writer was inquiring about. The
generic name is Greek for "bear grape," but the common name means "little apple" in Spanish. And,
indeed, the berries look like tiny apples with a mealy rather than juicy flesh and very hard seeds. I
have heard of manzanita jelly, but never tasted it.
Nor have I ever seen a recipe for manzanita wine. Whenever I see a fruit, berry or common flower that
no one has ever recorded making wine from, I get suspicious that there might be a good reason. Doing a
quick search, I found that manzanita berries are edible -- raw or cooked -- in moderation, but can cause
constipation if too many are eaten. This might be a reason no one has made the wine, but I think not.
I grew up in manzanita country and never heard of this effect, so I doubt it is widely known. And,
since the berries reportedly produce a delightful infused drink, surely there is another reason it
isn't known for wine.
I have seen manzanita growing in the steep mountains all over California and into Oregon. It seems
to like growing on dry, steep inclines where little else tends to grow, and it favors high altitudes.
In other words, if you are going to collect manzanita berries, you're going to work for them. More than
likely, it is the difficulty in collecting the berries that has prevented them from becoming widely
exploited by man, but it is probably the dryness of the berries' flesh that makes them an unlikely base
for wine. At least, that's where I'd place my bet.
Be that as it may be, if one could collect enough berries for wine, how would one go about
making it? Since I no longer have access to the berries, I can't experiment with them to develop a
recipe. That leaves me without a clue as to the amount of berries to use, how much acid and sugar to
add, etc., but I have no doubt manzanita berries are suitable for wine. And here's how I would make it:
Making Manzanita Berry Wine
I would collect as many of the berries as I could -- at least a quart, maybe two -- and measure them
by weight and volume for reference. I would then crush them and soak them in 1/2 gallon of cold water
with one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet for 12 hours, and then add one teaspoon of pectic enzyme
and set them aside for 12 hours. I would then strain the berries into a nylon straining bag (retaining
the water) and press them as well as I can, combining the pressed juice with the water. I would then
increase the volume of liquid to seven pints and take a hydrometer reading. I would add sufficient sugar
to bring the specific gravity to 1.085 and stir well until all the sugar is dissolved. I would then add
one teaspoon of acid blend to start with (I can add more if needed) and 1/4 teaspoon of grape tannin
dissolved in a little of the liquid. Finally, I'd add one teaspoon of yeast nutrient and stir to dissolve.
I'm not sure which wine yeast would be best, so I'd probably go with Côte des Blancs just to be safe.
It is a good candidate for preserving whatever fruity qualities are inherent in these berries. I'd add
the yeast already activated in a starter solution, cover the primary, and wait for active fermentation
to subside in 7-10 days. At that point I'd transfer to a secondary, top up and attach an airlock. The
rest is standard: ferment to dryness, racking every 30-45 days as needed, stabilize, sweeten to taste,
and evaluate the quality of the wine. If it tastes flat, I'd add more acid blend (1/4 teaspoon dissolved
in 1/4 cup of the wine and then stirred into the gallon -- repeated until the wine has "bite"). When
satisfied, I'd bottle it in four 750-ml bottles and two 375-ml halves (for tasting purposes). I have no
idea how long it might have to age, but I would age it at least six months before tasting.
If any of you try making this wine, I would be very interested in receiving a copy of your wine log
and comments. This may be a wine I will get a chance to make one day. The berries can be dried and so
I may be able to acquire some.
June 9, 2003
Many of you have written me over the years asking about second wines. Second wines are those made from the
pomace of a previous batch, or, as one fellow put it, the "leavings." Pomace is the residue of pulp, skins and
pips of apples, grapes or any fruit after pressing. When pressed under great pressure, a pomace cake or brick
results. Pomace from appropriate fruit can be ameliorated with sugar, acid, water, tannin, and yeast nutrients
and a second wine can be made. The pomace provides enough flavor for a reduced volume of wine and should contain
enough viable yeast (assuming the pulp was pressed after an initial period of fermentation) to continue fermentation.
Last year I made a second wine from elderberries given to me by good friends from Leesville, Louisiana. This
wine is one of the few seconds I've made that was better than the original batch made from the same berries. It
is full-bodied, but not too astringent as many elderberry wines are. It is also absolutely delicious. The pomace
used was mechanically pressed in three batches from 46 pounds of previously frozen elderberries.
Elderberry Second Wine
The 46 pounds of frozen elderberries yielded 6 gallons of very tannic wine, ameliorated with 3 gallons and 3
pints of water and a pinch over 9 pounds of sugar. Alcohol is 11.5 % and the wine was sweetened to 1.010 after
stabilization. This wine will age a couple of years at least. Pressing was done in a 1-gallon fruit press after
3 days fermentation on the pulp. I did not weigh the pomace, but it occupied about 2-1/2 gallons of dry volume.
>From it I made a 3-gallon batch of second wine.
- pomace from 46 pounds of mechanically pressed elderberries
- 6 pounds granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon acid blend
- 1/8 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
- 3-1/2 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- 3 gallons water
The sugar was dissolved in a quart of boiling water with the acid blend and allowed to cool. It was then poured
over the pomace, which was broken up and placed loose in a 5-gallon primary. The yeast nutrient and potassium
metabisulfite were added and the must stirred and covered. I did not know if the yeast in the pomace was still
viable as I had stored the pomace overnight in the refrigerator. Just in case, I made a starter of Red Star Côte
des Blancs yeast. I need not have bothered, as emitted CO2 was raising the cap within an hour. I fermented on the
pulp for 6 days, then bagged and pressed the pulp a second time. The wine was not as dark as the first batch, but
was darker than a rosé. Indeed, the finished wine was every bit as deep as a good claret.
This batch fermented to dryness in only two weeks. I racked it twice, at 5 weeks and again at 9 weeks. I then
stabilized it and sweetened it to 1.006. I filtered it only because it didn't quite shine. I brought a bottle to a
meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild after only 3 months in the bottle, not really sure if it was drinkable
but wanting very much to find out. It was very well received.
June 12, 2003
Last Monday's WineBlog was about a second wine I made from elderberry pomace. I mentioned then that this was
one of the few second wines I've made that was actually better than the orginal batch made from the same fruit.
A couple of you wrote to explain that the original batch had absorbed most of the tannin that elderberries are
over-endowed with, so the second batch was more drinkable due to the depleted tannin and therefore appears to be
a better wine. This is true. One writer went on to remind me that the original batch from those elderberries is
still aging and may not be drinkable for several years. When it is drinkable, it may very well be the better wine
of the two batches. This, too, may prove to be true. Thanks for the reality check.
While thinking about the elderberry second, I couldn't help but think about the most recent second wine I've
made -- a blueberry. As is often the case with seconds, this one is lighter in body than the first, but not in
any way inferior. It is as flavorful, as aromatic, as the first, but lighter in color as well as body. There is
no doubt it is a completely different wine.
Another Second Wine
The blueberry second is a shade past rosé, light-bodied, and very, very flavorful. You would never know from
the flavor and aroma that it is a second wine, although the color does suggest it. It was made from hand-squeezed
-- not pressed -- pomace from 22 pounds of previously frozen blueberries. Both the elderberries and blueberries were
home-grown gifts of good friends from Leesville, Louisiana.
Blueberry Second Wine
The 22 pounds of blueberries had made 3 gallons of very heavy-bodied wine. Using 7 pounds of blueberries per
gallon was over 3 times the amount of bleberries I normally use, but the wine didn't mind. Because I only hand-squeezed
the blueberries, the pomace was quite loose and still retained some juice with quite a bit of flavor. From it I made a
gallon of light, blueberry rosé -- although perhaps a shade too dark to be entered as a rosé in competition.
- pomace from 22 pounds of hand-squeezed blueberries
- 2 pounds granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon acid blend
- 1/8 teaspoon tannin
- 1/16 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite
- 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- 1 gallon water
I dissolved the sugar in a pint of boiling water and mixed the syrup with 7 pints of cold water to bring it to
a usable temperature right away. I put the pomace in a 2-gallon primary, sprinkled the acid blend, tannin, yeast
nutrient and potassium metabisulfite over it, and poured the sweetened water over the lot, stirring immediately.
Fermentation began immediately, although there was no immediate sign of color. I punched down the cap 3 times a
day for four days and was pleased with the color released from the berries each time. I poured the batch through
a nylon straining bag to catch the berries and pressed them. Had I hand-squeezed them again, the color would have
been a true rosé.
Like the elderberry before it, this wine also finished rather quickly -- over two weeks faster than the original
batch I had made from the same berries. It was racked twice -- at 4 and 8 weeks -- and stabilized, sweetened to 1.002,
and filtered with Number 2 Buon Vino filters. Its light body could have been increased with grape concentrate, but
instead lends itself to chilling and serving as a refreshment on a hot afternoon. Because I went light on the tannin,
this wine is unlikely to have staying potential, but with a long hot summer still before me, it is unlikely to last into the fall.
June 17, 2003
I was recently asked about using molasses in wine in lieu of sugar. I strongly recommended against this, as molasses
can be overpowering to the senses. In wine, it smells unattractive, does unpleasant things to the flavors of the base
ingredient(s), and colors the wine brown. Finally, it smells bad while fermenting. In short, it has nothing to recommend
it as a sweetener in wine.
But, as in many things edible, a little can be a good thing. I have many wine recipes that use light brown
sugar instead of white -- or a combination of both -- and brown sugar gets its color from molasses. I think
combining light brown and white sugars is usually better than using all brown sugar. For example, one of my published
recipes (Strawberry Wine ) calls for 2½ pounds of light brown sugar. In reality, this wine is better is made with
1 to 1¾ pounds of white sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries) and ¼ to ½ pound of light brown sugar.
The finished wine then carries a hint of molasses without being obvious, but more importantly the color of the strawberries
is retained unspoiled.
Brown sugar is not the only sugar that uses molasses as a browning agent. Barbados sugar, also known as
Muscavado sugar, has a particularly strong molasses flavor. Turbinado sugar, a raw sugar which has been partially
processed by removing some of the surface molasses, is a blonde sugar that enhances some wines as no other sugar can.
On the other hand, Demerara sugar, a light brown sugar with large, slightly sticky golden crystals, does not appear
to contain any molasses but is prized for its unusual flavor. The strawberry wine mentioned above tastes quite
different if made with Demerara sugar exclusively.
Here are two recipes that work well with brown sugar -- one each for light and dark.
- 2 pounds chopped dry apricots
- 1 pound chopped golden raisins
- 1¾ pound light brown sugar
- 1¼ teaspoon acid blend
- 8 pints water
- 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme
- 1¼ teaspoon grape tannin
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- Champagne wine yeast
Combine all ingredients in primary except pectic enzyme and yeast, stir to dissolve sugar, cover, and set
in warm place for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme, stir, cover, and set aside additional 12 hours. Add activated
yeast, cover and stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides. Strain into secondary, pressing pulp lightly,
and fit airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock after 30 days and again after another 60 days. When clear, rack
again and bottle. Allow to age one year. [Author's own recipe]
- ½ pound freshly ground coffee beans
- 2 pounds dark brown sugar
- 1½ teaspoon citric acid
- ¼ teaspoon tannin
- 7½ pints water
- 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
- Sauterne wine yeast
Put water on to boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in coffee and wait until water boils. Remove
from heat, cover and set aside to cool. To a sanitized secondary, combine citric acid, tannin and yeast nutrient.
Strain coffee through a double layer of muslin into secondary, discarding the grounds. Add activated yeast and cover
mouth of secondary with napkin held in place with rubber band. When fermentation is vigorous (usually, second or third
day), remove napkin and fit airlock. Rack three times, 60 days apart, topping up and refitting airlock each time.
Stabilize, sweeten to taste if desired, wait two weeks, and rack into bottles. Age two months before tasting.
Improves with age. [Author's own recipe]
June 20, 2003
A reader wrote to ask how to best filter his wine to remove a persistent cloudiness. Another asked if filtering could lighten a white wine that had begun to turn a "heavy brown." To both I wrote that filtering was not the answer -- fining was. To the second reader I added that his wine would not have browned so quickly and darkly had he simply used appropriate doses of potassium metabisulfite. I tire of saying this, but readers seem content to ignore it and then ask me to correct the defects resulting from their inaction.
Before you fine a wine to remove cloudiness, it helps considerably if you know what is causing the cloudiness. I discuss a few of the more common reasons for cloudiness on my web site and suggest you read "Winemaking Problems" as a starting point in analyzing your wine. After determining the cause of your wine's cloudiness, you should then visit my page entitled "Finishing Your Wine." Here you will find the general theory behind fining -- why fining agents work at all and why some work for some problems but not others and other finings work in an opposite manner. Reading these two pages steers most readers along the proper course of action. Both pages are linked below. On my web site, they are two of several pages collected under "Advanced Winemaking Basics."
Generally, fining agents work because they possess one charge (positive or negative) and the cloudiness is caused by something that possesses the opposite charge. Opposites attract, creating larger (and heavier) particulates, which fall into the lees. If you use the wrong fining agent, it will repell the particulate and serve no purpose. Indeed, it could exacerbate the problem
The best -- meaning the most useful -- general fining agents are (in my opinion) Bentonite, Kieselsol, Chitosan, and Gelatin. The first two are negatively charged particles that are useful in removing proteins and some metallic compounds. The latter two are positively charged and useful in removing tannin, phenols, anthrocyanins, yeast cells, and bacteria -- all of which are negatively charged. Casein and Sparkolloid are also useful and fairly common finings. Both are positively charged agents. There are at least a couple of products out there that are two-part clarifiers. They contain both positive and negative charged finings, so if you really aren't sure what is causing the problem and you've tried pectic enzyme without success, these products will usually work. In fact, I've never had one not work for me. The one I've used most often is a product is called Super Kleer K-C, a liquid, whose fining agents are Kieselsol and Chitosan (the "K-C" in the name). One 150-ml dose will treat 6 gallons of wine. Ten days later you rack the wine and, if desired, filter it.
When I say filter, I do not mean dripping your wine through coffee filters. On a microscopic level, this would not even qualify as straining. Nor do I mean using an in-line gravity filter with pads or a similar type with a hand-pump. No, when I say filtering I mean one with an electric pump and in-line pad-, cartridge-, or membrane-type filters secured in a housing. I have used both of the other (non-electric) types.
The electric pump/filter is a somewhat expensive piece of equipment and it took me years to finally break down and spend the money, but after I did so I kicked myself for waiting so long. I put the filter in the same category as a floor corker -- if you are going to make more than an occasional gallon or kit, buy a floor corker and electric pump/filter. Life is hard enough all by itself. Why not make it easier where you can?
The primary rule in filtering a wine is this: never filter a cloudy wine. The purposes of filtering is not to clarify a wine, but rather to polish an already clear one. If you use a sub-half-micron filter, you will also remove almost every living thing from the wine -- yeast, bacteria, viruses, molds.
The secondary rule is this: never filter a wine that needs racking. Rack it first! It only takes a small amount of lees to plug up the filter media and burn up the pump, so clarify, rack and filter -- in that order. Finally, because filtering aerates the wine to some degree, I always sulfite my wines before filtering.
June 25, 2003
A couple of you wrote asking for more information on fining agents. Your questions lead me to conclude you are really looking for one fining material that will suit any need. Let me share a secret with you. It doesn't exist. My explanation in my previous entry as to how fining agents work should have made that abundantly clear. Generally speaking, you will need to choose among those agents available to you for the one that best meets your need. However, there are three fining agents that will meet most needs and you might want to have on hand. To these three I would add Super Kleer K-C, the two-part clarifying product I mentioned in my last installment.
Bentonite: I use 1.5 to 2 grams of Bentonite per gallon in white wines to remove protein and "heat stablize" the wine. By doubling the dose to 3-4 grams per gallon, Bentonite is useful to generally aid in clarification. That is why so many kit manufacturers include Bentonite in their kits. Unless used to excess, it will not harm the wine.
Gelatin: For simply clarifying a white wine, this is my fining of choice. Only a small amount is needed (1/8 to 1/4 gram per gallon), so you do need a good scale. To remove any bitterness in white wines, usually caused by excess phenols or crushed pips, 1/4 to 1/3 gram per gallon is sufficient. To remove excess tannin from a white or red wine (especially useful with elderberry), 1/2 gram per gallon will suffice.
PVPP: The real name is Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, but PVPP is much easier to handle. The brand name for PVPP is Polyclar VT, one of the other Polyclar formulations, or Divergan F. With the possible exception of activated carbon and casein, no other fining agent is more closely aligned with "correcting" problems associated with winemaking as is PVPP. Besides Casein, it is the only agent I have found that is effective at removing browning from oxidized wines. It will not return the wine to pre-oxidized condition, but 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually yield results. To lighten a blush, 3/4 to 1.5 grams per gallon is sufficient. Polyclar Ultra K-100 and Polylact are products that combines casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems. To remove the taste of oxidation (but not the odor), 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually be appreciated. Finally, to remove bitterness from wines, again 1/2 to 1 gram per gallon will usually suffice. If you are not going to filter the wine, a light fining of Bentonite 4-6 hours after fining with PVPP will help the settle the PVPP. The wine can be racked 2-4 days later.
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