What the heck is a Blog?

Jack Keller's WineBlog Archives

April-June 2003
July-December 2003
January-June 2004
July-December 2004
January-June 2005
July-December 2005
January-June 2006
July-December 2006
January-June 2007
July-December 2007
January-June 2008
July-December 2008
January-June 2009
July-December 2009
January-June 2010
July-December 2010
January-June 2011
July-December 2011
January-June 2012
July-December 2012
January-June 2013
July-December 2013

rss buttonblank spaceSubscribe to Jack Keller's WineBlog

[Valid RSS]

Twitter logo

Join us on Facebook logo

Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

Lum Eisenman's
The Home Winemaker’s Manual, and excellent book

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

rec.crafts.winemaking news group

Fine Vine Wine's discussion groups

Follow me on Twitter

horizontal divider

If our website has helped you in your wine or mead making endeavors, and you feel moved to contribute to help offset our expenses, you may...

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas, just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was twice the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page and of Jack Keller's WineBlog, the first wine blog on the internet, ever. He grows a few grapes, still works for a living, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Some Other Wine Blogs

There are hundreds of wine blogs. According to Alder Yarrow (see below), none have been around as long as Jack Keller's WineBlog, but 99% of these newcomers are for wine consumers, not winemakers. They have anointed themselves the official "wine blogosphere." You can count on both hands those of us bloggers dedicated to actually making the stuff they write about, and yet our blogs are largely ignored by this elite. Still, they exist and are important. There are some who write for the buyer / consumer but still occasionally talk about the making of wine, even if they usually are talking about making it in 125,000-liter stainless steel tanks. Or they might talk about grape varieties, harvests in general, the cork-screwcap debate, stemware, or other subjects I think you might find interesting. They're worth reading even if you aren't interested in their tasting notes. Then again, that just might be your cup of tea. Here are a few of them I like, listed in a loose alphabetical order (by blogger):

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

Ben Evert's
Making Homemade Wine and Beer, about home winemaking

Ben Hardy's
Ben's Adventures in Wine Making, a very fun read from across the Atlantic

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

Chef Neil's
A Wine Making Fool's Blog, a lot of fun to read

Chris Nuber's
Texas Wine Blog, a good, unbiased read

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

Ken Payton's
Reign of Terrior, lots of good interviews

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

[no name]'s
Budget Vino...for the $10 and Under Crowd

[no name]'s
Two Bees Wine, about home winemaking

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

Sondra Barrett's
Wine, Sex and Beauty in the Bottle

Steve Bachmann's
The Wine Collector: Practical Wine Collecting Advice

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

Tim Vandergrift's
Tim's Blog, a humorous and enjoyable flow from Wine Expert's Tim V.

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
Jack Keller lives with his wife Donna in Pleasanton, Texas just south of San Antone. Winemaking is his passion and for years he has been making wine from just about anything both fermentable and nontoxic.

Jack has developed scores of recipes and tends to gravitate to the exotic or unusual, having once won first place with jalapeno wine, second place with sandburr wine, and third with Bermuda grass clippings wine.

Jack was twice the President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, is a certified home wine judge, frequent contributor to WineMaker Magazine, and creator and author of The Winemaking Home Page. He grows a few grapes, still works for a living, and is slowly writing a book on -- what else? -- winemaking.

WineBlog Archives

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.

January 5th, 2008

I want to wish each and every reader a happy, healthy and sufficient new year. I used to wish a prosperous new year, but one day I realized that some of us, myself included, really only desire sufficiency. The absolute bottom line is that we want enough to do what needs to be done, but beyond what is necessary is "nice to have" stuff. If each of us has sufficiency, there will be no reason for politicians to keep proposing that government provide us the minimum requirements we should be providing ourselves.

This line of thought actually is connected to winemaking. I spent the holidays in California with family, friends and a few new acquaintances. One of the latter said he always wanted to make wine, but never had the money to start. I was dumbfounded by this statement, but after a lot of questions traced it to its source. He had walked into a local homebrew shop and expressed the desire to make some wine at home. The shop owner immediately started running around grabbing stuff, saying "you'll need this" and "you'll need that" and so on. He stood there in horror as the shop owner built a mountain of stuff on the counter consisting of a manufactured wine kit, a 6-gallon carboy, a polyethylene primary with lid, two bungs with airlocks, a hydrometer, an acid and SO2 test kit, some tubing and a siphon starter, a half-dozen chemicals and additives, a mechanical corker, corks, three cases of bottles, a book, a pamphlet, and on and on until the poor guy was looking at a bill for $312 without a clue as to what all that stuff was for. He just turned around and walked out.

Obviously, that shop owner is destined to go out of business soon. He should have talked to the guy for a few minutes and found out what he knew about winemaking (which was zilch), what his aspirations were (he really wanted to make a gallon of Old Orchard grape wine like a friend of his had done), and started him off with a minimal purchase. Instead, he went for the jugular and lost a sale and a potential lifetime customer.

Getting Started

While I as talking to this fellow about what he really needed to get started, I realized I had actually given some bad advice on my website. I corrected this last night by rewriting my page called "Getting Started." I previously displayed a list of equipment and supplies on that page that I considered minimally necessary to make homemade wine. As a result of my discussion with this new acquaintance, I went back and modified the preamble to the list. The entire page discusses much more than this and I recommend everyone who uses my site read this page (the URL is listed after this entry), but I'll reproduce the portion here that deals with what one needs to start making wine:

"I am often asked for a list of the minimum equipment required to make wine. I hesitate to answer this because my recipes call for certain additives or assume you have certain equipment. If I exclude something from a list of minimum equipment and supplies required and you see it listed in a recipe, there is a natural disconnect. So let me answer this in a hedging sort of way. You only need what is required to make a given wine. If that wine requires the addition of acid and does not say to add the juice of an orange and lemon, you then need acid blend or whatever acid is called for (citric acid, for example) in the recipe. Otherwise, you don't need acid blend to start making wine. I didn't have it when I started. Similarly, you don't need pectic enzyme or tannin unless it is called for.

"The list below contains what I think is necessary to begin making wine as a hobby. By this I mean to make a variety of wines while assuming some measure of both adequacy and control over the process. You don't have to buy a primary if you are making a 1-gallon batch and have a 2-gallon crock pot you aren't otherwise using at the moment. You don't need a nylon straining bag if you're making a wine from juice or concentrate. In fact, you don't even need the bottles, corker and corks if you have some other way of storing and/or sealing your finished wine. I've seen homemade wine stored in beer bottles and sealed with bottle caps and stored in 2-liter plastic soda pop bottles with plastic screw tops. Use what you have and buy what you need when you need it, but the items listed below are what I consider the minimum necessary to make a wide variety of wines "from scratch" using the recipes on this website or from other sources. If you are only going to make wine from manufactured kits, you don't need a lot of the stuff on this list but certainly will need some. If you are not sure what a listed item is or is used for, look for it in my Glossary of Winemaking Terms.

  • "Primary: 6- or 7-gallon white plastic paint bucket is the best all-purpose primary;
  • Secondary: 1-gal apple juice jugs, 3-gallon carboys and 5-gallon carboys are best sizes demijohns in the British Commonwealth);
  • Bung: rubber corks with hole drilled for the airlock to fit in; buy when you buy a secondary so you know the fit is correct;
  • Airlock: "S"-type is best (also called "bubbler");
  • Hydrometer: with both specific gravity and potential alcohol scales;
  • Hydrometer Jar: a tall chimney jar (holds about 350 ml of liquid) in which the hydrometer is floated;
  • Siphon Hose: about 6 feet of 1/2 inch clear plastic tubing;
  • Acid Blend: crystaline, 4 to 6 oz;
  • Pectic Enzyme: dry, powdered, 2 to 4 oz;
  • Grape Tannin: dry, powdered, 2 oz;
  • Campden Tablets: for 1-gallon batches, bag of 25;
  • Potassium Metabisulfite: crystaline, for cleaning equipment and sulfiting 5-gallon batches (in place of Campden), 4 oz;
  • Potassium Sorbate: for stabilizing wines (see Finishing Your Wine);
  • Yeast Nutrient: crystaline, 4 to 6 oz;
  • Wine Yeast: see Yeast Strains for guidance; do not use bread or baking yeast;
  • Nylon Straining Bag: also called a grain bag;
  • Corks: size #9 fits most wine bottles; buy quality corks;
  • Corker: buy a cheap hand corker to start with, but be prepared to buy a floor corker later;
  • Bottles: you will need five 750-ml bottles per US gallon of wine, six per Imperial gallon.

"The following list contains equipment you will want if you become a more serious winemaker. None of it is required, but all of it is nice to have if you develop a need for it.

  • "Gram Scale: digital ones can be expensive, but worth the money for making small, precise adjustments ;
  • Acid Test Kit: replace the standards (solutions) as required and it will serve you well;
  • pH Meter: accurate, reliable, and worth the investment;
  • SO2 Test Kit: essential for making serious white wines and reds intended for aging;
  • Grape or Fruit Press: consider this "essential" if you make wine from fresh grapes;
  • Refractometer: very reliable way to measure Brix of grape or fruit juice, or must;
  • Crusher: If you do a lot of grapes, you'll need this; deluxe models come with a destemmer but are pricey;
  • Floor Corker: for 5-gallon batches, you really do need one of these."

For those who are new to winemaking or who are asked to recommend what one needs to start out making wine, I hope this entry will be of value.

Another use for Persimmons

My entry of December 14th, 2007 mentioned starting a persimmon wine. I had far more persimmons than needed for the wine so I peeled and chopped many of them and froze them for later use. Some were only approaching ripeness as I prepared to fly to California, so I packaged them for shipment and took them with me. After a few days, they ripened fully and I made fudge with them using a recipe taken from a website called persimmonpudding.com. What resulted is perhaps the best fudge I have ever tasted. All I can say is that everyone who tasted it raved about it. If you have some late hanging persimmons, or see some at the local market, grab 2 large, 3 medium or 4-5 small ones and make this fudge. You'll thank me for it with your first bite.

Primer on Persimmons

You can go to sites listed below and learn more than you ever wanted to know on the subject or you can just accept that there are fruit out there called persimmons and go for it. But there is something you need to know. There are basically two families of persimmon -- North American and Asian. North American persimmons are generally smaller than Asian persimmons of the same shape and are very astringent until ripe, and when I say astringent I mean they will cause your whole mouth to implode if eaten before they are ripe. Before they ripen they are firm. When they ripen, the insides are soft and gooey. That's when all the tannins have left and the sugars have taken over. They are sweet and delicious.

Asian persimmons are of two types, even though there are dozens of varieties. They are either astringent (usually acorn shaped) or non-astringent (usually flatter or squatter than an acorn). The non-astringent ones are also seedless, an added bonus, and can be eaten as soon as they turn orange but get sweeter as they turn reddish-orange. I recommend these over the astringent types.

The recipe below calls for "persimmon pulp." If you use non-astringent, seedless Asian persimmons, peel them like you would an apple (with a paring knife), quarter them, and cut the quarters into small pieces - the smaller the better. I suppose you could run the peeled fruit through a food processor, grater or dicing mill, but I did it by hand and it wasn't a lot of work at all. If you use astringent American or Asian persimmons, you'll have to wait until each one turns gooey ripe, cut it in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the pulp. Strain out any seeds. Some astringent varieties are seedless, but native persimmons are famous for having many. Refrigerate the pulp until you have enough.

I can't tell you how many persimmons you'll need, but three medium-sized non-astringent Asian ones our friends in Louisiana gave us (I think they were called Fuyu persimmons) yielded a cup of finely chopped pulp. Two large astringent, seedless Asian persimmons (a variety called Hachiya) that another friend of Muscoy, California gave us also yielded a cup of pulp. I saw some small, flat Fuyu persimmons at the market (99 cents each) in San Bernardino, California that probably would have required 4 to make a cup of pulp if seedless, 5 if seeded.

If you are a hair shy of having enough pulp, personally I'd make another trip to the market and buy one more. I don't think 1 ¼ cup of pulp would be too much, but ¾ cup definitely would be too little.

Finally, you will need a candy thermometer that shows the "soft ball" stage. This is technically at 236 degrees F., but some thermometers set it at 240. If you don't have one of these, buy yourself one as a late Christmas present. It really takes the guesswork out of making fudge and other non-hard candies. They are also handy when making jelly. Fruit juice, even with pectin added, will not jell until it reaches 220 F., so if you ever made jelly that didn't set up you now know why.

Persimmon Fudge

  • 1 cup persimmon pulp
  • ¾ cup margarine or butter
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk (do not use condensed milk)
  • 3 cups granulated sugar

Combine these in a 1 ½ to 2-quart stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. A high boil will scorch sugar to the bottom of the pot and might even boil over; a low boil (just past the simmer stage) is the gentlest but will take 30 minutes or more to get to the soft ball stage; a medium boil is best, but will still take about 20 minutes of stirring with a spatula to keep it from burning on the bottom. When the mixture reaches the soft ball stage, remove from heat and add the following in the order listed, folding each one into the fudge until blended well before adding the next.

  • 2 cups marshmallow crème (1 jar is not enough, but will work)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, black walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts (if you really feel decadent), or sunflower kernels (if between paychecks)

Pour into a greased glass 9 X 9 (inch) cake or cobbler dish. Allow to thoroughly cool before cutting. Try showing some restraint. Persimmons won't be available again for another whole year.

January 12th, 2008

I've received many emails informing me that the guest book on The Winemaking Home Page isn't working. I thank each and every one of you who has written me about this, but I really don't need any more informants. The guest book is provided by a third party, whose server crashed. They are working on it, but it is a frustrating process as they are doing everything they can to recover past entries for all of their accounts. These people have served me well over the years and that is why I did not jump ship and find another guest book provider. I believe in loyalty.

Speaking of writing to me, many of you have and are awaiting replies. I offer no apology for the passage of time between your writing and when I might eventually answer. I posted a message on my site before the holidays stating I would be on vacation and when I returned would be entering a hectic two-month period. The latter is an annual cycle. I have absolute work commitments every January-February that are more demanding than you can imagine. During this period my workdays stretch considerably and the time I spend answering email not related to work disappears. I might answer one or two winemaking emails a day during this period, but I had a backlog of 139 unanswered emails on Friday and continue to receive new emails daily. Please read between the lines.

Health Warning

One email I received and did happen to read warned, "If you use a pressure cooker, aluminum style, you will leech out the aluminum and head for Alzheimer's sooner than you think possible. Any acidic fruit used in a pressure cooker will do this." I thanked him for this reminder and promised to mention this danger.

I have a heavy, steel pressure cooker I rarely use. I seldom mention using a pressure cooker to extract juice, but one place I do mention it is in making black currant wine or port. If you use a pressure cooker for extracting this or any other juice, it would be wise to avoid using an aluminum pressure cooker.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth's crust and is found in trace amounts almost everywhere. Despite its usefulness, it is also a toxin. One source (first link at the end of this entry) states, "'Aluminum is a protoplasmic poison and a pernicious and persistent neurotoxin'. No living systems use aluminum as part of a biochemical process. It has a tendency to accumulate in the brain and bones." Aluminum is considerably less toxic than some other metals (mercury, arsenic, lead or cadmium) but is much more common in the environment and appears to be more persistent than most of the others. "The principal symptom of aluminum poisoning is the loss of intellectual function; forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and in extreme cases, full blown dementia. It is also known to cause bone softening and bone mass loss, kidney and other soft tissue damage, in large doses it can cause cardiac arrest." Whether it causes Alzheimer's disease or whether it accumulates more readily as a consequence of Alzheimer's is currently in debate, but it has been found in substantial levels in some brain plaques of Alzheimer's patients.

While the writer warned of the danger of using aluminum pressure cookers, the most common source of ingested aluminum is the food we eat, the water we drink, and many other consumables (such as antacids, buffered aspirin, anti-perspirants, toothpaste, and teeth-whitening products). It would behoove each of us to do a little reading on this subject and avoid harmful products. You can also block its uptake by increasing your consumption of calcium, magnesium and iron and by consuming sulfur-rich foods such as cabbage, beans, lentils, onions, garlic, etc. Check out the first link at the end of this entry or Google "aluminum poisoning" and take your pick.

Of interest to winemakers, perhaps, is the claim that tartaric, citric, malic and succinic acids are useful in excreting aluminum from the body. There is an abundance of websites hailing this position (see the second and third links following this entry), but there are also research findings that claim essentially the opposite (see the fourth and fifth links following this entry). As a result of such conflicting claims, I cannot advise one way or another whether wine contributes to or alleviates aluminum toxicity, but the average person consumes far more organic acid from colas and other soft drinks than from wine. If I have to drink one or the other, I choose wine.

Postscript on Persimmon Fudge

In my previous entry I mentioned I recently made persimmon fudge. What I failed to mention is that my wife and I made a total of five batches. While making the last batch, however, I could not find where my mother had hidden the vanilla extract and my wife had taken her shopping. Thus, that batch lacked this essential ingredient and suffers accordingly.

Persimmon fudge without vanilla extract is not as good as persimmon fudge with vanilla extract, but it is better than no persimmon fudge at all. You can quote me on that.

January 26th, 2008

When I was recently in California during the concluding weeks of 2007, my wife and I purchased some wonderful Deglet Noor dates, pitted and stuffed with walnuts, and some pretty good whole Medjool dates. I also brought home some Royal Medjools, some Barhis, some Halawys, and some Khadrawys. Along with Thoory, Khalasah, Zahidi, Empress, Honey, Blond Beauty, and a few other varieties, these are the staple dates grown in the United States. Indeed, one industry source states that 90% of the dates sold in the United States are Deglet Noor, with Medjool varieties considered the best tasting and accounting for as much as 7% of the U.S. consumption. This is a shame, as there are a wide variety of dates available that put the Deglet Noor to shame and even eclipse the mighty Medjool.

It is probably safe to say that dates are historically the oldest and most important food crop in the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly 7,000,000 metric tons of dates were produced in 2005. Thousands of date palm varieties exist in different date growing countries, but it is almost certain that the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) originated in or near what is now the country of Iraq. All of the oldest known and most of the important varieties can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, the area located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq.

More than You Ever Wanted to Know About Dates

We Americans are not well educated in dates, probably because dates play a very minor part of our diet. Indeed, most Americans eat no more than several dates a year, usually as dried fruit pieces included in some specialty breads, fruit cakes or breakfast cereals, dried fruit, nut and cereal mixes or granolas, or in energy or snack bars. But in date-eating cultures, dates are eaten in one form or another daily. Several semi-dry dates might be part of breakfast or lunch, soft, sweet dates are often eaten as dessert, or date sugar or dibs (a thick date syrup, similar to honey or molasses) might be incorporated in a main dish, pastry or dessert. Dates are a superb energy source, and they're packed with more cell-protecting antioxidants than most other fruits and vegetables.

The few dates we eat a year, with most of them being the rather common Deglet Noir variety, offer nothing to delight our palates and entice us to eat more. But if you knew there were dates possessing an indescribably delicious complexity of flavors, and they were reasonably available to you, I have no doubt dates would become a larger and more enjoyable part of your diet.

All dates are high in sugar content, even the Empress date which tastes less sweet than almost all others. The natural sugar content of the Deglet Noor, which I consider to be a medium-sweet date, is 63% and "sweet" varieties can be as high as 67%. The perception of sweetness increases with a higher ratio of fructose to glucose. Thus, dates are almost or as sweet as raisins and dried figs and more than suitable for winemaking. Some of the commercial varieties grown in the U.S. are:

  • Amir (Amer) Hajj is smaller and softer than the Medjool, soft with a thin skin and thick flesh, spicy with caramel flavor and texture.
  • Barhee (Barhi) is considered the sweetest and softest of all our dates. The flesh is smooth with a rich honey flavor.
  • Deglet Noor is a semi-dry date, with a delicate flavor, and is firm-textured in appearance, with a color range from light reddish-brown to amber or straw. Makes up 90% of California's crop.
  • Empress is elongated, soft (but still a little chewy), and not too sweet.
  • Honey is a softer, creamer, "cousin" of the Deglet Noor date and is marketed as having the taste, color and texture of rich honey.
  • Halawy (also called 'Golden Princess') is a soft date with thick, caramelly and very sweet flesh, is somewhat wrinkled in appearance, with a yellow color ripening to a light amber and then to a golden brown.
  • Khadrawy is a soft date with many desirable qualities. It cures well, ripens to amber, then cures to a reddish brown with a caramel-like texture and a sweet flavor.
  • Khalal is the Barhee date picked in its yellow state; they taste semi-sweet and are as crisp as apples.
  • Medjool is a sweet, moist, meaty, firm-textured, tender skinned date, with outstanding flavor. They are plump in appearance and average over two inches in length, teeming with sweet, natural sugar. Often marketed as the 'Cadillac' of dates.
  • Thoory is often called "Bread Date". It is the diest date variety, with firm skin, less sticky, chewy flesh, and is the staple diet of the Nomadic tribes of the desert countries of the world.
  • Zahedi (Zahidi) is a semi-dry date with a crunchy and fibrous flesh, distinguished by its large seed in proportion to the fruit itself. This date lends itself well to processing and is known for its high invert sugar level. It is widely used to make diced dates and date sugar products.

While we in the U.S. usually buy pitted or whole Deglet Noor or Medjool dates that are fully ripe, dates can actually be eaten in five stages of development.

  • Preripe, or 'khalal,' stage -- the fruit is still a little hard and astringent-tasting
  • Adult, or 'Balah' stage -- dates when they are fully grown and colored and beginning to become sweet
  • Partially or fully ripe, or 'rutab' stage -- light brown, soft or semi-soft, chewy stage
  • Postripe sticky, or 'tamr' stage -- dark brown or black and sticky with its sugary syrup or dibs
  • Postripe dry, or 'tamr yabis' stage -- the dates have dried up and the flesh can be diced or ground into meal

The first link at the end of this entry will give any reader an appreciation for and education on the lowly date.

Date Wine

I have made date wine several times. Some have been okay, some good and some have been excellent. The better wines have been made with Medjool and Barhee dates, but especially the latter. Medjool dates are usually available in gourmet stores and chain stores such as Whole Foods. The date usually available in most supermarkets is the Deglet Noor, which is good but not exceptional. I obtain Barhee dates by mail or online orders.

  • 1-1/2 lbs chopped pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup malt extract
  • 1 lb 12 oz granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 3/16 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Lalvin K1-V1116 wine yeast

Chop the dates and put in nylon straining bag in primary. Add the sugar, malt extract, sugar, pectic enzyme, tannin, and yeast nutrient in primary. Add 7 pints water and stir well to dissolve all dry ingredients. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, cover and set aside another 12 hours. Add activated yeast and ferment 5-7 days, stirring daily. Remove bag of dates and drip-drain, squeezing only gently if at all. Pour liquid into secondary, top up and fit airlock. Rack after one month. When wine begins to clear, rack again and move to cooler place. Rack when completely clear and set aside two months. Rack again, stabilize and sweeten if desired. Wait 30 days and bottle. Age 12-18 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]

February 5th, 2008

I have been so busy lately that my recreational reading has suffered. Tonight I decided to catch up on some blog reading and started with Tom Wark's Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog. My first task was to scroll down until I found the last entry I had read, which I was sure I would recognize. I saw a graphic I recognized -- a sugar cube -- under the title "Sugar and the Mental Gymnastics of the Wine Drinker." I scrolled up and scanned/read the next few entries until I came to an entry of January 28th, 2008. The title, "The Next Wine Movie (trailer included)," caught my attention when I scrolled down, so when I saw it again I devoured the entry and clicked on the trailer (see below).

This is the trailer of Bottle Shock, a movie about the famous 1976 Paris Tasting. To anyone who isn't well-versed on this event, please read Thane Peterson's Businessweek article (linked at the end of this entry). First, the trailer:

The film would appear to present the story of British wine merchant Steven Spurrier, who organized the prestigious blind wine tasting in Paris, now known as the 1976 Paris Tasting or the Judgment at Paris. Eleven highly respected judges tasted California and French Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon. Spurrier himself sold only French wines and fully subscribed to the widely held belief that the best wines in the world were French and always would be French. Spurrier really did not believe the California wines could, let alone would, win. Both he, the judges and the wine world were astounded when California wines won both categories.

Judgement at Paris

The white wines were tasted first. The best French Chardonnays always were from Burgundy. Indeed, the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted was a Montrachet offering. But in 1976, all eleven judges awarded their top scores to one of two California Chardonnays, with the 1973 Chateau Montelena winning the most points.

The red wines came next, with four Bordeaux pitted against six California Cabernet Sauvignons. The winner was the 1973 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars.

Both winners were from Napa Valley. The rest is history.

The Movie

Now, what of the movie of this event? If you watched the trailer (above), you know that Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, with Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett and Chris Pine as Bo Barrett. Rachael Taylor, Freddie Rodriguez, and Dennis Farina also play supporting roles. The movie's official website promises, "Based on a true story." I don't know about you, but in my experience that phrase should always be followed by the word "but...." You just know liberties have been taken with the truth. But to be fair, I have not yet seen the movie and really don't know enough about the details leading up to the Paris Tasting to know if such liberties have indeed been taken. However, reviews on Tom Wark's blog indicate they have. Whether this "dooms" the movie is doubtful, but critics who have seen it say it doesn't stand up to "Sideways." We shall see.

"Bottle Shock" was commissioned by Jim and Bo Barrett, who own Chateau Montelena. That might suggest a self-serving project, but it need not. One can commission their own story without demanding an ego-centric product. At least one critic says the original script by Ross Schwartz was balanced, but it lost that balance when rewritten by Randall Miller (who directed the movie) and Jody Savin (Miller’s wife).

A Personal Testimony

I have told the story before and will do so again of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2003 Christmas party in Fredericksburg, Texas. Our current president, Bob Wehner, had served on a submarine with Jim Barrett. Bob and his late wife Kay had visited Jim in California at his winery a few months earlier. Bob and Kay brought to the party a 1973 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon that Jim Barrett had given Bob. This wine is no longer offered for sale by the winery, even though it was not sold out. It had been offered several times over the years and each time withdrawn as "too young" after many cases had been sold. So, in 2003 Bob shared his 30-year old gift with the Guild and I had what I can only describe as the best Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted. If it had a fault at all, it would be the tannic finish that gave testimony to the fact that this wonderful wine, at age 30, was still too young. I can only dream of what this wine might taste like at age 40...or 50.

The winemaker at Chateau Montelena in 1973 was none other than Mike Grgich, who today is principal owner of and winemaker at Grgich Hills Cellar in Rutherford, California. And the best California Chardonnay I have ever tasted was a shared bottle of 2001 Grgich Hills Carneros Selection. Based on a true story? If we're talking about the wines, you bet...!

February 9th, 2008

After nearly two months, the guest book server at Site Experts has been fixed or replaced or whatever. The important thing is that it works again and none of my 1209 previous entries were lost. Over 800 were lost to a previous crash with another provider. To those of you who have expressed concern, thank you.

Back in my entry of January 26th, 2008 I mentioned a number of date varieties. I have been enjoying some Barhee dates, extremely sweet, caramel flavored, and soft-fleshed. Indeed, they are almost melting, a descriptor usually reserved for candies the pulp of certain grape varieties. These may not be the very best tasting dates I have ever enjoyed, but if they are the next best it is only by a hair-thin margin. As I said in the earlier entry, these are my preferred dates for making date wines. Unfortunately, I didn't obtain enough for wine so I am eating them, and I don't regret that at all. When I run out of these, I think I will splurge and buy a 12-pound box (see reference following this entry).

Losing Clarity

From time to time I get emails concerning the failure of a wine to clear or accounts of clear wines that have lost their clarity. Both experiences are frustrating, but having a previously clear wine lose its clarity is usually more so. I recently had two such emails. Sometimes I can identify the problem by the account relayed in the email, but often not. Some problems require the wine itself for accurate diagnosis. These two did not.

The first case involved four bottles of wine that was a gift. It was placed on the rear seat of a car for a four-hour trip home. The car was warmed, but not excessively so. The back seat was, however, in direct sun the whole trip and the wine was warm to the touch when the writer got home. When the wine cooled, it clouded up somewhat and a thin brown deposit formed over several days. This occurred in all four bottles and the wines were all white grape.

I explained to the writer about heat stablizing wines. This is usually done with white wines by treating them with Bentonite, a fining agent that attracts proteins and results in their precipitation. The wine is then racked and bottled and will not behave as his friend's wine did if allowed to get too warm. If the wine is not heat stable, it should not be allowed to get too warm or be exposed to direct sunlight.

The second case involved a peach-raspberry wine that was bottled for more than a year when it began to exhibit lots of particles floating in it. I explained that the particles were most likely tannins, but could also be proteins bonded by tannin acid and similarly linked into long, visible chains. Tannins are much too small to see, but during aging the small molecules link together and form longer molecular chains, which become visible due to the involvement of pigments. Old wines are carefully decanted before serving for two reasons; first, particles such described are left behind in the bottle and not introduced to the glass, and second, the wine is allowed to "breathe" a little, which most often "opens up" the wine and allows the release of esters.

Had the particles been described as sediment rather than floating, I would have assumed they were small crystals of potassium tartrate -- cream of tartar -- a salt of tartaric acid. These form when excess tartaric acid is cooled and bonds with potassium, a readily available element in most wines. To prevent this from occurring in the bottle, the wine should be chilled to just above freezing for two weeks to force potassium tartrate to precipitate prior to bottling. Bottle the wine while still cold to prevent the crystals from dissolving back into the wine when it warms up.

Another recent question about clarity, but not really related, involved using Sparkolloid to clarify an apple wine. It didn't work and the writer asked if she should repeat the treatment or use something else. Sparkolloid acts by carrying a strong positive charge, attracting components with a negative charge. When applying a positive charge does not work, then try a fining agent carrying a negative charge. Personally, I have grown fond of using a 2-part fining agent that carries both charges and almost always leaves the wine brilliantly clear. There are several products that do this -- Claro KC, SuperKleer, Ritchie's Kwik Clear, etc. However, because this is an apple wine, before fining again I would try adding powdered pectic enzyme, stirring well, and waiting about 3 days. There might simply be too much pectin in the wine. If that doesn't work, then I would try a 2-part fining agent

Speaking of Pectic Enzyme

We have all been told by just about every winemaking authority there is that we should add pectic enzyme to our crushed grapes or fruit to extract more juice. Luc Volders, a home winemaker in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, always accepted this without question, but for some reason decided to test the efficacy of pectic enzyme just for the heck of it. He describes what he did, with photographs, on his blog (listed following this entry).

If you don't mind an abridged version, here's what he did. He took a jar of applesauce, mixed a teaspoon of pectic enzyme into it, and set it aside a few hours. The applesauce became almost fluid. Case closed.

February 16th, 2008

I had an email about propagating mustang grapes from cuttings. The writer asked, "Are Mustang grape vines easy to root and do you know when is the best time to take cuttings? What part of the vine should one take the cutting from?"

Wonderful questions, actually.

Propagating Cuttings from Mustang Grapes

Mustang grapes (Vitis mustangensis) are actually difficult to root from cuttings. Most people propagate them by layering, but I've had rootings take. In my experience, normal cuttings from Vitis vinifera vines (two nodes underground, one node above) will root anywhere from 70-85%; normal cuttings from most hybrids root around 60-75%. Several natives are easy to root (60-80%) and several are very difficult (10-20%). When I find a mustang I REALLY want to clone, I pull down a long, dormant vine when the buds begin to swell (but well before any buds break into leaf -- which will be soon in my neck of the woods) and take 15-20 3-node cuttings. I remove the buds from the bottom two nodes and stick the cuttings immediately into a rooting area with the lower two nodes underground. I water them and keep the ground moist (damp) but not soaked. Other cuttings go into 1-gallon pots, but mustangs go directly into the ground.

If your soil is shallow, hardpan, clay, infertile sand, or otherwise inappropriate to just stick the cuttings into it, you should create a nursery area. Either work the ground directly or use railroad ties or some other material to create a raised bed. For my area, I mixed 6 bags of potting soil with 2-3 wheelbarrows of plain old dirt to form a half decent soil that will hold moisture and still drain. My nursery area was just off to the side of a mesquite tree so it got full morning sun but from noon onward the sunlight filtered through the mesquite. This kept the cuttings from being burned by the afternoon sun. Most of the cuttings will leaf out, but then they will start dying off. If I end up with four rooted mustangs from 20 cuttings, I figure that was a successful attempt.

Take the cuttings from last year's vine if you can. Cut off any flowers that might grow for at least two years.

Interpreting Water Requirements in Recipes

In one of the winemaking forums I sometimes visit, a member asked about the amount of water required for Vargas and Gulling's Blackberry Port recipe (in Making Wild Wines & Meads). The recipe says to add specific amounts of ingredients, including water, initially and later to add additional measures of some ingredients...and water...but didn't say how much water to add the second time.

I know the frustration of trying to figure out a what an author meant when he publishes a recipe with even minor ambiguity in it. I occasionally get an email accusing me of doing just that.

I prefaced my reply by observing that some of the responders seemed to have overlooked that this is a recipe for a port. Port typically possesses four characteristics that set it apart from mere wine. It is high in alcohol, usually sweet (to balance the high alcohol), and heavy-bodied. This particular recipe used enough sugar (4 pounds per gallon) for an 18-20%-alcohol yeast to reach its tolerance level and still retain enough residual sweetness to balance the high alcohol. It also used enough berries (7 pounds per gallon) to improve the body. However, having used that recipe (with minor modification), I can assure you the finished port will need the fourth characteristic of port -- several years of aging -- to really come into its own.

The recipe in question actually says to add 3 quarts of water to the must. Later it tells you to add additional water to bring the volume up to one gallon. What it doesn't say is that this is probably unnecessary, being totally dependent on the size and condition of the berries you use. Personally, I don't think you would need to add any additional water unless the berries are very small (dewberries, perhaps, or berries that ripened in drought conditions) and past their ripeness (starting to dry out). Four pounds of sugar, all by itself, will displace a quart of water. In my own Blackberry Port recipe (second listing following this entry), I use less sugar, more berries, and tell you that you'll need 5 to 5-1/2 pints of water, depending on the size of the berries. Small blackberries have a smaller juice-to-pulp ratio and pound for pound deliver less juice than large, plump berries, so size matters.

Anyway, the problem remains as to how much water to add for the Vargas and Gulling recipe -- whether to add additional water to the initial 3 quarts per gallon. I wouldn't. When fermentation is nearly complete and the berries are removed and pressed, that recipe will yield more than a gallon of port just using 3 quarts of water -- it did when I used it. On the other hand, if for some reason the yield falls a bit shy of a gallon (it won't), then go ahead and top up with a little water. When I used that recipe I reduced the sugar to 3 pounds and still had more than a gallon of port after pressing the berries.

Another forum member had previously described a methodology for getting a more accurate measure of the amount of juice the berries will actually yield. Quite simply, you crush and press the berries before you begin and measure the juice, then add the remaining ingredients and add enough water to bring the total volume to a gallon. You then add the berry pommance (pressed pulp) back to the must and proceed as instructed. I've done it that way myself many times. But any winemaker who publishes a recipe should work this all out for you.

Sugar Displacement

Shortly after I posted my reply to the member asking the question, I received an email from someone who read my answer and said, "You have overlooked the displacement of the sugar. Four pounds of sugar is two quarts of sugar, so you have to allow that in the recipe. The recipe Climber [the poster] is using doesn't, so it greatly underestimates the total volume by a full quart!" In other words, this reader saw a recipe for one gallon of port that says to use 4 pounds (two quarts) of sugar and 3 quarts of water -- and some other stuff, too -- and did the math and came up with five quarts of liquid. This person obviously hasn't made much, if any, wine from scratch.

If you weigh out a pound of finely granulated sugar and then measure it volumetrically, it will equate to 2-1/4 cups of sugar. We often say two cups, but it really is two and a quarter cups. The formula for simple syrup is two parts sugar dissolved into one part water. For a pound of finely granulated sugar, it is 2-1/4 cups of sugar dissolved into 1-1/8 cups of water. So how much simple syrup will this yield? Every person who calls himself a winemaker ought to know the answer. It makes a hair's thickness less than 2-1/2 cups of simple syrup. In other words, if you add one pound of sugar to one gallon of water, you increase the total volume by 1-3/8 cups, not the 2-1/4 cups that the dry sugar occupied. Four pounds of sugar will increase a volume of water it is capable of dissolving itself into by approximately 5-1/2 cups.

So, if we look critically at Vargas and Gulling's Blackberry Port recipe, we see that it HAS to make over a gallon of port with just the water and sugar alone. Then you add the juice of an orange and the juice from 7 pounds of blackberries. Assuming nice, juicy blackberries, this recipe yields about 1-1/2 gallons of total liquid.

My Volume Dropped

As long as we are looking at volume, I might as well mention an email I received before Thanksgiving. A woman asked what has happened to her wine. She said after her vigorous fermentation subsided she moved the wine to a carboy, filling it to a height about an inch below the bung. After waiting a few days to be sure it wasn't going to foam out of the airlock (smart girl!), she put the carboy in a closet and sort of forgot about it. Two months later she checked it and noticed the wine had dropped about two additional 1-1/2 inches lower in the carboy. She checked the floor to make sure the missing wine hadn't escaped as foam, took the carboy out and racked the wine. So, she asked, where did the missing wine go?

Give yourself a gold star if you already know the answer. You know that gas called CO2 that passes through the airlock? The carbon and oxygen molecules that the yeast converted into CO2 occupied the space represented by the missing wine. After explaining this, I asked her if she had taken a specific gravity reading when she transferred to the carboy and if she know the final s.g. She replied that it was about 1.025 when she transferred to secondary and finished between 0.993 and 0.994. That's what I called exactness. So, the additional 4-1/2 to 4-3/4% alcohol that was created in her carboy did so at the expense of about an inch and a half of wine volume in the neck of the carboy -- probably about a half-cup. All in all I'd say it was a good trade.

February 23rd, 2008

Last weekend the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild met at the Landmark Inn in Castroville, Texas and tasted a wide variety of white wines in preparation for the fourth in the series of tests we administer for Certified Wine Judge qualification. The fourth test is varietal identification - probably not the most difficult test but not the easiest either. For those who might be wondering, we tasted red wines at the previous meeting.

During the tasting of a white muscadine variety (Carlos), the word "foxy" came up. Someone correctly noted that this term most often is associated with Concord grapes, but also to muscadine varieties. And so the question arose, "What does 'foxy' mean?" I said I had many references to the term and would write a piece for the Guild's newsletter on it. Consider this my first draft.

Fox Grapes

The term "fox grape" has at various times and places been applied to more than one species of native American grape -- Vitis labrusca, V. rotundifolia, V. riparia, and V. cordifolia (now officially V. vulpina). However, in the widest and most common usage, the "fox grape" refers to V. labrusca and the Southern fox grape refers to V. rotundifolia. However, the delineation of "fox grape" based strictly on North-South connotation is rather imprecise because the two species overlap territorially.

For example, the earliest I could find the term in use was 1622, when John Bonoeil described the grapes of Virginia and noted, "another sort of Grapes there is, that runne upon the ground, almost as big as a Damson, very sweet, and maketh deepe red Wine, which they call a Fox-Grape." Unfortunately, both V. labrusca and V. rotundifolia inhabit Virginia and both can make a deep red wine. However, I would bet the reference here was to the V. labrusca; I just cannot prove it. By 1683 William Penn, undoubtedly referring to V. labrusca, discussed the "fox grape" as an established name in common usage.

But while historical records can establish when the term was absolutely used, such knowledge begs the question: why was "fox" used at all?

Fox, Foxy, Foxiness Theories

Thomas Pinney, in A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), notes, "After the historical evidence has been collected and compared, it appears that there are a number of rival theories, no one of them clearly preferable."

Pinney does, however, dismiss one theory as a ...desperate effort at a solution. This is the suggestion that "fox grape" alludes to Aesop's fable of the fox and the grapes - that the grapes the fox could not reach soured on the vine. There are absolutely no American native grapes that do not bear fruit within reach of a fox. Sure, it is obvious that many individual grapes grow higher than a fox can reach, but for a grape to be named for the fable the species would always have to bear fruit out of said reach. He, and we, should therefore dismiss this theory out of hand.

Fox grape equals wild grape is a theory proposed by Waverley Root in 1980, asserting that "fox" in the seventeenth century was generally understood to mean "wild." He gives no evidence to support this and the Oxford English Dictionary is void of any such claim.

None other than the great botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey proposed that "fox grape" employs fox in the sense of "to intoxicate." While the word has occasionally been used as a verb to denote intoxication, most American grape species associated with "fox" contain too little sugar to naturally ferment to intoxicating levels of alcohol content.

Bailey also proposed that the grape is called "fox grape" because its leaf resembles the print of a fox's paw. He cited no historical reference to this claim, so one is inclined to suppose it originated with him. This would obviously remove it from consideration as a 17th century causi.

It is exactly because of the low sugar content of most American grape species that Robert Bolling, an eighteenth-century grape grower in Virginia, called the native grape the "faux" grape and suggested this etymology for "fox" grape. No one else seems to champion this theory, mainly because the English, Dutch, German, and Flemish settlers in American were neither versed in or fond of using French words when their own languages were so rich.

None other than T. V. Munson offered that the name derived from the fox-colored pubescence of the underleaf of V. labrusca. He later realized this explanation was unpersuasive and abandoned it.

In his Foundations of American Grape Culture (1909), Munson proposed that fox grapes are so called because their odor attracts small animals, including skunks, possums, and foxes. Since skunks and possums are far more numerous than foxes and most grapes are more accessible to possums, which climb, there is no compelling reason to single out the fox in naming the grape.

Closely related to the above is a widely held theory that fox grapes are so called because foxes delight in eating them. The only literary source for this notion is the Biblical passage, "...little foxes that spoil the vines" in the Song of Songs. On a more empirical (and geographic) note, Pinney found no early reference to American foxes eating American grapes. Indeed, the actual evidence suggests that foxes take no particular interest in wild grapes, American or otherwise.

In 1640 John Parkinson wrote in his Theatricum Botanicum: The Theater of Plants (London), "The Foxe Grape . . . smelleth and tasteth like unto a Foxe." Ah, now we are getting somewhere.

In 1703, Robert Beverley noted in his The History and Present State of Virginia, the fox grape of Virginia is of "...a rank Taste when ripe, resembling the Smell of a Fox, from whence they are called Fox-Grapes."

Humphry Marshall, in 1785 in his Arbustrum Americanum: The American Grove, or an Alphabetical Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, Natives of the United States, Arranged According to the Linnaean System (Philadelphia) wrote, "A strong scent, a little approaching to that of a Fox, whence the name of Fox-grape."

Finally, William Bartram, writing in James Mease, ed., Domestic Encyclopaedia (1803-4), offered this: "There is another property of this grape which alone is sufficient to prove it to be the Vit. vulpina [sic], that is, the strong rancid smell of its ripe fruit, very like the effluvia arising from the body of the fox, which gave rise to the specific name of this vine, and not, as many have imagined, from its being the favourite food of the animal; for the fox (at least the American species) seldom eats grapes or other fruit if he can get animal food."

The U.S. Tariff Commission in 1939 declared succinctly that American fox grapes were so called for "the foxlike odor of their skins." The source of this odor is the ester called methyl anthranilate, which indeed is located in the skins of some (but not all) V. labrusca grapes. Not to put too fine a point on it, I think we have pretty well (but not definitively) arrived at the most probable origin of the term "fox grape."

March 1st, 2008

Email has been around much longer than has the internet. In the early days of email, few people owned personal (home) computers, and those who did didn't always own an email program or even possess the ability "to connect." If you had a modem and could "connect," you usually dialed into a "provider" that owned a network of bulletin boards and an email server. I used CompuServe back then, and there were only a handful of people I knew who had home computers, subscribed to CompuServe, and used their email. There were a few others I could communicate with through a couple of university servers. But by and large, email was a rare thing. When it was used at all, you knew who you were communicating with and usually cared enough about what they thought of you to check the accuracy of what you were claiming in your communications.

With the public's ability to access the internet arriving in 1992, things began to change drastically and quickly. Two things that exploded were public web sites and email. I warmly embraced both. Today, there is so much trash on websites and spam, malicious content and flat untruths sent through the emails that I sometimes wonder if we were better off before we had these wonderful resources. I don't believe we were, but I still am troubled deeply by what has happened to email. Aside from the obvious abuses from spam, phishing, pharming, and viruses (including Trojan horses, worms, etc.), there is the issue of trusting what you read.

It is one thing to repeat something you were told, but quite another to receive something from someone you may not even know and send it out to others without even attempting to verify its accuracy. If it isn't a "personal" story, you should always check out the veracity of unusual claims at one of the sites that collect and catalog hoaxes before sending out falsities to family and friends. You are judged by the accuracy of your communications. And even if it was something you were told, internet search engines make it fairly easy to check facts. So, you might ask, what brought this on? An email, of course....

Two-Buck Chuck

A few weeks ago I received an email from a wine enthusiast from the mid-west who had recently returned home from a trip to California. While in the Golden State, he made it a point to visit a Trader Joe's so he could buy a case of Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon - known practically everywhere as "Two-Buck Chuck." He said he was "sharing" with me the following story on the off-chance I hadn't heard it.

"I asked a young stockboy at Trader Joes's how they could sell a Napa wine so cheaply. He told me Charles Shaw and his wife went through a nasty divorce in which she was awarded half the profits of the winery for 10 years. Not wanting his wife to get a nickel, Charles Shaw signed an exclusive marketing agreement with Trader Joes's and started selling his wine at a huge loss."

Oh boy! Now I think I've heard it all.

First of all, if I wanted to know why a particular wine was priced as it is, the last person I would expect to know the facts with any degree of certainty is a lowly stockboy at a chain store, and I say "lowly stockboy" with no disrespect for the position or the work. Rather, I say it entirely with regard to the distance the position is from economic decisions of large corporations. Bronco Wine Company, the owner of the Charles Shaw label, is the eighth largest wine producer in California and Charles Shaw is one of the top 20 brands in the United States, so I think it qualifies as being a "large corporation." Why expect a chain store stockboy to know why a product of such a company is priced as it is?

I guess we can't know the answer to that one, but let's look at the claim itself. A winery's owner decided to sell his wine at a "huge loss" just to keep his ex-wife from realizing any profit from it? That makes no sense. If he were a businessman at all and wanted to keep his wife from sharing any profits, he would sell it at cost to (a) generate no profit while (b) marginalizing any economic harm to himself. But even that sounds unrealistic. However, if there were any truth in it at all one would expect it to quickly surface through a simple Google search. And there is where the utility of the internet outweighs the trashy nature of some of its content.

It turns out that Charles Shaw and his wife did get a divorce - in 1991 - and this did impact the winery -- they sold it to Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company. Franzia is famous (or infamous) for several things, not least of which was his $3,000,000 fine for fraudulently selling one grape variety as another. He has also bought several Napa labels (such as Charles Shaw) and used their facilities to produce and bottle wines from non-Napa grapes. The location of the winery legally allows the name "Napa" to appear on the label as an address without claiming the grapes are from that locale. Deceitful, perhaps. Illegal, no. If you know anything about the rules for labeling, you know that "California wine, produced and bottled in Napa Valley" does not say it is a Napa AVA. wine.

Now, it turns out that I knew most of this story already, but I did two searches just to see how easy it would be to confirm this. First of all I searched snopes.com, the urban legends web site that everyone ought to have bookmarked in their favorites. There it was, the whole sordid story. The second search was at google.com, where there is more information than one ought to want to know.

But Is It Any Good?

All claims aside, the truth is there are many, many critics of "Two-Buck Chuck," mostly from the wine- producing establishment that claims it (Charles Shaw wine) is "Central Valley swill" and many wine writers who agree. Well, if you are selling a $40 Napa Chardonnay or Napa Shiraz, you certainly don't want to compete with a wine that sells for $1.99 a bottle. And if you are a wine writer singing praises of those $40 Chardonnays (and possibly receiving hidden perks for doing so) you too might look down your snobbish nose at this jug-wine competitor. But what might happen if it did compete with the best of them? If it's "Central Valley swill" and the wine snobs are correct, it will be ridiculed by the judges, right?

Well, at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition, the 2002 Charles Shaw Shiraz won the double gold medal, beating approximately 2,300 other competing wines. At the 2007 California State Fair, the 2005 Charles Shaw Chardonnay was judged Best Chardonnay from California and Best of Class, receiving 98 of 100 points and another double gold. And I would bet my next batch of blackberry wine that every 99.9% of the other competitors cost a lot more than good old "Central Valley swill" Two-Buck Chuck.

Join me for a laugh on the count of three....

March 5th, 2008

Age matters. This statement stretches across the boundaries of almost any subject you'd care to discuss -- sexual performance, ecological balance, political viewpoints, movie classics, wine maturity.

For wine maturity, there is an indefinable period when the wine is "green" or "too young" or "newborn" and may or may not offer any hints as to its potential. This is followed by a period of successive chemical evolutions, when the wine is definitely moving down the road to maturation, revealing hidden potentials and evolving in complexity and smoothness. It arrives at maturity on no particular date, following no predictive period of cellaring, at no specific age. It arrives "at its time," and may reside in this state of maturation for only a short while or for several years. There are too many variables to attempt a list of rules that may or may not govern or even describe this crowned plateau. What we can say with certainty that wines improve to a point and then decline. The depth and breadth of that plateau of maturity undoubtedly varies from wine to wine, but theoretically there should be a "period of maturity" lasting many days to many months to many years, depending on the type of wine, its very style, its balance, and its cellaring conditions. During this period, the wine comes so close to its optimum that we announce it is "there." On some day, some hour, some minute, it becomes as good as it will ever be, and from that moment on it begins a slow but unavoidable decline. This decline may be so gradual that we do not even notice it and think of the wine as still being at its optimum for a considerable period beyond the apex. But as the apex recedes into the past the edge of the plateau is crossed and we note, with sadness, that the wine "is going." How fast it declines from this point on and where it may actually go varies immensely. Today's WineBlog entry explores a few specifics.

A Tale of Three Wines

One: I recently (my WineBlog entry of February 5th, 2008) told the story of tasting a 30-year old Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon that, despite still being "too young", was nonetheless the best Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted. All my experience tells me that when this wine fully matures it will reach a plateau that will last many years, and I trust Jim and Bo Barrett will discover and enjoy a potential raised beyond my ability to comprehend.

Two: The first time I made beetroot wine I was horrified by the taste after several months of bulk aging. But the late C. J. J. Berry, in his First Steps in Winemaking, promised that this wine was delightful when "ready," so I went ahead and bottled it. I don't know when it was that I tasted it again, but it had been in the bottle for more that a year. I carefully uncorked it, poured myself a small sample, tasted it, topped off the bottle with plain old tap water, and recorked it. I then put it to rest on the upper shelf in a closet and forgot about it. In time the reclining bottles were covered with hats and other things and slipped from my memory. Some years later I desperately needed three bottles to finish bottling a 5-gallon batch of something. I remembered the beetroot wine and fetched it. I pulled the cork on one and was just ready to tip the mouth toward the sink's drain when a little internal voice said, "taste it first." Expecting the worst, I took a sip right out of the bottle but held a glass of water in the other hand. Wow...! What a difference four years had made. This wine was so good that I racked the remaining wine from the 5-gallon batch into a gallon container and topped it up with two bottles of the same wine I had just bottled. I shared the beetroot wine with dear friends Luke and Lynette Clark, who pronounced it the best homemade wine they had ever tasted. They may have been exaggerating, but it was an exceptional wine.

Three: I wanted to see how long a well-made dandelion wine could be kept before decline claimed it. I bottled a gallon of 1998 dandelion in 10 half-bottles. I opened the first at 12 months and another every six months. This wine peaked at 24 and 30 months and thereafter showed a gradual decline until I opened the 7th bottle at 48 months and found it tasteless. To be certain, I opened a second bottle and experienced a similarity. I poured out the remaining two bottles, but was I too hasty? The story below might answer this question.

A Tale of Two Wines

The following story was sent to me by a friend and was posted on WinePress.com. As you read it, please remember that the "I" in the story is not me.

"There is one lady who I know who is a wine freak to begin with...last year she gave me like 5 cases of empties, cleaned and labels peeled....

"She bought an old farm-house and after living there for several years, last month she found two full 5 gallon carboys topped right up and sealed w/ a solid cork bung, that were very well hidden actually half buried, in the hand dug, dirt floor, basement. She asked me to come over and "check it out" for her. The carboys were very dirty and had years of dust on them but the cork was still intact.

"It was a bit oxidized and tasted very much like a sherry, and I didn't get sick from drinking it. Two weeks later, I brought over a few cases of sanitized empties a bunch of Campden, and a racking can and corker and bottled it all up for her. She gave me both of the now empty carboys as well as 12 full bottles.

"When I was cleaning up the carboys, I found written on the them in grease pencil "Muscadine - 1938" and "Muscadine and Fig 1941" Which made sense since they have a trellis in the back yard with badly overgrown muscadines and 12 fig trees in the side yard.

"Her husband has since returned 12 bottles to the original location they found the carboys in, with a letter (heat laminated) outlining our discovery, for the next owners of the house, whoever they may be.

"This summer we hope to harvest enough grapes to get them started making their own wine."

Is that a great story or what? And it raises the point that even declined wines might evolve to claim a second life as a sherry.

A Tale of Lost Wines

When I lived in San Francisco I stored my wines in an odd-shaped closet under a stairs. At 5:04 p.m. on October 17th, 1989 the Bay Area was rocked by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake centered on the San Andreas Fault northeast of Santa Cruz near Loma Prieta Peak. Every single bottle of wine was tossed from their racks and all but two broke.

Fortunately for me, I had an exact inventory of all my wines taped to the inside of the closet door and I had a renter's policy issued by what many consider to be the best insurance company in the world, USAA. I filed a claim for many damaged or destroyed items, including 107 bottles of commercial wines from the Alexander, Napa, Sonoma, and lesser valleys. I will make a long story short. After receiving my forms, I was called by a claims adjuster who just happened to know wine. He told me I had a choice to make - to ask for actual cost, market value or replacement value of the items destroyed. He also explained that for the porcelain, ceramic and terracotta items from the Ming Dynasty that I lost, I had not insured them as antiquities and would be limited to actual cost (if I could prove it) or replacement value of the type items destroyed (example: a small, 5.25-inch bowl I had paid $139 for could be replaced by bowls costing anywhere between $0.79 and $19.95) so I would experience a loss if I asked for replacement value. But it was the wines where he had real knowledge and solid suggestions.

He was not familiar with all the wines I had lost, but I had provided my inventory which included the price I paid for each wine. He noted that some were exceptional vintages from very famous wineries and replacement values far exceeded what I paid for them. Indeed, replacing 8 specific wines would exceed the cost I paid for all 107 wines. He also noted that 4 of the wines, all whites, had no replacement value at all as the wines had declined into valuelessness, but he would allow replacement by a current vintage from the same wineries. He also was willing to "work with me" on the values of the lost antiquities. He made the decision simple and turned my 23-year association with USAA into a 42-year association.

March 9th, 2008

Back on December 14th, 2007 I mentioned I had started a persimmon wine. I just racked it for the second time and was not satisfied with the clearing rate and so I mixed up a Bentonite slurry yesterday and added the correct dosage today.

However, I recently joined in a WinePress.us discussion on dandelion wine and mentioned the dandelion and persimmon wine I made. What makes it such an unusual wine is that the two major ingredients are harvested six months apart. You either have to freeze dandelion petals for six months or freeze persimmon pulp. Trust me on this one. Freeze the persimmons.

A Dandelion and Persimmon Wine

  • 5 pints of loosely packed petals
  • 3 persimmons (frozen from previous winter)
  • 1/2 gallon Sam's Club white grape juice
  • 2 Valencia oranges (juice & zest)
  • 1 small lemon (juice only)
  • 1 pound sugar
  • 1-1/4 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon grape tannin
  • 3 pints water
  • Hock yeast

I boiled the water, dissolved the sugar in it and poured this over dandelion petals in a large bowl. I then covered this with plastic wrap for two days, then poured it into nylon straining bag (to collect the petals) and added the persimmon pulp to the bag. Then I put everything in a primary and fermented it 7 days, squeezed the bag, poured everything into a 4-liter secondary and attached an airlock. Three weeks later I racked into a gallon jug, stabilized with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite, and allowed it to age in the secondary for 4 months, racking two more times and adding additional potassium metabisulfite the second time. I bottled it and am aging it. [My own recipe]

I started this in May of 2007 and won't open this until Christmas 2008, but I expect it to be fantastic.

A New Meaning for Ice Wine

Julian Schultz, writing for The Oxford Wine Room,describes how, 18 years ago, he happened to freeze 16 ounces of a just-opened bottle of a stupendous Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon while he trotted off to Switzerland. Upon returning, he defrosted it and found that the water and solids had separated, so he then shook it up to reconstitute it. Julian reports, "Although the wine's color showed somewhat dull, its flavor was superb! Better even than when the wine was first tasted."

When I first read this, I thought of aging wine with magnets, or in a pyramid, or any number of crazy things I've read over the years. But this is Julian Schultz making this claim. I can't ignore it. So, I froze a half bottle of my own very respectable 2005 Cranberry. I had one bottle remaining, and although I intended to enter it in competition, I would forego that to have a control wine to compare the frozen one against.

Julian's Cabernet Sauvignon was frozen a month. Mine was only frozen two weeks. I meant to do the full month, but changes in my schedule meant it would be either shorter or much longer. Besides, I had house guests and thought I could use two other sets of opinion.

Folks, I have to attest that this experiment worked. All three of us thought the thawed and reconstituted wine was better than the unfrozen one. But it wasn't a blind testing. I had planned to do one by having a different person serve each of us one at a time, pouring in one room and serving in another, but as Julian noted there was a discernable color change that would have made the attempt at blind presentations ludicrous. I'll have to repeat this sometime with a white....

So, while I cannot explain it, I can confirm it. Freezing leftover wine not only preserves it, but also improves it. For all you pre- or post-doctorates out there at UC-Davis, there should be a research grant in there for figuring out why.


I don't know whether we went on or off Daylight Savings Time at midnight, but I resent having to change all my clocks (and watches) twice a year. I used to know why we do this, but I simply have forgotten. It happens. If you resent something lone enough the only thing that you remember about it is the resentment. And yes, I know I could Google it but I'm not really that interested.

But perhaps this will allow me to continue watching the race of Venus and Jupiter. Back in January on the way to work each morning, in winter darkness, I noticed two lights rising in the East by South-East. One was undoubtedly Venus, bright and steady. The other, closer to the horizon and perhaps one-third to one-quarter as bright, was steady too. Since I have gazed upon Venus many times without the other being there, I figured it too was a planet. A quick check through Google one day confirmed it was Jupiter, the gas giant.

After perhaps a week of observing it growing closer and closer to Venus, I noticed it had pulled even on the south side. The next morning it was slightly ahead. By now it has pulled well away and really isn't associated by proximity with Venus, but last week the sky was getting too bright during my commute to notice Jupiter. Tomorrow I will be going to work an hour earlier relative to last week, so Jupiter ought to once again be easily identifiable during my commute. It should really be quite high in the sky by now.

Connection to winemaking? Absolutely none I can think of, but it was on my mind.

March 13th, 2008

I'm bad when it comes to email. I have some 80 or so emails -- some 9 months old -- I have never answered. Of course, they arrived while I was hospitalized or convalescing from a heart attack, but still, I should have sent these people some sort of explanation when I was able. But I didn't.

On the other hand, I have tried (and failed) to answer all I have received since my recovery. I discovered over two dozen still awaiting my acknowledgement. One of these arrived while I was on my Christmas-New Year vacation in California and I simply overlooked it upon returning. I will here and now address the two recipes requested in that email, with sincerest apologies to the woman who requested them.

A Request

"Like my father, I have made a certain type of wine for years. It was the only kind he made (every year) and it is delicious. I have made it myself and after moving numerous times I can not find it. It is an extremely simple recipe with only 4 ingredients which are as follows:

  • Indian Head corn meal
  • Sugar
  • Fleishman's Dry Yeast
  • Water

"My problem is that although I can never forget the ingredients, I do not recall the quantities of each. I do know that after putting everything into a large blue and white speckled pot I would fill it up with water and allow it to ferment for no less than 7 days. At the end of the fermenting period we would dip it out by the cupfuls and place into bottles and tightly cap it. If I can get a recipe for the 'corn meal wine' which is delicious I would greatly appreciate it."

Corn Meal Wine

The Indian Head corn meal recipe is indeed simple -- much more so than the corn meal wine recipe I have. Since hers lacks so many ingredients mine includes, they will not look anything at all similar. I will leave it up to her to leave out things. I simply cannot in good conscience omit them as they are all there for a reason. The grape concentrate, for example, adds body, sugar, nutrients, acid, etc. My recipe makes 3 gallons of wine.

  • 3-3/4 lbs corn meal
  • 4 lbs 10 oz granulated sugar
  • 3 medium lemons (juice only)
  • 4 Valencia oranges (juice only)
  • 1 tablespoon acid blend
  • 1/4 to 3/8 teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 4 11-oz cans 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • Water to 3 gallons
  • Wine yeast [I used SB5 Hock)]

Dissolve the sugar in 3 pints of boiling water and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool and combine all ingredients except the yeast in the primary. If you are adding "water to 3 gallons," the volume should be exactly 3 gallons. Add one additional quart of water, stir, and add yeast in a starter solution. Cover and set aside, stirring daily. When vigorous fermentation subsides (2-3 weeks), rack into a 3-gallon carboy and attach an airlock. After 30 days, rack again. If not clear, add 1-1/2 teaspoons amylase (a starch enzyme) and 5 days later add an equal amount of pectic enzyme, stirring well each time. Wine should be clear in additional 30 days. Either rack into a clean carboy and bottle it a week later or very carefully rack into bottles at this point and wait 2 months to sample. [Author's own recipe]

Yes, I know this is very different than what the writer and her father did. One may modify my recipe as one will, but I can only guarantee that this one works.

Honeydew Melon Wine

The same woman asked if I have a recipe for honeydew melon wine. I have a generic "Melon Wine" recipe posted in my Requested Recipes section, but I have tweaked it several times for honeydew and I like the following iteration best. I have also posted it in my Requested Recipes section because it is quite different from the generic one.

  • 4 lbs very ripe and sweet melon flesh
  • 1-1/4 lb granulated sugar
  • 11 oz can 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 6-1/2 pints water
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Champagne wine yeast

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, cut the melons into wedges, discarding seeds and peelings, and cut wedges into thin slices. (If weighing the sliced flesh to get 4 pounds is too much of a pain, weigh the melons when you buy them and their total weight should be 5-1/2 to 6 pounds to get the correct amount of flesh.) Put the slices into a fine-meshed, nylon straining bag, tie the bag closed, and put it on the bottom of a primary. Crush the melon with your hands. When the water boils, stir sugar into it and continue stirring until it is completely dissolved (water will be perfectly clear). Pour this syrup over the bag of melon, cover the primary with plastic wrap, and wait several hours for the must to cool to room temperature. Add all ingredients except yeast. Check the specific gravity and add sugar if required to reach an S.G. between 1.085 and 1.095. Recover primary (a sanitized piece of muslin will do) and set it aside 10-12 hours. Add the activated yeast starter and recover the primary. Squeeze the bag gently each day to aid in juice extraction. When specific gravity reaches 1.020, remove bag and allow it to drip drain without squeezing, returning all drained juice to the primary. Allow to any solids to settle overnight and then rack into a secondary, attach an airlock, and set aside. After two weeks, rack again, top up and refit airlock. When wine clears, stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon dissolved potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, sweeten to taste (probably between 1.004 and 1.012 will suit most people) with a Grade A (Fancy) honey, wait 30 days (to be sure fermentation does not restart), and rack into bottles. Age 6-12 months and serve chilled. [Author;s own recipe]

The Art of Making Wine

Elsewhere on my website, I long ago wrote, "If there is an art to winemaking, and there certainly is, Then it is the art of controlling yeast. It is the art of selecting the appropriate yeast, introducing it at the correct moment, feeding and nurturing it so as to coax it into living, reproducing and dying in a prescribed manner, and then cleaning up after it so as to preserve the fruit of its labor. It is the art of controlling its temperature, the amount and kind of air it is allowed to breathe, and feeding it the sugar and other nutrients it needs to serve man. For it is not in the nature of yeast to serve man, but rather yeast exist to serve yeast. Controlling yeast is the real art of making wine."

The quote above was in an essay on yeast, so I was completely focused at the time on their contribution to the whole process of winemaking and on how so much of what we do is really done to influence what we want them to do for us. There is, of course, more to the art of winemaking, but I think 75% of it is captured by the paragraph above that I wrote years ago. (I may on another day assign a different weight to it, but today I think 75% is about right.) I should, however, modify it to begin, "If there is an art to winemaking, and there certainly is, then it is largely the art of controlling yeast."

To the above, I would add that the next most important contributor to the art of winemaking is the quality of the ingredients. When I write, "4 lbs ripe blackberries," I assume you will seek out the very best quality berries available to you. When I go out and pick 8 pounds of wild berries, I do so hoping I'll be able to make two gallons of wine, but when I get them home and wash them, I cull out any that are under-ripe. I do this by looking at the color and the feel of the berries. If they are not deep black, I taste a few and decide if they are ripe enough for my wine. If they are very hard, I know they are probably not ripe enough and so I taste a few of those too. Those that are not ripe enough for my wines will be characterized by too much malic acid, but those same berries will almost always be ripe enough for a cobbler or a jam as these are sweetened more than enough to mask the offending acid.

The final facet in the art of making good wine is achieving balance, and I usually think of that in association with the quantity, if not quality, of ingredients. I will leave you to reflect on that thought, for it is pregnant with meaning. We can compare reflections on another day.

March 29th, 2008

Not too long ago I was asked if there was any new research on the health effects of red wine. Well, with as many health and wellness publications, web sites and blogs as there are, there is always something new out there, but whether the substance is new is another matter. Another blog entry on the French paradox would not be worth my time. But in truth there have been a number of new developments. I just haven't gotten around to writing about them.

My phone rang two nights ago and an acquaintance pointed me to a web page just hours old that reviewed a study published in the latest edition of Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology in which our old friend, the antioxidant resveratrol, was found to have specific benefits in fighting pancreatic cancer. It was not until yesterday, however, that I was able to dig out more details. I'm glad I waited, as more details poured in all day as I received 7 more reviews and web references to this study.


Resveratrol (3,5,4'-trihydroxystilbene) is a polyphenolic phytoalexin. It is a stilbenoid, a derivate of stilbene, and is produced in plants with the help of the enzyme stilbene synthase, or stilbenase. It's function in plants appears to be as an antitbacterial and anti-fungal protective. It is an antioxidant, but probably not an important one. In vitro, resveratrol effectively scavenges free radicals and other oxidants, which is what antioxidants do, and inhibits low density lipoproteins (LDL) oxidation, but other antioxodants do these jobs much more efficiently - vitamins C and E, flavonoids, glutathione, melatonin, and caffeine.

Resveratrol is found most abundantly in the roots of the Japanese knotweed but also in peanuts and in the skins and seeds of muscadine grapes but also in the skins of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz and Pinot Noir. It is also found in blueberries, bilberries and cranberries the natural juices and wines of these berries and grapes, but its amount varies according to the cultivar, its geographic origin, its growing conditions, and exposure to fungal infections that trigger its production. The amount of time a wine spends in contact with skins and pulp during fermentation is an important determinant of its resveratrol content. Some white grapes also produce resveratrol, but because they are not fermented on their skins very little of it finds its way into their wines.

Although resveratrol's presence in red wine has stimulated much interest in the area of cardiovascular disease prevention as an explanation for the French paradox -- that the incidence of coronary heart disease is relatively low in southern France despite high dietary intake of saturated fats -- currently there is no convincing evidence that resveratrol has cardioprotective effects in humans, especially from the amounts present in 1-2 glasses of red wine. This does not mean there is any scarcity of research being conducted and reported, of which the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology article on research conducted by Dr. Paul Okunieff et al. is but the latest.

Resveratrol and the War Against Cancer

The Okunieff study is simply the latest of many investigating the inhibitive effects of resveratrol on a variety of human cancers, including breast, prostate, stomach, colon, pancreatic, and thyroid. These many studies have found that resveratrol does indeed inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells when added to cells cultured in vitro --outside the body - but there is very little work done in vivo -- inside the body.

To say it is "simply the latest of many" is not to denigrate the study at all. It makes a major contribution in identifying a new effect and explaining the mechanism for the effect observed. This is not always achieved. In this case, the bottom line is that Dr. Okunieff and his group from the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center showed, for the first time, resveratrol helped destroy pancreatic cancer cells by reaching to the cell's core energy source, or mitochondria, and crippling its function. They showed that when the pancreatic cancer cells were pre-treated with resveratrol and then irradiated, the combination induced a type of cell death called apoptosis, a critically important goal of cancer therapy. The cancerous cells became more sensitive to radiation and normal tissue became less sensitive. The result is that radiation therapy zaps the cancerous cells but not the healthy cells surrounding them.

These findings are critical because the mitochondria, like the cell nucleus, contains its own DNA. Like the fuel pump in an automobile, it has the ability to continuously supply the cancerous cell with energy when it is functioning properly. Stopping the flow of energy (apoptosis) theoretically kills the cancerous cells.

In the study, cells either were or were not treated with resveratrol. Those treated received a high dose of resveratrol -- 50 mg/mL. The study claims that red wine can contain concentrations as high as 30 mg/mL. I have not found these concentrations reported anywhere. Indeed, the highest concentration of resveratrol I have seen reported in wines is in muscadine wine - 14 to 40 mg/L (approximately 2 to 6 mg per 5-ounce glass of wine) - as opposed to very low concentrations in Pinot Noir (0.40 to 2.0 mg/L).

There is more to the study, of course, and I invite you to read some of the reviews, if not the study itself. The latter is in the latest edition of Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology (cite 2008;614:179-86, "Anti-cancer effect of resveratrol is associated with induction of apoptosis via a mitochondrial pathway alignment", Paul Okunieff, et al.). A couple of reviews are referenced below.

Maximizing Resveratrol in Winemaking

So, you've read all of this and more and have decided you want to make some red wine and maximize the amount of resveratrol in it. What to do?

First of all, get to know and love the lowly muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia). Its wine contains 7 to 20 times as much resveratrol as Pinot Noir wine (14 - 40 mg/mL vs. 0.40 - 2 mg/mL). Secondly, do not introduce heat to the grapes or must, as heat greatly reduces its concentration. Thirdly, whether the muscadines are red or white, ferment on the skins until the cap sinks. Both tannins and resveratrol will steep from the skins and seeds

Since resveratrol is now available as a "nutritional supplement" (buzz phrase meaning it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for any purpose), should you "supplement" your wine with it? I can only say, it's your body. You decide.

Reports suggest that some aspect of the wine making process converts piceid -- a stilbenoid glucoside -- to resveratrol in wine, as wine seems to have twice as much average resveratrol concentration as do the equivalent commercial juices. And that heads off the otherwise ridiculous question of whether it is better to drink the raw grape juice or ferment it into wine. And with that morbid thought fresh in my brain, I'll close....

April 6th, 2008

It is easy to get caught up in the hype about resveratrol, which I wrote about in my last WineBlog entry. None of us who enjoy a positive quality of life really wants to give it up to cancer, heart disease, stroke, or other life altering or life threatening conditions. The allure of a simple pill, or drink, as insurance against such outcomes is seductive.

I would like to have a nickel back for every dollar I have spent over my lifetime on specific vitamins or "supplements" that lacked USDA or FDA backing for delivering the benefit for which I was taking them. At one time I was taking things for reasons I had forgotten. I need to stay away from homeopathic, naturopathic and herbal-medicinal literature.

I have never bought into the healing power of crystals , magnets, pyramids or that sort of thing, but I'll admit to haven taken at one time or another alfalfa, aloe, beta-carotene, bilberry, coenzyme Q10, DHEA, evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil, folic acid, garlic, ginkgo, glucosamine....I'll just stop here before I embarrass myself. But for whatever reason I took these things, for the most part they were not constituents of my normal diet. I had to go out of my way to obtain them and they were ingested as pills, tablets capsules, or caplets. Red wine is quite different. I make it continuously and drink it most days. I do this because I like it. It would be nice if there were a health benefit thrown in for good measure.

Live to be 150?

Several nights ago on ABC television Barbara Walters presented a special called, "Live to Be 150... Can You Do It?" It covered a number of strategies for prolonging life, and one of them was resveratrol. Dr. David Sinclair, a founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and a professor at Harvard Medical School, was featured in this segment. Dr. Sinclair is no stranger to resveratrol, having published findings of its role in extending life in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Nature, Sep 11, 2003), the worm Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster (Nature, Aug 5, 2004). However, he says a human would have to consume 1000 bottles of wine a day to realize similar benefits. Dr. Sinclair told Walters he has created a "miracle" pill containing resveratrol that will have the same effect of 1000 bottles of red wine daily.

I can't blame Dr. Sinclair for trying to cash in on resveratrol. I would too if I had the wherewithal. I long ago realized that if you want to make a lot of money, introduce yet another product that claims you'll look younger or lose weight. But for Dr. Sinclair to say he has created a "miracle" pill containing resveratrol which, by the way, he said isn't on the market yet, seems a bit over-reaching to me. Almost six months ago (just before Thanksgiving) I was scanning the vitamins and supplements section of my supermarket pharmacy and saw a rather large, gray plastic bottle labeled "Resveratrol." I didn't look twice because I was in a hurry. I haven't seen it since but really haven't looked. But unless that was Dr. Sinclair's product and it is on the market now, he has simply created another pill containing resveratrol.

The truth is that none of the claims made for resveratrol have been proven in adequately scaled human trials. That doesn't mean they won't eventually be proven, but there are mixed results in the literature that receive few headlines and no air time on ABC.

Only two months ago, researchers at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre of the Toronto General Hospital reported a study on thirteen human volunteers to test whether red wine differed from other alcoholic drinks in affecting heart health. What they found and published in the February edition of the American Journal of Physiology, Heart and Circulatory Physiology is that red wine and alcohol consumption were found to have virtually identical impact on health. Indeed, one drink of either substance helped to reduce the work rate of the heart but after a second drink of either the heart rate and sympathetic nervous system activity all increased.

Admittedly, the small population in the study is troublesome, but the results are equally troubling. This study does not address resveratrol per se, but drinking a lot of red wine daily clearly is not good for your heart. A dear friend recently told me his doctor, who may well have read this study, advised him to limit his wine consumption to one glass daily.

Other Compounds?

Red grapes are but one of the foci in a flood of studies. Blueberries, strawberries, bilberries, pomegranates, mangosteen, acai, raspberries, noni, and many other fruit are being studied as rich sources of polyphenols. We know these compounds as potent antioxidants -- phenolic acids, tannins, flavonols and anthrocyanins. A compound found in blueberries - pterostilbene - is similar to resveratrol and could be as effective as a widely used synthetic drug in reducing cholesterol. But the truth is that a cocktail of these compounds, not just one in isolation, may hold the ticket to better results.

In results presented at the Society for Integrative Oncology's Fourth International Conference last November, researchers at the University of California, Irvine reported positive synergistic effects between many grape compounds, not just resveratrol alone. The effects were observed in blocking a cellular signalling pathway (the Wnt pathway) linked to more than 85% of colon cancers.

Dr. Randall Holcombe, lead researcher on the study, said this "...suggests that substances in grapes can block a key intercellular signaling pathway involved in the development of colon cancer before a tumor develops."

Holcombe's group recruited colon cancer patients and randomly assigned them to receive a resveratrol pill (20 milligrams per day, which may be too low) or a beverage of grape powder in water in either 80- or 120-gram strength per day. Patients receiving just the resveratrol supplements demonstrated no effect on colon tumors, but patients receiving the low dose grape powder drink showed significant reductions in Wnt signalling. Curiously, no effects were observed among those receiving the higher dose beverage.

The point is that we truly do not know all the answers. Until we do, let's not go overboard. Enjoy a glass of berry juice in the morning, a glass or two of red wine in the evening, continue reading the literature, and...could someone send me some of that red grape powder?

Back to Winemaking

In a forum thread, a member asked if high specific gravity (1.150!) could contribute to his must not fermenting. After several exchanges, he asked, "Should I assume that the max alcohol rating of the yeast that I choose translates into the max sugar content of the must...?"

I replied that you should. Many, many yeasts will start in musts far sweeter than their ability to ferment to dryness. A few will not. It really comes down to the individual yeast strains. I have no chart or look-up table to guild you, but the alcohol limits mentioned on my site should constitute the limits of the initial potential alcohol (PA) of the must. If you want to add additional sugar later to sweeten the wine, just remember that some yeasts will continue making more alcohol than is normal for the strain. It is best to stabilize the wine first to prevent this.

Why too much sugar makes a difference has nothing to do with the PA of the yeast, but rather osmotic pressure. If the must in which the yeast live is too dense, the yeast can take in water and nutrients and sugar and convert them into energy for themselves and alcohol and CO2 as waste products, but they cannot expel the waste because the pressure outside is too great for them to overcome. They die of a sort of constipation.

And on that happy note I'll close for today.

April 12th, 2008

I hate income taxes. It's bad enough you have to pay them, but to have to wade through the virtual mountain of forms, schedules, work sheets, instructions, tables, publications, etc. required to figure and file a return is just torture. So, for some 18-20 years I have been using software to assist me. About every three years or so it seems something changes in our situation to really complicate the return. It isn't like the changes in my life are so unusual or convoluted in the human experience that the software maker wouldn't think of including them as possibilities, but rather that they all use this "interview" format and you have no idea as you go through it when, where or whether they will ever ask you the question that will break you out of the mainstream return and handle your situation.

The Help files with these programs used to be helpful. Now, at least with the one I've used for the past 5-6 years, you press Help and get a screen saying there are 29 or so ways you can get help -- just go to Help Central and do this and that. It really would be helpful if just one screen accessible through the Help menu had the words "Help Central" at the top so you would know you are in the right place. And remember when Help menus had a feature called an "index," or perhaps a "search engine" that actually searched the "help" references to find an instruction about the word or phrase you were searching? It's like they hire a new software design team every 2-3 years that starts over rather than building on the proven features of the existing program.

The good news is that I finally finished after two agonizing weeks, two phone calls to the company and hours of being on hold (the company representatives were NOT able to answer my questions). I then took the printed and signed returns to the post office at 10:00 a.m. Thursday and paid a small fortune to send them by overnight express mail to my wife to sign (she is in California, creating a couple of those complicating circumstances the tax preparation program was ill-designed to deal with easily). And, well, Murphy's law asserted itself -- it was NOT delivered the next day as promised and paid for, the tracking program the U.S. Postal Service uses is only updated every evening so I had to wait until after midnight on the 11th to learn it never even left San Antonio on Thursday and didn't arrive at San Bernardino until Friday evening. That's it. No further information. Thank you very much from the U.S. government and please stand by for another postal rate increase next month. And people wonder why I've had two heart attacks....

So here's a bit of friendly advice from someone who has had it with governmental inefficiency (oh, and you want to trust your health care to these people?): if it absolutely has to be there the next day, there are private companies that will deliver as promised and for less money, too. Also, if what has to be there tomorrow happens to be wine, remember that it is illegal to ship wine through the U.S. Postal Service, so by law you will have to chose a more efficient service provider. Good luck with that.

Scratch vs. Kit Wines in Competitions

A reader wrote, "Is it fair to enter wine made from kits versus wine made from grapes or juice in amateur winemaking competitions?

"Let's see: with wine kits, a company sources good juice from around the world, the company gives you packets of yeast, Bentonite, Meta[bisulfite], and everything you need, and complete directions as to timing and when one should add each packet.

"Let's contrast that with wine made from Juice or Grapes. Now one has to choose the yeast, choose the fining agent(s), determine when to rack, how to cold-stabilize, as well as a multitude of other decision points.

"Now why should both of these types of wine (kit vs. juice/grapes) be judged against each other in competitions such as the WineMaker competition??

"I make both wine from juice/grapes, and wine from kits when I really like that wine. I would never enter a wine made from a kit into a contest because it would feel like entering a cake made from a Betty Crocker package into a home-made cake contest."

You have no idea how this question has perplexed competition organizers over the past few years -- especially since the kit manufacturers got their act together and started producing very high quality kits.

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild has struggled with this same question. I was on the committee that had to resolve the issue. Our concerns went beyond those of the writer above because we have many members who grow their own grapes and can easily spend hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars a year producing a crop and protecting it from the birds, the grape berry moth, leaf rollers, and a dozen diseases. They too do not think it fair that their lovingly-made wines have to compete with those of the person who spends $79 on a manufactured kit with exacting instructions.

But the person who lives in an apartment or confined tract home has as much right to compete as the person who lives on the country homestead. There has to be an accommodation for each. Our concern in the Wine Guild was with increasing the number of categories. We already have 18, and if we added a category for kit wines in each grape category except native grape dry and native grape sweet, we would add seven categories -- red dry, red sweet, white dry, white sweet, rosé dry, rosé sweet, and fortified. There are good reasons for not wanting to do this, so we reached a compromise. As with most compromises, not everyone is happy. We will reevaluate this annually. We may just have to suck it up and create the new categories.

Our compromise? We require that for grape wines you indicate at registration whether the wine is from a kit or estate-grown grapes -- we rarely have members making wine from purchased juice. Wines made from purchased grapes are not indicated, as our concern was that estate wines not be judged with kit wines. If we have five wines in any category that are either estate wines or kit wines, they are broken out into and judged as a separate category. Otherwise, they are judged together.

This is not a perfect system, but so far it has worked reasonably well.

White Cranberry

A reader from Eugene, Oregon asked me some questions about cranberry wine. In the course of answering him, I mentioned that cranberry is one of my favorite non-grape wines and tastes a lot like white Zinfandel. This comment resulted in the misunderstanding that I produced a white cranberry wine; I received the followed-up question, "How do you get white wine from cranberries?"

I replied that I do not. I get a blush, sometimes more red than blush, but never a deep red wine and certainly never a white wine. I said it compares in taste to a White Zinfandel (which is a blush, not a true white wine).

I'm sure you have seen white cranberry juice in the supermarket, sold in 64 ounce jugs. This is a blend of white grape and cranberry juice. I assume they crush the berries and draw the juice immediately away from the red skins to avoid any color. It does not taste like cranberry juice to me. I've made wine with it and it was very nondescript -- flavorless, actually. It would be a good white to blend with a white wine to dilute an overpowering flavor -- like a lilac or elderflower wine made with way too many flowers.

Habanero Wine

I received a deeply appreciated email of thanks that included the following: "My friends and I love the hot stuff. We're always putting habanero peppers in salsa, sausages, ice cream, etc. We thought, 'Why not wine?' It seems you've had some real success thus far with jalapeños, and I was wondering if you'd any ideas on making a wine with a little bigger kick to it."

Okay, I have six Habanero Wine recipes. With minor variation, they are essentially the same except for the amount of habanero chiles to use (they are chiles, not peppers). Personally, I like the taste of baked habaneros, but that taste is lost in the wine due to the heat and the fact that the taste comes from the baked chiles, not the fresh ones. So, for my wine, I have settled on 2 chiles per gallon but know someone who uses 15-18. To each his own. I use it only for marinading meats. For drinking, I fall back on jalapeño, New Mexican Hatch or pasillas. Chipotles (smoked jalapeños) also make a good tasting wine. So, in my mind it boils down to taste. The habanero wines really lack the taste of habaneros but not the heat, but if heat is what you want, then go for it. The recipe below will have better mouthfeel because it is essentially a Niagara grape wine spiced with habaneros.

  • n habaneros *
  • 1/2 cup malt extract (optional)
  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 3 11.5-oz. cans Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet any white wine yeast

* n represents any number you care to use

Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling the habaneros, the must once the habaneros have been added, and the finished wine (when racking or bottling or checking specific gravity). If you are "Machoman" or just marginally intelligent, then don't wear them. Chop the chiles. Feel the texture. Great, huh? Now go use the restroom, touching only what you need to touch to do the deed. Feels good, doesn't it? Wear the gloves.

Chop the chiles roughly, finely, it makes no difference. Remove the seeds or leave them in; that too makes no difference, as we are waaay beyond subtleties with this chile. If you have an old jelly bag you can sacrifice or perhaps the foot of an old (but sanitized) pair of pantyhose, tie the chopped chiles in the bag (or foot) and toss into a glass or glazed earthenware primary (like the insert for a two-gallon crock-pot). If you have to use a plastic primary, I'd select one you never intend to use for wine again. Put everything except the Campden tablet and yeast in the primary, stir well until sugar and malt are dissolved, and cover with a sanitized cover. Wait 10-12 hours and add the finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wait another 8-10 hours and add the activated wine yeast in a starter solution. Ferment about 5 days, remove the bag of chopped chiles and toss into the trash (or save and use for a second wine), and transfer the wine into a secondary. Attach an airlock and forget it for a month. Rack, reattach airlock and wait another month. Do this until one day, after waiting the obligatory month, you notice there are no sediments to rack from. If the wine is clear, bottle it. If not, wait it out or use your favorite fining agent. I cannot offer suggestions here because mine has always cleared; I have no idea why yours might not. Bottle when clear. If to be used only as a marinade, you can also blend with garlic wine and/or onion wine and then bottle it. [Author's own recipe]

April 18th, 2008

I've spent the past two evenings racking wines and cleaning up afterwards. I didn't realize how many wines I have in-progress. I have one batch in primary and 39 batches under airlocks. I really should count cases of empty bottles just to see where I am. And I'm down to around 80 corks....

The sad thing is that I really don't have anywhere to store newly bottled wine. My racks are full and I've run out of hidden places to stack cases. I guess I need to have a tasting party.

And there are still so many wines I want to make. A viewer wrote me recently asking for a recipe for bay leaf wine. I could not find a recipe, so I tried my hand at developing one. A fellow Texan wrote and asked what I know about Tesguino. I know a lot, actually, but have never made it. I'd like to. A lady in Colorado wonders if one could make blue spruce wine. I asked her to send me a pound and a half of new growth Colorado blue spruce bough tips and I would attempt to develop a recipe. She wrote back -- the boughs are on the way. And I have always wanted to try making a licorice wine.

I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how I go about developing recipes. I'll use the first two examples just mentioned to illustrate the way I go about doing this.

Bay Leaf Wine

The woman who suggested this said, "I would love to have a go at this as I think it would taste like the Greek retsina." I wasn't so sure about the comparison, but thought it worth a try. If anyone out there has a proven recipe for this wine, please send it to me. I would like to compare it with what I did.

To begin with, I have no idea how many bay leaves would be required to make this wine. It so happens that I have a great quantity on hand, thanks to a dear friend who lives in the Sierra Nevadas of California and has a bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) growing on his property. Every few years I receive a box from him filled with prunings of new growth with young but hardened leaves. After I strip the leaves from the branches, I dry half in the sun, oven or dehydrator, depending on the circumstances at the time, and freeze the other half. Several hours ago I broke up 24 dried leaves and poured one pint of boiling water over them. Every half-hour for three hours I placed the pint in the microwave and brought it back to a boil (2 minutes on high). I can't tell you how wonderful the kitchen smelled -- and I do understand why the woman thought it might taste like retsina.

About an hour ago I began experimenting with my infusion of bay leaf. Into one wine glass I poured 20 mL of the infusion. Into a second I poured 20 mL of infusion and 20 mL of water. Into a third I poured 20 mL of infusion and 40 mL of water. Finally, into a fourth I poured 20 mL of infusion and 60 mL of water. I felt confident that one of these strengths would be adequate, or at least two of them would define a bracket with which to make further dilutions. I recognize the fault in this method -- that I am not working with a fermented base and therefore the flavor will not be true -- but my purpose was to gain some appreciation of the amount of leaves I will need for one gallon of wine. I can adjust the flavor of the final product through blending with Niagara or some other white wine.

And so I tasted each sample, beginning with the most diluted (3:1 water to infusion). I found it mildly bitter and tried to imagine it fermented with perhaps a can of Niagara frozen concentrate per gallon. After a few minutes, I tasted the 2:1 dilution. The bitterness was now pronounced and I knew I would not taste the remaining two samples (1:1 dilution and pure infusion). So I dumped those two samples and took down a fifth wine glass. I had the two samples with 40 mL of water and 60 mL of water, so I poured 20 mL of infusion to each of the three empty glasses and to one added 45 mL of water, to the next added 50 mL of water, and to the third added 55 mL of water. I arranged the samples from most diluted to least and again began tasting. I soon decided that the middle ground -- 50 mL of water to 20 mL of infusion -- best suited my taste. But, while washing and drying the wine glasses, the very distinct aftertaste lingered on. I decided I would not drink any water or other beverage because I wanted to see how long this would persist. The aftertaste was not initially disagreeable, but after 15 minutes it was as strong as ever and by then was quite disagreeable. This sent me to the computer.

The bitterness is caused by the essential oil of the leaf, the principal component of which is cineole, also known as wormseed oil or eucalyptol (C10H18 O), which exhibits an odor of camphor. Medicinally, it possesses three known (or at least reported) traits; it relieves gas (flatulence), is emetic (induces vomiting) and is diaphoretic (causes perspiration). After reading that, I drank an 8-oz. glass of Welch's Concord grape juice, which at least washed away the aftertaste from the bay leaf infusion.

Because I do not wish to introduce too much of anything that might induce vomiting and because the dilution I had selected left such a strong and disagreeable aftertaste, I decided to go back to the 3:1 ratio (60 mL of water to 20 mL of infusion). I remixed a sample at that strength and tasted it. A slight aftertaste was noted in the finish but did not persist beyond a minute. And with that observation I started a wine with the following recipe.

  • 48 bay leaves *
  • 1 lb. 12 oz. dark brown sugar
  • water to one gallon
  • 2 bitter oranges or clementines
  • 1 11.5-oz. can of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Wine yeast

* I can only attest to the bay leaves I have. Other bay leaves may be more or less potent in flavor and essential oil. Other thoughts: White granulated cane sugar can be used instead of brown sugar. You can also use 2 teaspoons of acid blend instead of the oranges, but I though the orange flavor, like the molasses in the brown sugar, might create a complexity otherwise lacking. Finally, I'm sure the wine will be too thin without the white grape concentrate.

Place the leaves in a 1-quart pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer under a lid for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, use a grater to remove the zest of the oranges and then juice them. Add the juice to a primary and the zest to the simmering bay leaves. Add the brown sugar, grape concentrate, 5 pints of cold water, and yeast nutrient to the primary. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. When time, strain off the bay leaves and orange zest and add only the infused water to the primary. Stir and allow to cool until under 90 degrees F. Add activated yeast and cover primary. After 3 days, transfer to secondary, top up and attach airlock. After 30 days, rack, stir in one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Repeat every 30 days (only add Campden tablet every other racking) until clear and no new sediments form. If you want to sweeten, stabilize, sweeten to taste with simple syrup, reattach airlock, and set aside 30 days. Bottle and allow at least 3 months before tasting. Will probably improve with additional aging. [Author's own recipe]


[Note: If your browser does not display the word Tesgüino correctly, you may wish to obtain an updated version, try another browser, or simply continue using the one you have knowing it does not display content fully and as intended; the word "tesguino" has two dots above the "u" to aid in pronunciation -- it is pronounced tez.gwee.noh, but the second syllable is sounded with the lips rounded into an O.]

Tesgüino is a mild alcoholic drink -- more of a beer than a wine -- made in every country where corn is an important crop. It is most identified with the Tarahumara Indians of Chihuahua, Mexico, but also with the Native Americans of the American Southwest -- the Apache, Navajo, Hopi, Yaqui, and Pima peoples. It varies in strength from 3 to 12% alcohol, with the average being around 4-5%. When made at the low end of the alcohol scale, it needs to be consumed within a few days or refrigerated, as it will certainly spoil if stored a week at room temperature.

Tesgüino is a slurry-like, non-clarified alcoholic beverage prepared by fermentation of germinated corn (maize) or maize stalk juice. The term tesgüino comes from the Aztec tecuin, meaning heartbeat, and refers to the importance of the drink to life. The Tarahumaras, who consume tesgüino at any excuse, differentiate among various types of tesgüino -- that prepared from maize stalk juice is paciki, that which incorporates the bark of certain species of Rubiaceae, as batari. The beverage is also referred to as sugiki. The Tepehuano Indians in Mexico refer to tesgüino made from germinated maize as navaitai and that made from the juice of maize stalks as vougadi navaitai.

I have a recipe passed down by the late Dorothy Alatorre (in her "Home Wines of North America"), but after researching the beverage and discussing this drink with a couple from Chihuahua I have decided that Dorothy's recipe is more closely that for traditional Tepache, another alcoholic beverage from Mexico (I am aware that it is popular today to make Tepache from pineapple skins and not corn, but the traditional drink was made from corn). But, with all due respect to the late mentor, I will first give her recipe and then a more traditional recipe as I have come to understand it.

Dorothy Alatorre's Tesgüino Recipe

  • 2 lbs dried corn
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 orange
  • 2 piloncillos *
  • 3" cinnamon stick
  • Wine yeast starter for one gallon of wine

* Piloncillos are cones made from the raw sugar crust remaining in the boiler in the processing of sugar; if not available in your area, substitute one cup of finely packed brown sugar for each piloncillo cone.

Shuck the corn from the ear and roast it in a shallow pan until it is pale brown. Then grind it and put it in the primary fermentor. Add the water, the juice and zest of the orange, the cinnamon stick, and the piloncillos, broken into small pieces. When the piloncillos have been stirred enough to dissolve them, add the yeast starter, cover the primary, and leave to ferment three to five days, stirring daily. Then strain, cool and enjoy. This beverage will finish between 5.5 and 6.5% alcohol. [Recipe from Dorothy Alatorre's Home Wines of North America]

Jack Keller's Traditional Tesgüino Recipe

Let me be clear about one thing. This recipe makes a beverage that fits the alcohol level indicative of wine. For that reason, some people south of the U.S.-Mexican border may not consider it to be tesgüino. So be it. I just hope they appreciate the method used in this recipe, as it is far truer to traditional methods than is Dorothy's.

  • 3 lbs dried corn
  • water to one gallon
  • 1 orange *
  • 4 piloncillos
  • "catalyst" **
  • Wine yeast starter for one gallon of wine

* Traditional tesgüino does not use an acid source, but I will follow Dorothy here and include the orange to make it more of a wine than a beer.

** In this context, "catalyst" does not mean what it means in chemistry, but rather is an additive that changes the flavor character of the drink. For example, in the first linked reference below, the authors go into great detail about catalysts: "The most common catalysts in the vicinity of Cannon Urique in Chihuahua are bark (batari) or kakwara (Randia echinocarpa, R. watsoni, and R. laevigata) and kaya (Coutarea pterosperma), which are chopped, ground, and boiled for many hours prior to being added to the tesgüino....At higher altitudes where pine trees grow, the catalysts used are leaves of roninowa (Stevia serrata), rojisuwi (Chimaphila maculata), and ubitakuwari (Datura meteloides); stems of basiawi (Bromus arizonicus), roots of gotoko, otoko, or goto (Phaseolus metcalfei and Plumbago scandens ); rawici kitakame or "mouse´s ear" (Hieracium fendleri); and two unidentified plants, one of the Graminea species, and the other a legume, gotoborisi." For the purpose of this recipe (and for those who are not botanists), the catalyst can be anything that adds flavor to the beverage -- anise seed, fennel seed, cinnamon bark, a few cloves, vanilla bean, some elderberry juice, backberry juice, blueberry juice, sassafras root bark etc. When adding juice, it must be factored into the total liquid quantity for the amount of tesgüino being produced.

When I say "dried corn," I mean corn on the cob from the past season that has been dried into seed corn. I do not mean dried cracked corn or deer corn. Shuck the corn from the cob and soak it in water for two days, adding water as needed to keep the kernels covered. Drain the kernels in a colander and place the colander on a cake pan or other device to catch drippings and place them in a dark place. Moisten and toss the kernels to turn them twice daily until they start to germinate. It is important they be kept in the dark lest the sprouts turn green and bitter. When the sprouts are at least 1 but not more than 2 inches long, remove them and grind them with a manual stone mill or powered metal mill, then boiled in water until the mixture turns yellow. This can take up to 8 hours to accomplish. The solids are strained from the liquid and the latter is mixed with the "catalyst" and poured into a primary where the piloncillos have been broken and the juice of the orange added. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Cover until the liquid cools to room temperature, then add activated yeast starter. After two days, transfer to a secondary and attach airlock. Ferment to dryness. It is now tesgüino and can be consumed in its cloudy state or allowed to clear. Alcohol will be between 10 and 13%, so the tesgüino can be bottled and allowed to age, but don't overdo it. [Author's recipe]

April 21st, 2008

Yes, my last entry (April 18th, 2008) was a long one. It took me over 6 hours to write, and I actually wrote the portions on tesgüino before I wrote the portion on Bay Leaf Wine. Why? Because I was making the Bay Leaf Wine while writing the portions on tesgüino.

I knew when I wrote the Bay Leaf portion that I would get email about one aspect of it, and I did. Only one so far (thank you Jean), but I thought I would address the issue raised before getting any more email. It is much easier to answer here, once, than to answer several emails individually.

Using an Emetic

In my discussion about devising a Bay Leaf Wine recipe, I mentioned an off taste in the stronger infusions and discovered it was caused by cineole, an essential oil which has three reported side effects: "...it relieves gas (flatulence), is emetic (induces vomiting) and is diaphoretic (causes perspiration)." And so Jean in Montreal asked, "Why would you make a wine using a substance known to induce vomiting and cause excessive sweat?"

First of all, one needs to understand that a "reported" side effect is not necessarily the same as a "known" side effect. The innocent have been condemned more than once for guilt by association. A person might get sick eating something very familiar to their diet but which contains one ingredient they are not familiar with. It is perfectly understandable that they might blame the unfamiliar ingredient for their sickness rather than suspect the familiar of being tainted. Words have specified meaning and "reported" does not mean "known."

Second, some discussions will include every known or reported aspect of a thing. As I have warned in discussing making wines from plants that appear on various "toxic plant" lists, I have found instances where plants with leaves toxic to grazing sheep are on a list, while neither the leaves nor the fruit are harmful to man. If someone's horse fed on leaves of the Laurus nobilis and then threw up, it might get reported that the leaves were an emetic.

Third, the amount and manner of consumption makes a difference. In my WineBlog entry of April 6th, 2008, I mentioned some research by Dr. David Sinclair in which resveratrol extended life in yeast, a worm and a fruit fly, but he noted that a human would have to consume 1,000 bottles of wine a day to realize similar benefits. Similarly, if one searches for plants with emetic effects (see link following this entry), one will find wild ginger, papaw, most mustards, coreopsis, melons, broom, honeysuckle, alfalfa, bayberry, ginseng, apricot, elderberry, poke, cranberry and many other familiar, edible plants listed, but all need to be consumed in abnormal quantities to induce vomiting. And remember, if you need to induce vomiting you need only drink a glass of warm but very salty water, yet salt is also essential for human life. And, lest we forget, I am sure everyone reading this WineBlog has eaten many a stew or soup or gumbo or other dish that used bay leaves for flavoring. This ingredient is not an unknown. The point is that simply because something is identified as emetic doesn't mean it will necessarily make you vomit.

Fourth, the claim that it is diaphoretic (causes perspiration) does not concern me at all. I love hot chiles (jalapeños, habaneros, etc.) in many dishes, and all but the sweet ones (bell peppers, sweet banana peppers, etc.) are diaphoretic. Big deal.

My quandary in devising the recipe was in the amount of bay leaf to use, not the ingredient itself. My wine is now in secondary and the airlock is chugging away. In a few weeks I will taste it and determine if the aftertaste is acceptable -- if the flavor of the wine itself is not, I will give age a chance to work its miracle, as it does on so many wines that are undrinkable when new. But, if the aftertaste is unacceptable when young, I doubt it will improve with aging; in that case I will dilute the wine with Niagara grape wine.

If you are interested in making this wine, you may wish to wait until I next report on it to be assured the original recipe is sound. And yes, if the finished wine makes me throw up I will report this too.

Pecan Leaves

The other email I received regarding my last WineBlog entry said, "I'll pass on bay leaf wine, but have a number of pecan trees still too young to produce nuts. Can I make wine from pecan leaves?" In a word, "Yes."

I am quite sure the American pecan (Carya illinoinensis) has been an important food source since man first stumbled upon it. I don't know how long it has been made into wine. The nuts themselves have defied every attempt I have made to make them into wine -- they simply go rancid and spoil the must. I have tried four times. But the leaves are another matter. Not unlike walnut leaves, they add an unusual but agreeable flavor to an otherwise neutral wine -- better than oak leaves.

I have seen two other recipes for pecan leaf wine, so the concept does not originate with me. This is, however, my own recipe, I made this wine before discovering the other two recipes.

Pecan Leaf Wine

  • 3 cups pecan leaves, moderately packed
  • 1-1/2 pounds demerara sugar
  • 1 lb honey
  • 11.5-oz. can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 oranges (juice and zest)
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6 pts water
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, collect the zest from the oranges and juice them. Put the zest in a primary with the washed pecan leaves and set aside the juice. When water boils, stir the sugar and honey into it until dissolved, then continue boiling 20 minutes. While boiling, skim scum from honey off surface. Remove from heat and pour water over leaves. Cover primary and set aside 24 hours. Strain leaves from water and stir in orange juice, white grape juice concentrate and yeast nutrient until dissolved. Add activated yeast starter and cover the primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides (5-7 days), transfer to secondary through strainer to catch zest and fit airlock. Put in warm place until fermentation completely stops. Rack into santitized secondary, add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and refit airlock. Move to a cool place for six months, racking every 2 months and checking airlock occasionally. Stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired, bottle and age an additional six months. [Author's own recipe]

April 26th, 2008

Once again I started receiving more email than I can handle. For those of you who have read my warnings that I might not respond for weeks and have written saying, "I know you might not answer for some time, but...," I thank you for your understanding. You can skip these opening remarks. For the gentleman who wrote (and he is not alone) with a problem and said he was sitting at his computer awaiting my answer, my apologies, but this is not a chat room and I am not sitting at my computer all day awaiting your problems. I have a day job, a family and some close friends, dependent pets, a property and home, two automobiles, a few grapevines, and civic and social responsibilities that fully occupy my time. I only look at unsolicited email an hour at most per day on then only on Mondays through Fridays when I can afford it. I can usually answer 2-4 inquiries a day -- sometimes as many as 6 -- but I rarely am asked questions that are not already answered in my WineBlog archives or elsewhere on my website. One only has to surf and read.

I no longer answer student surveys and get rather irate when asked to write a paper for them on any subject whatsoever. I do, however, still reply to one professor who sends me scanned student papers and asks if they were plagiarized from my website or if I plagiarized the students' papers. Thank you, Dr. R., for your humorous notes, for reminding me that plagiarism is a form of flattery, and for awarding me all of those A's for the papers submitted.

Here are a couple of subjects asked about in recent emails.

Juice Extractors

I don't know if it is because it is Spring or because so many mail order catalogs have arrived across America, but several of you are thinking about purchasing juice extractors of one kind or another. I will discuss three types I was recently asked about.


There are all kinds of juicers out there, both cheap and expensive. I have nothing insightful to say about them except to relate my experiences. My wife and I have tried several of the electric juicers spanning a wide range of quality and expense -- from $29.95 cheapies to $400-plus engineering marvels. Most (but not all) are fine for making juice to drink from most fruit and vegetables. To me there are four performance-related questions whose answers determine their worth. (1) How well do they juice carrots? (2) How well do they isolate the residual matter (pulp, seeds, stems) for disposal? (3) Do they grind any bitter tannins from the seeds of apples, pears, grapes, and other fruit? (4) How easily do they clean up? There are other questions that matter as well -- how durable and long-lasting are the products and how well does their manufacturer stand behind them? -- but the performance questions are, to me, crucial.

I am not "carrot juice nut" or even a big carrot juice drinker, but I recognize that carrot juice is a truly amazing, nutritional drink. If every man, woman and child above age three drank one 8-oz. glass of carrot juice biweekly, I am convinced the nation's health care costs would drop. I'm not kidding. So, my first question concerns carrots, not only because they are good for you but because they can be difficult for some juicers to process well. I have a friend who had a very expensive Tribest juicer and asked me to bring over my brand new Lequip, which was not a cheapie. When I got there, another person I did not know was there with an inexpensive juicer picked up at Sam's Club. That person went first and juiced a bunch of carrots -- just enough to produce 6 ounces of juice. We then took the pulp and ran it through my juicer and extrected another ounce of juice. The Tribest then extracted anther half-ounce from my residue.

The cheapie was a high RPM (over 3,000) centrifugal juicer, by far the most common type. Mine was a masticating juicer operating around 100 RPM. My friend's Tribest was a chopping press type also operating around 100 RPM. The two more expensive ones isolated the residue in a compartment for disposal but the cheapie didn't. The cheapie, however, was still the easiest to clean. Mine had the best warranty (6 years).

We then ran about a pint of grapes through each machine until no more juice was readily extracted. We examined the residue from each machine and found that the cheapie took part of the outer surface off the seeds, my Lequip did not, and the expensive Tribest did not but cracked several. Since all three of us were winemakers, I at least decided I had the best machine for the job. It cost over $200. The odd thing is, I almost never used it for juicing fruit for winemaking. You have to decide for yourself if you want to spend the money for one. If you do, make sure you have another use for it (like making carrot juice).

Citrus Juicers:

Again, there is a wide range here, and it includes both manual and electric. I have little to say about the manual ones except I use both the press and rotate type and the squeezie type -- for different fruit -- and they both work just fine. There are lever-press types I have never used, but I would think they would make juicing a bushel of oranges a breeze. Personally, unless I had more than two citrus trees and wanted to freeze their juice, or I had a handicap or infirmity that prevented using a manual one, or I had a commercial application requiring it, I could not justify the expense of an electric citrus juicer. But that's me. I can offer no advice for these. You're on your own.

Steam Extractors

I have to admit I have only tried using one of these three times at one setting. The steamer is used was a top-of-the-line brand and model and cost the friend who loaned it to me about $150. I will say this -- it did a superb job at extracting juice from frozen cranberries, fresh mayhaws and frozen grapes. The problem was that none of the wines made from the juices thus extracted cleared completely, and I treated them with both pectic and amyl (starch) enzymes and two fining agents. Two other friends and numerous forum members have reported similar experiences. If you want juice for drinking or for jelly, these are fabulous, and I mean that. Perhaps the slight disclarity is not universal across all fruit, but it is for the three I mentioned above using the steam juicer I used. Your mileage may vary.

I do not consider this the bottom line in evaluating these products. It is, however, except for the electric citrus juicers I haven't tried, the fruits of my experiences.

Mixed Wild Berry Wine

A fellow wrote asking about a wine that could be made with mayhaws, wild strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, and blueberries, with perhaps a little banana thrown in for body. And, he would prefer it sweet.

Okay, I realize it is not exactly the same mix of berries as I listed in my mixed berry wine recipe, but my recipe ought to serve as model of sorts for making such a wine, especially since it won a first place in a big competition. So if it isn't the same, what do you do? Well, for one thing you can adapt my recipe to your circumstances. If you go to my page on making wines from wild edible plants, you'll see a major section on it called "Adapting Recipes." It offers hints on general strategies to follow, fruit content, sugar content and supplementation, and acidity. But the first thing it does is tell you to look for a recipe for a fruit as close in taste to the one you are making. I don't care how you cut it, that should bring you back to my mixed berry wine recipe.

My recipe used 1 quart each of seven different kinds of berries. If you have fewer kinds of berries, the key is that I used 7 quarts of fruit. So mix the component amounts, but shoot for 7 quarts of fruit. I have no idea how many wild strawberries and other berries the reader will have, but the two obvious strategies are to either balance the flavors roughly equally or tilt the mix in favor of the flavor you want to push forward. I used apple juice in place of water, but you can use white grape juice, white cranberry juice, orange juice, or some other flavor readily available as a bottled juice or frozen concentrate in most food markets. However, bananas are best used by boiling them and using the water they were boiled in, so you cannot do as the writer asked using a fruit juice exclusively. You have to use some banana water.

Finally, the desire to finish the wine as a sweet wine is not a problem. Simply read any available instructions for sweetening a finished wine. My own directions are found in many places throughout my site, but certainly can be found in the last of my "Basic Steps." See the fifth link following this entry.

Okay, so here then is a sample recipe for a mixed wild berry wine using the ingredients the writer has. This certainly is not the only way to do it, but it shows how one might do it.

Mixed Wild Berry Wine

  • 2 qts mayhaws
  • 2 qts wild strawberries
  • 1 qt wild blackberries
  • 1 qt wild dewberries
  • 1 qt wild blueberries
  • 6 very ripe bananas
  • 1 lb. granulated sugar
  • 3 pts apple juice
  • 1 pt water
  • 1 tsp. citric acid
  • 1 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

Slice the bananas and place slices in pot with 1 pint water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered 30 minutes, adding 1/2 cup water after 15 minutes and again at 30 minutes. Strain off solids and discard, saving water but spooning off and discarding any scum on the surface. In separate operation, wash mayhaws and remove any stems. Place in nylon straining bag and mash in your primary with a piece of hardwood or the flat bottom of a wine bottle. Open bag and add remaining berries. Wearing rubber gloves, in primary tie bag closed and squeeze bag with hands until berries are well mashed. Leave bag in primary and add sugar. Pour banana water over sugar and add apple juice and all remaining ingredients except yeast. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside 8-10 hours. Add activated yeast starter and punch down bag twice a day with gloved hands or wooden spoon. Remove bag after three days of vigorous fermentation, allowing to drip drain (do not squeeze). Discard berry pulp and transfer liquid to secondary. Cover with paper towel held by rubber band until vigorous fermentation subsides (3- 5 days). Top up and affix airlock. Ferment to dryness and rack every 30 days until no new sediments form. Stabilize and sweeten as desired. Wait 30 days and bottle. Taste after 6 months. [Author's own recipe]

May 3rd, 2008

I have not answered much email this week because I had no desire to do so. I lost my best friend on Monday, my loving and always caring English Springer Spaniel, Colitia -- Coli for short. If you are not a person who has had a loving, bonding relationship with a dog or other non-human companion, just skip these opening remarks. I won't mind and Coli certainly won't.

I wrote the Epitaph to Coli's web page a few hours after I buried her. I could have written a volume on what she meant to me and what I think I meant to her, but the few words I did write are enough. Love, after all, is a personal thing, expressed imperfectly even when expressed well. If Coli were still here, I wouldn't have to express it at all. Just touching her would tell her everything. And her love? It was expressed, at the very least, every time our eyes met. And my eyes are having trouble reading the screen through these raindrops, so I need to move on to winemaking....

Jelly, Jam and Other Fruit Preserves

Several people write every year asking about making wine from jam, jelly or preserves. I send them a generic recipe and make a mental note to address this here, but invariably forget. This seems like as good a time as any to cover the subject, especially since I received another request just a few days ago. I think it beneficial to first discuss the difference between the three...what, spreads? Yes. And while at it I will add three additional types of fruit spreads from which wines can be made.

Jelly: Jelly is made from fruit juice, usually highly clarified. Prized jellies are "sparkling" or "brilliant." Four things are required to make fruit juice turn into jelly: pectin (gelatin), sugar, acid, and heat.

Jam: Jams are made from crushed fruit. Because they contain fruit pulp and possibly very small seeds (as in blackberries, figs or strawberries), they are not clear. They also do not hold a cut edge or their shape (as jelly should) when removed from the jar. Crushed fruit, sugar and heat are all that are required to make jam.

Preserves: When fruits are combined with 3/4 to an equal amount of sugar (by weight) and cooked until the syrup is thick and the fruit transparent (or at least translucent) and plump, it is called preserves.

Fruit Butter: When the fruit pulp has been pressed through a sieve and cooked with sugar and perhaps spices until it is thick enough to spread, it is called a fruit butter.

Conserves: When several fruits are mixed together and crushed and then sweetened and cooked like jam, often with raisins and nut meats added, they are properly called conserves.

Marmalades: Fruits or a combination of fruits, often including citrus peels and fruits, are finely minced or grated and cooked in clear sugared and acidic juice until thick and jelly-like. Marmalades rely on natural pectin, so gelatin is rarely added but a small amount could be. Those who have only tried orange marmalade and have never experienced carrot-pineapple or orange-carrot or apricot- prune or black cherry-orange or orange-peach marmalade, you have my deepest sympathy. It's like not ever having eaten homemade vanilla ice cream; having never had it, you don't know what you are missing, but your pleasures probably would be enriched if you had had it at least once.

Making Wine from Jelly

I'll begin with making wine from jelly because it is the most difficult of the spreads to make wine from, although not really difficult at all. You simply have to make sure you neutralize all the pectin in the jelly.

  • 4 lbs (36 fl oz) any flavor jelly
  • 1 lb granulated sugar
  • 5 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 2-3 tsp citric acid *
  • 1/2 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • water to one gallon
  • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

* This really depends on the jelly. Add 2 teaspoons for high acid fruit, 3 teaspoons for low acid fruit. Other considerations: add more tannin for tannin-neutral jellies, like peach or apple mint. You can match the wine yeast to the fruit, just as you would for the fresh fruit itself, or simply use a general purpose yeast you like.

Bring 3 quarts of water to boil, remove from heat and stir in all the jelly. Cover and set aside 4-5 hours (until room temperature). Transfer to primary, stir in pectic enzyme, cover primary, and set aside 3 days (72 hours). Transfer back to pot and bring to a boil and hold boil for 5 minutes. Put sugar, citric acid, powdered tannin, and yeast nutrient in primary. Pour liquid over dry ingredients in primary and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside to cool to room temperature. At the same time, begin a yeast starter. When liquid is cool, check specific gravity and adjust to 1.095. Transfer to secondary but do not top up. Add activated yeast starter solution and cover with paper towel held in place with a rubber band. After 3 days seal with airlock. When vigorous fermentation subsides (5-7 days), top up; this will reduce the alcohol level slightly to a more amenable 11.5-12%. Wait 30 days and rack, sulfite, top up, and reattach airlock. Rack every 30 days (sulfite every other racking) until no new sediment forms and wine is clear. If wine doesn't fall perfectly clear in 60 days, add another teaspoon of pectic enzyme and wait 2 weeks. If still not clear, add another teaspoon. [NOTE: Be sure pectic enzyme has been stored properly. If wine does not clear after adding 7 teaspoons, replace the pectic enzyme.] Stabilize, sweeten if desired, wait 30 days, and bottle. Might taste after 3 months, but really should wait 6 or longer. [Author's own recipe]

Wine from Other fruit Spreads

The process is very much the same as for jelly, but less pectic enzyme is usually required. However, peach, plum, damson, and greengage are high in pectin and might require more enzyme than the recipe specifies.

  • 4 lbs (36 fl oz) any flavor jam, preserves, fruit butter, conserves, or marmalade
  • 1 lb granulated sugar
  • 3 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
  • 2-3 tsp citric acid *
  • 1/2 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • water to one gallon
  • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast

* The same considerations apply as to the jelly recipe.

Bring 3 quarts of water to boil, remove from heat and stir in all the fruit spread. Cover and set aside 4-5 hours (until room temperature). Transfer to primary, stir in pectic enzyme, cover primary, and set aside 3 days (72 hours). Strain through fine sieve or muslin cloth and transfer liquid back to pot; bring to a boil and hold boil for 5 minutes. Put sugar, citric acid, powdered tannin, and yeast nutrient in primary. Pour liquid over dry ingredients in primary and stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside to cool to room temperature. At the same time, begin a yeast starter. When liquid is cool, check specific gravity and adjust to 1.095. Transfer to secondary but do not top up. Add activated yeast starter solution and cover with paper towel held in place with a rubber band. After 3 days seal with airlock. When vigorous fermentation subsides (5-7 days), top up. Wait 30 days and rack, sulfite, top up, and reattach airlock. Rack every 30 days (sulfite every other racking) until no new sediment forms and wine is clear. If wine doesn't fall perfectly clear in 60 days, add another teaspoon of pectic enzyme and wait 2 weeks. If still not clear, add another teaspoon. Stabilize, sweeten if desired, wait 30 days, and bottle. Might taste after 3 months, but really should wait 6 or longer. [Author's own recipe]

May 6th, 2008

I want to thank all of you who wrote or called with condolences for the loss of our beloved Springer Spaniel, Colita. Your kindness and understanding are greatly appreciated by my wife and me, and I do indeed intend to call the UC-Davis Pet Support Hotline at 1-800-565-1526; thank you Bill. I also found them on the net and many other nice websites for those who have lost pets.

Two days ago I went online for a couple of hours and stopped in at the General Winemaking forum at WinePress.us. I posted comments to two threads and logged off to attend to some chores.

Last night I received a phone call from a fellow in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He apologized for bothering me, told me how he obtained my phone number and then got to the point. He said he had been "lurking" at WinePress.us for slightly over a year and greatly enjoyed some of the discussions, but he thought others were too "chatty" and devoid of real content or value. Yesterday he read my two comments and followed some links I had left to my site and decided not to waste his time on the forums any longer. My site and my WineBlog, he said, were all he needed to read. He just wanted to call me and tell me how much he appreciated my work - and offer his condolences for the loss of Colita.

Yeah, I know this sounds like I'm blowing my own horn (and I guess I am), but I'm using his phone call as an introduction to the two posts he mentioned as I am going to post edited versions of them here. But posts on a forum do not exist as isolated posts, but rather as part of a thread that might get rather involved. It is difficult to capture a whole thread so I won't try. I'll just cover what I think needs covering.

Strawberry and Pectic Enzyme

A forum member wrote, in part, "I'm making my second batch of strawberry wine based on Jack K's recipes and since my first was just a gallon I'm curious if you should multiply all ingredients (excluding yeast) by five to make a five gallon batch. The ingredient that is really unclear is Pectic Enzyme since in none of the five recipes is it the same. I will be using the number three recipe but I do freeze the berries before using." He went on to describe how he intended to alter the recipe and mentioned he was going to freeze the berries before fermenting them.

There are several things I wanted to say, including apologies for not being online much during the previous week to speak to these issues earlier.

First, on some of the early "Requested Recipes" pages on my site, I neglected to identify the source of the recipes if not my own. The "Strawberry Wines" page was the 5th such page. I have corrected this omission on most, but have missed this one, I'll put it on my "to-do" list. The reason this is important is because you ought to know if the recipe is originally my own or originated with someone else. If someone else, you might visit the original source and discover a different winemaking philosophy. Only one recipe on the "Strawberry Wines" page is my own, and it is not my latest or my best.

Secondly, my recipe for "Frozen Strawberry Wine" assumes (but does not say) these are loose strawberries flash frozen whole and individually. These berries really do not require pectic enzyme to break them down, as they will break down just fine when they thaw. I have another, as yet unpublished, recipe that calls for commercial packages of strawberries frozen in juice or light syrup -- not fresh strawberries you freeze or commercial strawberries flash frozen and packaged loose. It uses ample pectic enzyme. Why is there a difference? Because the commercial strawberries frozen in juice or syrup are actually the ones picked slightly past the peak of ripeness and have a completely different texture. The juice from the obviously overripe ones is retained although their soggy pulp is not, and this extra juice changes the texture of the other berries. When thawed, the wine made from these berries will contain higher free pectin levels and be difficult to clear, so they require more pectic enzyme.

Third, since one member said the instructions for his pectic enzyme says to only use one teaspoon per 5-gallon batch, I said that every single recipe I publish uses powdered pectic enzyme. I have stated this several places on my website, but at over 500 pages it is easy to miss this. Liquid pectic enzyme (which I use from time to time just to compare the two forms) is far more potent and 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons is about right, but the norm for powdered is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per gallon. Why do I prefer powdered? Because it will last 10 years in the refrigerator, while the liquid has a 1- to 2-year refrigerated shelf life. Why do more and more local homebrew shops carry the liquid only? So they can sell you a new supply every 2 years instead of waiting 6-8 years for you to use up the powder.

Fourth, since someone said it isn't possible to use too much pectic enzyme, I added that I suppose it is possible to use too much pectic enzyme, but I can't think of a time I ever have (including the time I used 7 teaspoons making a gallon of carob wine). It not only attacks cellular structure, as another member mentioned, but neutralizes free pectins that can cause clarity problems. I will often add a half-teaspoon to a wine with just a slight smokiness -- not even a haze -- and find it brilliantly clear 2-4 days later.

Finally, I told him I thought the recipe he had devised was fine. Indeed, I might just steal it. Turns out it was mine anyway.

Too Much Sorbate

The next thread gets involved because of what happened and how others replied prior to my reading the thread. Here is the entire post starting the thread:

"I started to bottle my stabilized blueberry wine. I had degassed it thoroughly and added appropriate sorbate 8 months ago so I felt safe adding some sugar as I bottled it to backsweeten. Before corking the bottles however, I noticed the sugar I added was causing fine bubbles in the bottles. It looked a lot like fermentation. I panicked and decided not to cork the bottles in case what I saw was refermentation starting up. I poured the wine back into the carboy, added more sorbate and replaced the valve.

"To my frustration, no fermentation seems to be taking place now that the wine with the added sugar is back in the carboy which means:

1) "I probably panicked unnecessarily
2) "I now have twice as much sorbate in my wine as I should (since I have sorbated this wine twice now)
3) "My once-beautiful wine has been exposed to a lot of oxygen which has subtly affected the color and clarity

"The oxidation is what it is. I can't do anything about that. But what about the extra sorbate? Is that a problem? Can it impart bad flavors? Can it affect clarity or color? Can sorbate somehow be extracted? How bad have I messed up here?"

Although several other people had already offered reasonable comments and recommendations, I do take issue with one and would expand upon another, so I said I would just comment on those two things -- no, three.

First, I pointed out that I would be more concerned with the potential for early oxidation than too much sorbate. Potassium sorbate is the potassium salt of sorbic acid, so the active ingredient in the wine is sorbic acid -- which can be buffered or mellowed by age. But if your blueberry is actually oxidized, and I'm not convinced it is yet but it is certainly heading in that direction, blending with another, non-sorbated, wine will only cause the other wine to become prematurely oxidized. If the writer maintained an aseptic level of sulfites at bottling time, his risk of early oxidation is greatly reduced and may not even exist.

But, as a principle, one blends to enhance or integrate flavors, add complexity and/or overcome weaknesses with strengths. You cannot blend away a fault. If you blend a faulted wine with a non-faulted wine you dilute the fault but it is still there, and it will eventually consume the entire blend if it truly exists.

Oxidation is a fault. You can attack some of the symptoms of oxidation by fining with PVPP (I covered this long ago in my July 21, 2003 entry of my WineBlog), but you cannot remove or reverse the fault if one is there.

Second, I would let taste guide me. Another member suggested conducting a blind taste test with 2-3 other wines to see if the sorbate stands out. I acknowledged he has the right idea, but I would carry it a step farther and invite 2-3 friends with good palates to taste the wine without telling them what he did to it. The hard part is getting them to be brutally honest. Friends usually do not like to tell friends that there is something wrong with their wine, especially if they are hoping to enjoy more of it later. On the other hand, they might not find anything to criticize, and wouldn't that be a nice result? Or, they might find something else, something he would have overlooked because he was focusing on the sorbate.

My third comment concerns a personal peeve - the use of made-up words as if they are real. You sweeten a wine. You do not backsweeten it. Backsweeten is not a word. Check Webster's Dictionary or the Oxford English Dictionary. The sooner we all stop using non-words the sooner we will return English to a language of defined words and ensure real communication.

I think I have posted more insightful comments than these, but these rang a bell with a reader in Tuscaloosa. If they point out anything, it is that there is more to winemaking than at first meets the eye. You don't learn it making wines from kits. You don't learn it making wines from recipes. And you don't learn it by reading a scattering of different advice on forums -- but they all help you learn if you're willing to think. It isn't rocket science. The Sumerians made wine so I have no doubt you can too. But we have advanced beyond the wisdom of the ancients, and the more we learn the more we realize there is more to learn.

May 11th, 2008

It is Mother's Day here in the States, and ought to be everywhere. Indeed, every day ought to be Mother's Day. We owe our very lives to them. Not only did they feed us and clothe us and clean us until we could do these things ourselves, they also suffered the chronic and sometimes acute discomfort of carrying us to term, only to be rewarded with the painful ordeal of giving us birth in the first place.

If you were born after January 22, 1973, every time you think of your mother you should thank the God of your faith that your mother did not abort you. You owe your life to her decision not to jump on the Roe v. Wade bandwagon and terminate your life before you were born, as fifty million other women have done in the 35 years since the Supreme Court gave them the right to abort. If that sounds political, I'm sorry truth has become such. I was just observing certain things -- certain facts -- and tying them to this special day.

Other Things

After my May 3rd WineBlog entry, I began craving marmalade. I dug around in the pantry and found several jars of marmalade my wife had made some time back and evidently forgotten about, plus two pint mason jars of it made by friends. I knew I had enough to make a marmalade-based wine, so I did. After using 4 pounds of it in the wine, there was a one-and-a-half jars left. I consumed the open jar in a week of breakfasts and peanut butter and marmalade sandwich snacks. Also while digging around in the pantry, I found something else.

Some time back I had stopped at one of those stores that liquidate other people's inventory -- not the Dollar stores, but an up-scale version of one. This place is almost a supermarket, except the vegetables, fruit, meats, and dairy items are all canned. I sometimes get very good deals on canned fruit there, and I recall buying two cans -- the only two they had left -- of black cherries, pitted in light syrup and juices. Now really, who would go through all the trouble of picking, pitting and canning black cherries? Well, a company in Kentucky did. I bought them, hoping they might have more next week and I could make some wine. No such luck. I never saw them there again.

I dug out my beautiful wife's trusty Kerr Home Canning and Freezing Book and found the recipe for Black Cherry-Orange Marmalade. This book bears no printing or copyright information, so I feel safe in reproducing the recipe here. Besides, I altered it with three ingredients, so it's really quite mine....

Black & Dark Cherry-Orange-Walnut Marmalade

  • 2 20-oz cans black cherries, pitted
  • 1 20-oz can dark sweet cherries, pitted
  • 2 medium-sized oranges (thin-peel navels are fine, otherwise use Valencia)
  • 1 c chopped walnut meats (these might make it a marmalade-conserve; I'm not sure)
  • 3-1/2 c sugar
  • 2 large lemons, juiced (1/3 cup fresh lemon juice)
  • dejuiced hulls (peeling and pulp) from the lemons

The two cans of drained black cherries (liquid reserved), when cut into quarters, did not yield a quart (2 pints), which the Kerr recipe called for. So I dug out a can of Dark Sweet Cherries, pitted in heavy syrup. After draining (liquid reserved) and cutting into eighths (quartered, then cut crosswise -- required because they are quite a bit larger than black cherries), I had just over a quart. I left in the extra half-cup or so.

My wife does not like slicing things thinly; I find this quite relaxing and so I like to do it. My wife bought an electric slicer long ago, and I use it whenever uniformity is an issue or I am making jerky. I dug it out, sanitized it and the citric fruit (good old potassium metabisulfite), and plugged it in. I sliced the oranges thinly, then sliced the lemon hulls after juicing them.

In a 2-qt pot, dump the sliced oranges and lemon hulls. Cover them with 3 cups reserved liquid from cherries and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until peels are soft. Add all remaining ingredients, stir well, and bring to a soft boil. Boil until mixture is thick and clear (25-35 minutes). Pour into sterilized canning jars to within 1/2 inch of top. Wipe edge of jar mouths with clean, moist cloth. Put on new canning lid and retaining band and screw the band down tightly. Process in boiling water- bath for 10 minutes. Remove and wait for lids to vacuum-seal. Yield: 4-1/2 eight-ounce jars. Delicious!

Problem with Jam and Jelly Wines

I've received four emails about the same thing, so there is an issue here that needs addressing. Two have complained about all the jams and jellies they've looked at contain sodium benzoate, an ingredient they know will prevent yeast reproduction. The other two wrote to complain that their musts never started fermenting. The second problem resulted from the first -- sodium benzoate.

I went to the store yesterday to stock my vegetable bin and acquire a few other consumables and I spent about 10 minutes looking at jam and jelly labels. I found several organic products that did not contain sodium benzoate, but they seemed expensive to me. To avoid this expense, you may have to stick to homemade jams and jellies. That will not be difficult for me, as we probably have several gallons tucked away here and there.

As for the two who have already mixed up their musts without reading the labels of the products they used, I really should leave you to pay for and thus learn by your mistake, but I won't. What I will do is invite you to go to my WineBlog Archives for January-June 2007 and scroll down to the entry for April 24th, 2007. I am not going to rewrite that entire entry, but it discusses removing naturally occurring sodium benzoate from a must and the same procedure can be used here.

The procedure only works if the must is very acidic (pH 3.0 or lower) to create the protonated form of benzoic acid require. The lipophilic character of protonated benzoic acid enables its penetration through the cytoplasmic membrane into the yeast cells, where it is ionized, releases a proton, and the released proton is excreted from the cell. Benzoate ions are also driven from the cells by an electrochemical gradient, but once outside the cell they are again protonated and the cycle started again. However, if you can rack the wine off the yeast when the yeast have the protonated sodium benzoate in their little cell bodies, you can remove however much sodium benzoate they contain out of the must.

Obviously, two things apply here. First, you have to make your must very acidic and second you have to have a lot of yeast on hand. Oh, and as a footnote, it has to be Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast or the procedure may not work. Luckily, that's the most popular yeast used in winemaking.

To the first point, use a pH meter to measure your current pH and record the number. Use tartaric acid to lower the pH, as you can drop out excess later as potassium tartrate through chilling. Take a 750 mL sample of must and use it as a sample to adjust the pH. Whatever acid is required to lower the pH to 3.0 is 1/5th of what is required for the gallon. If you mess up with the 750 mL, it isn't fatal; you can dilute your mistake in the whole gallon, take another sample and start over.

When you start the actual procedure, you want as much yeast as you can have to draw in as much of the protonated sodium benzoate as possible. When I did this I already had a wine yeast in the must and chilled it to drop it out, racked, and then started two tablespoons of bakers yeast for a half hour and added it to the must. Neither you nor I can know when the majority of the yeast has the bad stuff in it or not, so you just have to put it under airlock, watch the airlock for decreasing activity and then wait a few days for a yeast layer to form on the bottom. Or, you can pitch the yeast and move it directly into a refrigerator to settle out.

There really isn't that much sodium benzoate in the jelly or jam, so one massive dose might do the trick. Rack carefully. I filtered the wine, but in hindsight think that was a bad idea. I could have burned up my MiniJet with as much yeast still in the wine as there was. So, the day before you rack begin another yeast starter, this time with a wine yeast, and after racking test the waters, so to speak. If you begin the starter a good 18-24 hours before pitching it, you'll have fermentation soon enough. Just keep your fingers crossed than when it stops the wine is dry.

Measuring a Liter

The easiest way is to use a graduated measure that contains cups on one side and milliliters on the other. We have a slightly larger that 2-cup measure that has a graduated 500 mL upper mark on the opposite side. I tried to find the manufacturer on the internet to determine the accuracy of the measures, but they don't seem to exist any longer as a business. Nor could I fine the accuracy of any comparable measure except in scientific glassware.

Reading fluid level in a cylinder correctly

Reading fluid level in a cylinder correctly

I happen have a large, half-liter, glass cylinder made by Fisher Scientific, their Standard Class B Graduated Cylinder, subdivided by 5 mL marks, with a tolerance (accuracy) of ±4.0 mL at 500 mL. This variance exists because you might read the level wrong; it is read just like you read a hydrometer, aligning the meniscus (the real fluid surface) with the bottom edge of the corresponding mark.

If you happen not to have a 500-mL glass graduated cylinder, there is another way to achieve approximately the same accuracy. A liter is equal to 33.8 U.S. fluid ounces, while a U.S. quart only contains 32 fluid ounces. (When I say a quart, I mean one measured with accurate, graduated measures.)

Quart = 32 fl. oz. blank space Liter = 33.8 fl.oz.

It so happens that a quart is also equal to 64 very exact tablespoons. From the latter we conclude that each 2 tablespoons are equal to 1 U.S. fluid ounce. Therefore, 68 tablespoons would yield 34 U.S. fluid ounces, or 0.2 ounces more than a liter. While 34 ounces might be close enough for you, I would like to get it closer if I can. The trick is to remove 0.2 fluid ounces from 34, or 1/5th of a tablespoon. A tablespoon consists of 3 teaspoons, each of which can easily be divided into quarters by selecting a 1/4 teaspoon measure. Twelve of these small measures equals a tablespoon, so 2.4 of them equals 1/5th of a tablespoon. I don't know about you, but I could measure one quart, add 4 tablespoons, and then take away two 1/4 teaspoons and approximately 1/2 of another. That would put us very, very close to a liter.

May 17th, 2008

Since my last post I received a hateful email for daring to suggest on Mother's Day that if you were born after the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision you should give thanks to your mother for not aborting you as 50,000,000 other women did to their would-be sons and daughters. If it bothers you that "pro-choice" means for-abortion and "pro-life" means for-life, then you have a serious problem. Don't rag on me for insisting that words have meaning.

Also, since my last post, I caught the "marmalade bug." I'm not even following recipes - I'm just flying with it and they are coming out wonderfully. Luckily, I'll be attending a family reunion in June and will have unusual marmalades to give to my relatives. My latest creation is shared below.

Carrot, Orange, Pineapple, and Lemon Marmalade

This began as a faulty memory. The memory was of seeing a recipe for carrot-orange marmalade several days ago. The faulty part was not remembering anything else that went in it except oranges. I was in the supermarket and happened to see a display of bags of julienned carrots. My faulty memory kicked in. I was pretty sure the carrots were grated or julienned, but not knowing what else might be needed I bought a couple of oranges and a few lemons (just to be safe). When I got home and looked up the recipe, I saw ginger root, orange juice and several other things listed that I knew I didn't have. My last ginger root is aging in a mead. I finished a half-gallon of orange juice last week and bought a mixed berry juice instead. I suddenly had an idea and went to work.

  • 2 pts, julienned carrots
  • 2 Valencia oranges, thinly sliced
  • 2 small lemons, juiced (1/3 cup fresh lemon juice)
  • dejuiced hulls (peeling and pulp) from the lemons
  • 1 20-oz can crushed pineapple
  • 4-1/2 c sugar

Juice the lemons and save the juice, discard the seeds, and thinly slice the hulls. Thinly slice the oranges and quarter the slices. Open the pineapple and strain the juice from the solids. Combine the carrots, sliced oranges, sliced lemons, and pineapple juice in a 2-quart pan. Stir in 4 cups of water and bring to a medium boil and hold it, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Add sugar and pineapple and boil another hour. Stir in lemon juice and hold the boil 5 additional minutes. Spoon into sterile jars, secure lids tightly and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. Makes eight 8-oz jars. [Author's own creation]

I'm only giving six of these away to relatives. One is open and being enjoyed and the other is set aside for the county fair. I have no doubt it is a blue ribbon or better.

A Social Wine

A social wine is one you might serve other than with a meal, a religious or a celebratory event. It might be mid-afternoon with sweet biscuits or in the evening between the meal and retirement, but generally it is at a time when lower alcohol wines are more appropriate.

Cranberry-Raspberry Wine label

I submit here a 10.75% alcohol (by volume) sweet cranberry-raspberry wine which can be made anytime you find yourself with the appropriate ingredients. I made two gallons of this wine, fermented both to dryness, and stabilized one and sweetened it with U.S. grade Fancy honey to a specific gravity of 1.018. The dry wine, stabilized and sweetened with honey only to 1.000, is very nice alone or with a neutral, salty or slightly sour snack. It also goes well with a crisp green salad or toast and pickled herring, sardine or dried salmon. The sweet is also suitable alone, but also with a pastry, biscuit or sweet fruit.

Cranberry-Raspberry Social Wine

  • 7 pts 100% Cranberry Juice from Concentrate
  • 1 cup Southern or Savannah (brand) Raspberry Mix (syrup)
  • Sugar to 1.078 (I used about 14 oz on one batch, 1 lb 1 oz on the other using different cranberry juice)
  • 1/2 tsp tartaric acid (or 3/4 tsp acid blend)
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Read the label before selecting the cranberry juice and avoid any containing preservatives other than ascorbic acid. Combine juice, syrup and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet in primary and measure specific gravity. You can use more syrup, but reduce the cranberry by that amount and calculate the sugar as required. Use a hydrometer table to calculate the amount of sugar to add to obtain an original specific gravity (usually abbreviated incorrectly as o.g.) of 1.078. The amount of sugar required will depend on the cranberry juice you use, so calculate, measure the sugar, dissolve it thoroughly into a simple syrup (or a sample of the must), add, stir, and measure the s.g. again. Do not exceed 1.078; indeed, if one is to err, do so on the low side (but not below 1.073, or 10% a.b.v.). Stir in acid and nutrient and cover primary. Wait 10-12 hours and add activated yeast in a starter solution. On fifth day transfer to a 4-liter secondary and affix airlock, leaving at least 1 inch of ullage (airspace). Ferment to dryness and rack into a 1-gallon secondary. Top up if required and wait for wine to clear. Wait additional 2 weeks and rack again, adding another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 tsp dissolved potassium sorbate. Wait 45 days, rack again, sweeten to taste, and bottle. [Author's own recipe]

May 24th, 2008

A reader wrote recently (accidental alliteration) that he detected "the overtones" on my site about folks like him who prefer not to "add chemicals to their wines." He then went on to explain that he was not a nut; he recognized that all matter is chemical one way or another, but when it came to things that were ingested into his body, he preferred fresh and natural to processed and capsulized. (Dave, I hope I paraphrased you okay.)

Having said that, he then asked did I know of any natural substitutes for the processed stuff we use in winemaking? Hey, politeness goes a long way in Pleasanton, Texas, so I'm going to expand slightly on what I told him via email.

Four Natural Substitutes

I have cheered the introduction of each processed or synthetic additive, because life was so much more difficult for winemakers before they came along. Still, here are a few "naturals." And yes, some are no-brainers.

Pectic Enzyme: Pectinase (pectic enzyme) is found in abundance on the thin green layer of inner peeling of the papaya. Every summer I made papaya wine just to collect the thin strips of peeling, put them in a baggie, tape it shut (we didn't always have ZipLocs), and stash it in the freezer. When I needed some pectinase, I'd cut the bag, extract a couple of thin strips, and tape the bag closed again.

Powdered pectic enzyme is much more convenient, lasts for years, and doesn't get freezer burns. Powdered enzymes are dehydrated from a liquid form in a benign carrier agent of one type or another that dilutes the enzyme (so you need a teaspoon per gallon instead of 10-12 drops of liquid). But the liquid concentrates have short shelf lives and usually end up costing much more than the powder because they get tossed before being used up. I use the powder, carrier agent and all, because I got tired of tossing out little squeeze vials of the liquid still 3/4 full. Besides, papaya wine is not my wife's favorite. It might grab you differently, and blended with red raspberry and blueberry it really becomes another wine.

Citric Acid: You can't beat lemons for citric acid. If you think limes are more acidic, you're wrong. If you have no other acid and the must is completely deficient, you should add 3/4 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice per gallon of must with all the lemon pulp you can scrape out of the lemon hulls (3/4 ounce lemon juice equals 1 1/2 tablespoons, or 1 tablespoon, 1 1/2 teaspoons).

Sugar: Honey is a no-brainer, but does not substitute straight across. Because it contains water and impurities, use 1 1/4 pound of honey for each pound of sugar called for.

If you want to use sugar but have an aversion to it being "processed" to remove color (natural molasses, which can impart an off-taste in many wines), then by all means buy "raw sugar." Beet sugar is usually less expensive than cane sugar. Some people say it possesses an off-taste but in blind tastings it is statistically indistinguishable from cane sugar. The same can be said of invert sugar with regard to taste.

Yeast Nutrients: There are no natural "yeast nutrient" substitutes, but certain grape juices come close. For fruit wines, minced raisins work well (and contain 65-67% natural sugar by weight). These, however, are not perfect. Yeast generally need nitrogen, phosphates and trace minerals. Ammonium phosphate contains the former and tap water contains the latter. However, yeast hulls or ghosts are dried dead yeast cells sold in most homebrew shops. Being yeast, they contain almost everything yeast need. They are a natural product, but one you cannot easily prepare yourself.

My Favorite Sugars

Postal workers across the country started delivering WineMaker magazine Friday and Saturday of last week. Friday night I received one email about my article, "10 Tips for Country Winemaking," and another two on Saturday. All three were positive, but one asked an interesting question. I already posted a new blog entry that morning, so decided to answer the question at WinePress.as, since the person who asked the question is a frequent poster there.

The question was, "I was especially surprised to see the list of 19 different sugars in your tip, 'All Sugar Is Not Equal.' I had no idea there were that many. So, given all these choices, which of these is your favorite every day winemaking sugar?"

The truth is, it depends on how the fruit will be introduced to the water. When I am going to heat water to accelerate or aid the breakdown of fruit or extraction of juice, I use the cheapest white granulated sugar I can buy. Crystal size makes no difference because hot or boiling water will melt it quickly enough, but the cheapest sugar is plain old table sugar and it has a fairly regular crystal size. For my purposes, the 25- or 30-pound bag is the cheapest bulk quantity I can store and use -- naturally from Sam's Club, Costco or the Commissary at Fort Sam Houston.

I did not even list my favorite sugar for sweetening a cold or room temperature must or a finished wine, except to list cane sugar and sucrose -- they are synonymous. But when heat is not used at all, those fairly large grains of regular table sugar are difficult to dissolve. For this, my favorite sugar is that very finely granulated, pure cane sugar known as "bar sugar," "superfine sugar," "ultrafine sugar," or "baker's sugar." Whatever the name, the sugar is the same but the price may vary widely. "Bar sugar" is usually sold in tubular containers with anywhere from 12.5 to 16 ounces of sugar and a price approaching or exceeding $3.00 a pound. On the other hand, I buy "C&H Baker's Sugar" for about $2.60 per 4-pound container at the Commissary; the container looks like a half-gallon, waxed-cardboard, milk carton. The advantage? The very fine crystals dissolve very quickly at room temperature, requiring less stirring than the larger grained table sugar in very hot (but not yet boiling) water.

May 27th, 2008

Yesterday was Memorial Day here in the States, a holiday to mark the remembrance of those who perished in military service. Because it was a federal holiday, I had the day off. This was just as well, as I could not have gone in to work anyway. The water temperature gauge in my truck maxed out on the way home Friday and I had it towed to a shop that happened to recognize Memorial Day as a holiday too, so it did not get looked at on my day off. Hopefully, they will look at it today and fix it. I am effectively stranded.

Most of this blog was written yesterday, but I didn't get it finished before midnight so I corrected the date and rewrote the opening paragraph. But I did remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

Blueberry-Elderberry Port

A reader wrote to ask a few questions about my recipe for Blueberry-Elderberry Port. He received 120 pounds of frozen blueberries and intends to make 28 gallons when elderberries ripen. The recipe calls for dried elderberries and he wanted to know how many fresh to use instead. He also questioned the ingredient "Red Grape Concentrate" for further identification. He stated he intended to use fresh grapes instead and wanted to know which kind and how many to use. He also asked for any other tips I might offer as he wanted to produce an award- winning port. Well, who doesn't?

The first question was about dried vs. fresh elderberries. The rule of thumb is to use 1/4 the amount of fresh when using dried. So one would reverse that and use 24 ounces, or 1-1/2 pounds, of fresh elderberries per gallon instead of dried. I would not use more than this, and might even cut back 4 ounces per gallon to prevent a tilt in flavor. But remember, this is a combination recipe, so neither fruit should dominate. Also, with elderberries, they really must be absolutely ripe when picked. If they are not, one will be aging that port for many years. How to tell if they are ripe enough? I wait until the berries lose their hardness and become slightly soft -- give a bit when pressed between the fingers. Or, when the birds are eating them freely.

Now, replacing the concentrate with fresh grapes presents a problem, the grapes used to produce the concentrate are minor European varieties used in blending and difficult to obtain here. Besides, the purpose of adding the concentrate when it is added is to sweeten the port, give it body and add complexity in flavor to it. My advice is to keep the concentrate.

Many homebrew shops sell a product called "Red Grape Concentrate" by Brew King, Wine Expert or some other manufacturer. It typically costs around $9.95 for 500 mL, or slightly more than a pint (1 pint = 469.25 mL). However, if one shops around it can be obtained much cheaper. I've linked to a source following this entry that sells it for only $4.95 per 500 mL. If one were going to use the concentrate for 28 gallons of the port, one would need 14 pints. Before ordering that much, I would call the shop first to make sure they have that much in stock.

As for tips, I would say measure the specific gravity of the must and adjust the sugar accordingly; don't accept the recipe's amount for such a large volume as a small error would be multiplied 28-fold. Select a yeast that will take the wine to 16% alcohol. When fermentation stops and the time is right, add enough brandied alcohol and the concentrate to sweeten the finished wine and raise the alcohol to 20%. Age will take care of the rest.

Measure the titratable acidity (TA) and pH, but do this after the wine has been fortified and sweetened with the concentrate. Make sure they are acceptable or adjust them accordingly to achieve that goal.

Do not exceed the 1/2 teaspoon glycerin per gallon. Glycerin may contribute to body, but it has a taste that can be detected if in excess - even in port.

Aging is essential. The recipe says to allow a year to mature, but that is the minimum. It might be best after three years, but there is no way of knowing this up front. Since it is unethical to enter the same wine year after year because it was previously entered too young, one might want to do what I would do. I would break 28 gallons down into five 5-gallon batches and one 3-gallon batch. I would make each batch just a little differently (I did this with 135 pounds of blackberry I was given all at once). As different batches, they could be entered successively -- one batch one year, another batch the next, another batch the third year, etc. The ageability of port depends on alcohol, acidity and tannin, and the tannin in this port is mostly supplied by the elderberries and the concentrate. Since the writer is looking for a wine to enter into competition after only a year, that should be the one with the least amount of tannin, but it has to have enough to balance. The difference between a one-year port and two-year port might only be an ounce of elderberries per gallon. I can't say but experimentation and good notes will make it known in time.

Primary Buckets

A discussion with another reader (with his own website, listed below) led to a discussion of primaries. I offered him the following advice.

For free plastic primaries, I might suggest you stop by a donut shop in the late morning or early afternoon and ask them if they can spare any used plastic pails. If they want to charge you for them, it's up to you to bite or swim; I swim away. There are too many donut shops out there and I have always gotten free buckets and pails at Shipley's. Usually, they even clean them for me -- and they come with lids. Best of all, they come in a variety of sizes. You can get 1-gallon (can't use them for primaries, but they are great for gathering wild plums or blackberries or whatever), 2-gallon (they make good primaries for 1-gallon batches), 3-gallon (great for making a 2-gallon batch and then splitting it between two secondaries), 5-gallon, and sometimes as large as 8-gallon. They come in round and square shapes. I like both for different reasons.

But primaries should be primaries, not to be confused with secondaries. I have two primaries with holes drilled in them for bungs and airlocks, but these are only used when I plan on fermenting a lot of fruit to near dryness. Otherwise, take the fruit out of the primary, press it and finish the fermentation in a glass secondary like you should. Why? Because primaries contain too much airspace and it takes too much CO2 to keep positive pressure in them. Because it is unlikely any batch under 5 gallons will produce this much pressure, the CO2 produced will get absorbed into the wine and it will take an awful lot of degassing to make it right. A secondary, with the proper ullage, will force most of the gas out.

May 30th, 2008

There are a few people at work who think I'm a bit morbid because I miss my dog so much. I can't help it, and if that makes me morbid then so be it. Our veterinarian, a Lieutenant Colonel, understands. She has given me some very interesting tips for picking out my next dog - or rather, letting the dog pick me out. It's an interesting concept, but goes along quite well with my intent to rescue a dog from a shelter when the time is right. There will be many that need saving, and the dogs will not know their fate if they are not taken home by someone, but one will want me more than any of the others - will need me as much as I need it - and will make the selection a snap. Well, at least I want to believe this - as much as I want to believe in the Rainbow Bridge. I thank each of you who sent it to me, or a link to it. And even though it was repetitive, I read it each time. It helped me. It's the way I want it to be. If you are in the dark, I've posted a link to it following this entry. And once again I posted the link to my departed companion's web page. I don't really think you want to see it, but it makes me feel better to post it, so please indulge me.

The sun is brutal out there -- 97° in the shade where my thermometer is. I worked a little over an hour in the vineyard around noon and finally threw in the towel. I have a nice sunburn to show for it. Days like this make me ache for those who cannot escape the sun, who work on roofing jobs or lay asphalt or pick our fruit and produce for us to enjoy. On days like this you know they aren't paid enough.

There are some very kind people out there. About a dozen of you wrote to say how much you appreciated the WineBlog's introduction on May 11th - Mother's Day. But two of you - I don't understand why you would condemn a person for saying you should be grateful your mother didn't abort you. What exactly was in that sentiment that warranted the hatred you hurled at me? While I can in fact understand that circumstances may dictate that a person should not carry a pregnancy to term, I do not understand how my veneration of motherhood offended two of you so dearly. I fear for this country when people move so far to the left (or right) that they lose their humanity. Given the opportunity, they would make good fascists. That's scary. Too scary. Let's move on to winemaking.


I think we all know what capsules are, right? Originally, they were lead foil bottleneck wrappings that served to keep rodents from gnawing away at the corks and cork weevils from infesting them. In the early 1990s it was shown that trace amounts of toxic lead oxide could remain on the lip of the bottle and mix with the poured wine. Rather than educate the public that wiping the bottle's lip after removing the foil was the healthy thing to do for several reasons unrelated to trace amounts of lead, the United States Food and Drug Administration officially banned lead foil capsules on domestic and imported wine bottles on February 8th, 1996. They were immediately replaced with aluminum or plastic wrappings. Whatever the material, these wrappings of the bottleneck are called capsules.

Before I continue I must state up front that the telling of what follows is in no way meant to denigrate anyone, and to be certain that cannot be construed I will completely hide the identity of the persons involved, with the sole exception of myself.

A person wrote to an e-list to which I belong - an affiliation whereby any email to the list is delivered to all members - and stated the very sincere belief that the heatshrink capsules he had been using on his wines was causing them to turn quite bad within 3-6 months. He described a number of maladies that occurred only in bottles bearing these capsules; he insisted these maladies did not afflict wines in bottles without the capsules in question. He could not explain how this might occur and was asking for any insight anyone might offer.

He wrote, "Synthetic and natural corks, different kinds of wine, way too many occurrences of what looks like a precipitate of dark colored residue, horrible taste, but not much identifiable scent (no TCA, H2S, vinegar, etc... this is not a malolactic secondary ferment, in my humble opinion--no gas pressure, and some of the wine bottles that went south had been treated with potassium sorbate prior to bottling.)" He did, of course, write more, but this one quote suggests an educated man who knows much about winemaking. In response to a question, he wrote another descriptive piece that seemed at first glance to contradict the first (that's the way I read it), but in fact offered a clue of sorts. Here is my response (edited).

"Even back before the government banned the use of lead capsules, there wasn't any known contamination of wine in the bottles that led to the ban. The danger existed completely outside the bottle because the contents of the capsule could not penetrate the cork. When red wines had been corked, capsuled with lead and laid on their sides to age for several years, many of the capsules formed a corrosive oxide between the capsule and cork. If the capsule were cut below the lip and wiped carefully, there wasn't any danger to the wine being poured. But the government banned the use of lead capsules to protect the dumbest among us who didn't exercise common sense.

"I'm pretty confused about your problem. In your first post you said the wines all had a 'horrible taste,' now it 'isn't initially awful, but grows worse.' I've been making wines a long time and even bad wines generally get better, not worse, unless there is a contamination of some sort in the equipment that gets passed along to the wines. Common places this can occur are in racking tubes or bottling wands, both of which are difficult to sanitize.

"You mentioned '...the precipitate clings to the side of the bottle--usually the entire inner surface of the bottle which has contact with the wine, following the pattern of whether it has been stored on its side, or standing up.' This is no mystery. Anyone who has made blackberry, dewberry, black raspberry elderberry, blackhaw, blackcurrant, or any strongly colored wines know all too well that the anthocyanin pigments responsible for their color coat the insides of their bottles after a year or so.

"You mentioned '...what looks like a precipitate of dark colored residue....' This most likely is tannin. Over time, short tannin molecules link together to form long molecular chains that do precipitate out of the wines. If you are adding tannin to your red wines, cut back the amount.

"You also said that '...some of the wine bottles that went south had been treated with potassium sorbate prior to bottling.' Potassium (K) sorbate does not produce an aseptic condition as K metabisulfite will, but merely prevents yeast from budding (reproducing). Over a modest period of time (30-90 days), whatever yeast were still alive when the K sorbate was added will usually have expired and the wine cannot referment. However, to prevent a foul smell from developing should the wine undergo malo-lactic fermentation (MLF) after the K sorbate was added, most winemakers add K metabisulfite to prevent MLF when they add the K sorbate. Also, you have to remember that K sorbate has a limited shelf life once opened, so you should replace it every 6 months in high humidity zones and every 9-12 months in less humid climates.

"Absolutely nothing you have described suggests to me you have abnormal problems with your wines except for the "horrible taste" you mentioned in one post and a progressive deterioration of taste you later described. These, I can only conclude, are caused by possible contamination of equipment or work area. Certainly none of the problems you've mentioned can be attributed to bottle capsules. But the proof would be to change nothing, not even the way you clean your equipment, and lay down your wines from here on out without the capsules. My money says you'll have the same results."

Another member of the e-list wrote, "There is a specific wine fault called 'mousiness' that has the relatively unique combination of characteristics of minimal smell, coupled with a taste that gets worse after it has been in your mouth a while (see the link following this entry or Google 'mousiness and wine'). The chemical that is the problem is caused by a variety of spoilage yeasts and bacteria, and is not volatile at wine pH (hence, minimal smell, and initially, minimal taste, since most of taste is in fact smell). But, after you swallow, the residual wine left in your mouth rises to mouth pH; the chemical is more volatile, and hence the smell and taste become far more noticeable. This particular fault has a very long aftertaste - I have had the misfortune to sample wine with this fault, and the taste lasts over a minute, getting worse and worse.

"I agree with Jack-the foil is not the problem, and the coating on your bottles is not related either."

To be honest, I had misread the clue, "...isn't initially awful, but grows worse." I assumed it grew worse over time, but if this experience is compressed into a tasting then mousiness becomes the most likely culprit. Further, the complainant said, in response to our comments, that he did not add tannins to his wines but did use oak barrels and other forms of the wood. If you read the piece linked to above, you will see that the contaminations that cause mousiness "...can be avoided by ensuring that adequate sulfur dioxide levels are maintained during the winemaking process and particularly during wood maturation." Although I missed mousiness as the culprit, I did have the cure right. Good old potassium metabisulfite should be every winemaker's best friend.

June 14th, 2008

I was going through a closet I use as a storage area for winemaking equipment and found - this is embarrassing - all kinds of stuff I remembered I had but had no idea where it was. Okay, how difficult is this? I have a large closet, a dedicated refrigerator, a dedicated chest freezer, and an area in the garage I use for storing winemaking stuff. If it isn't one place, it ought to be in one of the others, right? And if it doesn't require refrigeration, it should be a lot easier to find, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. You can hide a lot of stuff in a large closet.

I was looking for corks. I was fairly sure I still had a bag of 25 premium long naturals, but it just didn't want to be found. First I looked here and then there, and then I began a systematic search. This required that I empty the closet, one compact pile or bucket-load of stuff at a time. Wow. I found a lot more than the corks, but that's another story.

"Silky" Wine Texture

I have a fascinating book called "Jefferson and Wine," edited by R. de Treville Lawrence III. The book would have appealed to the historian in me had it been about any other President as well, but Jefferson, until about 20 years ago, was my very favorite President. To me, this was a most wonderful read, although I realize it will not appeal to many.

Jefferson developed and maintained a lifelong interest in wines and grapes. A major focus, if not the central content, concerns Jefferson's years in France as ambassador. There he applied an educated palate to the many wines of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, but it was the former he most enjoyed. A recurring theme in the book is one of wine texture, a character Jefferson placed great emphasis on - especially the texture he called "silkiness."

When I first read this word in the notes and letters of Thomas Jefferson, I have to admit I was not entirely sure of what he meant. But over the years I have tasted a few wines that possessed texture characteristics that reminded me of that single-word term.

A few years back a lawyer acquaintance shared a bottle of Montrachet Chardonnay with me and my wife. I do not recall the brand or the vintage, but the wine itself was unforgettable. This wine had a creaminess, a slipperiness. It was not buttery, an overworked term that has lost the uniqueness it once signified. At the time, I simply thought it was "silky." Whites that deserve this descriptive seem rare.

But I have also tasted "silky" reds. These are quite different, and "silky" is not the word that came to mind when tasting them. "Velvety" was what came to mind, and these were deep, dark reds for which "velvety" was an appropriate word. But I recently tasted a blend of Syrah, Cynthiana and Ives Noir (my own wine, I'm pleased to say) that said "velvety" and "silky" in the same breath, and it was as if I had an epiphany, equating the two for the first time.

I don't know what it is about these wines that gives them the mouthfeel they possess, but Mr. Jefferson was quite astute when he described it as "silky."

Wild Grape Identification

With wild grapes developing and some ripening just now throughout these United States, I am receiving a lot of requests for a good book on identifying one species from another. There are two ways to approach this request. One can look at a regional field guide to wild plants or one of three classic botanical works on grapes. Of the latter, all three are out of print but can be obtained through a good library, either from their own holdings or through inter-library loan.

The best of the regional guides is a massive 1960 affair by Robert A. Vines, also out of print, entitled "Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southwest," a mammoth 1,104-page guide for Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Despite the regional designation, it includes most of the species found in the United States, even if one disagrees on the taxonomy presented (as I do).

Of the botanical works, I recommend the following:

Galet, Pierre and Lucie T. Morton (Translator).
Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification - 248 pages / Published 1979

Hendrick, U. P.
The Grape of New York - 564 pages / Published 1908

Munson, Thomas V.
Foundations of American Grape Culture - 252 Pages / Published 1913

The problem with these books is that the average person is not familiar with the botanical nomenclature and terminology employed and they therefore find them to be of limited value. However, all three are illustrated and this in itself has utility.

Wild grape identification is something one simply has to work at.

June 29th, 2008

I want to thank those of you out there who have contributed monetarily through PayPal to help support the continuance of this website (see last link following this entry). It is not only humbling and deeply appreciated, it is also quite necessary that I receive such assistance if I am to continue the site.

I recently found three letters of thanks to three donors in the "Draft" folder of Outlook, checked my "Sent" folder, and realized I had not thanked these generous folks. How utterly embarrassing. Despite this unintentional negligence, I am indeed indebted and grateful for all such donations.

Gases Obey Laws

Over in a discussion forum a reader asked, "Just wondering if I purge C02 as a capping on my wine, how long does it stay there (enclosed vessel and open to air)?"

I pointed out that we had a related discussion just a few weeks ago, but the focus then was on using CO2, argon or other heavy gases to completely replace the air in a carboy and thereby remove all O2 before adding the must so no premature oxidation can start. I don't recall the name or particulars of the thread and I have no desire to search for it since I already know what was said, but I suggested to the writer of the question that he might.

The thing to remember (and part of what was discussed previously) is that CO2 is a gas and follows the laws of all gases, which means it will act in accordance to the natural properties it is endowed with and react to environmental influences, but one gas does not push all other gases from a space just because it is heavier or colder or newly introduced.

In a closed environment, like a carboy with an airlock, CO2 created by fermentation will quickly fill the ullage and "push out" most of the air that was in that space through a process best thought of as pressurized dilution. But even after 5-6 days of vigorous fermentation and continuous bubbling away, if you measured the air in the ullage you'd be surprised to find there is still some oxygen, hydrogen, helium, etc. in there. You wouldn't think so, but there is. It won't be much, but there will be some.

Now, if you lay a blanket of CO2 into a primary and cover it with a nice thick towel, it is still open to the air but not quite as susceptible to wild yeast and dust contamination. Under these conditions the CO2 will begin dilution almost immediately -- through the towel. It won't be a fast process, but it will start at once and continue at a rate dictated by temperature, humidity, turbulence, atmospheric pressure, etc. Gases simply want to mix, and if "open to air" they will do so. If they did not, all the CO2 in the atmosphere would be laying around next to the earth and we would all suffocate. So, even though I cannot answer the specific question asked as to how long the blanket of CO2 would last, I would imagine not more than an hour or two.

Free Sulfur Dioxide

I received an inquiry the other day about several references on my site to the amount of SO2 delivered by given amounts of potassium metabisulfite that, quite frankly, didn't add up. Well, I checked and, sure enough, the math was not consistent; i.e. various measurements which had grams, teaspoons (or fractions thereof) and ppm in common did not yield numbers consistent with what common math would demand. This led me to believe that one number, reported as ppm of SO2 derived from potassium metabisulfite in fact referred to ppm of SO2 derived from sodium metabisulfite. At the time I was pressed by rising temperatures outside to finish some yard work before it got too hot for a fellow with a thrice-repaired ticker, so I took the easy way out. I admitted the math didn't work and something was wrong, but emphasized that SO2 alone wasn't the whole story; one needed to factor in the pH of the wine. I then referred the emailer to Daniel Pambianchi's WineMaker magazine article and downloadable "Sulfite Calculator" (which sits on my PC's desktop and gets a lot of use) as a relevant tool.

There are two good online pieces about SO2 I recommend for those wishing to understand the issues surrounding its use. These are referenced at the end of this entry. One day I will finish my own piece on SO2, but until then I refer you to these excellent pieces.

Jack's WineBlog, Copyright (©) 2003-2017 by Jack B. Keller, Jr. All Rights Reserved.