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Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

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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

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Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

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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.

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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?
How to contact Jack Keller:

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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 15th, 2010

What a long 27 days it has been since I was last here. I spent the holidays in Nevada, Arizona and California, enjoyed Christmas, a birthday, anniversary and New Year with my wife and family, and returned to a flurry of activity at work. And when I returned Mark had a new background waiting for me, which I like a lot. At my request he made me a new header for my home page, which looks great, but it is just too large a file to impose upon you. I can live with what I have so the page loads faster for you and me.

I did not start any new wines since I was last here, but I sure have consumed a few. Six of my own, three by one viewer of this blog and one of another, four from assorted friends, and two commercial products. The most unusual was a cashew wine a Wine Guild member brought me from Belize. My wife's favorite was my Key Lime-A-Rita; my favorite was a toss-up between Jimmy's Port (which I selfishly did not share) and a Pineapple-Coconut Mead I made that never cleared but is delicious. If these seem unusual, wait until you see the recipes in this entry.

Pawpaw Goodies

A Missouri viewer recently asked, "I have about 6 pounds of frozen paw-paw mush, without peeling or seeds, and want to make wine if possible. Any ideas?" I do have two recipes posted on my site but suppose it is possible to have missed them, so the answer is an unqualified "yes." If it were me, I'd make one gallon of pawpaw wine and two loaves of pawpaw bread and two pawpaw-meringue pies.

Pawpaw fruit

Pawpaw fruit (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The common pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small to medium sized deciduous tree that tends to grow in clusters as understory trees in well drained, fertile soil. Several southern species (A. angustifolia, A. incana, A. parviflora , A. reticulata) are evergreen. Their reddish-puple flowers are approximately two inches and are fetid, smelling slightly of carrion, pollinated primarily by fruit flies, carrion flies and beetles. The fruit is actually a berry, with a soft, custard-like pulp with a flavor similar to banana with a hint of mango that is used in baked desserts, singular or mixed fruit drinks, or chilled as a dessert fruit.

The two pawpaw wine recipes are at the first link following this entry. I'll reserve this space for the pawpaw-nut bread and pawpaw-meringue pie recipes.

Pawpaw-Nut Bread

  • 1 c melted butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 c pawpaw pulp
  • 1 Tblsp. lemon juice
  • 4 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 c pecan pieces plus 16 pecan halves

Preheat oven to 375o F. Grease two 9 x 4 x 2-inch loaf pans. Beat together butter, sugar, and eggs. Add and beat in the pawpaw pulp and lemon juice. Sift the flour and baking powder together, and stir them into the batter. Stir in the pecans and scrape the batter into the loaf pans. Garnish each loaf with 8 pecan halves, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The top corners of the loaf will burn, but that adds flavor and character. [Recipe from Kentucky State University web site]

Pawpaw-Meringue Pie


  • 1 c pawpaw pulp
  • 3/4 c fine granulated sugar
  • 2 tblsp flour
  • 2 egg yokes
  • 2 c milk
  • 9" deep dish baked pie shell

Combine sugar and flour and add egg yolks and milk. When thoroughly mixed, add pawpaw pulp and stir. Cook until thick and pour into baked pie crust. Cover with meringue and bake in 350° oven 15 minutes or until meringue is brown.


  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp water
  • 1/3 c boiling water
  • 2 egg whites
  • 4 tblsp sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla

Mix 1 tsp water with cornstarch. Add boiling water. Simmer until stiff. Beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture. Add sugar, 1 spoon at a time and add vanilla. [Author's family recipe]

Sour Wine

A viewer wrote in my guestbook, "I am a novice, I have some watermelon, peach, grape juice and tomato ranging from 3 to 5 months old and all have a sour taste." He adds that he has paid assiduous attention to sanitation and temperature steadiness. What, then, could be the cause of the sourness?

The most common cause for a sour wine is acidity. In berries (including grapes and tomatoes) and fruit, the core cause of too much acidity is most likely under-ripeness, followed by insufficient dilution with water, not enough balance with sweetness, or a combination of the foregoing with a secondary cause. Secondary causes of sourness are (a) the fruit or juice spoiled before the wine reached a self-preserving 10% alcohol level (common in watermelon), (b) a lactic acid bacterial infection soured the wine (especially likely if MLF did not conclude or sulfites were not used to prevent MLF), or (c) a souring product such as lactose (milk sugar) or lactic acid was used incorrectly. Fruit that have bruised spots (wind-fall peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, loquats, apples, etc.) should not be used in winemaking without first cutting out the bruises, as these spots will quickly spoil and ruin the wine. Juice from melons, but especially watermelons, is prone to spoilage if fermentation is not conducted very quickly. For these wines, it is best to use a starter solution into which 2 or 3 sachets of a very fast yeast (such as Montrachet) are added to ensure a rapid build-up of yeast population before introducing it to the must. Hydrate the yeast in the starter solution for several hours before it is needed to allow the yeast population to double and redouble.

Having said this, time very often is the solution for a sour wine if the problem is indeed acidity - unless the acid is acetic (vinegar). Acids do undergo chemical processes that reduce or alter the acidity and smooth out the wine. Bacterial causes, however, seldom can be corrected.

January 21st, 2010

I have but one entry today, but it is one I have given a great deal of thought. If you read it and learn something, I hope you will consider supporting this site. You can do that by supporting the advertisers or by clicking on the last link after any entry and making a support donation via PayPal. However, it would please me just as much if instead you sent a small donation to any Haiti relief effort. If you aren't sure of which organization to support, I have researched many of them and personally sent my own donations to Food for the Poor. I have posted a link to their donation page immediately following today's entry. If you don't like the amounts suggested on their page, send any amount you care to give. No amount is too small.

A Lesson About Oxidation

Last Sunday I drank a hearty glass of 40-year old mustang grape wine made from native Texas grapes. It had remarkably good color for its age - slightly brickish around the edges but still dark, still more purple than red. But it was showing age. It was gradually becoming sherry-like, but just barely. I could still taste the wildness of the mustang grape. But it was more like a 6- or 8-year old mustang than a 40-year old.

The secret as to why this wine did not become highly oxidized may be because the bottle was filled high and closed with a metal screw cap. The only oxygen available to this wine for 40 years was whatever oxygen was absorbed by the wine when it was made and bottled and the small amount in the small ullage - airspace - inside the bottle. If nothing else, this certainly is a strong endorsement for screw caps. But there is more to this story than a screw cap and small ullage.

Most of us have been told that "All wines improve with age". Age, however, is relative. For some wines 6 months would be pushing it, while others are still toddlers at 6 years. The truth is that only a few wines possess the ability to significantly improve out to and beyond 6 years. I read somewhere that only 5-10% of white and red wines, respectively, can improve to 5 years, and only 1% can stretch it out to a decade. All others either slowly or quickly - there are in-betweens - succumb to the ravages of oxygen and/or other death blows. Rare is that magical Chateau Montelena 1973 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in 2003, that at 30 years of age was both too young and still the best wine ever to cross my lips. That was a wine for the long haul, that laughed at oxygen and pranced like a thoroughbred.

In relatively few wines, such as Sherry or Madeira, oxidation (to a point) is an asset. For most other wines, oxidation denotes deterioration caused by chemical changes. An oxidized wine smells and tastes like a stale Sherry, dull and lifeless; red wines become brickish-red and then slowly decay into brown, while whites simply darken into progressively brownish hues.

I have several very detailed and expensive books that dedicate numerous pages to explaining how the reaction of oxygen with various constituents of wine results in the loss of electrons and increase in valence and one thing becomes another which then becomes another and combines with or reacts to something else that wasn't there before. It is all mathematical and precise, but it isn't nearly as poetic as saying that the wine lost its fruity identity, darkened into the reddish-browns of a Gobi dust storm, and succumbed to the ravages of oxygen's rape.

Yet the chemist's precision is reality. The poetic attempt may be descriptive, but it explains nothing useful. Why did this mustang wine only begin to show signs of oxidation after 40 years? What was its secret?

I wish I knew more about the wine itself, how it was made, how it was stored. Its bottle was encrusted with a patina worthy of a limestone cellar and earthen floor. The screw cap had been cleaned only enough to prevent accidental contamination of the wine when the cap was removed. There was a thin layer of sludge on the bottom which had become a fixture; it did not stir when the wine was poured. These observations, along with the taste, aroma and color, offer clues enough to speculate.

It is generally accepted that wines with a low pH are more capable of extended aging than less acidic wines. Few grapes anywhere in the world are as acidic as the mustang. Just picking a lug of this grape can leave the softer skin between the fingers red, rashed and itchy for up to two weeks. The juice demands amelioration, lest it blister the inside of the mouth.

High levels of phenolics, especially pigmented tannins, tannin-polysaccharides, tannin- proteins, colloids, and anthocyanins, act as preservatives and increase a wine's ability to age. While I have never seen a chemical breakdown of the phenols in mustang grapes, you can taste them as clearly as you can taste the chocolate on an eclair.

I doubt this wine ever saw the inside of a barrel. Had it done so, I'm fairly certain it would have plunged into undrinkable oblivion long before now. Barrels allow greater oxygenation than this wine was ever exposed to. Barrels, even the very best oak, respire, allowing some volume - probably more water than wine -- to be lost to evaporation through microscopic channels while oxygen travels the opposite way to work its magic within. No, this mustang spent most of its life under an airlock or under a screw cap.

Generally, we say that the ratio of sugars, acids and phenolics to water is a key determinate of how well a wine might age. Partially raisined grapes contain less water than optimally ripe grapes and the resulting wine should have greater aging potential. I have an old friend who knows some vines upon which mustangs hang far longer than is common, and he makes awesome wine from their slightly shriveled berries. But even he ameliorates his mustang juice to dilute the acidity; you simply have to. How much water is the critical key. I suspect this mustang was ameliorated less than is usual, and that helped it attain a long life.

As red wines age, the harsh tannins of its youth gradually bind together into chains too long to remain in suspension and precipitate out of the wine. The result is a softer mouthfeel and loss of youthful color. Affected by gravity, the tannin chains slowly accumulate on the bottom of the wine. Complex chemical reactions, some of which are oxygen-induced, turn the remaining suspended pigments reddish-brown.

Visible sediment in the bottle usually indicates a mature to past mature wine. This loss of tannin leaves the wine softer, less astringent. The wine tastes less acidic even though the total pH remains about the same. This mustang was at about this point in terms of acidity, but in other areas it had slipped over the edge and was deteriorating. It was simply doing so very slowly or had only recently begun its slide. Just which is impossible for me to say.

Eventually, esters form, are released into the small atmosphere within the bottle, and are later reabsorbed. If the wine is not opened while they are volatile, one would probably not know they were ever there. But certain chemical processes say they were. And after they are reabsorbed they become something else. The chemistry doesn't seem to stop changing. Eventually, aldehydes oxidize and new aromas are produced. They may or may not be pleasant, but the wine itself no longer is enjoyable.

This mustang wine was not anywhere close to being this far gone. It was slightly oxidized, but still retained a mustang identity. It was sliding, but just barely. It was still an enjoyable wine after 40 years, and for a homemade wine from a native grape, that is quite remarkable.

January 27th, 2010

I received good feedback on my last WineBlog entry. It pleases me to know it was helpful to some folks out there. I hope some gave to Haiti relief. But beware of scams. The sharks always move in on a disaster (see link following entry). That's why I did the research and decided I would give to and recommend Food for the Poor (see link following entry). The reason I like it is two-fold. First, it is among the top ten charities with the most consecutive 4-star ratings by Charity Navigator (and the only one on that list whose mission is feeding the starving), and secondly because only 2.3% of all funds it raises are spent in administrative and fundraising costs. Compare this to the American Red Cross, which spends 9.9% of the funds it receives on administrative and fundraising costs. This is not nearly as bad as some, which spend as much as 68% in administrative costs (see link following entry).

I recommend against "text to donate" appeals. Yes, some are well known and totally legit, but they will not get your donation until you receive your telephone or cellular bill and pay it, which could be as long as a month from now. The donations are needed NOW. If you are moved to donate, make your donation work immediately and give it to aid, not high administrative costs.

Pomelo Wine

I was recently asked for a recipe for pomelo wine. I have always known this fruit as pummelo or red shaddock in the States or buoi da xanh in Vietnam, but pomelo is also correct. The pomelo (Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis) is a citrus fruit native to South East Asia. It is usually light green to yellowish-green to yellow when ripe, with sweet white flesh and very thick rind. Some varieties have pink or red flesh. It is the largest citrus fruit, 6-10 inches in diameter and typically 2 to 4 1/2 pounds in weight, although Pomelos have weighed in at a hefty 20 pounds and were as big as basketballs! The flesh is sweet, with a hint of mild grapefruit flavor but without the bitterness. In Vietnam I was taught to dip the fresh sections in a salt-sugar-chili powder mixture before eating.


Pomelo pulp must be cleaned of any pith or membrane

The precise number of natural citrus species is unknown, but taxonomists are largely in agreement that C. aurantifolia (key lime), C. maxima (pomelo), C. medica (citron), and C. reticulata (tangerine) are probably the original species of the genus. All other citrus (bitter orange, sweet orange, grapefruit, Persian lime, Imperial lime, kaffir lime, limetta, lemon, Meyer lemon, rangpur, clementine, Satsuma, tangelo, orangelo, kinnow, ugli, and many, many more) are either proto-species or hybrids. I mention all of this simply to point out that the pomelo, while not nearly as well known as many of the citrus hybrids, is almost certainly one of the four (or five) natural citrus species. It therefore deserves our respect.

The pomelo fruit has three distinct parts - four if we include the seed. The peeling in relatively thin and can be used for zest, either fresh or dried. The flesh is sectional, like grapefruit, oranges and tangerines. Between the two is a thick, spongy, extremely bitter pith which must be separated from the flesh before it can be eaten and pared from the peeling before the latter can be used in cooking or flavorings. Any thick membranes between sections will be bitter and should be peeled away before sections are eaten. If this seems like a lot of work, it really isn't. And the sweetness of the pulp is worth whatever work is involved.

Pomelos must be peeled completely before the sections are juiced. Since there is no "average" size for the fruit, the fruit must be juiced for measuring quantity for wine. The recipe below makes one gallon.

Primary after 18 hours

Pinapple-Coconut Juice Mead; note the 1-gallon mark

Before we go to the recipe, I'd like to say a few words about primaries. Every winemaker should have a variety of primary fermentation vessels. For 5- and 6-gallon batches, 6 1/2- and 8-gallon food-grade plastic buckets suit the bill and can be obtained, often for free, at bakeries, donut shop, feed stores, and various other businesses that receive food, confections, nuts, grains, and seeds in them. Smaller buckets, all the way down to 1 1/2 gallons, can be obtained free or for a small charge at some of those same businesses. For 1- and 2-gallon batches, I like to use a 3-gallon glass canister jar, seen above. Because the jar isn't graduated, I previously poured one gallon of water into the jar and marked the jar appropriately. A similar mark is on the opposite side, obscured by the label, marking the 2-gallon level. You should similarly mark your primaries so when you need to add "water to make up 1 gallon" or some other amount, you know exactly where to add water to. Just a recommendation....

Pomelo Wine Recipe

  • 1 quart + 1 1/2 cups pomelo juice
  • 1 11 1/2 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 1/2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed
  • Water to make up 1 gallon
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet any Champagne wine yeast

Begin a starter solution with the yeast and set aside. In primary, combine all ingredients except yeast starter solution and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast in starter solution, stir and re-cover the primary while vigorous fermentation builds. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer wine into secondary and seal with airlock. Wait 6 weeks and then rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait another 6 weeks and rack into secondary containing one finely crushed Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate, top up again and reattach airlock. Wait 30 days; wine should be clear and can be sweetened to taste or bottled dry. If not clear, stir in 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme and wait additional 30-45 days. [Author's own recipe]

Fish Tacos

My wife makes killer fish tacos. We try to use kingfish or red drum caught fresh in the Gulf, but have used tilapia, catfish, pollock, and other fish from the market. My wife is in California and not here to make her tacos, but last weekend I was steered to a recipe that looked so good I went to the supermarket, bought a pound of tilapia and came home to make it. After playing with the recipe a bit to personalize it to my liking, I made some to-die-for fish tacos. Here's my recipe. Personalize it to your heart's desire.

  • FISH:
    • 1 pound tilapia fillets
    • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 tablespoon melted butter
    • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
    • 1/2 cup shredded cabbage
    • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
    • 4 radishes, shredded
    • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • SAUCE:
    • 1/3 cup light sour cream
    • 2 tablespoons chili sauce or salsa
    • 2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro
    • 1 green onion, minced
    • 1 small tomato, diced
    • half avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
    • 1/2 cup grated pepper jack cheese

Pat dry fish fillets; arrange on foil-lined baking sheet. Brush with melted butter. In small bowl, combine chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper; sprinkle over fish. Broil until fish flakes easily when tested, about 5 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, in another small bowl, combine shredded carrot, cabbage, radishes, red onion, and lime juice. Toss to mix.

In third small bowl, combine sour cream, chili sauce or salsa, minced cilantro, and minced green onion. Stir until mixed.

Break fish into bite-sized chunks; divide among 8 small flour or corn tortillas. Cover fish with stuffing, dapple with sauce, and top with diced tomato, avocado and grated cheese.

Makes 4 diet-sized servings or two satisfying ones. Enjoy.

January 30th, 2010

Very strange things are happening to my computer. I think it's time for a new one.

Wednesday evening I posted a new WineBlog entry. Within it I failed to close an HTML font formatting tag (a tag turning on italics). I also forgot to upload an image file called by the entry (the photo of the pomelo) - further proof that I should not type an entry while watching the President give his State of the Union address. I spotted both mistakes as soon as the file was uploaded and I opened it, but for some reason I was locked out of my website's access. In other words, the site would not allow me to log into it and post a corrected entry or upload the missing image file.

I tried for over five hours to discover the source of the problem and finally went to bed because Thursday was a work day. Thursday evening I again worked on the problem and eventually discovered that a .dll file called by my FTP program had somehow gotten corrupted. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the disc the program came on and eventually found and reinstalled it. Everything loaded fine and I uploaded the corrections to Wednesday's WineBlog entry. Most of you really don't care about this but some do because I received nearly a dozen emails and two phone calls telling me my last WineBlog entry was messed up. I thank those few for caring.

I began this intro by saying strange things are happening to my computer. The corruption of a .dll file while using or closing it is but one example. I won't bore you with others except to say there are others. A new Dell is on it's way.

Apples and Cheese

Many times I have promoted belonging to a winemaking or wine appreciation club, guild or circle. I belong to the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. I have been a member of other organizations, but SARWG is local and the members are real people, each and every one a treasure to know in his or her own right. At one of our meetings we had a theme wine tasting - Italian or German or some such thing - and the host placed small plates of thin apple slices on each tasting table. These, he announced, were for cleansing the palate between wines. Someone asked, why not sourdough bread or cheese? Good question, and one that led to the most important thing I learned that day.

One of our members is a wine salesman. He drives around a defined area of Texas and does impromptu wine tastings with restaurant and wine shop owners, and others who serve or sale wine to customers. The idea is that they will like what they taste and buy some of his wines. He told us a very interesting thing.

If you cleanse the palate between tastings with cheese, you desensitize the taste buds slightly with a small amount of salt in the cheese and then coat them with a very fine layer of fat (oil). Together, these mask many of the finer imperfections in a wine and make them taste okay. Sourdough bread or biscuits are actually better cleansers and allow you to taste more subtleties in the wine than do cheeses.

Fresh apple, especially Winesap, Granny Smith or other tart varieties, introduces malic acid which actually cleanses away the taste of the last wine and stimulates, freshens and enlivens the taste buds for the next sample. You will taste each wine in a flight (series) as if it were the first. "In the business," he said, "we say buy with apple, sell with cheese. Wineries serve cheeses in their tasting rooms and sell a lot of wine. If you want to see the tasting room manager wince, pull out a ZipLoc bag of thin apple slices and stay away from the cheese."

I might never have learned this if I were not a member of the Wine Guild and had attended that meeting. But my underlying point is that I pick up at least one such gem of knowledge at each meeting. And we freely share our winemaking secrets and seek out solutions to stubborn problems we might be encountering. It isn't uncommon for a member to pull out a bottle and say, "I've got this 6-month old blackberry that leaves a funny little taste in the back of the mouth and I just can't figure out what is causing it." Well, when 6 winemakers with 170 collective years of winemaking experience hold out their glasses, the cause and the fix will very likely be found.

Join a club. If you can't find one, start one. It will improve your knowledge and skills, and you'll meet some nice people.

Corn Sugar and Corn Syrup

A reader recently asked if one could use corn sugar in wine and if so how much. The answer is yes you can and the conversion ratio for fermentation is 1:1. For sweetening a wine after fermentation, corn sugar may not be nearly as sweet as other common sugars such as cane sugar or beet sugar.

Corn sugar is a natural sweetener made by extracting starch from kernels of corn and refining it into a solid sugar called dextrose or a thick liquid known as corn syrup in which the dextrose is converted into a fructose-glucose mixture. Both corn syrup and corn sugar are routinely used in many culinary recipes as well as in the creation of a number of mass produced food products. Corn sugar is slightly yellow and usually refined to a little larger crystal than refined cane sugar. Many experts agree that regular corn sugar provides a little more than half the sweetness provided by the same amount of white refined cane or beet sugar. However, gram for gram it will ferment into the same amount of alcohol as cane sugar.

Corn syrup is a different matter. In recent years the trend has been to make corn syrup as a high fructose syrup to overcome the reduced sweetness of regular corn syrup. I know in baking they say don't replace more than half of the required sugar in any recipe with corn syrup and to substitute 1 1/2 cups corn syrup for each cup of granulated sugar to overcome the lessened sweetness (and, reduce another liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup). I have never run across a reliable conversion for cane sugar to corn syrup in winemaking or brewing, but I would think one would have to increase the amount by the percentage of water in the syrup. I just don't know how much that is. A website on making liqueurs says to use twice as much corn syrup as you would cane syrup, but the goal there is to mask the taste of vodka, not feed a fermentation. If anyone wishes to volunteer knowledge in this area, I'll pass it on.

Non-White Sugar in Strawberry Wine

I have previously written here about non-white sugars and of course I have a whole section on sugars elsewhere on my site. Despite these attempts to educate my readers, there are still those who will not explore the website beyond the winemaking recipes or simply use the site's search engine. However, a recent question struck me just right and so I don't mind retracing previous steps.

A reader mentioned that he had tasted a strawberry wine I entered (and won Best of Show) in the Kerr County Fair at Kerrville, Texas. He claimed it was the best strawberry wine he had ever tasted and recalled that I mentioned using a special sugar in it, which accounted for the different taste. He now has 12 pounds of strawberries frozen in his freezer and wants to attempt making that wine.

Here's the rub. That competition was in 2001. I'm not even sure I have the wine log for that batch. If I do, it's been packed away in a box in the garage ever since our flood (broked pipe) in 2008 and I have no desire to try to find it right now. However, I do know that I love to use Demerara sugar in strawberry wine and probably did so then. But I could have used any number of non-white sugars, as these tend to enhance strawberry wine flavor over white granulated can sugar.

dark brown sugar demerara sugar light brown sugar maltose

Dark Brown Sugar, Demerara Sugar, Light Brown Sugar, Maltose, Maple Sugar

muscovado sugar palm sugar piloncillo sugar sucanat turbinado sugar

Muscovado Sugar, Palm Sugar, Piloncillo Sugar, Sucanat (Raw) Sugar, Turbinado Sugar

Notes: Brown sugar can be dark or light or golden based on the amount of molasses in it. Maltose can be sold in crystalline or non-solid (paste or thick liquid) form. Muscovado sugar is also known as Barbados sugar. Palm sugar is also known as Jaggery; while usually sold as blocks or cakes, it will crumble when broken up. Sucanat is raw (unrefined) sugar.

I would not have used the darker sugars in strawberry wine. My preference would have been Demerara and then Turbinado. If I had it (I doubt that I did) I might have used Maple Sugar or Jaggery (Palm Sugar).

Demerara is a type of unrefined sugar with a large grain and light brown to pale yellow. It comes from sugar cane which has already been pressed to removed most of its sweet juice. The pressed cane is then steamed to extract any remaining juice that forms a thick cane syrup. The syrup is dehydrated to form large golden brown crystals that are rich and creamy.

Turbinado is made by pressing freshly cut sugar cane. The juice obtained is reduced by evaporation from heat until it crystallizes. The crystals are rich in molasses and so are spun in a centrifuge or turbine (thus the name). This removes excess moisture and molasses. The result is large, light brown crystals with a hint (but not the taint) of molasses.

My recipes for strawberry wine are posted elsewhere (see link following this entry). Simply select one you like and substitute Demerara or Turbinado Sugar 1 for 1 for the granulated or light brown sugar called for.

February 5th, 2010

I was very pleased to read what Charlie Suehs wrote about the WineBlog after reprinting (with permission) part of my January 21st entry, "A Lesson About Oxidation"; "It is perhaps the most intelligent winemaking source on the internet." Thank you Charlie. I hope you can always say that.

Charlie is a well-known Texas winemaker and author of a self-published pamphlet, "Winemaking for Serious Amateurs." If you are interested in a copy, write directly to Charlie at cfoxbcowsuehs@dogsuehs.catnet (carefully remove all 3-lettered mammals from the address to write to Charlie). I refer to it myself.

Jackfruit Wine

Last year I made a jackfruit wine and began drinking it last month. Bottled slightly sweet at a specific gravity of 1.010, the wine's unique and inviting flavor makes a nice dessert accompaniment. It was reviewed very favorably by those who tried it and I am quite proud of this wine.

The jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is a species of tree in the mulberry family native to South and Southeast Asia. Its fruit are the largest tree borne fruit in the world, seldom less than about 10 inches in diameter. The largest jackfruit variety can weigh between 33 and 88 pounds, but most are much smaller. Jackfruit flesh is starchy and fibrous, rich in vitamin C and manganese and is a good energy food. Unripe fruit can be eaten after cooking; ripe fruit can be eaten raw. They are an important food wherever grown. Archeological findings have revealed that jackfruit were cultivated in India 3000 to 6000 years ago.

woman with jackfruit cut jackfruit canned jackfruit

Whole jackfruit (courtesy of virtualherbarium.org), halved, and canned sections

The fruit does not travel great distances well and so can only be found fresh in U.S. markets at great expense due to the necessity of flying it here. I bought the fruit canned in light syrup from a Thai grocer at a reasonable price. I used four 20-ounce cans, including the syrup. Unfortunately, I only had four cans and only made a gallon.

Jackfruit Wine Recipe

  • 4 20-oz cans jackfruit sections
  • 11.5 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb 3 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • Water to 1 gallon
  • 1 Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet Sauternes wine yeast

Drain the fruit but retain both the fruit and the syrup. Slice the fruit sections and place in primary in nylon straining bag. Dissolve sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient in 1/2 gallon of water. Pour over fruit and add thawed grape juice concentrate and jackfruit syrup. Remove bag of fruit just long enough to add additional water to make up one gallon of liquid. Replace bag of fruit and add finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Cover the primary and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. Ride out the vigorous fermentation and when it subsides remove and discard the fruit and transfer wine to secondary. Attach airlock and set aside 30 days. Rack, top up and replace airlock. Repeat racking after 2 months; wine should be clear but may require one additional racking in 30-45 days. Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet and wait 30 days. Sweeten as desired, wait additional 30 days and bottle wine. Can be consumed after 90 days but is improved at 6 months.. [Author's own recipe]

Sweet Wines, Dessert Wines

In the previous topic I mentioned that the Jackfruit Wine I made was bottled slightly sweet at a specific gravity of 1.010 and that the wine's unique and inviting flavor makes a nice dessert accompaniment. Am I saying this is a dessert wine? No. What I am saying is that it is neither a wine you would drink by itself - a social wine - nor a wine you would drink with the main course of a meal - a table wine. While it could be consumed as a dessert wine, it is neither sweet enough nor high enough in alcohol to strictly qualify as a dessert wine. So what is the difference?

There are many different opinions as to what differentiates a sweet wine from a dessert wine, but there is a larger consensus than not that a wine becomes "sweet" at 2% residual sugar and almost unanimous agreement that at 3% residual sugar any wine is "sweet." In terms of specific gravity, a 12% alcohol wine is "sweet" at 1.008. Here we are speaking of a table wine, but it could be a social wine as well.

A dessert wine will typically have more than 14.5% alcohol (port style wines have 18% or more alcohol) and in the neighborhood of 7% (s.g. of 1.025) or more residual sugar. Syrupy dessert wines have 10% or more residual sugar. Sweetness is obtained by stopping the fermentation quite prematurely, usually by fortifying what would otherwise be a low- alcohol beverage, or allowing a higher alcohol content to develop, stopping fermentation and then adding sweet grape or fruit juice, sugar, or both. There are other ways to predictably stop fermentation but they are difficult without a decent laboratory to accurately monitor a wine's fermentation progress.

Sweet wines, and here I include dessert wines, are somewhat easy to make but difficult to make well. I will explain. Many winemakers make a batch of dry wine and draw off a portion of it to chaptalize into a sweet wine. Such wines can usually be spotted easily because the dry wines are usually balanced while their sweet versions are not. Imbalance increases when the wine is chaptalized further and perhaps fortified to make a dessert wine. These wines are spotted in competitions because the same wine is entered as a dry, a sweet and a dessert wine. The problem is one of balance. Adding sugar, either as a sweet juice or refined solid, usually demands an increase in acidity to balance the elevated sugar. Small increases in tannin might also improve the sweetened wine.

I have a friend whose sweet wines tasted a bit "funny." At first I could not identify the taste, but finally I decided it was glycerine. He confirmed it. I asked how much he added and he said he added something like 2 teaspoons to each bottle prior to filling it with wine. I was horrorfied. One to 1 1/2 teaspoons per gallon is more than enough to increase body while adding to a perception of sweetness, but you must not add an amount that reaches or exceeds the taste detection threshold. Plus, many yeasts can be tricked into making more natural (and fully integrated) glycerol.

To trick a yeast into creating more glycerol, it is first necessary to select a strain noted for glycerol production. All yeasts produce some, but Gervin Varietal A, Lalvin S6U and Lalvin W15 are noted high producers of glycerol. If one adds 6 grams of bentonite per gallon to the must as fermentation approaches vigor, most of the active yeast will settle to the bottom within 3-5 days; careful racking will leave most of the yeast behind and fermentation will practically cease. If the wine is where you want it to be in terms of alcohol and residual sugar, you can sulfite to 50 ppm, stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon, refrigerate the wine to 36-40 degrees F. and either fortify the wine or not. If the wine is not where you want it to be, aerate it a bit while racking but do not stabilize, and the yeast will begin reproducing once again. Fermentation will resume slowly, but as it does the yeast will be pumping out additional glycerol and nutrients will be used up more quickly, making it easier to arrest fermentation later should you want to.

Remember, every wine, whether dry, sweet or dessert, should be balanced. Simply sweetening a dry wine to enter into a sweet wine competition category is not enough. Other constituents, especially acidity and tannin, should be increased to yield balance. Balance is far more difficult to achieve for dessert wines, but certainly is not beyond the skills of even a novice. Simply draw off a known percentage of the wine, bring it to balance using your taste buds as your guides while recording what you do, and then scale up the additions for the rest of the wine. Ancient winemakers did it. You can too.

February 13th, 2010

I spent a few hours this week discussing both well-known and little-known grape varieties with people wanting to make wines that taste like two classic blends. The wines they sought to emulate are Chianti and Châteauneuf de Pape. The first traditionally was 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 15% Malvasia bianca; today Sangiovese is still the base but other grapes are allowed. Châteauneuf de Pape is a blend of any of 13 authorized and controlled varieties - predominately Grenache, but also containing Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Cournoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Picardan, and Vaccarese. There was little point to the discussions, as each of the participants would have to substitute many of the grapes involved to make anything close. But if they are simply after the style (assuming, of course, that the taste was close), then substitution is certainly allowed.

I could have waited a couple of hours to post this entry and dated it on Saint Valentine's Day. I didn't want to wait, but wish all my readers a happy Valentine's Day nonetheless.

I have two topics, below. Each is about wine problems, either directly or indirectly. I hope you take something worthwhile from them.

Sluggish Canned Blackberry Wine

A few days ago a reader wrote that he had followed one of my recipes to the "T" and after a month the specific gravity had only dropped from 1.110 to 1.046. After several email exchanges, he finally admitted he did two things different - he used Lalvin RC212 yeast instead of Red Star Montrachet and added Bentonite before pitching the yeast. "All the red wine kits do it," he said. And so I had to explain to him why his fermentation is slower than a snails' race and how to correct it overnight.

He used the canned blackberry wine recipe below, but added the Bentonite. I'm sure most, if not all, of my readers know that Bentonite is a very fine clay-like material primarily used as a fining agent to achieve protein stability in white wines. It consists of complex, hydrated, aluminum silicate with negatively charged, exchangeable, cationic components. It can contain calcium or sodium, but the latter is more effective for winemaking. It hydrates better and has more reactive surface area per clay platelet than the calcium form.

Hydrated Bentonite consists of flat platelets which absorb positively charged particles from the must or wine. In white wines these are primarily proteins which can cloud a wine after chilling, but it also attracts other positively charged components such as anthocyanins (pigments), other phenolics and nitrogen. Bentonite works rather quickly in attracting these components, but it takes gravity a while to drag the extremely fine platelets to the bottom, especially while active fermentation keeps the must stirred up.

Because Bentonite is very effective at removing nitrogen from the must, when added at any time before or during fermentation you must also use a nitrogen rich yeast nutrient. Also, Lalvin RC212, while a very fine yeast for blackberry, requires high nitrogen nutrient additions to avoid the potential development of H2S. Kit manufacturers that have you add Bentonite up front do so to aid in rapid clearing of the wine. They also use a nitrogen-rich yeast nutrient so as to avoid sluggish fermentations and use yeast strains that are not big nitrogen users. I told him he could solve his problem by adding 1/2 teaspoon of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) or Fermaid 2133. If he didn't have either of these, another teaspoon of his regular yeast nutrient would probably work fine.

Here is the recipe he used, only I am posting it as I wrote it, not as he modified it. There is nothing wrong with tweaking recipes. They are, after all, guidelines. But when you tweak them, make sure you understand the consequences of the changes you make. By the way, if I were going to tweak this recipe, I would increase the can size from 16 to 20 ounces, reduce the sugar by 6 ounces and only add the syrup from one of the cans. I would freeze the rest in case I wanted to sweeten the wine after fermentation and stabilization. The blackberry flavor would be stronger and the alcohol content less. I have made it this way several times, but just haven't rewritten the recipe.

Canned Blackberry Wine

  • 2 16-oz cans blackberries in light syrup
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 qts water
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Heat water, but do not boil. Drain syrup from fruit and set syrup aside. Put fruit in nylon straining bag, tie end closed, set in primary. Add sugar to hot water and stir well to dissolve sugar. Add syrup from fruit. Pour the water/syrup over fruit in primary, cover with clean cloth and allow to cool to room temperature (about 4 hours). Add remaining ingredients except yeast and recover primary. Wait 12 hours, add yeast and recover. Let ferment 5 days, punching bag down twice a day. Measure specific gravity. When S.G. reaches 1.020, drip drain (but don't squeeze) the bag of fruit. Discard fruit or save it for jam. Allow wine to settle overnight and rack into secondary. Top up and fit airlock. Rack after 2 months and again after additional 2 months. If certain fermentation has ceased, bottle. If not certain, either wait another 2 months and rack into bottles or stabilize, wait 10 days, and rack into bottles. This wine may be tasted young, but will be much better after 9 months. [Author's own recipe]

When to Pull the Plug

Another reader asked me to comment on when to pull the plug on a wine or mead. He said he wasn't sure when to give it more time, when to dump it or do something else. It's a good question, and a tough one even for a commercial winemaker to answer. It's especially tough for the home winemaker without an in-house lab, but I will give you my thoughts.

First of all, I have to admit that I'm really the last person who should be answering this question. I only pull the plug when a batch has undeniably gone south for eternity. That means a spoilage bacteria has crossed the Rubicon before I knew it existed; detection of advanced mercaptan formation that resists elemental copper or copper sulfate treatment; an ethyl or diethyl sulfide or diethyl disulfide presence (detectable burnt rubber odor); an aggressive case of acetaldehyde (Sherry odor) that defies treatment with potassium caseinate; ethyl acetate (nail polish remover) odor; 2,4,6 trichloro anisole (TCA) presence; ethoxy hexadiene (geranium odor) detected; aggressive Brettanomyces contamination - these are reasons I dump a wine. With the exception of watermelon musts, which spoil more often than not, I have experienced most of these rarely and one (TCA) never. Most of these are prevented by aseptic levels of sulfur dioxide; all are prevented by good winemaking practices (except spoilage of watermelon must, which is just a matter of losing a race against time).

Back before I really understood all that much about the chemistry of winemaking, I had a plum wine steadily ferment at an almost imperceptible level of progress for three years. I finally bought "First Steps in Winemaking" and discovered potassium sorbate. I bought some from a druggist and put the few surviving yeast cells out of their misery when the wine dipped a hair's thickness below 1.014 on my hydrometer. According to C.J.J. Berry, that wine had 10% alcohol and could stand on its own feet. But I have never had a wine that contained as much dissolved CO2 as that wine. I degassed it with a wooden dowel for two days. My point? Anyone else probably would have given up on it two years earlier, but I hung in there out of ignorance and nursed a pretty good wine out of those plums. Since then I've never given up on a wine due to time.

As long as an unfinished wine is fermenting, it has a chance. If it is sulfited appropriately, it has a 98% or better chance of finishing the race unscathed. And, sulfite will preserve it while you try a few things that might solve whatever problem you think you might have. Wine is very forgiving if you don't do anything really stupid. Just pay attention and stay the course.

February 20th, 2010

Awww man, it happened again, but this time no one told for a whole week; my RSS feed's links to my last two WineBlog entries were to old entries. My bad! I'm sorry. It happens. I said it wouldn't happen again but I was wrong. But it's fixed. I will try to be a better editor. I will probably fail. Please let me know when this happens. My email is jackredkellerwhitewine@gbluemail.com (remove the patriotic colors from the address).

Not knowing my bad, my wife bought me a heavenly treat, a pound of genuine, certified, Jamaican Blue Mountain #1 coffee. This isn't the fake stuff from Kona or wherever, and not the Triage blend that allows up to 4% defective beans and sells for $20 a pound, but the real, 17/20 select, $40-$60 a pound stuff that Hugo Reyes (Hurley, on Lost) would pay $1,000 a cup for. I am nursing a cup right now. I have no idea what I did to deserve this, but I hope I do it again.

Bentonite - To Use or Not

In my last WineBlog entry I mentioned a potential sluggishness problem when fining with Bentonite. At least two of you over-reacted. Please re-read the entry. The potential problem exists when using a yeast strain with high nitrogen needs. Most yeast strains are not affected but listed below are some that are. Perhaps more importantly, there are other things you should know about Bentonite. Used correctly, it can be among your best winemaking friends.

First, some of the strains that require a high nitrogen nutrient (especially so if using Bentonite with the fermentation). All strains listed are Lalvin: BA11, BDX, BM45, BRL97 (moderate needs), CSM, CY3079, ICV-D47, ICV-GRE, K1-V1116, L2226, M1, M2 (moderate needs), RA17, RC212, T306, W15, and W46 (moderate needs). Few yeast manufacturers are as forthcoming with information on their strains and their needs as is Lallemand (Lalvin) - one of the reasons I buy their yeast. As for high nitrogen nutrients, every winemaker should have one on hand [Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) works just fine, thank you]. In 90% of all cases of sluggish fermentation, adding DAP is the cheapest way to overcome the problem, and with the strains listed above it is the cheapest way to prevent a problem.

None of the worry about Bentonite causing a sluggish fermentation is even relevant if you don't add it to a must before or during fermentation. If it strips nitrogen from a finished wine, who cares? [Okay, there is a very small downside with regard to potential complexity development during aging, but very small are the operative words.]

There are essentially two kinds of Bentonite marked for winemakers. One requires extended hydration - you normally whip up a slurry with hot water at least the day before use and let it rest 24 to 48 hours before re-stirring and adding while stirring. A more convenient, agglomerated type requires little rest after hydrating with cold water and can be added almost immediately -- while stirring. But you must read and follow the directions that come with the Bentonite you purchase. If there are no directions, always assume it is the first type, whip up a slurry with hot water, let it sit at least 24 hours (48 is better), re-stir, and add it to your must or wine slowly while stirring.

Things I like about Bentonite are (1) for white wines, it is unsurpassable in achieving clarity and protein stability; (2) it is least likely of all the common fining agents to strip out color; (3) it is almost impossible to "over-fine" with Bentonite but easy to do with many other fining agents; (4) when time is allowed for gravity to exert itself, every tiny particle of Bentonite will settle into the lees and is one less thing to worry about.

What Fruit Do You Eat?

Seven of us at work were discussing fresh fruit. Only two of us ate fresh fruit every single day and I was the only one that eats -- sometimes three -- two portions of fresh fruit each day. I eat a banana on the way to work or before I have my coffee on weekends and have a second fresh fruit midway through the morning. I sometimes have a third portion mid-afternoon or as a dessert following my evening meal. But my interest here is the fruit we most frequently chose to eat as well as that we simply ignore.

The most frequently eaten fruit among us was the banana. However, each of us agreed that the flavor of supermarket bananas has declined considerably over the years. They are, in fact, pretty bland today. The second most popular fruit among us was the apple. This surprised me, as I infrequently eat apples because the flavors of supermarket apples pale in comparison to freshly picked ones. Actually, this can be said about most fruit (and vegetables). But apples are easy to carry, accept some traveling abuse, are easy to eat, and have predictable varietal flavors.

Oranges were third in popularity, although somewhat messy to eat. Peaches, seasonal berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.), grapes, plums, watermelon, tangerines, cantaloupes, nectarines, cherries, and pears were all mentioned, but I did not record the order of preference. However, my own second most frequently eaten fruit, depending on season, is peach, grapes, cherries, melons (all types), pears, plums, and a couple mentioned next. I mentioned pineapple, apricot, kiwi, pluot, mango, persimmon, pomegranate, fig, papaya, and several other fruit, but most of those present rarely bought these fruit fresh. Price, unfamiliarity or (in the case of pomegranates) messiness were cited as reasons for shying away from these fruit. However, everyone agreed to try new fruit every now and then just to experience them.

Comice pear

Comice pears are perfect dessert fruit

One fruit that actually ranked low but was still among the most frequently purchased was the pear. Chief complaint was the gritty texture of the flesh and inconsistency in flavor. I can guess which pear varieties my friends were referring to but no names were offered. I asked if they had tried Comice pears and no one believed they had. I had a monster of a Comice (weighed exactly one pound) in my office and left to retrieve it, a paring knife and some napkins. I began to cut each person a piece. Everyone noticed that with every cut juice flowed from the pear and through my hands. The napkins were very much a necessity. All six of my friends were delighted by the sweet, juicy, melting flesh. All asked where I obtained them. They are available from the most popular supermarket chain in Texas (HEB). You simply have to look for them. They are only in season about a month or two and cost a little more than the more common varieties, but they are well worth the investment in sheer delight. Although Comice pears are perfect dessert fruit, I eat mine at midmorning and relish every bite. If you find a Comice even the least bit gritty, you will also notice it lacks the juiciness and flavor I mentioned above because it is not fully ripe. When ripe, they are exquisite and make unforgettable wine.

A fruit no one mentioned is the gage - often referred to as the greengage but available in other colors and cultivar names. A gage is a variety of plum. The story goes that someone surnamed Gage (I have seen John, Thomas and William all cited) imported the 'Reine Claudes' plum from France in the 18th century; the trees lost their labels identifying the cultivar's name and took the name of their importer. Whatever the source of the name, plums that go by the name "gage" are consistently juicy, sweet and intensely flavorful. They also make exceptional wine.

Most had eaten an occasional fresh pineapple, but only those who had eaten freshly harvested ones in Hawaii, Mexico, or Central America truly understood how wonderful they really can taste and how rapidly they lose that ambrosiac flavor. A neighbor went to Hawaii several years ago and I asked her to buy me a fresh pineapple in the airport on her way home. She thought I was a bit nuts, but she arrived home with two - one for each of us - and said she never realized how wonderful pineapple could taste until she ate it at a roadside stand in front of a pineapple field. She ate it every day after that, and that is the pineapple you make heavenly wine from.

Nero di Terlizzi figs

Large and incredibly sweet Nero di Terlizzi figs

My wife has a love for figs that is unnatural. Among her favorites are Mission, Celeste, Brown Turkey, Black Ischia, Strawberry, Desert King, and Kadota. Fig wine is either simply good to magnificent. I have never tasted a bad fig wine, and last October I judged a competition in which a fig wine won Best of Show.

There are dozens of varieties of mango. Personally, I like the golden-yellow skinned Ataulfo mango, with its sweet, creamy flavor and bright yellow flesh. I also like the greenish-skinned Keitt, with its sweet, juicy and fruity flavored yellow flesh. By far the most commercially available cultivar in the United States and Europe is the Tommy Atkins, but it really does have inferior flavor and a very fibrous flesh.

Belle of Georgia peaches White Lady peaches

Wonderfully flavored Belle of Georgia and White Lady peaches

My preference for fresh fruit is a ripe, juicy, white fleshed peach. Two are attracted to my taste buds more than any other, First in my book is the incredible tasting Georgia Belle. I personally prefer it to any other peach but your taste buds may be calibrated differently. That's why there are so many varieties. My second choice is the aptly named White Lady. She is soft, she is creamy, she is juicy, she is sweet. Once you have tasted her, you want more. And her flavor is unforgetable. Better than the Belle? Only you can say.

But to be fair, there are other excellent white fleshed peaches. The home garden favorite, Champion, produces large fruit with a sweet, delicate flavor. Eden, another large white, is juicy, sweet and richly flavored. The Belle of Georgia (not the same peach as the Georgia Belle) has a wonderful flavor, but does not equal the Georgia Belle in my book. The very established Grosse Mignonne (a.k.a. Grimwood's Royal George) was introduced in 1667 and is an exceptional white fleshed peach, but difficult to find. J.M. Mack, Strawberry Free, White Champion and White Hale ate a few other whites I am familiar with, but I freely admit that there are hundreds of varieties I have never knowingly tasted, so there may be richer, more incredible flavors out there. If you have a favorite, let me know and I will try to find it to taste.

March 5th, 2010

I suffered an agonizing sequence of events! First, I got food poisoning from an egg salad sandwich I left out all day and then scarfed down without thinking. After three miserable days, I then rushed to complete and submit my retirement packet and supporting documents so I can step into freedom at the end of the month.

While that was happening, I finally received my Windows 7 upgrade and then spent hours trying to do simple things, like move my Favorites (haven't done it yet!), my address book (another not yet but I know how!) and dozens of simple things that would indeed be simple if Microsoft didn't keep changing the interface without issuing an operator's manual (remember the good old days?). Not a whole lot of time left over for winemaking, but there was some.

Sulfite Overdose

Blog ideas come from many places. Bob Toombs wrote about a customer who added a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite to a 5-gallon carboy of must. He had already written to Tim Vandergrift of WineExpert and their minds met on the "dump it" solution. I have to concur. It is possible to get the free sulfur (as SO2) down to a manageable level, but the bound sulfur level will be so high as to be disagreeable.

One-quarter teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite per 5-gallon batch is the correct dose. Exceed that at your peril. If you double it, you might pull off a recovery, but quadrupling it is just lethal for the batch. Accept it and dump it.

Recovery. You can stir with vigor for a long time, driving off the excess SO2. Applying a vacuum might accomplish the same thing. Alternatively, you can heat the must to drive out the SO2. But all things (but enthusiasm) in moderation.

Juicy Fruit Wine

You're going to laugh at me, but for many, many years I've tried to concoct a blend of fruit that tastes and smells like Juicy Fruit chewing gum. This quest is for my wife, who loves Juicy Fruit but will no longer chew it because Wrigley insists on loading it up with aspartame.

Thus far my must smells like Juicy Fruit. I have no idea what it tastes like. It has only been fermenting vigorously for 10 days, so it is far too early to taste it and declare success or failure. Certainly I am not going to publish the recipe until it proves itself, but I am willing to discuss what went into it.

I started with white grape juice and blended in apple juice, strawberries, kiwis, bananas, nectarines, and fresh pineapple. It doesn't have the strong aroma the gum has, but it does have it in a weaker form. Thus far, I am pleased. I am almost afraid to spoil the illusion by tasting it. I'll keep you posted.

March 7th, 2010

I will try to get a couple more WineBlog entries in before I vanish for a month or so, but I cannot guarantee it. I am preparing for retirement at the end of the month and the pace of things has picked up and is building considerably. Just cleaning out my office at work is turning out to be more of a job than I ever imagined. How does one manage to collect so many personal things at work?

In a week family and friends will start arriving and I will not have an opportunity to get back online for awhile. The last half of this month and the first half of next will be consumed by events and a seclusion with my wife at an island hide-away. I should be back online around April 20th.

I have been in the Army, affiliated with the Army or working for the Army since 1966. I am proud of my service and the men and women I served with. We defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and even the Russians will admit that that's saying something.


I received a phone call last night from a winemaker in Minnesota who has written me several times but has never received a reply. Well, that could be explained by the notice on my Home Page that boldly states, "If you insist, you may send me email, but I have almost zero free time and probably won't answer it. This is reality and I don't want you to write expecting an answer." (See above. It will get worse before it gets better.) However, since the gentleman went through the trouble of tracking down my phone number I could hardly refuse to assist him. His questions, however, were technical and I said I would answer them here.

Storage of Honey

A winemaker -- sometimes meadmaker -- asked why his light golden honey turned black, crystallized, and soured. Wow. Three big strikes against using that particular honey for mead and proof enough that honey is a perishable commodity with a variable shelf life. I don't know that anyone can predict the shelf life of a given honey as there are too many contributing causes of its deterioration. But we do know enough about honey to explain each of the changes that occurred in this instance.

First of all, honey, like most substances, reacts with oxygen and oxidizes. This partially explains the darkening. The rest of the explanation centers on diastase. Diastase is a α-, β- or γ-amylase capable of hydrolyzing starch into maltose and then dextrose. I am not at all conversant into why diastase is naturally in honey, but it is. Diastase is not stable over time, and this instability at normal storage temperatures contributes to the darkening of honey. There may be other contributors I am unaware of, but these two are well known. I too have kept honey so long that it turned black. It's quite disconcerting, but if the honey still tastes okay then it still has utility -- if not in meadmaking, then in cooking, baking and sweetening coffees and teas.

Crystallization or granulation of honey is not an uncommon sign of age. Honey granulates when dextrose begins solidifying around a microscopic dextrose crystal, a pollen grain, a dust particle, or some other attractive nuclei. It will begin crystallizing most effectively at temperatures between 41 and 45#176; F. and crystallize most rapidly between 50 and 60#176; F.

A critical component of honey is moisture. The best grade of honey will contain on average about 17.2% water by weight. Grade A and B must not contain more than 18.6% water. This is considered the upper limit for moisture content of unpasteurized honey, although Grade C honey can contain as much as 20%. There are specific reasons varietal honeys are not pasteurized (loss of volatile aromatic compounds being the most significant). All honeys contain some wild yeast. As long as the moisture content is below the critical 18.6% break point, osmosis creates dormancy conditions for wild yeast. When the moisture content rises above that number, some yeast may come out of dormancy and begin fermentation. Remember, please, that alcohol fermentation, where alcohol is the major byproduct, is but one of many types of fermentation (although other types are unlikely in a sugar-rich environment). While you certainly don't want other byproducts in your honey, you really don't want an alcohol fermentation to start either -- in a sealed bottle in your pantry -- do you? Think "big bang."

As honey crystallizes, moisture is expelled from the crystal lattices as they form and grow. The result is a separation of solid and liquid. It doesn't take much separation to raise the water content of the remaining liquid up into the 20-30% range (and higher!). This changing environment encourages fermentation. Even a small amount of alcohol in a jar that almost certainly contains a sufficient amount of air and oxygen can break down into acetic acid and water. The end result is a black, crystallized, sour honey.

So, one might ask, what is the best temperature for storing honey for long periods without these kinds of consequences? I have always been told that the best temperature for long term storage of honey is 0#176; F. or below. At this temperature, the honey will not lose color, aroma, flavor, or density. For short periods, say from one season to the next, storage between 61 and 80#176; F. is recommended. Above 80#176; and the honey will degrade rapidly.

There is probably more that could be said on this subject, but my knowledge is limited.

  • Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support

    March 10th, 2010

    If you did not previously read the introduction to my last (March 7, 2010) WineBlog entry, please do. Any day now events will intercede in my affairs and I will go into a month or so of inactivity. I do not want you to be mystified when this happens. I have explained it.

    I recommend you subscribe to this blog's RSS feed (click on the Subscribe link or button in the left column). That way you will be notified when I return. I don't want to lose you, and I hope you don't want to lose me.

    A Solera-Like Blending System

    A friend shared a wine with me last month that he said was a "special blend." It was quite good -- excellent, in fact. When I tactfully inquired as to the blending components ("Hey, Lou, what all's in this blend of yours?"), he pretended he didn't hear me. I let it go. Last night he called to apologize. Seems he couldn't remember that it was Mustang grape, more Mustang grape, another batch of Mustang grape, and a final batch of Mustang grape. But when he explained how he blended it, I said, "Oh, it's almost like a Solera system." "A what?" he asked.

    Seems he started with a 5-gallon batch of Mustang one year when the wild vines were particularly heavy with fruit. The next year he made a 3-gallon batch and a 1-gallon batch. From the 5-gallon batch of year one he drew off a gallon and bottled it, replacing the missing gallon with the single gallon from year two.

    The next year he made two gallons of Mustang. He also drew off and bottled two gallons from the year one 5-gallon carboy. He topped up the year one carboy with two gallons from the year two 3-gallon carboy, and topped up the latter with the new two gallons he had just made (year three).

    The following year he made another 3-gallons in single-gallon jugs. He also bottled another two gallons from the year one carboy, topped it off with wine from the year two carboy and topped up that one with two gallons from year four.

    The fifth year he made a single gallon of Mustang. He bottled another two gallons from the year one carboy, topped up that carboy from the year two 3-gallon carboy, and topped it up with the remaining gallon from year four and the single gallon he made in year five.

    His system is not as structured as a Solera system, but it essentially works the same way. In the fifth year he bottled a blend of four different years, each in a different stage of aging. It made for a very interesting wine that boasted both age and youth at the same time, with both smooth and vibrant tannins and a complexity rare in Mustang. It was very good. I thanked him profusely for sharing his secret with me, hoping the profusion was enough to earn more than just a taste of next year's bottling. We shall see.

    A 40-Year Old Mustang Wine Revisited

    Two months ago I wrote about a 40-year old Mustang we consumed at a San Antonio Regional Wine Guild meeting. At our February meeting, another bottle of the 40-year old Mustang was opened and we declared it barely drinkable due to acetic acid. While I was still trying to get my taste buds around it, our host dumped the bottle down the drain, produced yet another bottle, and that wine was moved to a decanter after passing the sniff test. Although all three bottles reportedly came from the same batch of Mustang, each tasted completely different from each other. The first bottle was trying to become sherry, the second vinegar, and the third was sweet, quite cloudy, but very drinkable. I have a theory that explains this.

    My best guess is that the must was heavily chaptalized but not well stirred, and that means that the sugar was not completely dissolved. In 1970, when this wine was made, it was quite common to chaptalize with 3 pounds of sugar per gallon of must. That will almost always leave a sweet wine, but especially so if the sugar is not completely dissolved so the yeast can ingest it.

    My guess is that when the wine was bottled, the first bottle[s] were pulled from the top where the wine was fairly dry. As more and more wine was removed, the remaining wine hugged the undissolved sugar on the bottom and each of the final bottles filled contained successively sweeter wine.

    This is just a guess, but a plausible one. But I'll say this for the deceased winemaker who left us his legacy; no matter how he did it back in 1970, he made some pretty darn good Mustang wine. I am still amazed it survived this long.

    March 13th, 2010

    I thank each of you who wrote with kind words about my recent article in WineMaker magazine. I had fun writing it and I thought the topic -- Yeast Selection for Country Wines -- was long overdue for a serious treatment. I am most pleased that the two pages of tables were published, as I spent a lot of time constructing them but knew they might be too large for the magazine's format. Thank you Chris for working them in.

    This issue (April-May 2010) of WineMaker magazine also had an article by Bob Peak on "Testing for Acidity." I had already spent about four hours researching and writing the entry below on titratable acidity when I read Bob's piece. I then checked one fact, changed one sentence and added two more to my own piece. Knowledge is where you find it, and thank you Bob for your well-written article.

    Changing topics, a truly great citizen, fierce warrior and selfless individual passed away in Waco, Texas just before Christmas. I was busy then, driving from San Bernardino, California to Fort Mohave, Arizona and missed the news. In the following days we celebrated Christmas without the distractions of TV, radio or the internet -- just family enjoying family. I therefore missed the tributes to Robert (Bob) L. Howard, Colonel, US Army (Retired), Medal of Honor recipient, and the most decorated American soldier of the modern era. Thank you Steve for the clip below. Thank you Bob for the honor of being graced by your shadow.

    Titrating Red Wine

    I cannot say how many times people have written to me complaining that they cannot see the slight change in color when titrating a red wine to measure titratable acidity (TA), but I can assure you it has been many times. The problem, of course, is that while titration causes a white wine to permanently change from white to slightly pink when the end-point is reached, the color shift in red wine is negligible at best and undetectable at worse. What then is the poor winemaker to do?

    First, it is important to understand several aspects of titration. We titrate to measure the amount of acid in a must or wine because we can utilize this knowledge to our benefit. Because it is a measure, it is a number which we refer to as TA for titratable acidity -- you can think of it as total acidity if you want, but that is both technically and factually incorrect. Titratable acidity is always a lower number than total acidity because the latter includes complete (ionic) as well as dissociated compounds while the former only relates to dissociated compounds. The number we end up with for TA may be expressed a whole number representing grams of acid per unit of volume (usually the liter), such as TA 6.5 (6.5 g/L) or as a percentage (TA .65%) cited as tartaric acid. Either number is fine for our purposes.

    TA affects a wine's balance and taste. A wine with too little acid tastes flat, lifeless and inconsequential, while too much acid tastes overly sour in some way (a lemon tastes sour one way, while a green apple tastes sour in a completely different way -- each taste determined by the principle acid affecting the taste buds, and in these instances being citric and malic acids, respectively). TA, in conjunction with tannic content, also contributes to a wine's feel in the mouth and its ability to age well in the barrel or bottle. Further, TA can influence the stability of certain pigments and contribute to a wine's biological stability, although the strength of the acid (pH) plays a more important role than the amount of acid (TA) in both of these instances.

    The titration process is actually quite simple. Traditionally, we add a specified amount of phenolphthalein (an indicator that changes color at pH 8.2) to a specific amount of wine (or juice) and perhaps water. A base sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution of known normalized concentration (10%, for example) is added to the wine sample in a measured way until all the acid in the sample is neutralized and the sample changes color from clear to light pink -- an occurrence known as the "end point". A look-up table, calculator or simple math formula is then used to translate the results into a number we can relate to.

    The problem with red wines is that it can be darned near impossible to detect the color change required for an accurate result in most wines. Some, but not all, red wines turn slightly gray when the end point is reached. If we miss the end point, we will keep adding the normalized base and arrive at flat-out wrong results. We can dilute the wine to try to render the color change more easily detectible but that is not a sure-fire tactic. Some wines actually change color when diluted and this makes it easier to detect the color change, but most wines are not so accommodating. So, what to do?

    Some years back the winemaker at Sister Creek Vineyards was doing some lab work while we talked. I watched him measure some phenolphthalein and add it to a graduated cylinder of wine. This he poured into a short beaker. He then added a few drops of sodium hydroxide to the beaker, swirled it gently, then placed the electrode of a pH meter in the wine. He removed the electrode, added a few more drops, and swirled it again. Again the pH meter. Eventually he added two or three drops, swirled, replaced the meter and wrote down a number, did something on a calculator, and then wrote down "6.8 g/L."

    "What did you just do?" I asked.

    And he explained that because the phenolphthalein in any sample always hits an end point at exactly pH 8.2, he just adds NaOH until the pH meter reports 8.2. It is the same as adding the NaOH until the wine turns pink, only in this case you are not even looking for a color change. So, there you have it. Simply keep track of exactly how much NaOH you add until the pH reaches 8.2 and then convert to a TA reading.

    When using a titration kit, you have to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Sodium hydroxide can come in varying strengths, which affect the specifics of the procedure and the determined results. There are also other indicators that can be used besides phenolphthalein, so one must adhere to the instructions that apply.

    There is also a device called an acidometer that is simpler to use than a titration kit, but even with it you can miss the end point in a red wine. But remember the pH meter. You can obtain one sufficiently accurate for winemaking needs for less than $100.I think I paid $67 for mine. There are also commercial laboratories that will do this and other tests for you for a fee, but most are within your ability without too much investment.

    If you consult a chemistry book you will learn all about titration. More than likely, you will be instructed to work in moles, which are calculated from the atomic masses of the constituent elements, and with simple or complex formulas depending on the methodoloy. Both make my head hurt.

    In the old days I would have struggled through this and understood it completely before attempting a titration, but two people said things that changed my approach. A fellow named Jan Gray once said, "If generals needed to understand the details of how radar works in order to employ it our armed forces probably wouldn't have radar today." Much later, my wife said, "If there is an easy way to do something and a hard way to achieve the same result, simplify life and select the easy way."

    So, let's forget the moles and look at the relationships we need to grasp. We can determine the grams per liter (g/L) equivalent of TA measured as tartaric acid by comparing the volume of the base used in the reaction with the size of the wine sample, plugging in a constant and then adjusting the result to a liter. The basic formula is:

    (mL NaOH) x (normality of NaOH) x (0.075) x (100)
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------- = g/100 mL TA x 10 = g/L TA)
    blank spaceWine sample volume in mL

    Suppose you drew a 10 mL sample of wine and it took 8.4 mL of 0.1 normality NaOH to reach the pH 8.2 end point (either by color change or pH meter), the calculation would be:

    (8.4 mL NaOH) x (0.1 normality of NaOH) x (0.075) x (100)
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- = 0.63 g/100mL x 10 = 6.3 g/L
    blank space10 mL sample of wine

    If you think that is difficult, think again. Because you are reading this on a computer means you have a calculator at your fingertips and can simply punch in the numbers: 8.4 x 0.1 x 0.075 x 100 / 10 x 10 = 6.3.

    If you use the acidometer, it is even easier. The indicator is bromothymol blue dissolved in a sodium hydoxide solution normalized at 0.067. You fill a graduated cylinder to a specified starting point and add the bromothymol blue solution until the sample turns green, then blue, reaching this end point at pH 7.0 rather than 8.2. A pH check can be made using a strip of litmus paper included with the acidometer or you can use your pH meter. When you have confirmed the end point, simply read the number on the cylinder corresponding to the amount of bromothymol blue solution you added. That number is the grams per liter of titratable acid in your wine.

    However you do it, measuring your wine's TA is important. So is knowing its pH. If you have a pH meter and minimal lab equipment, you can know both at the same time. The dark color of a red wine need not be a show stopper.

    April 23rd, 2010

    I've received many emails congratulating me on retirement and I thank you all for the nice sentiments. We are still undergoing an adjustment period, but I'm sure I will get the hang of it soon.

    My wife, son Scott and I stayed overnight at Port Arthur to watch Klara, our granddaughter, earn her blue belt in Taekwondo, then drove to Galveston. Spending a week on Galveston Island doing nothing was difficult, but someone had to do it. The martial artist could only spend two days with us because school is still in session, but we enjoyed every minute with her. If you have a free week, I recommend Galveston. The water was warmer than we expected for April, the locals were friendly, and the merchants appreciative of our patronage.

    Unlike most wine bloggers, I rarely mention any commercial wines and seldom recommend a product. Rarer still is my mention of a restaurant. This entry will be one of those rare exceptions because we ate twice at a place I cannot help but rave about.

    Fabulous Shrimp

    During our stay on Galveston we enjoyed the best meal I have eaten since my wife made crab and shrimp enchiladas last Christmas. This meal also featured shrimp -- four different entrées and two sides -- and was topped off with the best bread pudding I have ever eaten, but before I get to it I want to talk about some other Galveston eateries.

    There are many seafood eateries on Galveston and our timeshare on Seawall was next to perhaps the most famous of them all, a place that has survived almost 100 years. It has lived on a reputation earned many years ago by prior generations who delivered fine seafood at upscale but not extravagant prices. But clearly something has changed. The current food quality is inferior to that which earned it its reputation and the pricing is seriously inflated for what is delivered. I will not speculate as to why this is so, but we noted the affliction elsewhere as well. Another famous Galveston seafood eatery, this one bordering the Strand, also served featureless food at inflated prices.

    Some regional and national seafood chain restaurants are also located at Galveston. One does not expect superior dining at these locations, but one at least expects a fair deal. We discovered smaller portions at inflated prices that bordered on criminal. A plate of 15 French fries should not cost $3.50 no matter where it is served.

    I like to give people and businesses the benefit of any doubt until faced with evidence to the contrary. I invented excuses for the excessive pricing and shoddy food, supposing they were trying to recover from losses incurred from 2008's Hurricane Ike -- a poor excuse but conceivable. There is evidence everywhere that the island is still recovering and will be for several years to come. But as we talked to local residents we began to realize the decline in many of the eateries began long before the massive hurricane did its damage two years ago. I won't speculate why this has occurred, but an afternoon on the Strand convinced us it was totally unnecessary.

    We stumbled into Bistro LeCroy at 2021 Strand looking for a restroom. We were greeted by Tommie LeCroy, a co-proprietor, who was both friendly and gracious. Although we had plans to eat later elsewhere, we noted the inviting smells coming from the kitchen and the generous portions being served. We used the facilities and left, but noted the name and location. Later, when our appetites demanded attention, we returned.

    Bistro LeCroy is owned and operated by cousins Tommie LeCroy and Barbara Davis. It bills itself as "A Louisiana Seafood Grille" and lives up to the claim. Tommie, from New Orleans, frequently vacationed on the island and was fond of the food at the famous seafood restaurant on Seawall I mentioned earlier. "I went into the restaurant business with a friend on a lark. Two years later Barbara joined in, we bought out my friend, and went into it in a serious way." . Barbara, from Lake Charles, learned something about cooking from her mother, who spent 10 years compiling a Southern-style cookbook. The marriage of Cajun and Creole cooking was a natural for both cousins.

    I know nothing about the initial menu or business success, but opening a restaurant in December on an island that thrives on summer tourism is gutsy to say the least. That they were still open when Hurricane Ike deposited six feet of mud in their place five years later is testimony that people liked what they offered. Ike destroyed Bistro LeCroy, but not the spirit that built it. It took Tommie, Barbara and dedicated others eleven months to shovel out the mud, repair, replace, restock, and reopen.

    It was our good fortune to discover LeCroy on a day that featured a shrimp feast as the daily special. Tommie immediately made us feel like old friends and filled us in on just enough history to allow us to appreciate the man and his business. Then the food arrived and we gorged ourselves on Remoulade Shrimp, breaded Popcorn Shrimp, large sweet Coconut Shrimp, very large battered NOLA Shrimp, and two sides from a selection of eleven offerings. Although we were all stuffed from the meal, we decided to test Tommie's claim that his Bread Pudding was the best in the South. The man wasn't exaggerating! It was by far the best bread pudding I've ever eaten -- served hot, smothered in a rich, creamy sauce and dribbled with caramel. The meal was so good that we talked about it all evening.

    The next day we returned for a late lunch and feasted once again on shrimp, although I was terribly tempted to try the Crawfish Etouffée or Grilled Lemon Pepper Catfish. The shrimp won out because they were proven winners -- cooked fresh and never having been frozen, an increasing rarity even along the Gulf Coast. We chased the meal with a Key Lime Ice Cream Pie. The day was warm and the coolness hit the spot.

    Tommie wasn't there when we returned, but Barbara was and she was as friendly and informative as her cousin. She even shared with us a secret or two about the previous day's Bread Pudding. Their secrets are safe with us....

    As I said at the beginning of this entry, I rarely mention a restaurant in the WineBlog. That I spent the entire entry on Bistro LeCroy should impress upon you that I thought the food was exceptional. Your mileage may vary, but I cannot imagine it differing from mine by much. I will return soon to try the St. Charles Chicken, Center Cut Pork Chop, and Blackened Red Snapper topped with crab meat. If you're ever on Galveston, stop in at 2021 Strand in the historic downtown and treat yourself to a great meal and delightful dessert. They have a wine list if you ask for it. I can recommend the Dry Creek Fumé Blanc with the shrimp.

    p.s. Call ahead for business hours, as they close early on weekdays. They are at (409) 762-4200.

    April 26th, 2010

    The Purple Sage Mead I made last September has aged briefly but well. The wine was entered in the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's Spring Competition and did well, winning a 1st Place in the Novelty Dry category. A Ginger Mead I made early last year won 2nd Place in Novelty Sweet.

    That the competition was stiff is evidenced by my home-grown Golden Muscat. It scored a 19 on a twenty point scale and tied for 2nd Place in the White Wine Dry category. If you've got a 19-point wine, it can only be beat by a perfect 20. And it was. Tight competition....

    Lost Wine

    Anyone who has made wine and allowed it to bulk age eventually realizes some of the wine simply disappears. If the wine is held in barrels or casks, the culprit is absorption by the wood and evaporation outwardly over long periods of time. But what if the wine is ages in glass carboys? How does one explain the loss of an inch or more of wine through glass?

    The answer of course is that the wine is not actually lost through the glass, but rather through the airlock. This occurs at two distinct times during the winemaking process, and in both occasions it isn't the wine that is lost but rather carbon dioxide.

    When must is fermenting vigorously, yeast are converting sugars into energy for their own use and expelling two waste products -- alcohol and CO2.The alcohol remains in he carboy, but the CO2 leaves through the airlock. All of those lost atoms of carbon and oxygen bound into CO2 reduce the volume of the must/wine and the level drops. This loss of volume even continues into the later stages of fermentation when the vigorous fermentation subsides and then stops.

    As the vigorous fermentation subsides and less CO2 is produced to keep pushing those bubbles flowing through the airlock, the wine begins to absorb some of the CO2 and store its molecules in the billions of empty spaces between the molecules of wine and its components not already occupied by sulfur dioxide or oxygen. As fermentation slows further, more and more of those molecules of CO2 are "parked" in the interstitial spaces of the wine. Eventually, all of the CO2 is absorbed into the wine.

    A newly fermented wine is fizzy because of this "parked" CO2. It has to be degassed before bottling or it will fizz later when uncorked. It is the "parked" CO2 that must be driven from the wine through degassing before the wine is bottled. A vigorous stir with a wooden dowel, plastic rod or specialized, power-driven degassing tool will do the job. I do not recommend you try shaking the carboy to dislodge the trapped molecules of CO2 unless you enjoy mini-volcanoes. All that is required for degassing is to move an object through the wine fast enough to create cavitation, which will knock the parked molecules loose and send them racing to the surface. As they rise, they dislodge other parked molecules.

    If you do nothing to degas the wine, the CO2 will slowly "unpark" itself and escape, but the process can take an awful long time and is seldom complete, but the fizz does eventually subside. In the process, the volume of wine also subsides.

    Wine Tastes Like Burnt Rubber

    A winemaker in Ohio wrote a few weeks ago asking why his wine tasted like burnt rubber. This is a tough problem to diagnose, as there are many possible causes for this and related off-tastes. It is also possible the off-taste isn't a taste at all, but rather is an off-odor influencing what you think you taste.

    Many odors are so volatile that they are inhaled orally when the wine is sipped and this affects the perceived taste. The more offensive of these odors that sometimes occur in wine are associated with sulfur. I wrote about some of these in my WineBlog entry of February 13th, 2010, "When to Pull the Plug."

    It is also possible that a fermentation conducted either too hot or too cold or even too fast can cause the yeast to stress out and emit hydrogen sulfide. Another causative for the production of hydrogen sulfide during fermentation is nitrogen deficiency when using yeasts requiring high nitrogen nutrients. I think everyone knows that hydrogen sulfide smells akin to rotten eggs. While not exactly a burnt rubber smell, hydrogen sulfide can evolve into other, more offensive compounds. An intermediary compound is mercaptan, which can evolve from hydrogen sulfide but smells more like fermenting onions. Each of these can evolve into more odorous compounds giving off a burnt rubber odor that affects the perceived taste of the wine.

    Hydrogen sulfide formed during fermentation is identical to that formed post-fermentation. The difference is that we don't expect it to form during fermentation. Indeed, it is usually associated with thick, compacted layers of lees where reduction causes the offensive compound to form. This can generally be avoided by stirring the lees every 5-7 days, but certainly can be avoided by racking the wine off the lees within 2-3 weeks of fermentation ceasation.

    I have heard that over-oaking a wine with a dark-roasted oak can cause a burnt rubber taste. I have never experienced this, but have had over-oaked wines taste somewhat like burnt toast. Either taste is offensive in wine and should be avoided by monitoring the progress of your oaking period.

    May 13th, 2010

    People have asked, where have I been these past 2 1/2 weeks? Around, but occupied. Family health issues have captured my attention -- my mother had a second stroke -- and after months and months of terrible reception I finally upgraded my internet wireless service to a new antenna and receiver. I'm BACK ONLINE!

    I've still had time to enjoy more wine than usual. I dug into my older wines and discovered the two surviving bottles of 1999 Agarita (Western Barberry) had matured into a real jewel. A 2004 Blueberry was showing some age but still went well with Black Angus rib eye steak and all the fixin's. My stepson and I polished off the last of the 2001 Parsnip (acceptable), 2005 Kiowa Blackberry (still fruity), two bottles of 2004 Eggplant wine (before you go "yuck," it was very good), and 2003 Smoked Burgundy (still unique!).

    Last night I opened a 25-year old Sonoma Valley (Buena Vista Winery) Cabernet Sauvignon I had somehow overlooked for the past decade. The cork disintegrated when I tried extracting it using a corkscrew, but I decanted it through a coffee filter (I have no shame in this!) to remove the cork flotsam and immediately noted two good signs. First, the color was near perfect for a Sonoma CS. Second, the aroma and bouquet signaled a nicely aged wine. I offered my stepson one glass and then piggishly husbanded the rest. Wonderful evening!

    More on Burnt Rubber Smell

    My last entry, on burnt rubber tastes and smells, generated several requests for additional information, if available. As I have said many times, I am not a chemist and thus I rely on what others say about wine chemistry. But I do have a good library, helpful friends and the ability to research the internet. The latter one does cautiously, as there is a lot of bad information out there. But some sources are sterling. While looking for something else, I found some information on this very subject from one such source. Besides hydrogen sulfide, it identifies nine other stinky compounds that can form in wine.

    I was actually looking for the source article for Harvey Steiman's March 19th, 2010 Wine Spectator piece, "The Real Problem With Corks: Aussie researchers focus on bottle variation." Since the study was from AWRI (Australian Wine Research Institute), I went snooping around their website and stumbled across a reference to a 2008 study by V. O'Brien and C. Colby, " Wine Faults Caused by Reductive Characters: Low Molecular Weight Sulfur Compounds" [Aust. N.Z. Wine Ind. J. 23(5), 50-55; 2008]. In the reference I found the following chart:

    Compound Odor Description Aroma Threshold (µg/L) Typical Range (µg/L)
    Hydrogen sulfide
    Dimethyl sulfide
    Carbon disulfide
    Diethyl sulfide
    Methyl thioacetate
    Dimethyl disulfide
    Ethyl thioacetate
    Diethyl disulfide
    Rotten egg, sewage like
    Rotten cabbage, burnt rubber, putrid
    Onion, rubbery, burnt match, sulfidy, earthy
    Blackcurrant, cooked cabbage, asparagus, canned corn, molasses
    Sweet, ethereal, slight green, rubber, sulfidy, chokingly repulsive
    Garlic, rubbery
    Sulfurous, cheesy, egg
    Vegetal, cabbage
    Sulfurous, garlic, onion
    Bad smelling, onion
    0 - 370
    0 - 11
    0 - 50
    0 - 980
    0 - 140
    0 - 10
    0 - 115
    0 - 22
    0 - 180
    0 - 85

    The study was reference in the AWRI 2009 Annual Report and reporting on development of an analytical tool for wineries to detect low molecular weight sulfur compounds. These reductive compounds primarily are created by yeast, but have also been linked to wine storage under low oxygen transmission rates. The reference reported that 2% of the 13,477 wines at the 2006 International Wine Challenge were judged to possess faults due to the presence of one or more of these compounds. This is considered a rather conservative number because the amount present had to be significant to be judged a fault.

    If you want to know more, you can Google any of these compounds and learn more than you probably want to know, but if you enter "[name of compound] +wine" you will get more relevant results. Good luck.

    Screwcap Research: the Next Step

    The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) has long been the leader in unbiased research regarding bottle closures. I began following their research when they were doing trials to determine which closure was better -- natural cork or synthetic? Exactly when they tossed the screwcap into the mix escapes my memory and a hard drive crash long ago wiped out the electronic copies I maintained of the research articles. But two review articles point to one 10-year study having started in 1999. I think it safe to say they have now shown beyond all doubt that wines sealed under screwcaps exhibit superior aging and longevity qualities over those sealed under both natural and synthetic corks.

    Jamie Goode's article reviewing the first published results (July 12, 2001) from what became a decade-long study by AWRI (including the screwcap) commenced circa 1999. At least the wine used in the study was a 1999 vintage and the published results covered data collected at 18 months post-closure. Additional data was later supplied to Goode by AWRI to include 21 and 24 sensory evaluations. However, I am quite sure there were previous studies comparing closure types because many Australian wineries switched to screwcaps (they call them Stelvins) around 2000. Goode's review, combined with one by Harvey Steiman in his March 9, 2010 blog in Wine Spectator and a publication from AWRI all indicate this conclusion.

    Although some of Goode's inferences turned out in the long run to be wrong, his discussion of the key issues, experimental design and statistical treatment were excellent and I recommend you read it. Steiman, having benefit of the 10-year depth of data from the study, reports much firmer conclusions. It, too, is worth a read. Both gentlemen tell the story better than I can, but a picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. This one does not "say it all," but it says one heck of a lot!

    Closure Comparisons

    Wines at 28, 63 and 125 months; the bottle on the left of each row is sealed by a screwcap

    The study was not designed to compare screwcaps with corks and synthetic proxies, but rather to determine the best performing cork. What happened is that the screwcap quickly proved to be a superior closure for wine. The study points out that after 10 years, "Most of the wine sealed with closures other than screw cap were completely undrinkable."

    Steiman asks, "Are twist-offs perfect? Not quite, but the down sides are manageable, while cork problems occur indiscriminately and exponentially more often. Winemaking for screw-cap closures needs to be clean, and sulfur must be handled carefully to avoid reduction. Aging occurs at a slower pace under screw caps (actually, at about the same pace as the rare perfect cork), so if you like those complex flavors of older wine, it will take longer to achieve them. But they do arrive, and the original fruit remains."

    Personally, I think the incidence of Trichloroanisole (TCA, or cork taint) is vastly overstated by wine critics who seem to zealously enjoy applying the "critic" part of the descriptor. Many years ago I criticized the judging at a major wine competition because inexperienced students were doing the judging. Every white that wasn't straw in color was deemed "oxidized," including wines that were supposed to be brownish in color due to the ingredients (praline dessert wine, tea wine and tamarind wine). I think too many writers unable to pinpoint the actual defect or fault they are tasting, like the students who found "oxidation" rampant, simply attribute the imperfection to "TCA."

    In my 15-year experience as a wine judge, I have only encountered notable TCA rarely -- probably no more than in 1% of the wines closed with natural corks. Admittedly, I have kept no data on he wines I've judges and therefore cannot offer any true statistical analysis, but my sense of it is that it is far less prevalent than wine critics claim. Then again, because I judge mostly homemade wines which tend to be consumed young (within two years of vintage) due to quick aging and peaking of many non-grape bases, perhaps they simply haven't had sufficient time to display the defect. I rather doubt this but remain open to the possibility.

    But for those who want to keep their grape and non-grape wines longer and with greater confidence, evidence points to the screwcap coupled with good winemaking tecniques as the answer. So, what is the next step I referred to in my entry title? Just this. We know that too little ullage (air space) in the bottle promotes reduction and prolongs the aging process, while too much provides too much oxidizing O2. But some O2 is essential for aging to occur. Wouldn't it be nice to know exactly how much ullage in, say, a Shiraz will lead to wine maturity in 3 years, 5 years, or 7? All other variables being equal, can aging be dialed in by the correct measure of ullage and the O2 it provides the wine? I think this is the next step. Any takers?

    May 23rd, 2010

    A number of people have told me they check daily for WineBlog entries. If you want to be notified when I post an entry instead of checking here daily, subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking this button:

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    A friend sent me a link to a video called, "What I Like About Texas," a song by fellow Texan Gary P. Nunn accompanied by a slideshow by Jeremy Oldham. It was too good not to share. I hope you enjoy it....

    Dandelions Again

    Two days ago it suddenly dawned on me that we are almost through May and I haven't made a dandelion wine yet. Dandelion wine is one of the best tasting country wines you can make, but in this part of Texas dandelions disappear around the end of June. So, it was time to "get to it."

    I have 30 dandelion wine recipes posted on my site, but one is my favorite for ease of method and resulting taste. Tried and true, it works 100% of the time as long as you are using true dandelions.

    I have on rare occasion been informed that dandelion flowers, upon being covered with boiling water (as this recipe calls for), have turned black. This has never happened to me and I have been making dandelion wine using boiling water since 1972. My suspicion is that catsear or another closely similar flower was used, or the flower used was dandelion but sprayed with something that reacted to the hot water. I am just guessing, really, as it has never happened to me, but every action has a cause.

    Catsear (Hypochaeris radicata, or flatweed or false dandelion) is commonly mistaken for true dandelions (Taraxacum officinale or T. erythrospermum). Both plants carry similar composite flowers which form windborne seeds. However, catsear stems are solid and forked, bearing two or more flowers per parental stem, whereas dandelion stems are hollow and simple (unforked). There are other flowers that are also similar, but less so than these two.

    Use true dandelions....

    Dandelion Wine Recipe

    • 9 cups dandelion petals
    • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
    • 1 lb 10 ozs granulated sugar
    • 2 lemons (juice and zest)
    • 2 oranges (juice and zest)
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/4 tsp tannin
    • 6 1/4 pts water
    • Côtes-du-Rhône or Hock wine yeast

    Pluck flower petals beforehand. Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, prepare zest from citrus and set aside. Combine flowers and zest in nylon straining bag and tie closed. Put bag in primary and pour boiling water over it. Cover primary and squeeze bag several times a day for 3 days. If you can refrigerate primary during this period, so much the better; if not, the must should not suffer for it. Drain and squeeze bag to extract all liquid. Stir sugar into primary until completely dissolved. Begin a yeast starter solution. Stir in remaining ingredients except yeast, cover and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter and cover. Stir twice daily for 5 days. Transfer to secondary and fit airlock. Rack after wine falls clear, adding crushed Campden tablet, topping up and reattaching airlock. Rack again every 2 months for 6 months, adding another crushed Campden tablet during middle racking and stabilizing with Campden and potassium sorbate at last racking. Wait another month and rack into bottles. Cellar 6 months and enjoy a bottle. Cellar another 6 months and enjoy it all. [Author's own recipe]

    A Pleasant Mistake

    Several days ago I went to bottle a muscadine wine that had been bulk aging for 5 years simply because I had no place for it if bottled. Having now depleted my cellar enough to accept several dozen bottles, I assembled and sterilized the requisite number of bottles and then set the carboy on the kitchen counter. That's when I discovered in dismay that the wine had been sitting on its lees for 5 years. I braced myself for disaster as I drew a sample, evaluated the color -- a very nice red -- and inhaled it. The aroma was assuredly muscadine, so I hesitantly took a sip. It shouldn't have been, but it was wonderful.

    Deliberately aging a wine on its lees is called sur lie aging. One ages a wine sur lie to enhance the body, structure and mouth feel of the wine. It tends to increase the aroma, flavor and depth, and may lengthen the finish. When combined with frequent stirring of the lees (bâtonnage), the wine may acquire a creamy mouth feel and enhanced complexity. The problem here was that I did not stir the lees. Indeed, I was totally unaware that the wine was sitting on its lees. How could this be?

    When this wine was young it sat in my den with other carboys. My English Springer Spaniel, Coli (I sure do miss her), occasionally managed to remove a tag from the carboy and I would either find it and return it or prepare another one. I have no distinct memory of this tag being lost, but it probably was and I prepared a replacement tag from memory and mistakenly annotated it as racked twice. At some point I noted the color, thought it correct and noted this on the tag as well. At least, this seems to me the only explanation.

    Whatever the truth may be, the result was an anomaly. The wine should not have survived this long without attention and I gave it none. But survive it did, and the amazing thing is that it maturated well. I cannot explain it and so will not speculate, but I do love the wine.

    If any is encouraged by this experience to do on purpose what I did through negligence, I strongly discourage the attempt. The odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the wine being ruined rather than surviving in a drinkable state. I was lucky.

    May 27th, 2010

    The deer are a plague! There were seven does and four yearlings eating my grapes this morning when I went out to say good morning to my dog, Reba. I scolded her for sleeping on the job, but I don't think she understood (the deer bolted the second I unlocked the sliding glass patio door). Okay, perhaps it was my fault. I left the gate to the far back open and they accepted the invitation. I'll have to be more diligent.

    Luckily, they were not interested in the unripe grapes and the leaves needed thinning anyway, so maybe it was a good thing.

    When Can We Call It Wine?

    I have received many inquiries over the years asking some form of the question, when does an alcoholic beverage become wine? The question usually centers around alcoholic content -- percent of alcohol by volume -- but occasionally someone asks why is it that in some competitions mead can be entered with the beers or with the wines? Or, can one fortify a nonalcoholic beverage and call it wine?

    I'll address the last two questions first, just to put them to bed. Mead, like beer, is traditionally brewed and therefore is kin to beer in that single sense. Like wine (but unlike beer), it can also be made without boiling the honey or must, placing it in the wine camp as far as how it is made. Some competitions allow you to enter brewed meads with beers and unbrewed meads with wines, but most place it in one camp or the other. Because meads are much higher in alcohol content than all but the rarest beer, I believe they belong with the wines.

    As for fortifying nonalcoholic beverages, neither rum and Coke nor orange juice and vodka make a wine. As for the distinctly different question of can one ferment Big Red or Pepsi Cola, I have no idea what havoc the carbonation would play with the yeast. More importantly, why would one want to do this in the first place?

    The central question -- the one usually asked -- seems to follow one of two avenues of approach. The first notes that cider can be purchased with no alcohol, but alcoholic ciders range from as little as 3% alcohol by volume (abv) to the 15% region, with 7% abv being the normal stepping stone into the "hard cider" classification. So, when does apple cider become apple wine? The second approach to this question usually notes that various commercial "wines" sport as little as 7 to 7-1/2% abv and must be preserved by refrigeration while folk wisdom has it that wine is "self-preserving" and achieves that status at around 12% abv. So what's the deal?

    The cider question has interested me for many years and I have read considerable literature on the both avenues to the question and never found a conclusive answer. The cider vs. wine distinction seems to be more a matter of local convention than any technical distinction, although I'm sure there is a government regulation somewhere that spells it out perfectly. I have simply never located it. If you have, or have additional insight into this subject, please send me the details (address at end of this entry).

    There is a company that markets an apple beverage with 28% abv and calls it cider. I would think it was approaching the strength of a weak liqueur rather than either cider or wine, but if the alcohol were present as a result of yeast fermentation then it certainly would be wine. I just have problems calling apple beverages with more than 10% abv "cider." If anyone can cite an authority that makes the distinction, please write to me about it. I really want to know.

    The figure for "self-preserving" abv is, I am certain, lower than the popularly cited 12%. I have seen 10% and even 9% cited with confidence by experts, and one source even cited 8.75% as the watermark for killing 99% of all common bacteria and molds that can affect a wine, but I would be happier with a 99.99% threshold. One chance in 10,000 of a wine becoming contaminated is more appealing to me than one in 100.

    Again, if anyone out there knows the definitive answer to any of the questions above and can reference it, please write to me at jackredkellerwhitewine(at)gbluemail(dot)com after removing the patriotic colors and converting parentheticals to appropriate symbols. I am especially interested in any Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) say in the matter.

    Wine Poetry

    I was searching Google for a specific recipe I once posted somewhere and came across a link to six short poems I wrote in 2002. These dredged up old memories and so I'm republishing them below. The poems are closer to Haiku than to traditional Western poetry in that they do not rhyme, but do not adhere to the 17-syllable Haiku style. Hopefully, they will sing to you anyway.

    These poems were originally published in Short Stuff, Volume I, Issue 5, September 2002. I believe the original journal is now defunct.


    Yeast in honey
    brings the mead
    to life beyond
    the clovered fields


    Dandelion petals
    orange peel and yeast
    trap sunshine in water
    as golden wine


    Juicy grapes
    with sugars laden
    ripe for wine
    a feast for birds


    In shadows now
    the vineyard sleeps
    on morrow comes
    the harvest


    I crush the grapes
    with purple feet
    and wine flows
    from their sorrow


    I raise my glass
    to ideas lost
    on foggy nights
    when no one listened

    If you have a favorite, please let me know.

    May 31st, 2010

    This is Memorial Day in the United States, a day we pay homage to those who died in the service of their country. It differs from Veterans Day, November 11th, that pays tribute to all who served. Memorial Day is for those who are gone. Those of us who still enjoy freedom owe those who died to secure it for us this simple day of solemn remembrance.

    Congratulations to Dario Franchitti, the Scottish racing driver (hailing from the "waist of Scotland" near Edinburgh) of Italian descent, on his second win (yesterday) in the Indianapolis 500. Franchitti led the race for over 150 laps and clearly demonstrated he had the best car on the track on that day. This, his 24th win in American open-wheel racing, elevates him into the top 20 open-wheel drivers of all time. Few remember that I raced a Ferrari back in the 1970s and have a love for sports car and open-wheel racing that has not waned through the years.


    Several yeast strains (see below) are touted as high glycerol producers. I particularly like one of these strains for its stable color extraction and wide temperature tolerance (50-90° F.), but the knowledge that it is a high glycerol producer and should present a denser mouthfeel has always been an additional plus. But what if this glycerol-equals-enhanced-mouthfeel belief is a myth?

    Lalvin's S6U, Syrah and W16 and Laffort's Zymaflore F15 are all known for higher than usual glycerol production. I particularly like Lalvin's Syrah strain for Cynthiana, Champanel, V. monticola, and V. aestivalis. The first two are American native-based hybrids and the latter two are American natives.

    Blogger Karien O'Kennedy challenges the claim that glycerol contributes to mouthfeel and claims it is a myth. She points out that glycerol concentrations higher than 5.2 grams per liter in a wine contribute to perceived sweetness of the wine. She then points out that wine yeasts produce between 5-14 g/L of glycerol in dry wines. She then says flatly, "It is not possible for the human palate to distinguish between glycerol concentrations in this range." Finally, she claims, "A concentration of 25.8 g/L of glycerol is needed to have an effect on the viscosity of a wine. Some Botrytis wines can have this concentration."

    While I have great respect for Karien, I had to see this for myself. I took a gallon of Cherry wine made with Lalvin's EC1118 and drew off two separate liters. Trusting Karien's claim that wine yeasts produce 5-14 g/L in dry wines, I assumed this wine, as made, contained the minimum, only 5 g/L. I carefully measured 9 grams of glycerol, which I integrated into one liter and then measured 21 grams of glycerol and added this to the second liter.

    Three times I blind tasted the three wines (as-is, +9 g/L and +21 g/L to assume the targeted 5 g/l, 14 g/L and 26 g/l, respectively). I must admit that I was unable to actually detect the difference between 5 g/L and 14 g/L; I guessed them correctly twice, but really was just guessing because I had to make the attempt. Once I guessed the as-is wine as the one I added 9 grams to. I think the results easily could have gone the other way, with me getting them right once and wrong twice. I say this because I really could not detect the difference in mouthfeel or taste.

    I was, however, clearly able to detect the 26 g/L dose every time. But 26 g/L is a lot of glycerol -- approximately 1 ounce (by weight) per quart -- and few people I know would add that much glycerol to a wine. The taste at that level is, well, off. As a wine judge, I would fault a wine with that much glycerol.

    Observe, though, that while I could not detect the difference between 5 g/L and 14 g/L of glycerol, either as taste or mouthfeel, I could easily detect the difference between 14 g/L and 26 g/L in both arenas. O'Kennedy stated that 25.8 g/L is required to impact viscosity, so I suspect that somewhere between 14 and 26 is a number that represents (for me, at least) the threshold at which I can actually taste the glycerol. While I am curious as to what that number is, I'm not curious enough at the moment to run out and buy more glycerol. Maybe another time, when I can run trials on several wines.

    So, if I cannot detect "enhanced levels" of glycerol at levels produced by yeast, will I stop using my Lalvin Syrah? Not at all. As I said at the outset, I like it primarily for its stable color extraction and wide temperature tolerance (50-90° F.); enhanced glycerol production is just a plus, albeit now proven not to be a detectable one.

    Harsh Tannins, Smooth Tannins

    The other day I pulled a well-aged Burgundy I made some time back from a rack. Because I could see a sludge along the lower side of the bottle, I carefully stood it up and let it settle. After a half hour I opened it gently and carefully decanted it, leaving the sludge and a tablespoon of wine in the bottle. The resulting wine, after breathing, was incredibly smooth. In its youth it had been harsh. The harshness now hid in the sludge.

    It has long been known that hash tannins in young wines slowly link up to form long molecular chains unable to defy gravity. The tannins in young wines are harsh precisely because they are short molecules that easily slip into the smallest cracks and crevices and coat every structure on the tongue. In doing so, they overwhelm the taste buds with astringency. As the tannins link together, the longer molecules are unable to slip into those small cracks and crevices and tend to slide off rather than coat larger structures. In doing so, they mellow the astringency considerably. These are the effects of age on tannins. But this is a generalization, not a hard and fast rule. There are different kinds of tannins and different factors mitigate the harshness or softness of tannin.

    Oak tannins have long been known to improve upon certain harsh tannins. Toasted and untoasted oak present different outcomes, but untoasted oak is generally reserved for white wines where it affects mouthfeel rather than oaky flavor. Toasting tends to enhance the flavor and aromatic character of red wines, wrapping harsher grape and stem tannins in complexities that soften the whole presentation. When the two types of tannins are balanced, the result is improved mouthfeel and a more silky or velvety smoothness.

    Tannin additives have been developed to aid the winemaker under various conditions. Tanin Galalcool SP, for example, is derived from chestnut tree gall nuts and is especially suited adding softness and fullness to white, rosé, fruit wines, meads and ciders, but may encourage subtle changes in red wine aging. Tan'Cor was developed to improve overall structure post-fermentation and help wines lacking smooth tannin structure. Quertanin Intense amplifies aromas and mouthfeel while developing complexity. These are but a few of the beneficial tannin additives on the market.

    No additive is sure to present a desired effect, but those developed to do so are more likely to than not if requisite conditions are present and dosage determined through trials. One learns by reading and doing.

    For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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