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.
July 4th, 2010
It has been over month since I have posted anything here. I apologize to those who have written (and I have not replied) asking if everything is okay. All I can say is that my cup has been very full and I have only looked at email about once a week. Is everything okay? Yes and no.
My health is fine but my mother had a stroke. She is recovering quite nicely, but all engines, no matter how well maintained, wear out. And so I worry.
Before I retired two different retirement specialists sat down and calculated what my monthly retirement income would be based on my years in service, high-three salary years, etc. I retired 95 days ago and Office of Personnel Management still hasn't figured out what those two specialists figured out with pocket calculators and my personnel and finance files. I can pay my bills, but I'd like to know if I should cancel my planned vacation....
I did not know retirement was so much work. I am busier than ever and my "to do" list is not being reduced. How is this possible?
I have been working on a major project -- not one I had planned to do at all -- that has consumed the past month. It was chugging alone quite nicely when I discovered a major hiccup in the software (a WYSIWYG editor) I was using that was supposed to make things easier and speedier. I had to abandon that software and start over. Now I am back to coding things by hand, and I am finally learning Cascading Style Sheets (all previous attempts were thwarted by prolonged interruptions). There will be an unveiling of the project soon. Sorry, but it isn't my winemaking book. That is still awaiting it's turn....
The Fourth of July
I woke up quite mindful that today is July Fourth, Independence Day. Last night HBO began a rerun of the highly acclaimed (and much deserved) 7-episode miniseries, "John Adams." What an exceptional piece of work it is -- winner of 13 Emmy Awards and 23 others (Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Art Directors Guild, Visual Effects Society, etc.), and nominated for an additional 10 Grammies and 9 other awards. It is impossible to take this day for granted after watching that fine, fine collection of cinematography (Tak Fujimoto), directing (Tom Hooper), acting (Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, David Morse, Steven Hinkle, Sarah Polley, etc.), set design, costumes, sound and music, etc., etc., etc. And so, how exactly (you might ask) does all of this relate to winemaking?
It doesn't, but it could have. Stephen Dillane played an excellent Thomas Jefferson in the miniseries, and every time I saw him drinking wine I expected him to say something profound about wine. But he never did. I guess David McCullough didn't know Jefferson was so into wine, or did but didn't think it warranted inclusion in the book the series was based upon.
Poor Jefferson. He travelled all over France, visited every notable (and some not-so-notable) wine regions, barrel tasted the finest wines on the planet at that time, and shipped hundreds of fine bottles back to Monticello and to his friend George Washington. Only upon his return did he discover that Washington preferred his wine a little sweet, and so he stirred a small spoonful of sugar into each glass. Jefferson went to great pains (and expense) to buy only the finest dry wines for himself and his friend, so to watch Washington stir in the sugar was especially painful.
Yes, "John Adams" could have included a comment or two about wine, but didn't. But if you want a movie to educate you on wine, then I guess you should try 2004's "Sideways." Oh, I hear those moans. No, it was not the greatest film of the year and it featured a really despicable character named Jack (Thomas Hayden Church), but at least the writers knew a little about wine. There are two really good quotes in it. one by Miles (Paul Giamatti) and the other by Maya (Virginia Madsen).
Miles, when asked by Maya why he is so into Pinot Noir, answers, "Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet."
You have no idea how right Miles is unless you've played with the Pinot Noir grape-- or read the very wonderful, "The Heartbreak Grape" (see link to my review at the end of this entry).
When Miles asks Maya why she is so into wine, she says, "I like to think about the life of wine.... How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.... And it tastes so f*****g good."
This is not as good as Miles' quote, but it is a respectable answer, revealing that she has at least thought about it. And yes, it does indeed taste so f*****g good!
And that's all I have to say today. I need to get back to my other project. Happy Fourth, everyone.
- HBO's John Adams, , the series' offiial website
- John Adams, buy the complete 7-episode miniseries for less than $26 new
- John Adams, buy David McCullough's 768-page book for less than $12 new
- Thomas Jefferson - A Film by Ken Burns, buy the 3-hour special for just over $13 new
- Jefferson and Wine, for the dedicated historian, a masterful piece of research; about $30 new, under $7 used
- Sideways (Widescreen Edition), buy the movie for just over $4 new
- The Heartbreak Grape : A California Winemaker's Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir, my review
- Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support
July 9th, 2010
My stepson Scott and his daughter Klara and I returned yesterday from a few days of camping in the Wagon Ford Walk-In Tent Camping area at the Guadalupe River State Park near Spring Branch, Texas. A good time was had by all swimming, floating and canoeing on the Guadalupe, as well as just relaxing in the most tranquil of settings. The first afternoon the campsite was visited by two very large wild turkeys who pecked their way through the camp and into the brush during a 10-12-minute encounter during which they showed no fear of me at all. A few minutes later one of the largest wild rabbits I have ever seen went streaking through the camp as if being chased by a wolf. That encounter lasted all of 3-4 seconds. But the nights belonged to the raccoons.
The park has a prohibition against the public display of alcohol, which means beer cans and wine bottles cannot be visible to passers-by. There were few of the latter, but we drank our wine and beer from nondescript plastic tumblers. I had recently discovered the last surviving bottle of an old friend, my 1999 Pomegranate dessert wine, which we enjoyed. I could tell by the color that it had not maderized over the years, a good fortune I attribute to the screw cap closure. However, I was prepared to cook with it if it did not pass the taste test. It passed.
I came home yesterday to some interesting email. Among the collection was one chastising me for including "so f*****g good" in my July 4th entry. Okay, it was a judgment call. I knew when I wrote it that some of you would prefer that I hadn't, probably an equal number wouldn't care one way or another, a small percentage would be downright offended, and an equal number would consider me a wimp for putting the asterisks in there. I don't know if my percentage guesstimates are accurate, but everything I know about people leads me to believe it.
I had one other really unusual email. It is the one that sparked today's first topical entry.
Birds' Nest Wine
I sometimes get requests for recipes for really weird wines, and when I read the subject line on this email I thought, "Here we go again." But the request actually seemed quite sincere. "In settlement of a gambling debt I have come into possession of 56 swiftlet nests of the white-nest or edible-nest variety. I have used 6 of them to make birds nest soup but wondered if they might be used to make a wine. The nests are actually bland tasting, which is why the soup is either sweetened or flavored with mushrooms or chicken broth. The nests are small and weigh only about 9-10 grams each; the 50 remaining nests weigh about 17 ounces. I have attached three files containing most of what I could find out about the nests and am asking you if you think this material could produce a wine worth drinking. It would be an expensive wine, as the 50 nests are worth about $512US here in Hong Kong."
There was more in the letter, plus the three attachments and a photograph of a nest with a Hong Kong dollar next to it for scale. I read the attached material and learned more than I ever wanted to know about edible bird's nests. Here is a concise summary.
The swiftlet tribe (Collocaliini) within the swift family (Apodidae)contains four genus, one of which (Aerodramus) contains two or possibly three species that make fairly clean edible nests and many more (there are at least 28 species of Aerodramus) that build nests unsuited for culinary purposes. These are cave dwelling swifts who leave the caves at dawn to feed on insects and return at dusk to roost. The males build the nests. To do so they regurgitate long thin strands of gelatinous saliva that dry very quickly and are wound into half-cup shaped nests. The nests are collected, laboriously cleaned of foreign matter, and sold.
Some sources claim the birds weave seaweed into the nests, but this is disputed by many experts because the birds do not interact with seaweed. It is believed the misidentified seaweed component is actually saliva strands colored by dietary variety or actual red seaweed strands added to pass white bird nests off as red blood nests, the latter bringing a higher price. I neither know nor care, but doubt that insectivores would gather so foreign a material as seaweed to weave into their nests.
I am very doubtful the edible swiftlets' nests could be made into a decent wine. They are not particularly flavorful and must be sweetened or cooked with more flavored ingredients to even pass as a soup. I would not want to encourage anyone to jeopardize a $512 investment by making a wine that is most likely to be bland at best However, he did send me the following recipe he used to make his soup.
Birds' Nest Soup
- 6 edible birds' nests
- 2 ounces shitake mushrooms, chopped
- 2 ounces finely chopped cooked chicken white meat
- 2 cups chicken broth
Soak the birds' nests in water 5-6 hours. Drain and carefully inspect each nest and remove any downy feathers and other foreign matter with tweezers. Place in pint of boiling water and simmer 5 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze dry. Combine last three ingredients and bring to a boil. Add nests and reduce to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. Serve at once.
I received a request for Carrot Whiskey, a wine made from carrots, wheat, raisins, and citrus fruit. I first published my recipe in 1999, an updated adaptation of a recipe first published by Noel Whitcomb in the London Daily Mirror in the 1940s. I mention this because I went looking for other variations of this classic and was startled to find copy after copy of my recipe on various websites without any attribution to my site whatsoever (although most of them published my attribution to Noel Whitcomb). This is intellectual theft.
I really don't know what to do about the rampant plagiarism on the internet. I do know what to do about entire sections of my site that were copied, word for word, into commercially sold books without so much as an acknowledgement. I have a lawyer. I also have the complete record of my site's archiving at the Internet Archives Wayback Machine. It is quite easy to prove who copyrighted what when.
Many years ago I asked readers to let me know if they ran across unattributed copies of my pages and many people did so. I wrote several dozen emails and most removed the material or gave me appropriate attribution. One guy did not, and he and I were having a correspondence battle when I had my last heart attack. Afterwards, my doctor told me to avoid stress so I did not resume the battle. If you happen to run across unattributed copies of my pages, I would sincerely appreciate a line telling me about it. My email address is email@example.com (remove the patriotic colors).
Here is the Carrot Whiskey recipe:
Carrot Whiskey Recipe
- 6 lbs carrots
- 4 lbs finely granulated sugar
- 1 lb wheat
- 1 tblsp chopped raisins
- 2 oranges
- 2 lemons
- 7 pts water
- wine yeast
Scrub but do not peel the carrots. place them in 7 pints of water and bring to boil, simmering gently until tender (about 25-30 minutes). Meanwhile, put half the sugar in primary. Slice the oranges and lemons into thin slices and arrange on top of sugar. When carrots are done, strain them, pouring the water over the sugar and citrus. Stir to dissolve sugar and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add chopped raisins and wheat and sprinkle wine yeast over top. Cover with sterile cloth and set aside, stirring daily. After 6 days add remainder of sugar and stir well to dissolve. Ferment additional 8 days, stirring daily. Strain liquid into secondary and fit airlock. Rack after 30 days and again 30 days later. Bottle and taste after 1 year. [Adapted from recipe by Noel Whitcomb, London Daily Mirror]
July 14th, 2010
Thank you all who have sent me words of encouragement over the "expletive deleted" quote in my July 4th WineBlog entry. To that other dude, same to you, buddy. Childish, yes, but it felt good to say it.
Lots of email this week and last, very little of which I answered. It seems that I compressed a disc in my lower back and can only endure so many minutes at the computer. But one email especially woke me up and I responded. As I was doing so I realized it would make a great topic for the WineBlog, so I've popped a couple of pain pills and will see what I can do with it.
Ethanol, Methanol and Other Alcohols in Wine
Charlie Suehs, Secretary of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild and elected its first President back in 1976, wrote asking a question put to him by a father-daughter team of new winemakers. They wanted to know if methanol was a potential problem in homemade wines. This was the second time in two weeks I had been asked this question, so I had a reply fresh in my mind and sent Charlie four paragraphs. But I thought the subject might have greater interest and also deserved expansion. In other words, it deserved a WineBlog entry.
Everyone should know that ethanol is by far the primary alcohol in wines. Indeed, it is so dominant that the second most prevalent alcohol usually accounts for less than 1% of the whole. Further, all other alcohols found in wines, including methanol, combined do not equal the small significance of the second.
Methanol contains one less carbon unit than ethanol and is the simplest of alcohols. It is present in grape wines in very small amounts (less than 200 parts per million) but slightly higher amounts in fruit wines. Almost all methanol in wine comes from the splitting of pectin molecules by enzymes rather than from fermentation. Because so little methanol is produced this way, even high pectic fruit like apples will yield only trace amounts of methanol. The little methanol produced by fermentation is primarily from wine fermented on the skins or from macerated grapes. Still, we are only talking about trace amounts at best. These minute amounts are well documented in the scientific literature of enology.
Most wines contain larger amounts of polyols (polyalcohols) than methanol. The major polyol found in wine is glycerol, which is usually present in 25 to 75 times the amount of methanol. Of course, as I reported in my May 31st, 2010 WineBlog entry, glycerol production depends on yeast strain, fermentation temperature, pH, sugar content, SO2 additions, etc.
Another polyol found in many wines in higher concentrations than methanol is 2,3-butanediol at around 500 parts per million, which is also found in higher concentrations in fruit wines than in grape. Two other trace alcohols are common in wine. Sorbitol derives more from fruit than grapes, while mannitol is produced in trace amounts during MLF. They are not, however, alone. Thanks to gas chromamatography and other analytic techniques, many higher alcohols have been detected in wines, but all in trace amounts:
- 3-hydroxy-2-butanone acetoin
- tyrosol 2-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-ethanol
- phenethyl alcohol
- 2-phenethyl alcohol
This list is not exhaustive, but is sufficient to show the vast complexity of wines constituents. Most of these alcohols contribute to aromas. However, it is important to remember that with the exception of ethanol and glycerol (which do not contribute to aromas), all other alcohols present in wines are considered trace alcohols at best.
In a somewhat related postscript, in a previous posting here (May 27th, 2010), I asked the question when can we call an alcoholic beverage wine? When does hard cider or lemonade stop being that and become apple wine or lemon wine. The best answer I have found thus far is when the taxing authorities say it does. In California, table wines range from 7% to 14% alcohol by volume. Wines with more than 14% alcohol are considered fortified, even though many are not.
July 19th, 2010
WineMaker magazine arrived today and my article on making sparkling country wines begins on page 24. I'd like to say a few words about the article. When I first wrote this article two years ago, it covered grapes and non-grapes and was slightly over twice the size limit the magazine accepts. They sat on it for several months and finally said they would like to publish it at an undisclosed future date. After a few more months had passed, I wrote them and withdrew the article from consideration. I intended to publish it on my website, but life happened and I never got around to it. So, when they asked for a narrower focus of the subject -- sparkling country wines -- I dug out the old article and, after much agonizing, tossed it in the trash and started over.
I'm very proud of this article. It doesn't contain a single recipe, as most of my articles do, but it does tell you how to make sparkling wines from fruit and berries. If you don't subscribe to WineMaker, please consider doing so. This has nothing to do with me being in it from time to time. It's a darn good magazine for the home winemaker.
You can subscribe to WineMaker magazine here
How to Open a Wine Bottle With a Shoe
Charlie Suehs sent me and several others a link to a video that caused a stir among members of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. At our June meeting, we had Charlie demonstrate the procedure. He succeeded, but with some difficulty. First, click on the image below to go to another site and view the video. If it opens in the same window as this blog, please click your browser's "Back" button (arrow) when done to return here. By the way, the video is in French, but you will have no trouble understanding the technique.
Clicking on the image above will take you to another website;
when finished there, please return to Jack Keller's WineBlog
Okay, so after seeing that, you probably were as intrigued as we were at how simple the technique is, right? So why did I say, "He succeeded, but with some difficulty"?
Well, the first bottle Charlie tried was sealed with a synthetic cork that would not budge. All Charlie succeeded in doing was to jar loose millions of tiny bubbles of formerly dissolved CO2 that turned the white wine cloudy. Because this was supposed to be a still wine, it was bottled in a regular Bordeaux bottle. All that visible pressure inside the thin bottle made us nervous, so we set it aside and fetched another bottle of wine.
Next, a bottle with a natural cork was selected and Charlie once again gave it the old college try. After a half dozen whacks, the cork began to budge, but once again the wine turned cloudy from a release of bubbles that weren't supposed to be there. Another 8-10 jolts brought the cork out enough that Charlie was able to pull it out, but that caused the inevitable eruption and the loss of about a third of the wine. This wine, incidentally, had been sealed with a technical or composite 1+1 cork -- a dense, agglomerated cork with a natural cork disc glued to each end. These corks are not as compressible as pure natural corks, so that may account for the difficulty in its removal by this method. But I am just speculating....
So, the technique worked, but not nearly as easily as it did in the video. Here are some observations. You have to really put some force into that whack, so don't whack that shoe against a lath and plaster- or sheetrock-surfaced wall. Charlie was smart enough to use the side of a cement entryway. We also discovered that two out of two still wines selected for the demonstration were not still. This was a disappointing indictment of two very popular California wineries.
In a pinch, this will work, but not if the winery used a synthetic or a technical cork. If it used a pure natural cork -- or a colmated cork -- you won't have to repeat W.C. Fields' 1940 quote, "Once...in the wilds of Afghanistan, I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days."
I was recently interviewed by Ken Payton of the blog "Reign of Terroir" on the subject of the commercial prospects of non-vinifera grape and non-grape wines. I think it went pretty well. I got a lot of things off my chest that had been fermenting for a while, and I expressed once again what I think is key to being a good, competent winemaker. I am sure almost everyone will disagree with something I said, but I dare anyone to disagree with everything.
See the link following this entry
A friend of mine in Washington State, who doesn't drink or know wine, read the entry (I sent hime the link) and called me. "Wow," he said, "That was impressive! Now what the hell were you talking about?" Sigh....
The interview is located at the second link below. I hope some of you enjoy it.
- Wine Corks, my blog entry of different kinds of corks
- Jack Keller on America's Indigenous Grape and Fruit Wines, the July 18, 2010 entry on Reign of Terroir.
- Jack Keller, the Net's First Wine Blogger, Part 1,the October 3, 2008 entry on Reign of Terroir.
- Jack Keller, the Net's First Wine Blogger, Part 2, the October 6, 2008 entry on Reign of Terroir.
- Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support
July 23rd, 2010
After reading the "Reign of Terroir" interview, one reader wrote with a few comments. All I will share at the moment is his question, "I know what terroir means, but how is it really pronounced?" I think the common English-French pronunciation is "TAIR-wahr", but I have asked two Frenchmen to pronounce it and each placed the accent on the last syllable. Also, one pronounced the final "r" and the other did not, or at least it was not detected by my ears. Thus, I believe the pronunciation is either "tair-WAHR" or "tair-WHA". I am open to any correction from my French readers.
I was elected President of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild again. This is no big deal, as our by-laws call for an automatic elevation of 2nd Vice President to 1st Vice President and 1st Vice President to President unless someone declines or someone else is nominated for a position.
Jim Wright of Castroville, our 2nd Vice President for the past two years, regretfully declined elevation to 1st Vice President for personal reasons. Friench Tarkington of Victoria, a magnanimous gentleman, graciously stepped up and acceded to accept the 1st Vice Presidency, a job with a lot of work attached because this officer chairs our two annual competitions. Charles DeLuna of San Antonio, a generous gentleman and darned good winemaker, was elected 2nd Vice President. Charlie Suehs of Castroville and Donna Keller of Pleasanton, both dear to my heart, were reelected Secretary and Treasurer respectively. This all occurred last month, but the installment of new officers occurred last Saturday.
I took down the counter on my Winemaking Home Page. This may not seem like a big deal to you but it was to me. I agonized over it for weeks. When I discovered the "big discrepancy" I started looking for another counter that provided the service I expected (at a minimum, the ability to reset the count from time to time when it proved inaccurate).
"Why," you might ask, "and what is the 'big discrepancy' anyway?" The two are intimately related. There was a time when I trusted my counter, but then I was looking through my domain's control panel and discovered a statistical overview of my sites. Actually, I knew it was there but simply never looked at it. The total number of hits on my host's server for my index (home) page was six times what the counter showed and these statistics started at "0" the day I moved my site from Geocities to my own domain in late November 2000. So I had my counter reset to the number my server reported, which I know for sure is far more accurate. Then my hosting company got bought out and I got a new control panel. It too had a statistical utility, but it did not seem to work. I kept meaning to contact my host about it but always quickly forgot about it. About two weeks ago I called my host's technical services about something else and happened to remember to ask about the statistics viewer. After about 25 minutes they found the problem and fixed it and suddenly I saw the "big discrepancy." The counter on my site showed 2,406,000 hits on the home page alone since 1997, which previous statistics showed were about 11% of all visits to the entire site, while the counter on my server showed 2,546,000 hits on this page alone and 23,145,062 total site hits since January 1, 2010. This, my friends, is a "big discrepancy."
There used to be many free counters out there with terrific services, but those with terrific services seem to have all gone commercial. It costs money and time to keep my websites online and I have to beg for donations to keep them afloat. I simply will not pay for a service that was free. So, with the public counter being essentially meaningless and me being unable to find a free counter that did what I wanted, I have simply taken the counter down and replaced it with a simple statement I will update from time to time based on the server's statistics.
My New Website
I finally put up my new website, "Free PC Services". I have been working on it for three months -- probably no less than 4 hours a day (12 hours some days) since late April -- and decided to publish it even though it isn't anywhere near where I wanted it to be when I debuted it. The web site is a selective cataloging of free programs for your desktop, laptop or notebook computer.
My first concern was security, especially since I have suffered three computer or hard drive crashes in my life, and so I wanted to find safe, secure, off-site (read as online) backup and storage sites so I don't ever lose my data and informational files, website files, emails and addresses, etc. again. So, I set out researching and trying out various online backup and storage sites. In doing so, my antivirus program warned me that a couple of downloading files contained adware, spyware, suspected rootkits, and trojans. Holy cow!
I started looking into free anti-everything programs to make sure I could detect everything trying to hijack, exploit or ruin my PC. I evaluated antivirus, antispyware, anti-adware, anti-rootkit, anti-key loggers, and all manner of anti-malware programs that filled various niches in my computer's armor. That led to firewalls, automatic patch and update managers, password managers, encrypted storage of anything with my Social Security number and other identity-sensitive information. During this period I decided to weave my evaluations of these programs into a website so others might benefit from my many hours of work.
I had planned on spending a week on free security programs and then moving on to free strategy games (I was aching to find a good, free Risk or Risk-clone program), wysiwyg text editors, markup, programming and scripting editors, photo editors, media file catalogers, audio and music rippers, email programs and plug-ins, desktop tools, and, well, you get the picture. Instead, I spent 11 weeks on security programs (there are a lot of them out there!) and 10 days on Risk games. That funny little pointed rock I started digging out of the sand turned out to be the top of the Great Pyramid.
So, realizing that if I waited until I had covered all the categories I planned it might be two years or more, I decided to go ahead with what I have and just keep building. After all, that's what I did 16 years ago with The Winemaking Home Page. The response I get to the site will determine where it goes in the future, how much time I dedicate to it, and if it is even worth the effort. I hope you will look at it. I have nothing invested in any program listed and receive no remuneration from any listing. I do this for you. Your response will determine the project's future. This site isn't ever going to get a respectable ranking in Google, so it will live or die based on personal recommendations. If you check it out and find it useful, you might mention it to your family members and friends. I would certainly appreciate it.
Once again, the pages posted thus far evaluated:
- AntiSpyware and AntiMalware software
- AntiVirus software
- OffSite Backup and Storage
- Password Managers and Encryption software
- Serious Tools for Serious Situations
- Tune-Up and Optimizing software
- Patch and Update Monitors
- Risk Games
If you might be in need of any of these kinds of programs, before spending your money take a look at what is available free, but by all means start with antivirus programs first to protect all subsequent downloads.
July 29th, 2010
I lost my Blanc du Bois harvest this year. While waiting for a higher Brix, I nursed a back injury a bit too thoroughly and did not check the grapes for 5 days. When I did, those that were not taken by the birds had browned, were starting to shrivel and some (probably pecked at by the birds) were starting to rot. How could five days make that much of a difference? The last refractometer samplings showed a Brix of 20 and 21°, so I have to assume that was as high as they were going to go this year and I should have harvested them right then, but I have always gotten 23 to 25° Brix.
I have since talked to two friends who also experienced early shriveling and browning of different varieties and we all share the following experiences: (1) very large crops this year (none of us thinned the bunches to raise quality), which may have lowered the Brix to below our expectations, (2) early verasion, probably due to a relatively mild winter (while it reached 32° or below 15 times in January and February, we really only had one "Blue Norther" -- Jan 8th [21°], Jan 9th [15 °], Jan 10th [19°], and Jan 11th [27°]), and (3) more than adequate rainfall this growing season (just over 3 feet in Pleasanton, with 5 1/2 inches of it falling on Jun 28-29). Whatever the cause, I should not have waited 5 days to check on them when they were almost where I expected them to peak anyway. We all know a grape is capable of jumping 2° Brix in 24 hours; it isn't common, but it has happened.
Having gotten that out of the way, I want to thank all of you who visited my new website, Free PC Services, and who wrote with comments. Since the last WineBlog entry, I've put up a page on free email services. I evaluate ten email services, with Gmail coming out on top, Inbox second, AOL and Yahoo tied for third, Hotmail fourth, and Mail fifth. You are welcome to disagree, but at least see why I rated them as I did.
When Can We Call It Wine, Revisited
Back on May 27th I asked the question, "When can we call it wine?" I've received several replies worthy of note. One answered another question I asked in that entry and I concede his point. A second offered a point of his own that I also conceded. A third dug up a California regulation to offer a legal view of when we can call it wine.
In the May 27th entry, I wrote, "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? "
In discussing the last question, I said, "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? "
Steve Haebig quickly wrote, "Just about laughed myself silly when you asked why anyone would try to ferment soda... This coming from a guy who's trying to imitate the Juicy Fruit flavor into a wine." Well, he has a point and I concede to it. For the record, I have not been successful in duplicating the Juicy Fruit flavor. I can get very close to it in the raw must, but it changes drastically during fermentation.
Randy P. from Tacoma, Washington wrote, "References say that wine is fermented grape or fruit juice, but you have shown us that it can be the fermented essence of just about anything, from cracked corn to rose petals to a tea made from sand burrs. But I offer you two recipes. One ferments into wine. The other does not."
Wine and Not Wine
|1 gallon fruit juice (any kind)
sugar to bring s.g. to 1.090
adjust acidity to 0.7
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
| 1 gallon water
sugar to bring s.g. to 1.090
2 teaspoons acid blend
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
Method: Combine ingredients in primary. Cover with clean towel and set in a warm place. After 10 days, transfer to a gallon jug and attach an airlock. When all fermentation stops, rack. Repeat racking every 30 days until clear. Bottle and drink. One is wine. The other is not.
Point taken. Wine includes aromatic and/or flavor essences from some base ingredient.
Finally, George Cameron sent me a snippet from a California regulation (not further identified) that says that unfortified fermented beverages containing between 7 and 14% alcohol by volume may be labeled as table wines.
Interesting stuff. Further comments are welcome. Write to me at jackredkellerwhitewine(at)gbluemail(dot)com after removing the patriotic colors and converting parentheticals to appropriate symbols.
Making Mustang Wine
The mustang grapes are ripening all over Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. I've received a number of emails, snail mails and phone calls concerning making this wine. The most common questions this year, as in many years in the past, have to do with (1) how much juice does x pounds of mustang grapes yield and (2) why does one dilute the juice to reduce acidity and then add acid blend to the must?
I covered both questions in my "Taming the Wild Mustang" article in the June/July 2004 issue of WineMaker magazine.
Mustang grapes are low in juice content when compared to V. vinifera or other wine grapes one might be familiar with. Their skins are thick (and heavy), affecting the yield in terms of fluid volume to weight. I have pressed as much as 24.5 pounds to yield one gallon of juice, although I think 22 pounds is more common. This is considerably more than the 12-16 pounds per gallon yields I get from most other varieties.
The amount of grape by weight in each gallon of must determines the wine's flavor, fullness (body), acidity, and tannic qualities. The minimum amount used should not be less than 4 pounds per gallon. I have used as much as 14 pounds per gallon and will not repeat that figure except for the late-harvest, near-raisined grapes. I prefer 6 to 8 pounds per gallon - 12 if making a port. Using 22 pounds grape/gallon of juice as a norm, the figures in Table 1 should apply.
Mustang Grape Juice Yields
||Juice Yield (pts)
||Juice Yield (fl. Ozs)|
Fully ripe mustang grapes possess a small amount of free-run juice trapped between the skin and the pulp. This juice is richly colored and highly acidic, but the acid declines as the grape passes optimum ripeness. It is low in sugar - with a Brix of no more than 10 and often as low as 6 - but strongly flavored. Juice trapped in the pulp is less flavorful, acidic and sweet than the free-run but essential for making the wine. Its release is aided by a generous dose of pectic enzyme approximately 10-12 hours prior to pitching an activated (rehydrated) yeast culture.
Chaptalization requirements are fairly straightforward, but cannot be calculated until after amelioration (with water). Table 2 assumes Table 1's yields in pints, amelioration to 1 gallon, and a generous Brix of 8 before amelioration. Thus, there is little natural sugar in the diluted must.
Chaptaliztion Requirements for Mustang Musts
||Juice Yield (pt)
||Brix/S.G. after Amelioration
||Sugar to Reach S.G. 1.090|
||1.5 / 1.006
||1 lb 14 oz|
||2.0 / 1.008
||1 lb 13 oz|
||2.75 / 1.011
||1 lb 12 oz|
||3.5 / 1.014
||1 lb 10 oz|
||4.75 / 1.018
||1 lb 8 oz|
The mustang's high acidity is easily dealt with by ameliorating with water. Even commercial wineries are allowed to ameliorate with water for acid reduction. Acidity as high as 14 grams per liter (14 ppt, or 1.4%) is not uncommon in mustang juice. It should be reduced to around 7.5 grams per liter (7.5 ppt, or 0.75%). Howevwe, ameliorating just enough to balance the acid may end up with too much of the mustang's "wild" flavors, so it is common to use less grapes, more water, and then have to add acid back to the wine. Indeed, in Table 3, acid actually needs to be added to most formulations to achieve this high value.
Acid Corrections for Mustang Musts
||Juice Yield (pt)
||Acidity after Amelioration
||Acid Correction (acid blend)|
||Add 1 tsp|
These tables, by the way, were first publish in my WineMaker article. I make note of that because they are now copyrighted by Battenkill Communications, publisher of WineMaker magazine, and used here with their permission.
Below are two recipes for mustang grape wine, one using 6 pounds of grapes per gallon and the other using 8 pounds. These are my own recipes.
Mustang Grape Wine (1)
- 6 lbs. black Mustang Grapes
- 1 lb 13 oz granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp acid blend
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 6 pts water
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
- Burgundy wine yeast
Destem and wash the grapes. Wearing rubber gloves, crush the grapes in the primary and add all ingredients except the pectic enzyme and yeast. Stir well to dissolve the sugar and integrate the other components. Cover with a clean towel or lid and leave for 12 hours. Add pectic enzyme and stir well. Recover the primary and leave for another 12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution and cover the primary. When fermentation gets going, the pulp will rise and for a floating "cap" which should be pushed down and stirred twice a day for 5 to 7 days. Strain and press the pulp well to extract all possible liquid. Transfer liquid to secondary fermentation vessel, attach an airlock, and let stand about three weeks. Rack and top up, then rack again in three months. If not clear, add a fining agent and rack off of finings ten days later, set aside another month and bottle. May taste immediately, but improves continuously and remarkably with age (3-4 years). If you wish to sweeten this wine, stabilize it with potassium sorbate and a crushed Campden tablet after racking off the finings. Sweeten to taste and allow the wine to sit 30 days to make sure refermentation does not occur. [Author's own recipe.]
Mustang Grape Wine (2)
- 8 lbs black Mustang Grapes
- 1 lb 12 oz granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp acid blend
- 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
- 5 pts water
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
- Montrachet wine yeast
Remove the stems and wash the grapes. While wearing rubber gloves, crush the grapes in your primary. Add all ingredients except pectic enzyme and yeast. Stir well and cover for 12 hours, then add pectic enzyme and stir again. Wait another 12 hours and add yeast. The must will form a floating "cap" of skins, pulp and seeds which should be pushed down and stirred twice daily for 5 to 7 days. Strain and press the pulp well to extract liquid. Pour into a secondary fermentation vessel, attach an airlock and let stand three weeks. Rack and top up, then rack again in three months. If not clear, add a fining agent. Rack off of finings ten days later, set aside another month and bottle. May taste immediately, but improves continuously and remarkably with age (3-4 years). See previous recipe about sweetening. [Author's own recipe.]
August 3rd, 2010
Busy, busy, busy. My lower back has finally stopped bothering me daily and now only complains to lifting carboys, ice chests, sacks of feed and 11-year-old granddaughters. I'll suffer for the latter, but for everything else there is Scott, when around, or my Carboy Lifter. I address the lifter in the first entry below.
I put up another page on my Free PC Services website. This one evaluates 17 free audio, video and multimedia utility programs -- everything from CD, DVD and MP3 rippers and burners and audio, video and iPod converters to YouTube file grabbers. We even found one DVD cloning package and a CD/DVD cataloging program. You can read about and download them right here. If you find the new site useful, please tell your friends about it. I would appreciate that very much.
Back Pain and the Carboy Lifter
In 1977 I picked up a stack of bricks, lifted them just above waist-high, and leaned back to center the weight over my hips. While doing this, the disc was compressed between my L2 and L3 vertebrae and the cortical rims met and actually snipped off a piece of the outer disc called the annulus fibrosis, allowing the jelly-like center (the nucleus pulposus) to escape. I was in spinal traction for three weeks while the pulposus retracted into the disc and it healed just enough for me to be released from traction in a corset. Luckily, there are no surviving photographs of me and my corset. But, I have had a "bad back" ever since and lifting more than 40 pounds often puts me in pain. My recent bout of lower back pain has made Martin Benke's Carboy Lifter a Godsend once again. I had to rack seven carboys over the weekend and the Lifter made it easy. Just crank the carboy up to about 30 inches and rack in place. Simple.
6 gal of Elderberry on the Lifter
We went fishing with Martin Benke last week (12 blue catfish keepers, absolutely delicious!) and he says he now makes the Carboy Lifter only when ordered. The price has risen for his latest design to the $360 -$380 range and that puts a lot of people off. He claims the nearest competitor found on the internet was around $900, but I could not find it. I did find one for $1900 and another for $2300. I don't understand people. My back is worth every bit of any of those numbers (I have no idea how much I have spent on my back over the years, but am sure I could buy a house for that amount), so $360 or $380 or even $1900 is a bargain.
Martin can be difficult to reach. He and Lesley sold the L&M General Store in Castroville some time back and they rotate between their homes in Dunlay, Texas and Lake Corpus Christi, with frequent travels mixed in to keep us guessing as to where they might be. But if you need to order a Carboy Lifter, call (210) 535-7105 and be patient.
Approximately half of all tropical fruit grown commercially are mangoes. It is, without question, the most consumed fruit in the world. It also makes a delightful wine that goes down well with most meals and over ice. I have made mango wines over the years and have had two great recipes sent to me from Australia and Florida. Recently, I noticed some Ataulfo mangoes that were shriveling. I knew this was a sign of ripeness, but they looked bad and people weren't buying them. I called the produce manager over and offered him half price for the lot. For reasons known only to him, he took my offer and I bought 18 mangoes for $4.50. The combined weight of the peeled, deseeded flesh was 6 1/4 pounds, just enough to make two gallons of wine. In an act of daring, I decided to make just one.
Ataulfo Mangos (photo: berrydoctor.com
The Ataulfo mango, also called Champagne, Honey, Manila, Adaulfo, or Adolfo, is a mango cultivar from Mexico and Hawaii, originally from Indonesia. They are golden yellow and mine weighed around 8 ounces each, with an oblong, curved shape similar to a cashew. They have a buttery, non-fibrous, yellow flesh with a rich, spicy and somewhat lemony flavor that masks their high sugar (15 grams per 100-grams) content. My wife and I like this mango a lot. It has a much richer and more interesting flavor than the Tommy Atkins and Haden mangoes, the most common market mangoes in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom.
When in Florida I tasted several mango varieties, but two in particular were memorable although I have never tasted either since. One was called Kent and the other Cannonball. Both had exceptional flavor and smooth pulp. Why they are not widely exported probably has something to do with shelf life, tolerance of handling and transportability. Nonetheless, I wish I could taste them again and possibly making wine from them.
Before we get to the recipe, a word of warning. Mango peel contains urushiol, the chemical in poison ivy and poison sumac that causes contact dermatitis in susceptible people. Do not ferment the fruit with the skin. Peel it and discard the peeling. Handling the peeling will not cause contact dermatitis, but you don't want to consume it.
Ataulfo Mango Wine
- 9 lbs Ataulfo mangoes, peeled and deseeded
- 1 1/2 lbs granulated sugar
- water to one gallon
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/4 tsp tannin
- Lalvin ICV D-47 (Côtes-du-Rhône) wine yeast
Put water on to boil. Start with 3 quarts; you can add more later if needed. Meanwhile, peel the mangos, cut the pulp away from the seed, and slice and dice the flesh. Tie diced flesh inside a nylon straining bag and put in a primary. Mash the pulp with your hands. Dissolve sugar in boiling water and pour over mashed fruit. Add acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, cover primary and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover the primary. Squeeze bag 2-3 times daily until violent fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Drip drain bag into primary without squeezing. Allow wine to settle overnight, then rack into secondary. Top up and fit airlock. Rack again after 30 days and again every two months for six months or until wine falls brilliantly clear. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite (or finely crushed Campden tablet) and sweeten to taste. Wait 30 days to ensure refermentation does not occur and rack into bottles. Age this wine a year before drinking. Serve chilled or over ice. [Author's own recipe]
- WineBlog Archives, scroll to March 27, 2005 for original entry on the Carboy Lifter
- Free Email Services, at Free PC Services
- Mango Wine, my site, two earlier recipes
- Sweet News: Ataulfos are in Season, The Star, Toronto
- I'm Mad About Mangoes,by Sue Doeden, The Bemidji Pioneer
- Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support
August 9th, 2010
My mother turned 86 today. She sounds well. If your mother is still with you, don't wait for a birthday. Call her today and let her know she is in your heart, your thoughts and your prayers. We owe them our lives. It's the least we can do.
I've been downloading, installing, test driving, reviewing, and uninstalling software for my other website. In all, I've added eight programs to my page on audio, video and multimedia software, bring the total there to 27. Among the eight is one that really stands out and was not uninstalled, an audio ripper, converter, database builder, inventory manager, and CD burner for the serious music collector. It organized our 6,686 ripped tracks in seconds and then went out and found missing album, artist, track, album art and other data for about 1/10th of the collection that another program had missed. We then asked it to build a play list based on "psychedelic rock" as the genre and it found 617 tracks in about 2 seconds. I hope you check it out at Audio, Video and Multimedia Tools -- Free PC Services and see what I am talking about.
A fellow on a forum wrote about consistency between wines. He had made two wines from canned concentrate and questioned why one is very pink and the other has an amber tint to it. Also, the flavors are not the same. After a shortened version of 20 questions, it was probable that the second wine was starting to oxidize early. I offered seven reasons this might occur. I thought you might like to read them.
Ullage: The amount of air in the secondary after the airlock is attached determines how much oxygen the wine will absorb, and O2 absorption is the controlling parameter for oxidation. Less ullage equals less oxidation. HOWEVER, when you first transfer from primary to secondary leave more ullage than you otherwise would -- to allow for foam as the fermentation continues. After 2-3 days, you should know whether you can top up to reduce the ullage without foaming over or not. Top up when needed.
Sulfur Dioxide: If you don't use Campden or potassium metabisulfite, you are essentially checking the box that says, "Permit early oxidation of this batch." There are no ifs ands or buts about it. If you are one of the 2-3% of the population with a genuine (not imaginary) sulfite sensitity (you would have noticed this as a kid when you first ate raisins and got violently ill) then you will have to drink the wine young. If you are one of the others who just don't like the idea of adding chemicals to your chemically constructed body, that's your choice and you'll have to suffer the consequences; drink it young or drink it oxidized.
Removing the Airlock: Every time you remove the airlock you allow fresh O2 to enter the wine, and wine absorbs O2 very quickly. I have seen people remove the airlock and smell the wine for no reason whatsoever, or taste the wine every day to see how it is improving (or not). This is sheer stupidity. Tasting the wine not only lets in O2, but increases the ullage and allows quicker aging (right on through to oxidation). Remove the airlock when you must -- to top up, rack or pull a sample for testing.
Racking: Some people purposely splash their wines when racking but most do not. Those who splash on purpose mistakenly think this is somehow akin to micro-oxygenation (which it isn't) or think it will help degas their wine (it will, but this is not the way to do it!). When you rack, place the output end of the siphon tube against the side of the carboy to minimize splashing; when the wine is an inch or so deep, push the end under the wine to eliminate splashing altogether.
Bottling: I have fooled around with filling my bottles with CO2 or argon gas before adding the wine. This does reduce (but will not eliminate) the wine's exposure to free O2 during bottling, but I long ago concluded that I am not a rich man and the cost of either CO2 or argon are an expense I cannot afford. Use them if you are fortunate enough to make enough money to be vilified by the Democrats as "rich." Otherwise, try not to allow the wine to splash when bottling.
Corking (or Closing): The best way to do it is to fill a bottle with wine and cork it immediately. This requires two people. If you don't have a partner to help, buy youself a bag of 25-50 tapered (wedge-shaped) corks to temporarily cover the bottles after filling them until you finish bottling and can insert the final cork. If using screwcaps, close them immediately after filling (takes 3-5 seconds).
Laying Down: Corked bottles need to be laid on their sides during cellaring. If you put them in cases, lay then on their sides or tape the cases shut and store them upside down. Dry corks shrink and pass air; wet corks don't shrink and pass air over many, many years. HOWEVER, always allow your corked bottles to remain upright for a minimum of two days (three is better) to allow the compressed air inside (shoved in there by the cork) to escape between the cork and the glass. If you lay the bottle down immediately, the pressure will push wine out around the cork until the pressure is reduced enough not to have any "push" left. After that, it may seal or may continue leaking. Be smart and wait three days.
Deep Fried Coca-Cola
This has nothing to do with wine, but was just too good not to share. A friend sent me this recipe (thank you, Pete) and I had to read it through twice to make sure it wasn't a put-on. I found it on-line just to be sure, and finally I said "Okay, I've got to try this." This is basically a funnel cake recipe and is being served at county and state fairs all over the country. I ran to the store to get some Coca-Cola, whipped cream and Coca-Cola Syrup. It turns out you can't buy Coca-Cola Syrup in Pleasanton, Texas, so I used a method I found on-line to make some. If you cannot find it either and have to make it, by all means make it up before you start on the funnel cakes.
Folks, this was a lot of work, but the results were worth doing it...once.
Deep Fried Coca-Cola
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups Coca Cola
- Oil for deep frying
- 1 cup Coca Cola syrup
- whipped cream
- maraschino cherries
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Mix in eggs and Coca Cola and stir until a smooth batter forms. Preheat oil in a skillet or deep fryer. Pour 1/3 cup of batter into a funnel or turkey baster and in a circular motion pour batter into the hot oil in a funnel cake pattern. Fry up for about a minute on each side and drain on paper towels. Serve while still warm and top with Coca Cola syrup, whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
According to half a dozen websites, you can get genuine Coca-Cola syrup at pharmacies everywhere. There are five pharmacies in Pleasanton and none carry Coca-Cola syrup. Indeed, all five pharmacists thought it was odd that I thought they might have it. So, I looked at several recipes for reducing Coke by heating it to arrive at a syrup and settled on this one. It requires more additives than the others, but seems to me to be a better flavored syrup.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons cocoa
- 1/4 can Coca-Cola
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
In a small saucepan mix together the sugar, cocoa, Coca-Cola, butter and light corn syrup. Cook over medium-high heat stirring constantly. Bring it to a boil and lower the heat a bit. Cook until it thickens up, stirring constantly. Once the mixture thickens, stir in the vanilla flavoring and remove from heat. Allow the Coca-Cola syrup to cool, and serve it on top of your Deep Fried Coca-Cola or use to glaze a ham.
August 18th, 2010
Time flies. It is now or soon will be harvest time throughout the nation and I am reading lots of email about uneven ripening, Brix levels, seed maturity, bird problems, development of phenols, and a host of other subjects that all indicate serious growers and winemakers. It is heartwarming to know that so many are growing grapes and fruit with such passion.
I had an interesting phone call with questions about making pyracantha wine. I no longer have pyracantha bushes and it has been years since I have tasted it (Keith Sundberg made the best I have tasted). Following that call, I got to wondering how many people even look at my recipe for Pyracantha Wine. I ran a statistics program against site visits and discovered something interesting. During the first 16 days of August, the least viewed recipe on my site was Apple Juice Wine, with 4 views. The second least viewed recipe on my site was Youngberry Wine with 11 views. Tied for thirdleast viewed recipe on my site, with 13 views each, were Chickweed Wine and Pyracantha Wine. I don't know what this means. Apple Concentrate Wine had 179 views and the page containing several Apple Wine recipes got 8472 views (in 16 days!). There's a whole lot of winemaking going on out there.
What Percent [of Alcohol] is Too Much?
This was a great question, asked casually at a wine tasting in Alamo Heights, an incorporated area surrounded by San Antonio. The gentleman tasted a Pinot Grigio, made a face denoting displeasure, picked up the bottle and announced "Too much alcohol" while scanning the label. "Ah," he said, "14.6% -- too much." His companion asked, "What percent is too much?" His response was both illuminating and totally correct.
To paraphrase him, he essentially said there is no magic number, but 14.6% for a table wine is almost certainly too much. Certainly it is too much when you taste the alcohol over the fruit, when the heat from the alcohol burns the taste buds, and when the winemaker is obligated to sweeten the wine to attempt to achieve balance and fails in the attempt. What you have here is an overly sweet, hot wine. You have to search for the flavors, which in this particular wine were quite nice, he admitted, but you shouldn't have to search for them. The fruit, not the alcohol, should be up front.
The gentleman was absolutely correct. Alcohol creep began in earnest about a dozen years ago, when growers began letting their grapes hang longer to develop the full flavor of the fruit. The general consequences were higher Brix and lower acidity. In big reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, these can result in a rich, chewy wine, but one that can pack a whollop when the bottle is empty. In whites, the lower acidity can result in hot, flabby wines. I would not have called that Pinot Grigio "flabby," but it was "hot" on the tongue.
In home winemaking, one has a certain amount of control the commercial winemakers may lack. We can dilute a high Brix must or chaptalize a low Brix in areas where this is not allowed for commercial producers. When making non-grape wines, we have complete control over the chemistry, limited only by our knowledge and the means to achieve that control. Means in this sense refers to laboratory analysis and equipment.
Yet the greatest abusers of excessive alcohol tend to be novice or young home winemakers. The first group mistakenly believes that more is better while the second group is just seeking a quick buzz without regard for balance or any concept of what a good wine really is. I know. I was among them once, as were many other experienced winemakers. I'm not sure when one grows out of that phase. In my case it occurred when I tasted a truly great, nearly perfect Zinfandel and noticed the alcohol was a few decimals below 13%. For others it might occur when they begin competing and receive feedback from conscientious judges.
But to be fair, I know two local winemaker who have developed a taste for high alcohol wines in much the same way as another friend has developed a taste for moonshine. I do not judge them. They like what they like. But they know what I and most judges will say when we judge their wines.
Dried Tart Cherry Wine
I recently had a "come to Jesus" moment regarding a long-held assumption I had about dried cherries. I had always assumed that 1 pound of dried tart cherries equaled about 4 pounds of fresh and 1 1/4 pounds of dried sweet cherries equaled about 4 pounds fresh. I discovered that 1 pound of dried (either tart or sweet) equaled 6 to 8 pounds of fresh, depending on the size of the cherries and their pits. I also discovered the sugar content of the dried, approximately 68%, was much higher than I had assumed. This drastically changed my outlook on making dried cherry wine.
I focus on tart cherries because they make a far superior wine than do sweet cherries. Tart cherries are only about 55% as sweet as sweet cherries. This varies with ripeness, varieties and annual variations. This difference seems to fade when the cherries are dried. The sugar content varies with the form of the cherry product. Here are some examples:
Sugar Content of Cherry Products
Per 100 grams (3.5 oz.)
5+1 = 5 pounds fruit packed in 1 pound of sugar IQF = Individually Quick Frozen (ND)= Not Detected
Analysis is for representative generic samples; nutrition of branded samples may vary
Data extracted from What's Cooking America
The 5+1 tart cherries are sold in 30-pound containers to bakeries, restaurants and food preparation companies. IQF tart cherries are sold in most supermarkets, as are pie filling, canned tarts and juice concentrates. Dried tart cherries care often packaged in boxes and bags, but the best way to buy then is in bulk at a Whole Foods or other outlet. Be sure to read the labels for each kind of product to avoid buying cherries treated with biological stabilizers such as potassium (or sodium) sorbate, sorbic acid, or benzoic acid. Here is my new recipe for dried tart (sour) cherry wine.
Dried Tart Cherry Wine
- 1 lb dried tart (sour) cherries
- 1 11-oz. can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
- 9 ozs finely granulated sugar (to S.G. of 1.090)
- 1 tsp malic acid
- 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1/4 tsp tannin
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 7 pts 5 ozs water
- 1 pkt Montrachet or Champagne wine yeast
Soak cherries in 2 quarts water for 24 hours. Bring water to a boil, lower heat and simmer 8 minutes. Strain to capture liquid (reserve cherries for jam or preserves) and stir in sugar until dissolved, cover and set aside to cool. Add remaining ingredients except yeast, stir and recover. After 12 hours, add activated yeast, recover, and stir daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010-1.020. Transfer to secondary, attach airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack when fermentation ceases, top up and reattach airlock, Rack, top up and refit airlock every 60 days for 6 months. Stabilize and sweeten to taste, wait additional 30 days and rack into bottles. Age another 6-12 months before tasting. [Author's own recipe]
August 21st, 2010
The only email I received about my last WineBlog entry (3 of you took the time to write) complained that I did not answer the title question, "What Percent [of Alcohol] is Too Much?" No, in fact I did not deliver a numerical answer. The title question was intended to be a thought teaser and my discussion intended to stimulate you into arriving at your own answer. But I did suggest that too much is an amount that upsets the balance of the wine -- no, that prevents the wine from achieving balance -- by delivering too much heat to the tongue and palate. If that is all you got out of it, aside from "more is not better," then you got my answer. The actual percentage depends on the wine and your ability to coax it into balance, where neither alcohol, acidity nor sweetness rise to the fore.
To write to me about WineBlog entries, use the address jackredkellerwhitewine(at)gbluemail(dot)com; just remove the patriotic colors and insert the parenthetical characters. I may not have time to answer, but I do read all emails.
My Free PC Services website is doing well. We've counted about 2,000 visitors and that is encouraging, especially since we are waaaay back in the 3-digit page numbers on Google. Our latest addition is a page on Image Editors, where we evaluate 8 stellar programs (plus plug-ins, tutorials, etc.) offering different levels of sophistication -- from beginner-level adjuncts to Windows' Paint program to near PhotoShop quality and complexity. We are certainly not through with this category of free programs, but wanted to get these 8 reviews out to you without further delay. And please, if you find the site useful, tell your friends about it. You are our only advertisers.
Raisins vs. Concentrates for Adding Body to Country Wines
In a forum discussion 2-3 weeks ago, a winemaker mentioned using raisins for adding body to a wine made from blackberry jam. I felt compelled to comment on this. Quite a few of my older recipes call for using raisins, but in all honesty I haven't used them in years. Here then are my reasons why. Oh, and he also asked the difference between using jams, jellies and preserves, which I also felt compelled to answer.
I have stopped using raisins altogether. Adding a can of Welch's frozen grape juice, red or white as needed, per gallon provides all the body my non-grape wines generally need. Why stop using raisins? There are reasons for this.
First, raisins are typically 65-69% sugar. When adding a pound of raisins, I always assumed I was adding 10 1/2 ounces of sugar. Then I read that if you put the raisins in whole (which I never did) your yeast might process 1 1/2 ounces of sugar from them. If you cut each raisin in half (how many people do that?) the yeast might get to about 3 1/2 to 4 ounces of sugar, max. If you soak them overnight and run them through a mincer (a hand-cranked meat grinder with a mincing blade, which I always used) the yeast will get almost all of the sugar, but might need 2 weeks to do it.
Second, cleaning the mincer is a lot more trouble than it's worth when an alternative is handy.
Third, raisins always seem to leave a very slight "raisiny" flavor, but concentrates don't.
Fourth, grape concentrate is easy to use and requires no clean-up.
Finally, grape concentrate is immediately available to the yeast.
He mentioned that a wine he used had a "waxy" taste and wondered if it was pectin. I don't know what the "waxy" taste is, but it isn't pectin. Pectin has mouthfeel, but no taste.
As for the difference between the different fruit spreads, jelly is made from juice and always has pectin added so it will gel. Jams are cooked, pureed fruit and may or may not have pectin added, but if so then much less is used than for jelly as jams are not supposed to gel. Preserves are cooked fruit or fruit pieces in heavy syrup that may or may not have pectin added, but if so then also much less is used than for jelly. Conserves are preserves that combine two or more fruit and may or may not have a little pectin in them. Marmalade is a clear, sweetened, usually thin jelly containing the cooked pulp and rind of citrus fruit and any other ingredient (grated carrot, chopped walnut or hickory meats, chopped peaches, apricots, black cherries, etc.) that thicken it, but usually containing just enough pectin to produce body.
Did I miss any?
Why Use Pectic Enzyme?
A winemaker wrote an a forum that he was out of pectinase and starting a mango wine. He wanted to know if pectic enzyme is purely a clearing agent and if there is any benefit to flavor or yeast health using pectic enzymes before fermentation, or will it do the same thing after fermentation? Good questions, so I tried to give him good answers.
As the "ase" ending stipulates, pectinase is an enzyme, specifically one that catalyzes the hydrolysis of pectin to pectic acid and methanol. So, what does this mean? It means that it transforms pectin into something else. What does pectin do? Pectin is found in most non-woody plant cells, particularly in the flowers, leaves and fruit, but also between the cell walls. Think of pectin as the "glue" that helps hold the cell walls together. But as fruits ripen, both pectinase and pectinesterase break down the pectin and allow the pulp of the fruit to loosen the seeds and moisten them to encourage embryo emergence. So what does this have to do with wine?
When pectic enzymes convert pectin into pectic acid and methanol, they effectively neutralize the pectin. The cell walls separate and then break apart, allowing juice, flavonoids, pigments, and other goodies to be more easily extracted. If you heat the fruit at too high a temperature, you set the pectin and it gels -- not good for the winemaker. Also, pears contain a different type of pectin and can sometimes present a problem in clearing, but they will clear.
For obvious reasons mentioned above, pectinase delivers the most benefit if used prior to fermentation. As far as I know, it provides no benefit to yeast except making their food (natural sugars and nutrients) easier to get at. While pectins do contribute to mouthfeel, they do so while making the wine difficult to clear.
Pectic enzyme is an essential tool for winemaking. I use the powdered rather than the liquid because the shelf life of the powdered is eons and it doesn't require refrigeration. When you run low, order some more.
August 25th, 2010
This will be my last entry for a little over a week. My wife and I are leaving on a mini-vacation and I will not be home until September 4th. If you want to be sure to catch my next (and every next) posting, instead of checking here daily just subscribe to my RSS feed by clicking this button:
The other day we had a fabulous 2007 Perrin & Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages Grenache/Syrah 50-50 blend. Very spicy, plummy & well-balanced. We had a fabulous 2007 Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône Villages blend, 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah. The color was richly dark, the flavor dark, plummy and spicy, the balance even and very drinkable. Wine Spectator gave this wine a 90, which is not my wine guide by any stretch of the imagination, but on this one they got it right as I gave it a solid 9 on my 10-point scale. And while I generally consider a 9-point wine to be "excellent,' when it only costs $10 a bottle it deserves a "Fabulous."
Deep Fried Twinkies
Deep Fried Twinkie (photo:
If you read my tweets, you know I read Katy Vine's article in Texas Monthly entitled, "I Believe I Can Fry." It is the story of Abel Gonzales, Jr., the undisputed high priest of deep fried everything. His throne room is the Texas State Fair, and what he introduces annually quickly becomes the rage throughout fairs across the country. We're talking about deep fried Coca-Cola, deep fried cookie dough, deep fried butter, deep fried pineapple rings, and deep fried peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches. He has even deep fried beer!
And so it came to past that one deep fried delicacy stuck in my brain and would not let go. I had to find a recipe and try it, and that of course is deep fried Twinkies. Now, I know that after two heart attacks this is not the best food for my arteries, but I figure eating just one -- maybe two -- is not going to kill me. Not immediately, anyway. I pray I am right.
The New York Times described this culinary treat this way: "Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor... The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way. The piece de resistance, however, is a ruby-hued berry sauce, adding a tart sophistication to all that airy sugary goodness".
This recipe is from "Deep Frying for the Brave" (link at end of entry) with some tweaking be me. I have also added some finishing touches.
Deep Fried Twinkies
- 6 Twinkies
- popsicle sticks
- 4 cups peanut or vegetable oil
- flour for dusting
- 1 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freeze Twinkies for several hours or overnight. Heat 4 cups vegetable oil in deep-fryer to about 375 degrees F. Mix together milk, vinegar and oil. In another bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk wet ingredients into dry and continue mixing until smooth. Refrigerate while oil heats. Push sticks into Twinkies lengthwise, leaving about 2 inches to use as a handle, dust with flour and dip into the batter. Rotate Twinkie until batter covers entire cake. Place carefully in hot oil. The Twinkie will float, so hold it under with a utensil to ensure even browning. It should turn golden in 3 to 4 minutes. Depending on the size of your deep fryer, you might be able to fry only one at a time, two at the most. Remove Twinkie to paper towel and let drain. Remove stick and allow Twinkie to sit for about 5 minutes.
Just before serving, dust with icing sugar and drizzle with your favorite fruit topping. I ate one drizzled with strawberry syrup and another drizzled with raspberry-chipotle sauce. I know some of you will think that whipped cream would be a good idea, but I think that is simply too much. Besides, it would certainly detract from the melted vanilla cream filling. Read The New York Times quote again.
When I am asked what my most novel wines were, I immediately say Bermuda Grass Clipping Wine, then Sand Burr Wine, and then Chickweed Wine. And they all fooled blind tasters and they all won ribbons. But here are two more traditional yet novel wines anyone can make with a little forethought that will not draw judgmental glances or questioning stares. And they are both fabulous wines.
Apricot, Raspberry, Elderberry & Rose Wine
- 3/4 lb chopped dried apricots
- 6 oz raspberries
- 3 oz dried elderberries
- 1 lb granulated sugar
- 11 oz white grape concentrate
- 1 cup mixed red and yellow rose petals
- 2 tblsp lemon juice or juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1 gallon water
- finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
- 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- Burdundy (Lalvin RC212) wine yeast
Before you start, dissolve sugar in 3 quarts boiling water, reduce heat to simmer, add lemon juice and hold simmer 30 minutes. Cover and set aside until cool, then chill overnight in refrigerator. Chop or mince dried apricots and elderberries, crush raspberries, and mix together in primary fermentation vessel with chilled sugar-water, nutrient, pectic enzyme. Stir well, cover and set aside 12 hours. Add , crushed Campden tablet, cover and set aside additional 12 hours. Add activated Burgundy yeast, cover and ferment on pulp three days, stirring daily. Strain through a fine nylon sieve to separate pulp and press lightly to extract juice without exuding pulp particles. Add grape concentrate, cover and ferment additional four days. Add rose petals and ferment additional three days before straining again. Add sufficient water to bring volume to 1 gallon. When S.G. drops to 1.000 or lower, add another crushed Campden tablet and rack, without splashing, to secondary fermentation vessel, attach airlock and store bottle in cool place (65-70 degrees F.) without disturbing for three months. However, check after three weeks and if pulp debris is detected in sediment carefully rack again without splashing. After total three months in secondary, rack again, being careful to avoid splashing, add one crushed Campden tablet, and top up with water before refitting airlock. After additional three months, rack again as before, add another crushed Campden tablet, 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate, sweeten slightly if desired with 1/4 cup simple syrup, top up with water if required, and refit airlock. Wait 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. May taste after six months but matures at 18 months. [Author's own recipe]
Valencia Orange and Banana Spiced Wine
- 8 Valencia oranges (substitute 10 small navel oranges if you absolutely must)
- 2 lbs ripe bananas (peeling covered with large black spots)
- 11 oz frozen white grape concentrate
- 2 thin slices ginger root, 1/2 inch wide X 2 inches long
- 1 star anise
- 1 1/4 lb very fine granulated sugar
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1/4 tsp grape tannin
- finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablets
- 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- Lalvin EC-1118 or any low-foaming wine yeast
Juice the oranges and set aside. Peel bananas (or not) and cut into 1-inch pieces in 2-quart pot. Add 1 quart water and simmer for 30 minutes, gently stirring every 10 minutes and skimming any scum off surface. Add ginger root slices, star anise and and simmer 10 minutes more. Place sugar in primary and strain liquid from spiced bananas over sugar. Discard banana and spice pulp and stir liquid well to completely dissolve sugar. Stir in thawed grape concentrate, orange juice, yeast nutrient, grape tannin and cold water to bring volume to 1 gallon. Stir in pectic enzyme, cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours, during which time build and husband a yeast starter solution (see link below). Add yeast as starter solution and ferment vigorously for 4 days. Transfer to 4-liter secondary, attach airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack into 1-gallon secondary and add finely crushed Campden tablet. Age 4 months, rack, add another finely crushed Campden tablet, 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate, and sweeten with 1/4 cup simple syrup if desired. Top up, reattach airlock and set aside additional 2 months. Carefully rack into bottles and wait 3-4 months before tasting. Serve chilled. [Author's own recipe]
I hope you are adventurous enough to make one or both of these wines. They are both extremely good.
September 6th, 2010
Kaua'i and the Perfect Mai Tai
If you have wondered where I've been, my wife and I took a much-needed week off and stayed in a time-share on Kaua'i, Hawai'i. If you haven't been there yet, I highly recommend it. The daytime temperatures never rose to the high side of the 80s, the evenings plunged to the 70s, and wonderful breezes kept us cool even on the warm beaches. We experienced sprinkles or light showers every day, but this is not the rainy season and the light precipitation never interfered with or spoiled any activities. It was a marvelous week for my blood pressure, my wife glowed with innumerable pleasures, and the meals we ate, with one exception, were all delightful to fabulous. We also stopped at many farmers markets to sample and purchase fresh fruit. We especially enjoyed numerous varieties of mango, a small but incredibly sweet papaya, indescribably sweet pineapple, delicious longans, an excellent soursop, and red-fleshed guava, but there were also dragonfruit, breadfruit, atemoya, jaboticaba, cherimoya, star fruit, mamay, and the unforgettable mangosteen available, plus several I cannot recall.
Thanks to my sister we found the Koloa Rum Company Tasting Room at the Kilohana Plantation and fell in love with their dark rum with its unmistakable vanilla and caramel aromas. I bought a bottle for making Mai Tais in our condo. Apparently, we were not the only ones who thought their dark rum was top tier. Recently, the Koloa Rum Company took home the gold medal in the dark rum category at the 2010 RumXP International Tasting Competition. This is a prestigious honor for any rum, much less an inaugural one. The competition, held in Miami, was judged by a panel of rum experts from around the world who blind tasted 100 rums over two days. There were eight categories, and the Koloa Rum Company's Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum won gold in the dark rum category. Koloa's Dark Hawaiian and Gold Hawaiian Rums previously won Silver Medals at the 5th Annual Polished Palate International Rum Competition and their White Hawaiian Rum took a Bronze. Not bad for a company that has only been making its product for 11 months! I sure hope Koloa Rum makes it to Texas, as their Dark is pure heaven.
My favorite tropical drink has always been the Mai Tai with three dashes of grenadine, and I'll admit I drank more than a few before finally finding what I consider the perfect one. When I order a Mai Tai in a place that lists it on the menu but really doesn't look like a place that serves many of them, I ask the bartender how he makes it. If he uses rum and any Mai Tai mix but Trader Vic's, I pass. Even in Hawai'i I have been served many a Mai Tai made with an inferior mix. Believe me, all mixes are not the same.
On our last day on the island (we had a 10 p.m. flight) we drove over to Po'ipu to enjoy a final feast at Keoki's Paradise Bamboo Bar and Cafe of Kimo's original Hula Pie (a baked Oreo cookie crumb bottom crust, a body of incredible macadamia nut ice cream topped with chopped roasted macadamia nuts, real whipped cream, and a drizzle of hot fudge, served as a wedge standing a good seven inches high). Afterward we visited the National Tropical Botanical Garden and then drove over to the Sheraton Resort to get our son a souvenir shirt of the Kauai Marathon. The Sheraton bar has many rums, but I spotted the Koloa Gold and Dark and ordered a Mai Tai with them and three dashes of grenadine. And this, my friends, was the best Mai Tai I have ever enjoyed. I regret I did not get the name of the bartender.
But there are two legendary drinks I very much wanted to try and failed at finding. One is Okolehao, a distilled liquor made from the fermented crushed roots of the Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa). It has not legally been made in over 30 years and I could not locate any of the illegal moonshine variety that reliable sources testified is still made (no pun intended) today. But I very much wanted to try it. They say it is strong but pleasantly smooth, and after several drinks when you go to stand up you cannot because it has a numbing effect on the legs. I understand that Haleakala Distillers on Maui produce an okolehao "liqueur" by blending extracts of ti plant root with sugar syrup, rum, neutral spirits, bourbon, and other artificial and natural flavorings. I was not interested in the liqueur, but rather wanted the real thing.
The second drink I failed at finding, but probably only because I kept forgetting to inquire about it, was 'awa (in Hawaiian) or Kava. While Kava is a plant (Piper methysticum), I am interested in the drink made from the roots of the plant. I have drank it previously in Hawai'i (on O'ahu), but wanted my wife to experience it. This is not an alcoholic drink, but rather a somewhat thick emulsion extracted from the roots that is mixed with water and consumed immediately. It produces a very relaxing and mildly euphoric state without disrupting mental clarity or impairing motor or reactive functions, but very strong Kava can numb the lips, gums, tongue and throat. I recall the calming and very clear-thinking effects lasting about three hours, but I realize this varies on the potency of the drink and selection (variety) of Kava plant. The active ingredients are known as kavalactones, of which at least 15 have been identified and are all considered psychoactive. An unusually potent Kava will produce somnolence within a half-hour and result in a very deep and dreamless sleep without any mental or physical effects upon wakening.
Having previously mentioned the perfect Mai Tai, I thought I would include a few of Trader Vic's recipes. The original Mai Tai was created by Victor J. Bergeron (Trader Vic) in 1944 and brought to Hawaii in 1953 at the Royal Hawaiian, Moana and Surfrider Hotels. The drink has undergone several evolutions, but the following are the most "original" I have found.
The Original 1944 Mai Tai
- 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
- Add juice from one fresh lime
- 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
- 1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
- 1/2 oz French Garier Orgeat Syrup
- Shake vigorously
- Add a sprig of fresh mint
Please note the absence of orange juice and pineapple juice, now staples in most recipes. Also note that the drink is shaken, not layered as it is usually served today by all good bartenders -- unless you ask for an "Original" and the bartender is truly great.
Trader Vic's Second Mai Tai Recipe
- 1 oz 15-year old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum over shaved ice
- 1 oz Coruba or Red Heart Jamaican Rum
- 1/2 oz Trader Vic Formula Orgeat
- 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
- 1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
- Juice from one fresh lime
- Hand shake
- Garnish with half the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint
By now Victor Bergeron was marketing his creations by stipulating his own brand whenever possible.
The Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai
- 1 oz Dark Rum over shaved ice
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 1 oz Orange Curacao
- 2 oz Orange Juice
- 1/2 oz Lime Juice
- Dash Orgeat
- Dash Simple syrup (bar syrup)
- Garnish with wedge of pineapple and a cherry
This is much closer to the traditional Mai Tai most of us know and has changed little since 1953. Vic could not sell his branded products to the first tier bars in Hawai'i, but it did become more "tropical." Adding a half-ounce of pineapple juice has become an optional standard.
Second tier bars will replace the Orgeat with Amaretto, Creme de Noyaux or Creme de Almond. Third tier bars will use Almond Syrup and replace the Curacao with Triple Sec. By then you have strayed too far in my book, but Trader Vic's restaurants now make their Mai Tais with Triple Sec. To me, it's not the same.
Trader Vic's 1972 Mai Tai Recipe
- 1 oz Trader Vic's Jamaican Rum (15- or 8-year old) over shaved ice
- 1 oz Martinique Rum (St. James or Trader Vic's)
- 1 oz pre-mixed Curacao, Orgeat and Rock Candy Syrup
- Juice from one fresh lime
- Hand shake
- Garnish with half the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint
Here he does not stipulate his own brand of orgeat or rock candy syrup because if you can buy Trader Vic's Jamaican Rum the other ingredients are strategically nearby. He had not yet branded the mix, but that was coming.
The Pink Mai Tai
There are many theories as to the origin of the Pink Mai Tai. Although I cannot find it now, I have seen a Pink Mai Tai attributed to Trader Vic and believe it to be a genuine variant created to market Trader Vic's Grenadine Syrup. But I did find the following, which looks right to me.
- 1 oz fine light rum over shaved ice
- 1/4 oz rock candy syrup
- 1/2 oz orange curacao
- 1/2 oz orgeat
- Juice of one lime (about 3/4 oz)
- 1 oz orange juice
- 1/2 oz pineapple juice
- 1/2 tsp grenadine
- 1 oz fine dark rum
This is a layered drink, with each ingredient added in the order listed and no more than a melon ball of shaved ice added at the outset. If you are making a lot of Pink Mai Tais, then it is permitted to premix the candy syrup, orange curacao, orgeat, lime juice, orange juice and pineapple juice and then pour 1 oz of fine light rum, 3 1/2 oz of the mix, 1/2 teaspoon (4 dashes) of grenadine, and 1 oz of fine dark rum.
While I prefer three dashes of grenadine in my Mai Tai, this specific recipe is not required and I never order a "Pink" Mai Tai, but simply order a Mai Tai with three dashes of grenadine. Why three? I think 4 are too many.
September 11th, 2010
My thoughts of a year ago are echoed today.
It is hard to believe it has been nine years since the guy on the radio said, "Wow, this is weird. A plane has just crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. No other details are known but we'll keep you posted as we learn them." I assumed some guy in a Cessna had become mesmerized by flying among the skyscrapers and accidently flown into the very broad side of a very tall barn. I returned to my email and focused on serious thoughts.
About eight minutes later I went to the restroom and returned during the lead story on the radio news as the announcer said the unthinkable. The plane that struck the World Trade Center North Tower was a commercial airliner. The upper floors were burning furiously. Two minutes into reading wire service feeds he stopped in mid-sentence, then announced that another plane had just flown into the South Tower. Every thinking person with an adult sense of reality had to know immediately, as did I, that this was deliberate and an attack upon our nation.
Sweet Jesus, what a horrible day that turned into.
My friends, we have to remember it. And I mean remember it as it really unfolded, not the way Michael Moore and all the latter-day, Bush-hating revisionists want you to believe it was. Remember the reality, not their propaganda. It was real, a day of disbelief, of dawning realization, of fear and terror -- totally surreal as each and every private and commercial aircraft over and inbound to the United States and Canada was landed and parked somewhere ill-prepared to receive it, the passengers and crew accommodated somehow, and nothing, absolutely nothing flew overhead but emergency and combat aircraft.
On a dime, the world changed. Remember it. Remember the 3,000 victims. Remember the 403 first responders who went bravely into the twin towers and climbed those endless stairs into the arms of the Lord. Remember it vividly and emotionally so that in 50 or 60 years when some hate-mongerer in Tehran or some other backwater of civilization says it didn't happen you can look your great-grandkids in the eye and say with certainty, "Oh yes it did, and I remember it well!"
Keep it with you, securely preserved, as life goes on, as we turn to other, more ordinary things.
It is difficult to switch from 9-11 thoughts to winemaking, but one must try to salvage normalcy from the debris of terror or the terrorists will have won.
The Earliest Wines in Texas
Dr. Russell Kane of the blog Searching for Texas Terroir, recently asked me some questions for a future piece. They are complex, historical questions, not easily answered without digging through a box of historic material I have collected. While reading through this material I realized I am ill-equipped to answer his first question -- What is the earliest reference to winemaking in Texas from native American grapes? -- because I do not read Spanish.
One must remember that an Anglo Texan is a very recent arrival. Stephen F. Austin did not bring legal white colonists to Texas until 1822 or 23, though perhaps as many as 4,000-6,000 hunters and squatters -- illegal trespassers into the Spanish province -- had slipped across the Sabine and built lean-tos and cabins in the piney woods of the east. The trespassers outnumbered Austin's 300 families of legal immigrants by ten to one, yet had no standing and officially did not exist. Had Spain and then Mexico organized ranging companies to push back the trespassers as Austin did to drive out the Indians, there almost certainly would not have been enough Anglos in residence to support the 1835-36 revolt against Santa Ana.
This historical detour is necessary to explain what should be obvious: squatters and poachers do not collect and record data for later researchers to mine. With the rare exception of La Salle's failed colony at Lavaca in 1685 and Lt. Zebulon Pike's 1806 trespass, the only records of Texas before Austin came along were written in Spanish. As much as I wish otherwise, it will be a bilingual researcher who will uncover the earliest mention of wines made from native Texas grapes. What I do know is that Austin wrote, "Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines."
Austin traveled extensively throughout Texas looking for the best land to situate his colony, so there is little doubt he was not referring only to the grapes that grew between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers where his colony was located. But even if he had limited his observations to this narrow (but long) slice of Texas, he would be referring to Vitis mustangensis (formerly V. candicans), V. cinerea var. cinerea, V. cinerea var. helleri (formerly V. helleri), V. rotundifolia, some V. vulpina (formerly V. cordifolia) , V. aestivalis var. lincecumii (formerly V. lincecumii), V. aestivalis var. glauca (formerly V. lincecumii var. glauca), a few V. aestivalis var. aestivalis and V. monticola, and possibly some V. palmata, with V. mustangensis undoubtedly being the most common. However, if he knew any of these species by name, they would have been common names such as Texas grape (mustang), Bullace grape (muscadine), Possum grape (vulpina), and Post Oak grape (lincecumii) as the scientific names were not yet recorded. However, I can find no instance where he recorded any grape by name, so we are left to guessing.
The first record I can find of a mention of wines in Texas in English is a March 1806 diary entry by Lt. Pike referring to his passage, in Spanish custody, through El Paso, in which he noted "...numerous vineyards from which were produced the finest wine ever drank." These, however, were undoubtedly Mission grapes and their descendants, introduced into the region by Spanish missionaries in 1659 or shortly thereafter. We really don't know the origin of these grapes except that they originated from dormant wood cuttings or seed brought to Mexico from Spain and there grown and openly pollinated, probably crossing with native grapes of the New World before traveling north as seed to be planted at missions.
On May 5, 1837, President Sam Huston reported to the Congress of the Republic of Texas regarding trade, "Her [Texas] cotton, sugar, indigo, wines, peltries, live stock, and precious minerals will become objects of mercantile activity." While he could have been referring to the wines of El Paso, at that time the grapes for these wines originated largely on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande around Ciudad Juarez. It is far more likely he was talking about wines from native grapes, but he failed to say so and so we must speculate.
But there were also small wineries located at each of the many missions in Texas, if only to provide wine for the sacraments. Surely some wine was made from native grapes while proper vineyards were being established. Both Spain and Mexico were officially Catholic and all legal immigrants to Texas prior to the Revolution had to swear they were Catholic or would convert to Catholicism. These wineries were not commercial ventures but they did exist. The grapes grown for these wines are largely unknown. The Mission grape of many missions from El Paso west to and throughout California is simply not evident at missions located east of the Pecos. Since we do not know what grapes they made wine from, my research continues.
I often get questions about non-fermentable sugars or artificial sweeteners. The writer often is looking for sugars or sweeteners to add post-fermentation sweetness to a wine without having to stabilize the wine with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Since I am working on an article on this very subject, I thought I might share some of its findings with you.
There are few natural non-fermentable sugars useful as post-fermentation sweeteners. Lactose, a sugar found most notably in milk, is formed from galactose and glucose -- sugars found naturally in grape juices -- is probably the best candidate. It can only ferment if hydrolyzed back to glucose and galactose, isomerized in alkaline solution (which wine most decidedly is not) to lactulose, and catalytically hydrogenated to the corresponding polyhydric alcohol, lactitol. None of this is likely, so it is a good candidate for sweetening a wine.
While lactose contributes to sweetness, it is not very sweet and does little for mouthfeel. Plus, if you are lactose intolerant you do not want to put lactose in your wine. Finally, if you do use lactose to sweeten your wine, be sure to tell every person you serve it to that it contains lactose, as many people are indeed lactose intolerant.
Maltodextrin is often used in brewing to increase mouthfeel. It's sweetness index, however, is low to moderate and therefore not very sweet. It can be enzymatically derived from any starch, but in the United States is most often derived from corn. A potential disadvantage of adding maltodextrin to wine is that it can cause a chill haze. About 4% of any maltodextrin added will ferment, but that number is largely inconsequential.
Way back in 1964 it was found that many wines contain xylose and other pentoses (arabinose and ribose) that are not fermentable by wine yeasts. Although xylose is the second most abundant sugar in nature (found in all woody plants), in grapes and fruit it exists only in trace amounts (about 0.22%). However, it is totally impractical as a sweetener, both because of its low sweetness index and its cost.
I have long experimented with stevia as a post-fermentation sweetener. Stevia is an extract from Stevia rebaudiana, a plant found in South America. It is sold as a liquid or a grey or white powder. I use the white powder. The purified extract is about 300 times as sweet as cane sugar; the white powder is not quite that sweet, but a very small amount (a tiny measuring spoon is usually provided with it) equals a teaspoon of sugar. Four-six measures to a 750 ml bottle will sweeten the wine without raising the specific gravity noticeably or risking bottle fermentation. It has no off-taste and does not appear to alter the wine over time. I once thought it did the latter, but since then have concluded the wine itself underwent changes.
Sucralose is a zero-calorie derivative of sucrose which just happens to be about 600 times as sweet as sucrose. Marketed as Splenda, it is manufactured through a selective chlorination process. Despite its safe use certification by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on 110 human and animal trials, there are those who lack sufficient education to recognize that all forms of chlorination neither equate nor are unsafe. These uneducated have posted a great deal of unreliable information and bad science on the web designed to get sucralose off the market.
I personally think Splenda is a very good sweetener and totally safe within the FDA guidelines of 1.1 mg per kg of body weight per day (165 mg for a 150-pound man per day). Exceed that and you introduce risk to a safe product. An Australian study found damage to the thymus after 28 days of sucralose ingestion by rats, but the amount fed the rats equalled 17,200 packets of Splenda ingested by a 150-pound man for 28 days. This is the type of nonsense the anti-sucralose fanatics cling to.
Another unnecessarily controversial artificial sweetener is neotame. Neotame is attractive because it is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than cane sugar. Unfortunately, the "tame" ending reminds people of aspartame, a controversial sweetener of which a growing body of evidence supporting adverse risk appears somewhat more reliable than the previously cited example. Neotame and aspartame are chemically similar, but in chemistry (as in most things) similar certainly does not mean the same. FDA approval of neotame was based on 100 human and animal trials. While it is a good candidate for sweetening wine, it is not yet readily available in small amounts.
I do not currently endorse any other artificial sweetener.
September 17th, 2010
Ten days ago Tropical Storm Hermine visited us. As the radar image below shows, the eye of the storm passed directly over our house. On July 15th, 2003 the eye of Hurricane Claudette passed over our house. There was a remarkable difference between the two. When the eye of Claudette arrived, the 75 mph winds stopped but the rain did not. As the eye passed, the winds from the trailing edge arrived and that's when my wheelbarrow went flying across the width of the back yard. Hermine's eye arrived with a total calmness -- no wind and no rain. Her training edge returned both, but you can see from the image below that the trailing rains were almost non-existent. We actually got the heaviest rains some 5-7 hours after she had passed. I don't know why.
I mention this because TS Hermine brought a lot of rain. For us, because we received about 40% of it with the storm's transient through the area and about 60% of it some time later, the first rain had time to soak in before the second rain arrived. We had swollen rivers and creeks, but no serious flooding as they did up north. Our sandy soil soaked it up.
Texas Purple Sage Mead
It is now 10 days after the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Hermine and the purple sage is doing what it always does after a good soaking -- blooming like crazy all over this part of Texas. I picked two quarts of flowers from the two plants in my front yard. I'll take a field trip later and pick another two gallons. Last year I made wine and mead with these flowers and they were so spectacular both are all gone. That calls for an encore.
As I have explained before, Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) has several other names, with Texas Ranger and Silverleaf Sage being the two most common. After observing it in bloom, many people mistakenly call it Purple Sage. True Purple Sage has leaves with a purplish upper leaf surface, which this does not have. I will combine the names and call it Texas Purple Sage for popularity's sake, not for strict correctness. I beg the botanists to forgive me.
Last year I made a gallon of mead with two quarts of blossoms. This year I intend to make 5 gallons of mead. Anyone in South, South-Central, Central, and West Texas can find wild Texas sage. Just get in the car or truck and drive out into the country. They are easily spotted by their silver-gray leaves and purple flowers. If you can only find enough flowers (two quarts) for a gallon, then use this recipe. I have purposely down-sized it to a gallon so you can make a small batch or as much as you want. If you want to try the wine instead of the mead, go to last year's WineBlog entry and scroll down to the wine recipe (see link below).
Texas Purple Sage Mead Recipe
- 2 qts Texas Sage flowers
- 2 lb quality honey (wild sage is preferred)
- 11-oz can 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
- 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 6 pts water
- 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 tsp dried mead or wine yeast
Bring water to boil in large pot and stir in honey until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in flowers and grape juice concentrate. Cover the pot and set aside to cool. When under 90 degrees F., transfer to primary and stir in remaining ingredients less yeast. Cover the primary and set aside 8-10 hours. Add activated yeast as a starter solution. Re-cover the primary, set aside and stir daily. After four days strain out flowers but leave must to ferment in primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary, affix airlock and wait until all evidence of fermentation ceases. Rack, top up, reattach airlock, and set aside for 30 days. If clear, rack again, stabilize, sweeten to taste if desired, top up, reattach airlock, and wait final 30 days. If not clear, rack and wait additional 30 days before racking, stabilizing, sweetening, and waiting final 30 days. If no new lees form during this final 30 days, rack into bottles. If even a fine dusting appears, wait an additional 30 days and very carefully rack into bottles. Taste at six months. Should improve with age but mine never lasted that long. [Author's own recipe]
Winemaking Tips from Readers
I love it when readers send me winemaking tips they learned through experience because sharing is what my website and blog are all about. Here are a few I have received over the past few months. They are all worth reading because each addresses a different issue. Thank you one and all for keeping the spirit going.
A reader from Pascagoula, Mississippi (thanks, Luther) wrote about the problems many folks have in starting a blueberry fermentation. "I have made several batches lately and just before pitching the yeast I stir the must with a sanitized paint mixer [utilizing an electric hand drill]. I even let it cavitate near the top of the must and mix in oxygen for a minute or two. I stir for 3 or 4 minutes. No more problems, vigorous fermentation, and attain a final s.g. reading around .990 every time. I maintain 70 to 75 degree temperature." This is a great technique and works with other stubborn musts as well.
A reader outside Springfield, Illinois (thanks, Carole) offers an insightful technique. "I bought some precrushed, frozen Zinfandel grapes. They took three days to thaw and were still really cold for two more days. I pitched the yeast on the 5th day. I thought I would get a really dark color with the cold maceration, but after pressing the wine looked more like a cheap Pinot than a decent Zinfandel. I looked at all the pulp, dumped it back into the primary and poured about 1/4 of the wine back over the pulp. I swirled it around, and then poured it into another primary, letting the pulp and skins transfer but not the seeds that had separated from the pulp. Then I added the rest of the wine. Two days later I pressed it again. It was darker but still not what I wanted. I again returned the pressed pulp to the primary, poured in 1/4 of the wine, and then mushed the pulp with my hands to free the remaining seeds. I swirled it and poured it into another primary while leaving most of the remaining seeds behind. When I pressed the third time two days later the wine was as dark as ink."
There is a similar technique known in France as délestage. That she came up with a similar technique herself is impressive. In délestage, the wine is not pressed each time but rather poured through a fine sieve to perform a sort of racking. The remaining pulp and seeds are separated in much then same way as Carole did it and the wine is returned to the primary with the skins and pulp. This process is repeated daily until the desired results are achieved. Just remember when doing this or as Carole did it, sulfite up front to prevent adverse effects from all of this oxygen exposure.
A country winemaker from Alamogordo, New Mexico wrote (thanks, Jeff) that he had read me saying "The best wines are blends" over and over again and finally decided to test it. He had previously bottled cranberry, blackberry and blueberry as pure wines. He opened a bottle of each and simply mixed them together. "Wow. They tasted really good together. I added a bottle of Concord (from Welch's concentrate) to darken it a bit and it tasted even better, but there is no way anyone could tell what is in it. It simply tasted like some red wine named after a French village."
Finally, a fellow Texan (thanks, Ron) from Flower Mound (look it up) wrote, "I wanted to make a coconut-almond wine and worried about oils, so I boiled my flaked coconut and unroasted slivered almonds and poured the water through a funnel lined with three layers of industrial strength paper towels. Before it cooled, I reunited the water and boiled coconut-almond mixture, added sugar and stirred until dissolved. After it cooled I added acid blend, tannin powder, a Campden tablet and yeast nutrient. The next day I added a yeast starter. It came out really good. When I make it again I'll cook some banana in with the coconut and almonds to give it a little body."
September 27th, 2010
There are days when I shouldn't get out of bed. Today is such a day and it is not even noon. I think it has something to do with the amount of sleep I got last night. I got by for 46 years on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Lately it seems like the mark has slid over between the 5-6 yard lines. I guess it is a metabolism change. Last night I got less than 3 and I am paying for it.
First thing this morning I stubbed my bare toe on a chair out of place; four hours later it was black and blue and hurt like Hades. Then I cut my thumb peeling a mango, something I do at least 240 days a year without cutting the thumb. Because I take Plavix it didn't want to stop bleeding but did after about 20 minutes of steady pressure. Then I went to the Post Office and arrived 40 minutes before it opened, so I parked, reclined the seat and took a nap in the truck. Slept right through the opening and then another half hour. Later, while ordering something online, I clicked "VISA" and was sent to a PayPal page with no menus, toolbars or "Back" button. I had to open another instance of IE and Google "Back button keyboard shortcuts" to learn that holding down the ALT key while tapping the Left Arrow once will return you to the previous page.
The only other "issue" going on is that Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata" is stuck in my head. But it's a good song, a happy song, and she was a great lady, so I'll just enjoy it while it lasts. If you aren't familiar with this 1967 performance, go to the first link following today's entry.
In 1967, as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant, I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington. Sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas I attended a cocktail party at a newly assigned major's quarters. I don't remember the name of the major, but I do remember he had an album of music sung in a language called Xhosa (pronounced "Kou-sa"). He had been stationed at our embassy in Pretoria, South Africa and said the title song of this album was the number one hit song in South Africa when he left there a few months prior to that particular evening. This was the first time I had ever heard the song "Pata Pata" by 8-time Grammy nominee Miriam Makeba. Again, if you don't know or recognize the song, I sincerely invite you to click on the first link I have provided. To learn more about this incredible lady, click on the second link.
POM Pomegranate Wine
A reader recalled that I had once written that I intended to make wine with POM Pomegranate Juice (thanks, Phillip, for remembering). He asked if I did so and if I would share the recipe. The answer is I did make it, but cannot find the page in my wine logs. No problem, as I can tell you exactly how I made it.
The actual product name is POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and it is exactly what the name says it is. Compare this to Minute Maid's Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry Juice that contains just 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice; the rest is apple, grape and a teeny tiny drop or two of raspberry juice, but you have to read the small print (or the beverage industry news) to discover this. The contents of juices must be listed in the descending order of prominence. Thus, when the contents (ingredients) of a juice are listed as apple juice, grape juice, pear juice, cranberry juice and mango juice, you can bet the farm that there is very little of the last two items in the cocktail even though, as with the Minute Maid product, they may be the only two juices in the name of the product.
POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice has a great pomegranate taste, with both sweet and sour battling it out for your attention. When I made this wine I used pure juice, which would have been hard on the pocketbook had the juice not been a price leader that week and reduced by about 30%. Even then it was not the same as buying one of the flavored apple-grape cocktails. Sold in 16 oz, 24 oz, 48 oz and 60 oz bottles, I went ahead and bought 120 ounces, knowing I would have to add sugar. Memory is not precise here, but when I floated a hydrometer it seems like the sugar content was about half of what was needed, so I added whatever was required to bring the specific gravity up to 1.088. You will have to determine this yourself by simply consulting a hydrometer chart and doing some simple math.
Acid content was almost where I wanted it, with Citric, malic, oxalic, acetic, fumaric, tartaric and lactic acids present, although all but citric and malic are in trace amounts. I believe the TA was around 0.48 and the pH just a tad high, so I added malic to bring to bring the TA up and the pH down. I do not recall which yeast I used but it was probably Lalvin RA17 or RC2112, or even Gervin No. 2, all three of which I have in my refrigerator and are suitable for pomegranate. I do recall transferring the wine to secondary rather late -- possibly a month after pitching the yeast -- and sulfiting at that time. After that I sort of rushed the wine along, racking twice at 3-week intervals before stabilizing, then sweetening just enough to take the edge off the acidity (to about 1.002 sg) and bottling quickly.
I rushed the wine too much, afraid that the prolonged period in the primary allowed too much oxygen exposure. As a result, it dropped some yeast in the bottle and I never entered it in competition. It was, however, a delicious wine and even with the noted defect might have pulled a first in class if the competition wasn't too steep. Still, I was pleased to drink it as is and share it with a neighbor.
Ups and Downs in Wine Competitions
Yesterday I joined up with five other judges from the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild in Victoria, Texas -- a 119-mile drive from here -- to judge the Czech Heritage Festival's Home Wine Competition. This is a wonderful event and a good competition. I swear there was only one bad wine entered and there were many that shined so well that selecting a best of class was difficult. Yet there were two which had won Best of Show in previous competitions but did not even place yesterday. How is that possible?
Having experienced the same disappointment myself on more than one occasion, all I can say is that on any given day a better wine, if present, will shine. I had a wine that had championed two consecutive competitions and then placed third at San Antonio. As a reality check, I tasted the two wines that beat mine and had to admit they were better wines.
But it is possible for a judging to go awry. This can happen when the judges encounter a sweet wine in a dry category, simply through carelessness on the part of the enterer or because he or she has no earthly idea what defines a dry wine.
Judges always judge dry wines first -- usually whites before reds -- and then rosés, which typically are semi-dry or semi-sweet. Only after all dry and less than sweet wines are judged do they move on to sweet wines and finally to dessert wines. The reason is because once your taste buds have been washed with sugar a dry wine will always taste much drier than it actually is. So, when some idiot enters a sweet wine in a dry wine category, he sabotages the taste buds of the judges. It takes far too long to return the taste buds to normal to be practical during a judging, although laying potato chip-thin slivers of tart apple on the tongue for a few minutes helps. Even then the apple does not completely restore the palate. Unfortunately, few competition stewards think of bringing a couple of Granny Smith, McIntosh or Winesap apples along with a thin fillet knife or slicer. The judges therefore are left to do the best they can, even though they know they cannot judge the remaining wines as fairly as they otherwise might.
Personally, I would like to see competitions universally adopt a hard line against sweet wines entered in dry wine categories. They potentially do a terrible disservice to all the other wines correctly entered and I would like to see them disqualified entirely for sabotaging the judging. Simply deducting a point because the wine is too sweet for the class it was entered in is not punishment enough for the damage such a wine does.
October 3rd, 2010
We have three bird feeders in the back yard, placed so I can watch the birds feed as I work at my desk. Let me correct that. Sometimes they are bird feeders and the rest of the time they are squirrel feeders. I have been battling the squirrels without much success for several years. When my wife and I were vacationing on Galveston Island shortly after my retirement (see my entry of April 23, 2010), she bought me a 188-page book entitled, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels, by Bill Alder, Jr. The title alone was worth the purchase price, but my wife was betting I would read the book, apply the knowledge gained, and the money saved on misappropriated seed would pay for the book in short order. It was a losing bet -- at first.
As the title suggests with "101 Cunning Stratagems," if it were simple you would only need a short article posted anywhere -- here, for example. However, on page 34 we find the following solemn prognostication: "If you're going to do battle with squirrels, you're going to lose every time -- unless you know as much about them as you possibly can." I seems cruel to wait until the 34th page to deliver this news, but better late than never. I am well into my fifth concerted campaign in the war against my worthy adversary, the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), and it appears I am losing again. The problem is numbers. I have no doubt there are at least a dozen that raid my feeders each day, but a neighbor said there are probably three or four times that many that visit me from time to time. The females have two litters of 2 to 3 babies a year.
The area I live in is called "Oak Forest" for a reason and the mighty oaks produce an abundance of acorns to support thriving squirrel populations, but squirrels do like variety. Indeed, my book says they prefer hickory nuts, pecans, black walnuts, and acorns in that order, but black oil sunflower seeds are a wonderful treat and my bird feeders are loaded with them for the cardinals, titmice, goldfinches, grosbeaks, and jays.
I think the squirrels enjoy the various "squirrel-proof" bird feeders I buy in the same way as I enjoy a good crossword or sudoku puzzle. The difference is they get countless free meals once they solve my feeder, and they have defeated every one so far. The battle of wits continues. There is no evidence thus far I have a snowball's chance in Hades of winning.
I was asked at a recent gathering if there was a "foolproof" vegetable wine you could make pretty much year 'round. Without pause I said, "Celery." It is always available at the market and even in the off season is never a budget buster. And it makes a good wine. I have fooled many people with celery wine. They knew it wasn't grape, but not a single person over the years has actually guessed it was celery. Served off-dry to semi-sweet, it can be served at the table or as a chilled social refresher.
When I make celery wine, I always begin by planning what I am going to do with the celery. You make this wine by simmering the vegetable to make a stock and that is what you make the wine from. The simmered vegetable is then available to use elsewhere. I make a potato and celery soup and a great navy bean and celery soup, each of which requires chopped celery, so if that is my intended use I begin by chopping the celery finer than I would if using it in, say, stew or gumbo. It is the use of the cooked vegetable that dictates how coarsely or finely the celery is chopped.
Before I get to the recipe, a word or two about cooking celery. Cooking alters the color of celery. The pigment that makes celery green, chlorophyll, is very sensitive to acids. When you cook celery, its chlorophyll reacts chemically with mild acids in the celery or in the cooking pot to form pheophytin, a noticeably brown chemical. Pheophytin, in turn, darkens the celery to an olive-drab. If the stalks are young and yellowish, they will turn bronze-colored. Concurrently, the water will take on a darker hue as well, but I have never seen it so dark that the resulting wine is unattractive.
You can minimize discoloring the water by cooking the celery in a large stock pot that can hold all of the celery and all of the water, thereby diluting the acids, and by cooking it with the lid off the pot so that volatile acids can escape as vapor.
Celery Wine Recipe
- 3 lbs chopped celery stalks
- 1 lb 6 oz finely granulated sugar
- 11 1/2-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
- 6 pts water
- 1 tsp acid blend
- 3/4 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
- 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
- 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
- Red Star Premier Curvee wine yeast
Wash and chop the celery. Pour water in large stack pot and bring to boil. Add celery and watch for return to boil. Reduce to simmer and maintain for 20 minutes uncovered. Strain the vegetables and pour liquid into primary. While still hot, add sugar and stir until dissolved, cover and set aside. Reserve vegetables for other uses. When water cools to room temperature, stir in thawed grape concentrate, acid blend, yeast nutrient, powdered tannin, and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Recover the primary and set aside for 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme, recover and set aside another 12 hours. Add yeast in a well-activated starter solution and recover primary. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides, then transfer to a secondary and attach airlock. Wait 3 weeks and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait until wine falls clear, mark the date and wait 30 days. Rack into clean secondary containing another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Rack after 60 days, top up and reattach airlock. Wait another 60 days and rack, stabilize with potassium sorbate and a final Campden tablet, top up, and fit airlock. After 30 days, sweeten just enough to take it off dry. Fit airlock, wait final 30 days, then bottle. Wait 4-6 weeks before tasting if impatient, but improves with age.
October 5th, 2010
I received quite a few emails regarding my squirrels-in-the-birdseed problem. Among these were recommendations for two "squirrel-proof" bird feeders, a suggestion to add hot chile peppers to the birdseed, a suggestion to hang the bird feeders on a taut clothesline, another suggestion to mount the bird feeders on a metal pole coated with grease or WD-40, one suggested coating the pole with BenGay or a mentholated ointment, and finally a link to a site selling "Woody Bob's Classic Squirrel Recipes Cookbook."
I appreciate each of these suggestions, as they prove to me that someone is actually reading this blog. As for their effectiveness in combating the squirrels, let me just say that our local war began years before my wife bought me the book, Outwitting Squirrels: 101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels. I have spent considerable money on "squirrel-proof" bird feeder designs and found none that a persistent little fox squirrel cannot defeat.
We have a small chile that grows wild here called chile piquin (pronounced puh-keen), a.k.a. the "bird chile" or "birdseye chile." It is a small ovoid about 1/4 to 3/8 inch long, bright to deep red when ripe, and many times hotter than the most fierce jalapeno. They are absolutely wonderful as a spice -- dried, crushed and ground. I put them in the bird feeder some three years ago. The squirrels push them aside for the birds to eat. The birds loved them. So did I, so I stopped wasting them on the birds.
Then a neighbor said I should dry the chiles, grind them up and put the ground piquin in the seed. I ground them coarsely (they way I like them) and added a few to a feeder. A squirrel approached as soon as I turned my back to depart and was climbing down the wire when I reached the sliding glass door. He (it could've been a she, but the male pronoun is used because I wanted to use it) ate for 8-10 minutes and then left. Another squirrel promptly took his place (they were lined up, awaiting their turn at the trough) and repeated the depressing example set by his predecessor.
Someone said to try cayenne, so the next time I filled the feeders I mixed a couple of tablespoons of finely ground cayenne in with the seed. Boy, did that work! It drove away the squirrels AND the birds. Even the ravenous jays wouldn't feed. I sure hated to dump that seed, but it wasn't serving any purpose but to weigh down the feeders. Have you any idea how difficult it is to clean bird feeders after contaminating them with cayenne? Take my word for it -- VERY!
Squirrels can walk a tightrope (or clothesline, or tight wire). They can even learn to defeat sections of wire that have been run through the length of PVC pipe. Yes, they fall off the first few times they try to tightrope walk across the length of pipe, which rolls right or left depending on which side the weight of the squirrel is more distributed toward. But then they learn to walk with the feet placed absolutely dead center on top and use that bushy little tail of theirs to shift their weight as required to prevent falling. It was both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring the first time I watched a squirrel make it across the PVC gauntlet.
A friend in Louisiana suggested telephonically I save up some PET soda bottles, drill a hole dead center in the bottom of each, and thread several of these lengthwise on the highwire from which the feeders are suspended. These are large, light, wobbly because the hole in the bottom is smaller than the mouth of the bottle, and he is pretty sure the squirrels cannot tightrope walk them. I don't drink more than 3-4 six-packs of soda a year (A&W Root Beer), but I'm willing to stretch that in the name of war.
Regarding the metal pole, the squirrels attack the grease tirelessly at first, wearing it thin, and then only periodically -- once or twice a day. Breezes coat it with blowing pollen, dust, dandelion seeds and other windblown matter. Eventually, the foreign matter allows the grease to congeal and become granular when the little feet attack it, at which point the squirrels climb right over it. WD-40 works fine until it rains or the sprinklers come on. Spray Teflon works best, but even it too succumbs to the pollution of pollen, dust, dandelion seeds and other windborne matter.
BenGay and mentholated ointments work, for a while. The squirrels truly cannot stand either. But again, environmental decay sets in quickly and heat, rain and airborne debris shorten their usefulness. Also, if you apply them too close to the feeder the birds will also stay away.
And that brings me to the cookbook, offering 50 recipes for serving up the little pests. Well, I'm not there...yet. But if I ever get there, I don't need a new cookbook. I have an old family recipe for squirrel and sausage gumbo.
Red Wine Headaches
A couple of weeks ago I overheard one woman telling another that she can't drink red wines because of the sulfites. I simply could not ignore this and asked the woman if she ate maraschino cherries, potato chips, instant mashed potatoes, or dried fruit such as golden raisins, dried figs or apricots. She answered yes to all, so I told her she was not among the 1% of the population the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates has an allergy or acute sensitivity to sulfites. "But I get headaches from drinking red wine," she protested. "But not white wines?" I asked. "No," she answered. "Well," I said, "since white wines usually contain far more sulfites than red wines and you don't react to them, and since you don't react to foods that contain far more sulfites than red wines, the problem is clearly something else." And thus began a 10-minute impromptu discourse on sulfites, histamine, tannins, tyramine, prostaglandins, and red wine headaches.
Red wine headaches are a real and troubling phenomena -- troubling because any given sufferer will get a headache from some red wines but not others and because there does not appear to be a single cause. Red wine headaches vary in severity from mild to migraine. A half-glass of wine can trigger one within 15 minutes and they are fairly long lasting; two glasses can trigger a migraine in people subject to getting migraines.
You would think that because red wines trigger them and white wines do not it would be fairly easy to isolate the culprit. It just isn't so. The truth is that it is practically impossible to get funding to conduct research on the causes of red wine headaches, and without funding even the obscure social and sexual practices of tsetse flies would remain unknown. The difference is that there are tons of money available to study tsetse flies but none for red wine headaches. But we are not totally ignorant.
Sulfites have gotten the misplaced blame for red wine headaches ever since 1986, when the FDA estimated 1% of the population reacts adversely to sulfites in one way or another and took two actions. One, they prohibited the practice of sulfiting fruits and vegetables often eaten raw, such as apples, table grapes, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, etc. Two, they decreed that products containing added sulfites be clearly labeled as containing sulfites. In the decree, wine clearly was picked on and had to say "Contains sulfites" while other foods that contain them only had to list it as an ingredient. Thus, people mistakenly believe that wine is the only product out there with sulfites. In truth, it is very difficult to avoid sulfites. Most people consume them every day but avoid wine because it "contains sulfites." If ignorance is bliss, we should have an ecstatic population.
Okay, but what about asthmatics? Well, 10% of the population is said to be asthmatic and 5% of them have elevated asthma symptoms after consuming foods or beverages with high concentrations of sulfites. That's 0.5%, or half the people with a genuine sulfite allergy or sensitivity. So, let's put it another way. If you do not have asthma, the chances of you being "sensitive" to sulfites are 1 in 200, and you would have discovered this long before you were old enough to blame it on wine. So, for the vast majority of you who imagine you are sensitive to sulfites in wine, I suggest you look up the word "hypochondria."
Most researchers are leaning toward one or more of the remaining suspects as being the cause of most red wine headaches. These include histamines, tannins, tryamines, and prostaglandins. Each can be ruled in; each can be ruled out.
Histamine is an organic nitrogen compound found in almost all animal body cells. It is involved in local immune responses to foreign pathogens, regulates physiological functions in the gut and acts as a neurotransmitter. It is created when needed by specialized cells in contiguous tissues. Histamine increases the permeability of capillaries to white blood cells and other proteins so they can engage the foreign pathogens in infected tissues. Once formed, histamine is either stored or rapidly inactivated by three specific enzymes in a set sequence. A deficiency in the first enzyme triggers an allergic reaction.
Evidence that histamine is responsible for at least some red wine headaches hinges solely on logic and knowledge that the deficiency in the specific enzyme coupled with alcohol consumption causes headaches. However, a study of 16 subjects with an intolerance to wine, published in 2001, found no difference in reactions to wine with high or low histamine levels. This is hardly a definitive study, but at the moment it is all I could find.
Some allergy experts believe that tannins are the cause of the red wine headaches. The Harvard Health Letter cited several controlled experiments that demonstrate that tannins cause the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. High levels of serotonin can cause headaches that may be the cause for the red wine headaches in people who suffer from migraines. It does not, however, explain why people not subject to migraines get red wine headaches, or why people do not get headaches from similarly high levels of tannin in tea, soy or chocolate.
Tyramine is a vaso-active amino acid found in many foods, produced as an intermediate product in the conversion of tyrosine, an amino acid present in many proteins, to epinephrine, an active hormone produced by the adrenal gland. Foods and beverages that contain tyramine may trigger migraines in people subject to them. Foods dangerously high in tyramine are soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, sauerkraut, salami, aged cheese, fava or broad beans, all nuts, all fermented beverages (especially Chianti), pepperoni, liverwurst, pickled herring, figs, avocados, and chocolate, to name but a few. As a rule, anything aged, dried, fermented, smoked, or pickled should be avoided if you are subject to migraines.
Monoamine oxidase (MAO) is an enzyme found in the liver and brain whose function is to clean up amines in the body. If overloaded by high tyramine intake or inhibited, the MAO cannot inactivate tyramine. Active tyramine in the liver can cause a dangerous increase in blood pressure, while in the brain it results in cerebral vasoconstriction followed by dilation of the cranial vessels. Combined, these cause a classic migraine chain-reaction.
MAO is inhibited by hormones released during stress and PMS, by alcohol, and by certain antidepressants. If you are subject to migraines, avoid stress, robust red wines such as Chianti, foods high in tyramine, and talk to your pharmacist if you are taking an antidepressant.
Research going back 30 years suggests that prostaglandins may be responsible for red wine headaches. Prostaglandins are substances that contribute to pain and swelling and are easily blocked by drugs that inhibit prostaglandin synthetase, such as aspirin, Acetaminophen, and Ibuprophen. In a controlled, blind evaluation experiment, subjects with a history of red wine headaches were given a particular red wine and reacted with headaches. At a later session, some were pretreated with one of several prophylactic inhibitors of prostaglandin synthetase and some with a placebo. Ten of those pretreated with the inhibitors failed to develop any red wine headache, two pretreated with Acetaminophen developed headaches 6-10 hours after wine intake, and the two receiving the placebo both developed rapid-onset headaches.
If you are subject to these headaches, you can chart one of three courses. One, you can avoid all red wines. Two, you can keep a record of wines (including label information -- vintage, winery and appellation) that do not cause red wine headaches and those that do. Three, you can take an antihistamine and an aspirin, Acetaminophen or Ibuprophen an hour before red wine consumption. They do no good against a red wine headache once it starts, but pretreatment works for many people. Start with a half glass of red wine and then nurse some water for 15 minutes. If a headache has not started by then, you are probably safe to consume another half glass. Stop if you even think of a headache, but even if you slide into home plate safe and sound, limit your intake to two glasses just to be super-duper cautious.
In summary, we are pretty sure that one cause does not fit all when it comes to red wine headaches, but we can be sure they aren't caused by sulfites. Spread the word.
If you found this entry personally useful to you, please consider clicking on the last link below and donating a couple of bucks to support this website and blog. But I know times are tough right now for a great many of you. If that is your case, think no more about donating and accept my deep appreciation that you are reading this blog. That really is enough.
October 23rd, 2010
Well, I've been busted. I thought I was posting a message to a select group, called The Wrecking Crew," and posted it to all my Facebook friends -- quite a few of you, I'm afraid. So, now you know the secret life of this winemaker...I'm a closet gamer.
All I wanted to do was see what the game was all about. Really. But nothing makes sense until you touch it, play with it a little. To be honest, I wasn't all that impressed with it at first, especially since it doesn't really come with up-front instructions and I blew all my incredibly hard to earn Favor Points within the first hour or two and everything looked impossible. I wanted to start over. You can't.
Castle Age Banner (a Facebook App, banner displayed under fair use permission)
So, I stuck it out a few days. That seems like a long time ago. The game can be addictive. I tried to play it solo, without having to bother other people to raise an Army or Elite Guard, but there is only so much you can do that way. Once I gave in and embraced the larger experience, I discovered that the whole success of any player is based on teamwork and the willingness of others to help out and vice versa. And I really like that.
If you play Castle Age, invite me to join your Army. It would be my privilege to do battle with you.
Last Sunday the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild held its annual Fall Competition at Raymond Russell Regional Park, a very nice venue just north of San Antonio off Interstate 10. While we sorely missed our members from Louisiana, we did enjoy meeting with two members who drove down from Bartlesville, Oklahoma (7 miles shy of driving down from Kansas).
It was an embarrassing event for me, as I did far better than I thought I would. The wine I thought was my best, a Purple Sage Mead I have previously mentioned, did in fact place first in its class but did not take the big prize. In non-grape wines, a blueberry wine I made several years ago from blueberries picked from the bushes of Luke and Lynette Clark impressed the judges best and took the big rosette. Cecil and Anna Sanderson, the Oklahomans, entered a dynamite Skeeter Pee that tied my Concord-Chocolate Port for Honorable Mention (Best of Show runner up).
There evidently was a brawl for Best of Show in the Grape Wine division. The judges awarded three Honorable Mentions for Grape, to Martha Tarkington of Victoria, Texas for a classic red (slightly sweet) made from the Favorite grape, to Keith Sundberg of San Antonio for a wonderful sparkling Mustang, and Bill Christopher of Victoria for a rose made from the Herbemont grape, a classic oldie I am pleased to see made as a varietal (excellent wine, Bill). But last year's Blanc du Bois, made from the few vines I have in my back yard, took the big rosette.
All modesty aside, I think the Blanc du Bois was a very good wine. But I was surprised it slipped in ahead of Martha's Favorite and Keith's sparkling Mustang, both of which did wonderful things in my mouth. The big surprise was the blueberry. It not only managed to hang in there three years, but improved considerably over the last year. I had my entries selected and the blueberry was not among them, but I grabbed it at the last minute because I did not have another straight berry wine ready to enter. Actually, I had a strawberry ready but did not remember it because it was cased and not visible in my wine racks.
I doubt I will ever do as well again, and my good fortune should not detract at all from the other wonderful wines entered. Excellent wines were brought in from Houston, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Castroville, San Antonio, and Port Lavaca, Texas. They made the post-competition tasting a real pleasure.
I want to spend the rest of this entry talking about making two of the winning non-grape wines.
Our friends Luke and Lynette Clark grow at least three varieties of rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei), the Southern Highbush Blueberry species, at their home in Louisiana. You must grow at least two varieties to get any blueberries at all, as varieties only pollinate other varieties, not their own. But if you plant the right ones, you get blueberries over an extended period that can last as long as 16 weeks. These succulent berries are not only one of the most delicious fruit grown in the South, they are considered to be one of the easiest to grow as well. Furthermore, most of the blueberries that American consumers eat are rabbiteyes.
The Clarks once hauled barrel-sized planters of Climax, Tifblue and Powderblue plants all the way to our place in south-central Texas, a distance of 345 miles, for us to grow. While these might be some of the easiest plants to grow in the South, one must restrict their "easy" area to east Texas and east of there, where rainfall, humidity and acid soils suit the plants. As much as we wanted those plants to grow, they slowly declined over the years until the last one quit two years ago. We picked and ate berries from them for several years, but never got the monster harvests required to support winemaking. Instead, we drove to Louisiana annually and picked as many as our friends allowed (and they were very generous).
There are really no set rules for making blueberry wine. You can use as little as 2 pounds of berries per gallon or as much as it takes to make 6 1/2 pints of juice, which will bring you just shy of a gallon when you dissolve the sugar in it. I have tasted many a wine made of 100% juice after chaptalizing. In that regard you need to measure the acid in the juice. If too high, which it can be, then either dilute with water to correct it or add an alkaline base to it to neutralize some of the acid.
The blueberry wine I entered last Sunday was made as if for port, only I neither added excess sugar nor fortified it with a spirit to raise the alcohol.
Blueberry Wine (Heavy Bodied) Recipe
- 6 lb blueberries
- 11 1/2-oz can frozen red grape concentrate
- 1/2 c light dry malt
- granulated sugar to s.g. 1.090 (about 1 pound, give or take a couple of ounces)
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 3/4 tsp acid blend
- water to make total liquid 1 gal (about 2 quarts)
- 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate
- 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- 1/2 tsp yeast energizer
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- wine yeast
Wash and crush blueberries in nylon straining bag and strain juice into primary.. Measure volume of juice. Tie top of nylon bag and place in primary. Stir in all other ingredients except potassium sorbate, Campden tablet, yeast and red grape concentrate. Stir well to dissolve sugar, cover well, and set aside for 12 hours. Add Campden, recover the primary and wait another 12 hours. Add yeast, cover, stir ingredients daily, and press pulp in nylon bag to extract flavor. When specific gravity is 1.030, strain juice from bag and siphon liquor off sediments into glass secondary. Add red grape concentrate (do not top up), fit airlock and set aside. Rack in five weeks and again in two months. When wine is clear and stable, rack again, add potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet. The wine should be sweetened some to pull it off dryness. This simply brings out the flavor of the blueberry. Set aside a final 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Allow a year to mature. [Author's own recipe]
I bottled half the wine dry and sweetened the other half to 1.008. The Dry, entered in a previous competition, placed second in class. The sweet, entered 6 months later, won Best of Show for Non-Grape Wine.
Skeeter Pee Revisited
Skeeter Pee is a hard lemonade / low alcohol wine perfected by Lon DePoppe. His recipe produces a 10% alcohol by volume lemon wine that is so well balanced it just slides down without leaving any real sense that there was alcohol in there. As a result, it is REAL easy to drink too much of the stuff. Cecil Sanderson, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, won an Honorable Mention (runner up to Best of Show) last Sunday with Skeeter Pee. Had it been served chilled, as it really should be, he might even have gained a little nudge and taken the BOS.
Tasting it again reminded me how good it is and how easy it is to make, and so I wanted to share again the recipe for this wonderful drink. There is really no way to explain it other than in Lon's own words.
Skeeter Pee Recipe (makes 5 gallons)
- 3 bottles of 32 oz 100% lemon juice (e.g. ReaLemon in the green plastic bottles or equivalent)
- 7 lbs sugar (or 16 cups)
- 3/4 tsp tannin
- 6 tsp yeast nutrient
- 2 tsp yeast energizer
- Approx 4 3/4 gallons water
- Yeast Slurry*
*Yeast slurry is the yeast lees from a previous batch of wine or mead from the first racking, without any pulp or seeds
Many people have difficulty getting lemonade to ferment. This is due, I believe, to several factors. The high acidity, the lack of natural nutrients, and preservatives that are often included in the lemon juice. Therefore, I do whatever I can to assist the process.
I use reverse osmosis water (this is by choice and tap water should work fine since much of the chlorine should evaporate out during the initial steps). Make invert sugar by adding your 16 cups sugar to a large stainless cooking pot along with 8 cups water and 14 teaspoons lemon juice. Stir sugar to dissolve and heat to just below boiling while stirring. Hold at this temperature for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and pour it into your primary along with 2 of the bottles of the lemon juice (reserve the last bottle until later), and enough additional water to make 5 1/2 gallons. Add the tannin, 3 tsp of the yeast nutrient and 1 tsp of the yeast energizer. Measure SG with hydrometer and record it. I shoot for an SG of around 1.070 which yields a beverage of around 10% alcohol if it ferments dry. Vigorously beat the mixture with a wire whip for a couple of minutes to introduce oxygen and purge it of artificial preservatives. I then cover the bucket with a dish towel and let the sit for 24 to 48 hours.
After 24-48 hours, give it another quick whip and then pour in yeast slurry from the first rack of another batch of wine. It sometimes takes a while, but you should have active fermentation within a couple of days. It helps to keep this must warm (75-80 degrees). You may need to occasionally whip in some additional oxygen with the whip if fermentation seems to be progressing slowly.
Periodically check the gravity. When it gets down to around 1.050, add the other 3 tsp of nutrient, the second tsp of energizer, and the last bottle of lemon juice; vigorously mix it in. Don't be afraid to introduce some oxygen to the mix at the same time. This late addition of yeast food and oxygen helps reduce the likelihood of your batch developing a sulfur-dioxide problem. (Because of the high acidity and low nutrition, lemon has a higher propensity to developing the sulfur-dioxide rotten egg smell.) After a couple of days, you can rack into a clean, sanitized carboy.
Allow to clear. This may take a month or two. Rack into a clean, sanitized carboy. Give the batch a quick degas (use agitation and vacuum if you have the equipment). Add 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite, 2 1/2 tsp sorbate, and Sparkolliod. After two weeks, the Skeeter Pee should be crystal clear. Rack into a clean, sanitized carboy, add 5 cups sugar, and stir to dissolve. Wait two weeks to be sure no new fermentation begins and bottle.
Notes: I don't call this "hard lemonade" because too many people have tried the commercial versions and they tend to make a mental impression of what it's going to taste like before trying it. When it doesn't taste just like the commercial versions (which are usually flavored malt beverages with 5% alcohol) they conclude that it's a poor reproduction. This stuff isn't a reproduction; it's the original home-style without the big marketing budget and price tag. Please be advised that you need to keep an eye on those you serve this to. Because it drinks easily on a hot day and the alcohol is about double that of commercial hard lemonades and beer, it is easy to accidentally over consume; it sneaks up on you real fast.
Additional notes: The finished beverage will often take on highlights of the wine which provided the yeast slurry. I've made this with the slurry of raspberry, crabapple, and peach wines. All seem to have kept a bit of the originating flavor elements into the finished beverage. I guess what I'm saying, keep this in mind when you decide which batch should donate it's yeast starter. In other words, I'm not sure if a batch of candy cane wine would be the best choice. [Lon DePoppe's recipe]
November 13th, 2010
We just returned from a week's vacation in Flagstaff, Arizona. When planning to depart, some friends were...well...curious. Flagstaff? What's in Flagstaff? Well, within a 35-40 mile radius there are dozens of major and minor Indian ruins (pueblos, cliff dwellings, cave dwellings) volcanic craters, Meteor Crater, La Posada in Winslow, Red Rock, Oak Canyon and major Indian ruins around Sedona, Montezuma Castle and Well, etc. In Flagstaff itself is Lowell Observatory, Riordan Mansion, Museum of Northern Arizona, Pioneer Museum, Tuthill Military Museum, the Elden Pueblo Ruins, etc. And of course, the big daddy of them all, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, is just an hour and a half to the north. If you are a history buff and love the outdoors, Flagstaff is a great place to anchor a week.
Then again, you might just be a music buff and love the song, "Take it Easy" by The Eagles. We weren't thinking of the song when we drove out to Meteor Crater and afterwards went in to Winslow for a rendezvous with the legendary Turquoise Room at La Posada to have one of the best lunches in my life -- prepared by Chef John Sharpe. Afterwards, a mere block or two away, we found ourselves standing on "the corner" on historic Route 66 and we were consumed by The Eagles.
Well, I'm a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord,
in a flatbed Ford
slowin' down to take a look at me
Come on, baby
don't say maybe
I gotta know if your sweet love
is gonna save me
We may lose and we may win
though we will never be here again
so open up, I'm climbin' in,
and take it easy
We took several hundred photos during the past week. The one above was taken during a 35-40-mile wind gust that took my hat a second after the photo was taken. It is not very good photo, but it captured for me that life is full of surprises. Finding the statue, seeing the mural of the girl in the flatbed Ford, was one such surprise. When presented with you own such moments, embrace them, savor them, and by all means take it easy.
Speaking of lunches (at La Posada), just yesterday we stopped for lunch at Olive Garden in Flagstaff and we each chose the Lasagna, although my wife had it with the Caesar salad and I had a spicy potato and sausage soup. What is there to say about Olive Garden? The meals are consistently good and affordable and they offer a reasonable selection of wines. More importantly, their lasagna is always firm, delicious and satisfying. It may not be the best lasagna in any given city on any given day, but it is sure to be very good and you can take that to the bank.
Lasagna begs for a dry red, and we saw Sasyr on the menu, a 60/40 blend of sangiovese and syrah from the Tuscan vineyards of Rocca delle Macie. It was an excellent choice with intense aromas of cherry, blackberry, and perhaps some raspberry captured in a full bodied, well structured, lightly oaked palate with a smooth, lingering finish. This is a wine I will certainly select again if the occasion warrants and the menu provides. It is a 14% ABV wine, so a bottle at lunch as opposed to buying it by the glass is a decision you have to sort out for yourself, but I am retired now and wasn't leaving any in the bottle. I don't know if it is standard fare at Olive Garden (I did not ask), but if you see it, consider it.
We were walking up the trail at Montezuma Castle National Monument and stopped to read a vignette about the diet of the Sinagua people, who began building the cliff dwellings around 1300 A.D. and abandoned them around 1425. The placard mentioned "sweet succulent hackberries," which caused me to laugh when I read it. A couple standing next to me gave me a questioning look and so I pointed to the description and said they were anything but "succulent." Then I noticed the tree shading the placard was loaded with hackberries. I picked a dozen or so and gave them some, then I popped a few into my mouth. "Don't bite down on them," I warned, "because they are mostly a hard seed wrapped in a thin skin. But the skin is sweet, very tasty, and I once made an absolutely delicious wine with them." They gnawed the skin from the berries and agreed they were tasty, but could not imagine how I made wine from them.
The particular hackberries at Montezuma Casle National Monument are the desert (or spiny) hackberry (Celtis pallida) and normally grow 12-16 feet high. However, these are well watered by nearby Beaver Creek and were at least 20 feet high. The berries were perhaps 1/5 inch in diameter and their skins were sweet but not too thick. We know the Indians crushed the berry, seed and all, and ground them into pemmican. They can be boiled, removed from the water, and the water reduced and sweetened to make a very nice jelly. Making wine is quite a bit more work because two pounds of berries are needed.
I made my wine from the American (or Eastern) hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), which grows 25-40 feet in height and is very common where I live. I counted 1330 berries to the pound (yes, I actually counted them), so I picked approximately 2660 berries to make a gallon of wine. It took about six hours to pick that many berries. Remember, I said I once made an absolutely delicious wine with them. I may make it again if I can con some kids into picking the berries for me.
Hackberry Wine Recipe
- 2 lbs ripe hackberries
- 11 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
- 1-3/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
- 6-1/4 pts water
- 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1/4 tsp grape tannin
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 packet Champagne yeast
Boil the water and dissolve half the sugar. Wash the berries, being sure to discard any bad or immature ones. Pour berries into primary and crush with sterilized end of baseball bat, 4x4 lumber, or other suitable device. Pour boiling water over berries and stir frequently while water cools to 70 degrees F. When water has cooled, add grape concentrate, acid blend, tannin, crushed Campden tablet, and yeast nutrient. Cover and wait 8-10 hours, then add pectic enzyme. Wait another 8-10 hours and add the yeast in a starter solution. Cover with muslin, towel or plastic sheet. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation dies down (6-9 days). Strain, add remaining sugar, stir well to dissolve, and recover. After 3 additional days, siphon into secondary. Do not top up. Add airlock and set aside. Top up when wine goes still. Rack after 30 days in secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack again every 30 days (but at least twice) until wine clears. Rack again and allow to age in secondary an additional two months. Rack again, stabilize, sweeten to taste (or leave dry), and bottle. Best if very slightly sweetened (to s.g. 1.002) and served chilled. May taste after 6 months, but is absolutely delicious and unique if aged a year. [Author's own recipe]
- Pueblo Ruins Near Flagstaff, Arizona, old article in American Anthropologist, Vol. 2, 1900, sparked my interest in the area
- La Posada Hotel & Gardens, a National Historic Landmark on Route 66
- Standin' On the Corner Park, a Winslow, Arizona story
- Montezuma Castle: The Most Preserved Ancient Cliff Dwellings in America, If you want to know more, start here
- Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support
November 27th, 2010
My apologies to all of you who have wondered where I've been. I've been here, but I've had challenges. While on vacation in Flagstaff with my wife just three weeks ago, I was shocked to discover that my wife, who needs glasses but wasn't wearing them, was consistently reading highway and point of interest signs before I could, and my corrective prescription was only 10 weeks old.
Upon my return home, after I struggled with the computer keyboard and screen writing my last WineBlog entry and working on my Free PC Services website, I went to see my optometrist and laid the problem at his door. Very quickly, however, he came to a conclusion. After asking three times, "Which is better, A or B?" and offering me wide choices, he realized by my answers that the problem was in my eyes. He then referred me to an ophthalmologist, who in turn referred me to a retinal specialist. It turns out there are several things going on in my eyes and together the doctors are mapping out a treatment regimen.
My right eye has a dense, central cataract which will be removed in two weeks. It also has a partial posterior vitreous detachment which is tugging on the retina and kind of pulling it out of shape, distorting my cataract-clouded vision. It may simply detach as it should before, during or after cataract surgery, or they may have to intervene at a later date and hasten its detachment.
My left eye has small spot drusen, not at all uncommon in a 65-year old of European descent. But it has to be monitored, as it can cause fluid deposition under the layer containing the rods and cones and result in serious problems. Knowing and monitoring is the only sensible course. There is also evidence, from an Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan, that posterior vitreous detachment is beginning in that eye.
So, there is plenty competing for my attention (and that is just the medical part), but I won't bore you with any further personals. I just want you to know that I have not been totally lost in playing Castle Age.
Soapy Tasting Wine
A reader wrote me about a mixed cherry (sweet and sour) wine that ended up with a slightly soapy taste. I tasted such a wine at a competition some years ago and well know how disconcerting this can be. The wine I tasted was clearly unpleasant to drink and at the time I did not know what may have caused it. I am better read now and will do my best to pass on what I learned about the possible causes for this condition. There are several.
The winemaker described the winemaking methodology used fairly well. What was not said was just as important as what was actually described. For example, the winemaker did not mention a acid problem or correcting for high acidity. This would rule out over-use of potassium carbonate, a standard additive for reducing up to 10% acidity. Similarly, no mention was made of an accompanying unpleasant odor, especially a rubbery or burnt rubber odor. Such an odor, accompanying a soapy taste, would indicate any one of several disulfides.
I pointed out that over-sulfiting the wine with potassium metabisulfite can temporarily produce an off-taste often described as soapy. This taste will recede over time, but a sulfur dioxide test could settle the matter as soon as detected.
Most people know that the acidity of a must increases during fermentation. Common acids formed later in the fermentation process are acetic acid and carbonic acid. In well sulfited musts, acetic acid formation is but a trace -- only 0.003 to 0.004 grams per liter -- and carbonic acid dissipates as wines are degassed. Two non-volatile acids formed early during the fermentation process are succinic acid and lactic acid. Of these two, succinic acid is 8-10 times more prevalent than lactic acid -- and it has a salty-bitter-acidic taste that some describe as soapy. The flavor, however strong or slight, will recede in time as the acid combines with other components and produce esters.
The other common culprit, and this is what I suspected in this case, is a low acid, high pH wine. Such wines often taste flat (some taste "flabby") and soapy. So what is "high pH" when it comes to wine? A pH around 4 is considered high. Wine should not be more alkaline than pH 3.55. I shoot for the pH 3.15 to 3.40 window, but you can't always get what you want. If the wine tastes flat and soapy, measure the pH and the sulfur dioxide.
Every few minutes I hear an acorn or two hit the roof or fiberglass patio cover behind the house. The live oak that shades the eastern third of our home produces thousands of acorns annually, and all but a few early or late nuts fall between November 10th and December 10th. It has been 8 years since I made acorn wine. As I speak, it is being made once again.
Acorns are the seed nuts of oak trees (genus Quercus) and their close cousins (genus Lithocarpus). They are an important part of the seasonal diets of several birds, small mammals, and even larger mammals such as deer, bears and pigs. I have four dozen oak trees, most of which are very large, and they would coat the ground with their acorns if the squirrels, deer and wild pigs did not eat most of them. But for a long period of man's history, humans competed with the animals for these nutritious nuts. They are rich in protein, carbohydrates and fats (oils), plus calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and niacin. What has driven them from favor is the tannins they also carry.
A few species of oak produce acorns containing large amounts of tannins that are very bitter, astringent and potentially irritating to humans if eaten raw. This is particularly true of the acorns of the red oak, but the nuts of the white oak are much lower in tannins and have a true nutty flavor. Acorns of the live oak are between these two extremes. Ancient man removed the tannins by soaking chopped acorns in several changes of water. For wine, we boil the chopped nuts.
I first made acorn wine from a recipe passed on by Dorothy Alatorre. I was not enthusiastic about it but made it as a novelty. I quickly learned to appreciate it, but haven't made it since. It's been long enough.
Acorn Wine Recipe
- 1 cup chopped acorn meats
- 11 1/2-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
- 1 3/4 lbs granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
- 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- water to make up one gallon
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- Sauterne wine yeast or any white wine yeast
Shell and chop the acorn meats in a blender or food chopper. You need one cup of chopped acorn meats, not one cup of acorn meats chopped. You can use some of the water to aid in chopping them if necessary, although newly fallen acorns that are still slightly green are soft enough to chop without the water. If you have plenty of acorns, simply reject any with hard, dry meats. Bring a quart of water to boil and add the chopped acorn meats. If the acorns are really tannic, bring water to a simmer for 5 minutes and dump out, but this is not required for 90% of all acorns. If you did the former, replace the water, adjust heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Put 1 pound of the sugar in the primary and strain the acorn-water onto the sugar. Stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add thawed grape concentrate and the remaining water to equal one gallon. When cooled to room temperature, add all ingredients except yeast. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast as a starter solution, recover and ferment 5-7 days. Stir in remainder of the sugar until dissolved and transfer to secondary. Fit airlock and ferment 30 days. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 60 days for 6 months. Stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait 30 days for remaining dead yeast to fall out, and rack into bottles. May taste after 6 months. This is a good wine on its own with good body, but also makes a great blending wine. [Author's own recipe]
December 2nd, 2010
Winter is darned near upon us. We have burned perhaps 1/3 cord of mixed oak/mesquite/hackberry in the fireplace over the past three weeks and enjoyed it tremendously. There is something about a gentle, occasionally cracking fire that settles the soul as it warms the environs. It is doubly enjoyable when enjoyed with a glass of slightly warmed mulled wine or mead or a room temperature hearty port.
A few mornings ago it was 27 degrees as the morning sky lightened in anticipation of a rising, warming sun. I saw a line of sparrows on a thin mesquite branch, all fluffed up to keep warm and patiently eying the empty feeder. I dashed out and grabbed three empty feeders, took them to a patio table, opened the 12-gallon pail of bird feed, and one-by-one filled them. After re-hanging them I dashed inside to get warm by the rekindled fire I had fed upon awaking. When both front and back were sufficiently warm, I took a cup of coffee to my study to watch the birds feed out the window and read my email.
I'll be darned if a squirrel didn't slide down the support wire of one feeder and rob the birds of their due. I slapped the window and sent it leaping to the ground and then scurrying up a tree for protection. I thought of three things. First, it's 27 degrees Fahrenheit out there; when do these little buggers hibernate? Second, there are about a million acorns lying on the ground out there; why rob the bird feeder? Third, I'll bet some homemade sourdough bread would taste wonderful with squirrel stew.
My entry a few days ago on soapy-tasting wine evoked a nice long email from a fellow in Omaha. His complaint was that a wine he had entered in the annual Douglas County Home Wine Competition was "rejected" (neither tasted nor judged) by the judges because of ethyl acetate. He admitted the wine had the unmistakable odor of fingernail polish remover, but insisted no such fault existed when the wine was bottled. He wanted to know what caused it, could it be fixed and how might a recurrence be avoided?
Ethyl acetate (chemically, CH3COOCH2CH3) is the ester produced by the reaction of ethanol and acetic acid. Since ethanol is essential to wine, and at least some acetic acid will be produced during fermentation, at least some ethyl acetate is unavoidable and trace amounts actually contribute to the organoleptic complexity of wines. It is when there is more than is normal that it becomes a problem.
Normal amounts of ethyl acetate are most notable in younger wines, where the ester contributes to a general sense of fruitiness in the nose and on the palate. Sensitivity to ethyl acetate varies, but most people have a perception threshold around 120 mg/L. Excessive amounts of ethyl acetate are considered a wine fault. Excessive amounts may result in a wine being rejected, as wine judges are not required to taste wines their other senses suggest may impair their ability to continue judging. It just isn't fair to other contestants to detract from one's ability to judiciously evaluate subsequent wines.
Ethyl acetate rarely faults a wine all by itself. It is usually accompanied by an excessive amount of acetic acid that is nasally masked by the more notable odors associated with ethyl acetate. Additionally, wines faulted by ethyl acetate are often also faulted by the oxidation of ethanol to acetaldehyde, which adds an acrid, sherry-like quality to the nose and leaves the wine with a sharp vinegar-like taste.
Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in most ripe fruit and becomes reduced in wine to ethanol. Because it is easily reduced to ethanol, ethanol can be easily oxidized back into acetaldehyde. A trace is normal and contributes to complexity, but more than that affects the enjoyment of any wine. In the absence of ethyl acetate, detectable acetaldehyde is fault and contributes to a broader fault generally referred to as simply "oxidation." Oxidation, however, generally refers to the oxidation of several components of wine, not just ethanol.
Ethyl acetate, acetic acid and acetaldehyde are preventable by good winemaking practices, most notably by maintaining aseptic levels of free sulfur dioxide, keeping carboys topped up and never allowing airlocks to dry out past their sealant levels. Grapes that have cracked on the vine or have had their skins breached by birds should be culled from those destined for fermentation, as vineyard yeasts may have already produced small quantities of ethanol in the wounds. Acetobacter bacteria often converts these minute amounts of ethanol into acetic acid and subsequent reaction with ethanol creates ethyl acetate. These reactions begin on the vine and only take a day -- two at the most -- to conclude. Although the amounts thus produced are minute, the cumulative effect can be a ruined batch of wine. Culling is impractical for most situations, but if you grow your own grapes and hand harvest them, culling should be practiced judiciously -- especially grapes showing bird damage.
Once ethyl acetate is detected, the wine is usually past correction. However, if the nasal evidence is very slight and the wine has not been biologically stabilized, you can add the affected wine to another (but larger) fermenting batch and some of it will be reduced. There is a risk, however, that you will simply produce a larger batch of faulted wine. It's your call.
For earlier entries, see archives (left column)