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

Terry Garey's
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Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

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Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

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

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

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

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

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

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WineBlog Archives

Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.

July 2nd, 2011

As America's Independence Day approaches and we who celebrate it go about filling a three-day weekend, we ought to find a moment to reflect upon those who staked their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honors to break from their king and embark upon that perilous journey into the unknown. We have enjoyed 235 years of unbroken political freedom because of their courage.

Many of us fear we are about to lose that political freedom to the chains of austerity caused by unchecked and wreckless spending by our legislators and state and federal governments. Have we squandered what our forefathers left us or will we change course and secure a sound future for our grandchildren? I believe we are at a crossroads in history and pray that we collectively make the right choice.

On this Fourth of July I shall enjoy my grill and attend a local winery for dessert, metaphorically speaking. I shall see old friends and celebrate another national birthday with festivities and libation. But I have no doubt that we will talk wine. You tend to do that at a winery. I have no doubt we will reflect upon how far winemaking has come in our own lifetimes.

I was recently reading a winemaking book written in 1954. It amazes me how much we have learned, how many tools we have created, how greatly the art and science of winemaking have progressed for you and me in the last 57 years. Specifically, how easily, thoroughly and inexpensively we can prepare a balanced must for fermentation, arrest fermentation without compromising taste and attack problems affecting a wine. We have so many products available to us today that the problem is feast rather than famine.

A fellow wrote to me about a year ago with a haze problem. He had added products to enhance color extraction, tannin extraction, cellular breakdown, suppress volatile acidity formation and several nutrition additives. I did not know enough about the chemistry of the various products to know if their interaction might have caused his problem, but my suspicions were aroused. I remember thinking at the time that when I started making wine only two of those products were available. And really, I'm not that old....

Grapevine Prunings Wine

On the last day we were in Hawai'i I told my wife that when we returned I was going to prune my vines from some of their Spring growth and make wine from the prunings. I have done this before with mixed results but had a new plan this time. I used only the leaves, tendrils and growing tips this time, eliminating as much vine as I could. I also used only the prunings from my Champanel grapes, as I have used these in baking and likes the flavor. The wine has just undergone its first racking and shows great promise.

When I say great promise, I do of course mean great promise for a grapevine prunings wine. It would not do to compare it with grape or fruit wines, but it is still worth making if the prunings themselves are pruned to eliminate most of the dark green and woody vine.

The recipe requires a compressed gallon of leaves, tendrils and supple growing tips. I trimmed my prunings into a 5-gallon bucket and compressed it twice from the rim downward to end up with a gallon of compressed material.

  • 1 gallon compressed grape leaves, tendrils and supple growing tips
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 gal boiling water
  • 1 can (12 oz) Old Orchard White Grape Frozen Concentrate (optional)
  • Wine yeast

Bring water to boil and pour over compressed grapevine prunings. Place a heavy weight over leaves to keep them submerged (I used bowl filled with water). Cover the container with heavy cloth and set aside in a warm place for 4 days. Strain and retain the liquid. Press or squeeze the leaves to extract more liquid. Discard leaves. In primary, combine liquid, sugar, Campden, acid blend, and yeast nutrient, stirring well until sugar is completely dissolved. Cover primary for 10 hours, then add yeast in a starter solution. Recover primary and set aside. If using the grape concentrate, thaw and stir into fermenting liquid on the fourth day. When fermentation greatly subsides, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. At 1 month rack, top up and reattach airlock. Rack 2 more times, 30 days apart and the stabilize wine. Sweeten to taste and retain in secondary 30 more days, checking carefully for signs of refermentation. If any signs surface, retain an additional 90 days and then bottle. If none, bottle and age 3 months before tasting. Improves out to 1 year, but then should be consumed. [Author's own recipe]

July 12th, 2011

The internet is a strange animal. Search for something and you just might find it, even if it isn't what you think it is. I recently received an email from a representative of the Jiangsu Union Logistics System Engineering CO., Ltd., located you-know-where, who was delighted to know I was in the market for a warehouse racking system. If you are selling shelving, but also refer to it as racking, a search might turn up someone who always talks about racking wine. I found it a hilarious email, but not worth my time to answer.

Another strange occurrence was a sign in a local supermarket posted on all four sides of a large bin that said "Locally Grown -- Support Your Local Farmers". The bin was full of watermelons and every one of them had a sticker that said, among other things, "Product of Mexico." I complained to the store manager and he laughed. I glared at him and said that was false advertising. He straightened up and walked over to the bin and removed the signs.

Hydrogen Sulfide in Your Wine

I received the following email from a reader who also donated to support my site. I simply had to reply a once. Here is his problem: "I started a batch of fresh fig wine based on your recipe (increased by 4x volume). I just inoculated it with a yeast starter solution last night and by this morning the airlock was actively bubbling. I sloshed it around before leaving for work and when I got home there was the heartbreaking rotten egg smell I've read so much about. The ventilation was poor, so I got some fans going and that helped a little. I'm worried about the wine getting ruined less than 24 hours into fermentation. One thing I suspect is low nutrient. I only added a pinch of nutrient to the starter (based on Jon Iverson's book) but none to the must. Also, I just read now that distilled water is a bad choice because the minerals are removed. Should I add more yeast nutrient and how much? Should I dilute it in a solution and add it gradually?"

Two points. First, he didn't follow my recipe, as it calls for 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient per gallon. Second, I have never heard of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) developing this quickly, as it usually forms at the end of fermentation. However, many things are possible.

There are several causes of H2S formation.

  • Too much elemental sulfur, usually from grapes or other fruit that were dusted with too much sulfur during the growing season.
  • Lack of appropriate and sufficient nutrients (nitrogen, yeast hulls) before and during fermentation
  • Bacterial contamination due to inadequate sanitation

Books, bloggers and discussion forum participants have written for years that Montrachet yeast promotes the formation of H2S, but in all my many years of using this yeast, one of my favorites I might add, I have never developed H2S while using it. I think everyone is perpetuating an urban legend of winemaking. I have certainly used it hundreds of times without even a sniff of H2S.

Okay, if you know the causes of H2S formation, then you can deduce how to prevent it. Simple logic. But that does not help our friend who already has it. So, what to do?

I asked him if he has tasted the must since he detected the smell? I am curious as to what he reports, as I once (and only once) tasted an H2S infestation and have an idea what he should report if he had done so. I'm really just curious. More importantly, I asked what yeast strain did he use? If he followed my recipe, he used Montrachet, but if he used another then I can advise him on nitrogen requirements, if any.

First, do add nutrients. One teaspoon per gallon should be adequate foe most yeasts, but not all. The nutrients can be dissolved in a little must and stirred in. All fruit musts need nutrients and, depending on the yeast strain, that might apply to grapes, too.

Second, if he has an SO2 test kit, measure the amount of free (unbound) sulfur in the must. If under 50 ppm, add just enough potassium metabisulfite to bring the free SO2 level up to 50 ppm.

Third, rack the must into a sanitized carboy and let it splash a lot in the process. You want to introduce O2 into the must.

Fourth, attach the airlock and wait a few hours. Then remove the airlock and smell it again. If the smell is still prevalent as more than a trace, rack it again as before, affix the airlock, and head for a hardware store, Home Depot or similar store and buy a 1-foot piece of 3/8 to 1/2 inch copper pipe (tubing). Have them cut it into three 4-inch pieces. At home, run a 4-foot piece of sturdy string through one piece of tubing and loop it around and tie it to the string going into the tubing. Adjust the string so the tubing hangs straight up and down and is snug. Run the string through the other two pieces of tubing so all 3 hang straight. Place the tubing and string in a glass bowl and cover with 10% sulfite solution for 2-3 minutes. Remove, rinse with distilled water, drop the tubing into the carboy and swing it around for about 2 minutes. Remove the tubing and rack the must again. Affix the airlock and wait one hour. Smell the must. The smell should be reduced.

Fifth, if the smell is still strong, place a large funnel in a sanitized carboy, hang the copper tubing pieces through the funnel and suspend them a few inches below the funnel. Slowly pour the must through the funnel and into the carboy. It will cascade over the copper on the way in. Remove tubing and funnel, affix the airlock and wait it out. When the must finishes fermenting, fine it with gelatin fining agent per the manufacturer's instructions and rack. Let it clear and rack again.

Another method of copper treatment is go to the supermarket and look in the housewares section for a copper scrubby. (These are less common than they used to be and I once visited four supermarket chains before I found one. I bought three and stored them in baggies just in case.) At home, sanitize it with 10% sulfite solution for 2-3 minutes, rinse with distilled water, and squash it down into a large funnel placed in the mouth of a sanitized carboy. Slowly pour the must through the funnel into the carboy. Repeat in an hour if needed. When the must finishes fermenting, fine it with a gelatin fining agent per the manufacturer's instructions and continue as above.

Of all the things that can happen to a wine, H2S is the most frustrating but certainly not the worse. All those that are worse have no cure, so you just dump the wine. H2S is frustrating because it can be cured, but takes some effort. Worse still, about one in four times it is too far gone when discovered to correct.

I know many of you out there will say, "Why not just treat with copper sulfate and be done with it?" Here is my rule. I do not publish recipes for wine from plants I know to be very poisonous or toxic, and I do not publish cures to wine problems that require adding a poisonous substance. Copper sulfate is very poisonous. If you cannot measure a substance to hundredths of a gram and liquids to a fraction of a milliliter, don't go there. I don't play Russian Roulette and would never ask you to. Use one of the more labor intensive but safer methods above.

Most people who get H2S will get it post-fermentation. Adjust the instructions above to suit the timing.

Fig Wine

Common figs grow throughout zones 5-10 and hardier varieties grow north of zone 5. Ripe figs make great snacks right off the tree or have many other uses, one of which is wine. Fig wine has a unique flavor and will keep about three years before it starts oxidizing. When that happens, I let it go about its business, because in another two years it will be a weak sherry. You can add some brandy to "stiffen" it. Below is my tried and true recipe for fig wine, slightly different than what is on my website. Popular fig varieties in Texas are Celeste, Brown Turkey, Black Genoa or Black Spanish, Mission, Texas Everbearing, Strawberry (Adriatic), and Texas Blue Giant. All make good wine.

  • 4 lbs figs
  • 7 pts water
  • 1-3/4 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 3-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkg Montrachet wine yeast

Chop or feed the figs through a mincer. Place in a large, finely woven nylon straining bag, tie the top and put in a primary fermentation vessel. Stir in all other ingredients except Campden and yeast. Check the specific gravity (should be 1.085 to 1.100; if not, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar, stirring very well before re-checking S.G.). Cover the primary with a cloth. Add Campden after 12 hours and yeast after an additional 12 hours. Stir daily, pressing or squeezing pulp lightly to aid extraction of juices. When liquor reaches 1.040 (3 to 5 days), hang bag over bowl to drain, lightly pressing to aid extraction (do NOT force or you will cloud the liquor). While pulp drains, siphon liquor off sediments into secondary. Add drained liquid and discard pulp. Fit airlock to secondary. Ferment to dryness (S.G. 1.000 or lower -- in about 3 weeks). Rack into clean secondary, top up to 1 gallon and reattach airlock. Rack again in 2 months. Rack again and bottle when clear. This is a good dry wine. If you want it sweeter, stabilize, sweeten and let sit 30 days to be sure refermentation does not occur. Bottle. This wine can be drank young (after 3 months in bottle), but will improve immensely at one year. [Author's own recipe]

July 15th, 2011

In my last entry, three days ago, I reported on a gentleman whose must had a strong hydrogen sulfide infestation. (I know "infestation" is not the correct word, but I honestly cannot decide on the correct one.) He reported that a combination of yeast nutrients and aeration, as I recommended, solved the problem. The rotten egg smell is gone, the must tastes fine and fermentation is well under way. I am pleased that everything came out well.

Tulips and tree at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, all rights reserved

My nephew Patrick of Mukilteo, Washington is quite a photographer. The photo to the right is one he took at the 2011 Tulip Festival at RoozenGaarde, Skagit Valley, Washington. I have no idea what kind of tree this is, but I simply like the look of the whole photo. It probably would not work for me if it were any other tree. If anyone out there can say with high probability of correctness what kind of tree it is, please drop me a line. My contact page is linked just to the left of the oval photo of me at the top of the WineBlog. I know leaf details and other clues are indistinct and I cannot tell you what they look like, but perhaps a Valley resident or former resident knows the tree. It's a long shot, I know, but anything is possible.

Girl and Tulips at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, published in <i>The Seattle Times</i>

Another of Patrick's photos (on the left) from the festival was selected by The Seattle Times as the "Reader's Pix From My Weekend" selection of the week back on May 11th of this year. This, too, is one I really like. Patrick has no idea who the little girl is. He was simply preparing to shoot the tulip field when this little girl came running into the shot. It would still be a nice photo without her, but with her it is a really good one. Following this entry I have linked to The Seattle Times page where you can see the photo, the write-up and comments on the photo by Kevin Fujii, picture editor of The Seattle Times. I just do not know how long the link will be viable so if interested please visit it soon. I'm very proud of Patrick.

Tulips and abandoned cabin at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, all rights reserved

The last of Patrick's photographs I would like to share with you is this one of an abandoned cabin backdropped against a field of tulips. The weathered wood, the framed dark windows, the moss-covered roof, the pink flower-covered bush to the immediate left of the cabin, and the sea of tulps all combine to counterpoint both old and new. It is a composition that sings to me, a setting that invites exploration, a pleasing tapestry of man's footprints both decaying and springing forth in nature. Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your outing with me and now with many others.

Remedy for Too Much Metabisulfite

A very dear friend and exceptional winemaker in Victoria, Texas recently did something most of us who have made a lot of wine have done before -- she added too much potassium metabisulfite to a batch. I am honored that she asked me for a remedy, for she teaches me something almost every time we discuss winemaking. I offered her two remedies.

The first is to aggressively aerate the wine by pouring in from one primary to another for about three minutes. This will drive the excess sulfur dioxide from the wine. However, if doing this makes her nervous, I offered her a longer but less physical alternative, one I have used myself after doing the same thing she did.

Add 1/4 cup of the must to 1/2 cup of water and rehydrate your yeast in it. After you are sure the yeast is active and budding (about 3-4 hours), add another 1/4 cup of must. Wait as long as it takes to see good activity -- usually about 2 hours but possibly as long as 4-5 hours -- and add another 1/4 cup of must. When this is working strong, add 1/2 cup of must. Every time you add must to the starter, stir the must to drive a little SO2 from it but don't overdo it.

If you can, keep the must under a blanket of CO2 or argon. This has always worked for me (yes, I screwed up at least twice). When the starter recovers from that last addition, add half of it to the must and reserve the other half for a few hours "just in case." When you are sure you don't need to hold the reserve any longer, add it to the must. This way takes longer, but works every time.

Açai Berry Mead

Back in 2009 I expressed some thoughts on açai berries and the antioxidant fad and discussed making two batches of açai berry wines. Shortly after I posted these entries, I made a third batch with açai berries, but this time I made a mead. I drank half a bottle of the mead last night and today realized I have never published the recipe. I'm correcting that oversight right now.

First, a word of caution. When buying açai berry juice, check the label carefully. I passed on four brands because they contained sodium benzoate (or its resultant benzoic acid) or sorbic acid (from potassium sorbate). Sulfites oe ascorbic acid are not necessarily a show stopper, but I found one with no preservatives because the juice was pasteurized. Take time and look. If you buy the wrong stuff, drink it as juice.

  • 3 qts 100% pure açai berry juice (check label for non-fermentable preservatives
  • 3 lbs honey
  • 3/4 tsp acid blend
  • 2 finely crushed Campden tablets, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin DV10 wine yeast

Pour the juice in a primary and immediately stir in one (1) finely crushed Campden tablet, acid blend and yeast nutrient. (I bought very high grade honey and so did not boil it. Thus, my mead was not "brewed" but was "made.") Stir the juice while slowly adding the honey and continue stirring until it is completely dissolved and the consistency of the juice uniform. Cover the primaty for 10-12 hours and then add the activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover primary and ferment until vigor subsides (about 10 days), then transfer to secondary (do not top up), affix airlock and set in dark place. for 6 weeks. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. Return to dark place for additional 6 weeks. Dissolve second finely crushed Campden tablet in 1/2 cup of mead and add to empty, sanitized secondary into which you rack the mead. Top up, affix airlock and return to dark place. Mead should be clear after another 6-8 weeks. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate in 1 cup of mead and pour into empty sanitized secondary. Rack into secondary, top up, reattach airlock and return to dark place for 30 days. Use flashlight or laser pointer to see if sediment has formed. If it has, rack again one last time. If no sediment, rack into dark bottles. Allow to age at least six months, but improves considerably at one year. [Author's own recipe]

July 22nd, 2011

Several feedbacks were received about my last blog entry. Three of them commented favorably on my nephew's photographs but none ventured to guess the identity of the tree. Another commented, in a way, on my piece on my açai berry mead. But family first.

Tulips along a fence at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, all rights reserved

For those who missed my previous WineBlog entry and are too lazy to scroll down to it, my nephew Patrick of Mukilteo, Washington recently took several dozen photographs at the 2011 Tulip Festival at RoozenGaarde, Skagit Valley, Washington. He took several with this old, weather-beaten, wooden fence in the background or side-ground. Several had my brother Larry (Patrick's father) and Larry's wife Bonnie in them, but I liked the fence with the tulips making the counterpoint. No offense intended, but Larry and Bonnie, when in the photo, took away from the charm of the setting by stealing the attention.

Tulips along a fence at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, all rights reserved

Here is another with the fence in it. There was an unidentified couple to the left of this composition but I cropped the photo to edit them out. I wanted your attention captured by the fence and the tulips. I have no idea how old the fence is, but this is the 28th year of the festival, where millions (literally) of tulips take center stage across 300 acres. I believe a million people visited the festival this year, which straddles the entire month of April. And from these few photos you can infer why they just might want to see this in person.

Yellow and red tulips at Skagit Valley, Washington, copyrighted photo by Patrick Keller, all rights reserved

Of the scores of photos Patrick took of tulips alone, I selected the one on the right to publish. I have no idea what variety of tulip this is, but it is striking all by itself. With the blue flowers and greenery in the background, the tulips truly do capture your attention. They also illustrate the one problem with a festival celebrating the culmination of a natural cycle -- in this case the blooming of the tulips. As you can see, the central one has opened but others are a little behind it. Imagine if you came on the first day of the festival and, due to a lingering winter, none of the tulips had bloomed yet. I doubt that has ever happened, but they say there are no guarantees with Mother Nature.

Thank you, Patrick, once again.

I received an email that asked what I thought of "that commercial acai [sic] wine Russ wrote about." The only Russ I know is Dr. Russell Kane, the wine ambassador of Texas and Vintage Texas blogger. No, I really don't know Russ, but I read him occasionally and we chat and message and email one another from time to time. So I went to Russ' blog, Vintage Texas, and searched for Açai.

Açai Again (With Thanks to Russ Kane)

Acia wine and glass, from  Russ Kane's <i>Vintage Texas</i> blog

I don't know how I missed Russ Kane's blog piece where he tasted and reviewed Mike Sipowicz and Steve Talcott's Açai Wine, but I did. But I found it now and am very excited about what I read. Two Texans, making great wine from the thawed pulp of Brazil's infamous Açai (Euterpe oleracea) berry, the super fruit from a palm tree.

[I stole the picture on the left from Russ' blog, but I won't steal his content. His blog stands alone for its quality and depth, but that picture is priceless.]

The açai berry grows on a slender palm tree that inhabits the Amazon River basin and is now aggressively cultivated. Although it is a great "super food," the grape-sized berry spoils within 24 hours of being harvested. Couple this with the fact that less than 20% of the berry is actually edible (10% is a more commonly cited figure) and you realize why açai juice is relatively expensive and the fruit is totally unavailable outside the areas where it grows naturally.

Açai berries growing on palm tree

The fruit is typically harvested between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning in order to get it to processing plants before it spoils. There, the 1-2-millimeter layer of edible pulp is removed and flash frozen for use in many products. Açai Wines purchases the frozen pulp and the two founders spent years overcoming countless technical problems perfecting their winemaking method. In Russ's blog article Steve and Mike confess that açai pulp is extremely difficult to process into wine, but they have solved all the show-stopper problems. Mike reported to Russ, " Açai fruit brought to the table a brand new set of nuances that were foreign to me along with "varietal" idiosyncrasies that I had to learn. Açai reacts counter-intuitively in the winery."

Well, with that to look forward to, I think I will continue making my açai wines from the pure juice. My own experiences during the past two years at making the wines and the mead revealed no heartaches following that path.

By the way, if you are curious what Açai Wines's wines taste like, Russ does a very good job of sensory description in his blog piece. As for obtaining a bottle to try, visit the Açai Wines website (linked below) and buy one. Besides Texas (both wet and dry counties), they can ship to Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, District of Colombia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Baked Tomato Nests

On our last trip to Spain we discovered "tapas", those Spanish appetizers that populate every bar and lounge in Spain, even if only salted almonds or olives. Well, my sister recently gave me Everyday Tapas: A Collection of Over 100 Essential Recipes and I have been making selections that catch my fancy. Today I made "Baked Tomato Nests" and they are simply too good not to share. If you have an adventurous bone in your body, try these. Preparation is a chore (took me 45 minutes) but everything else is easy, and they are oh, so delicious!

  • 9 2-1/2-inch tomatoes
  • 9 large eggs (not extra large or jumbo)
  • 9 tblsp heavy cream
  • 9 tblsp grated mature Mahon, Manchego or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and, using a teaspoon, carefully remove the pulp and seeds without piercing the shells. Turn the tomato shells upside down on paper towels and let drain 15 minutes, preheating oven to 350 degrees F. while tomatoes are draining. Season the insides of the shells with salt and pepper.

Take an 8 x 8 inch casserole and coat inner bottom with olive oil. Arrange tomatoes 3-across in 3 rows, filling the casserole. Use an egg separator to separate the yoke of each egg and carefully drop the egg white into each tomato shell. Top egg white with 1 tablespoon heavy cream and then the grated cheese. Bake in preheated oven 18-20 minutes, until eggs set and cheese starts to brown. Allow 8-10 minutes cool down before serving.

Eat any way you want, but I cut each tomato nest I'm served into quarters. They hold together very well. Enjoy. Goes good with any wine . . . .

Everday Tapas, Hardcover

Everyday Tapas: A Collection of over 100 Essential Recipes by Staff of Parragon (2010)
240 pages
New and Used

July 27th, 2011

It's 6:55 a.m. and there are several big does feeding on the green grass just beyond the chain link fence dividing my backyard from my far back. Looks like five, maybe six. It's hard to tell because trees, grapevines and other growth obstruct the view in several places. Closer in, humming birds steadily visit the three liquid feeders under the patio cover and sparrows, cardinals, doves and occasional green jays compete for feeding stations on the three seed feeders. In a short while the squirrels will raid two of the feeders and my dog will sleep through it all, exhausted from a long night of barking at sounds in the dark. Things are as they are, and I have given up on fighting the squirrels for the moment.

I'm listening to internet radio 977, The Oldies Channel. Procol Harum is wailing "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and for the sixth or eighth thousandth time I wonder what the hell the words mean.

Procol Harum, A Whiter Shade of Pale

We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
And the waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

She said, "There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see."
But I wandered through my playing cards
And they would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open wide
They might have just as well been closed

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale

There are two more verses performed at concerts (one of them is on a live album), but the single release is as above. I caught the allusion to Chaucer and Shakespear, but my brother pointed out the one to Milton long ago when profundity grew with the lateness of the hour. Back then we pooled our change and bought jugs of Red Mountain vin rosé for a buck and a half a gallon. It was not a wine to develop one's palate, but back then we thought wine was to get buzzed on. I'm talking about the old label -- the one Janis Joplin sang about in "Red Mountain Burgundy" -- not the recently declared Washington state AVA and winery. The point is, if you drank enough Red Mountain, you actually understood "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and a lot of other mysteries too.

Youth, where did it go? I think mine hid somewhere on a hill called 990 northwest of Dak To and just east of the Tri-Border. I left it there when the Hueys came to take us out. Never wanted to go back to find it. It's probably a ghost now, but I still remember when it lived.

Well, you didn't come here to read this so I'll move on. Ah, the squirrels are back, raiding the birdseed.

Missing piece, from 'Copywriter In India' website

My website disappeared for a while earlier this week. I couldn't log on Sunday evening or Monday morning. I had an appointment with my ophthalmologist Monday, so simply sent a technical support inquiry to my website host. They replied that they had no trouble accessing it and suggested I clean my cache and cookies and try again. Well, I didn't do any of that. My website does not send cookies and my cache is emptied whenever I shut down my computer. I simply tried again and the site came up.

Later I looked in my gmail inbox and saw eight messages informing me the site was down or asking if I had discontinued it. I wrote back to my host and told them six people wrote me on Sunday about the site being down and two more wrote on Monday. That led to a strange reply that said everything except that they accepted responsibility.

I'm not totally happy with the technical support response to my inquiry, but at least they should know better than to blame the inquirer next time and look for a problem on their end. All I can surmise is that when they looked at the site Monday, they reset whatever was hung up or not properly operating. Sometimes simply doing something is all that's required to correct a malfunction.

As an example, in 2007 I had my second heart attack. Two of my 1997 bypasses had clogged and my cardiologist was going to implant two stents to open the main arteries that had been bypassed (stents were not available in 1997). They placed one stent and were pushing the second one toward my heart when suddenly there was a commotion and people started running around. I was awake but sedated, and I was trying unsuccessfully to make sense of what was going on. My cardiologist was standing down by my right thigh with his arms bent at the elbows and his hands held up. I was surprised how much blood was on his gloved hands. He was watching a big monitor I could not see and a woman injected something cold in my IV and milked it into my arm. It was very cold and I thought, "Oh, I wish she hadn't done that." Then it was quiet and I heard crash doors opening and something came rattling in. Right then I asked, "Are you about done? I really have to pee." My cardiologist slapped my leg and said, "You started your heart. When you talked you started your heart." There is a long version of this story, but the short one is that my action caused my heart to reset after a 41 second hiatus. Oh, the noise I heard was an attendant wheeling in a defibrillator so they could shock my heart. Thank goodness I really had to pee because I would have freaked out if a guy leaned over me with two paddles and someone said "clear"....

Crabapple Wine

Cherry sized crabapples on a flowering crabapple tree

An old friend in Oklahoma asked me for a crabapple wine recipe. This guy makes excellent grape wines, so I was honored he asked me for assistance. I have two recipes on my main website but one is better than the other. That's the one I will publish here with a few tips.

Crabapples come in various sizes, colors and tastes. Some are golf ball sized and others are the size of cherries (like the ones in the photo). Some ripen red, others ripen yellow and still others ripen green, just like apples. Some are incredibly sweet but most are rather tart. Whatever kind you have, they will make good wine. A mixture of 1/3 sweet and 2/3 tart makes a very nice wine.

Crabapple Wine Recipe

  • 5-6 lbs ripe crabapples
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp tannin
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 6 pts water
  • 3 crushed Campden tablet
  • Champagne wine yeast

Wash the fruit carefully and put them (whole) in a bucket containing a gallon of water and two crushed Campden tablets. Push them under the water often over a 4-6 hour period, then drain the water off and crush them in the bucket. Boil 6 pints water and dissolve the sugar in it. Pour over crushed crabapples in primary. Cover with cloth and allow to cool to lukewarm. Add all ingredients except last Campden tablet and yeast and set aside for 12 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir and knock down cap 2-3 times daily for about one week. Strain through nylon straining bag and let drip drain (do not squeeze) about 20 minutes (no more). Stir in third crushed Campden tablet and let stand additional 24 hours and rack off sediments into secondary. Top up and attach airlock. Rack every 2 months until clear. When clear, check specific gravity and taste. If dry, stabilize, sweeten to taste and wait 30 days to see if it referments. When positive all fermentation has ceased and no dead yeast fall out, rack into bottles. If you see a dusting of dead yeast, wait another 30 days and rack into bottles. Allow to age until a year from starting date. [Author's own recipe]

Bartlett Pear Wine

A reader asked me for a Bartlett pear wine recipe. Different pear varieties vary a great deal in hardness, texture, sweetness, acidity, tannin, and susceptibility to browning. Bartletts, however, are a great pear for winemaking. The pear itself turns from green to yellow when ripe, has a sweet, slightly musky flesh which is a bit grainy in texture. This graininess, however, does not affect the wine. This is one of my favorite pear wines and the recipe, although it appears long, is actually very simple.

Bartlett Pear Wine Recipe

  • 6 lbs ripe pears
  • 1 12-oz can 100% White Grape frozen concentrate
  • 1-3/4 lb finely granulated sugar
  • 3 qts water
  • 1/8 tsp ascorbic acid
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Champagne yeast

A pair of ripe Bartlett pears

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar into it thoroughly. Wash, destem and core the pears, being sure to remove all seeds. I quarter them length-ways and cut out the small seedy core. It is not that time consuming. Chop roughly and put in nylon straining. Tie bag and put in primary. Mash pears using a potato masher, bottom of a wine bottle, or a 4X4 piece of wood (be sure to sanitize whatever is used to mash pears). Pour boiling water over crushed pears. Cover with sanitized cloth. Wait one hour for must to cool a bit and add crushed ascorbic acid, Campden tablet, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover with cloth, wait 12 hours and add grape concentrate and pectic enzyme. Again cover with cloth, wait another 12 hours and strain out enough juice to float a hydrometer. Measure specific gravity and add sugar sufficient to achieve starting gravity of 1.080 to 1.085. Pear wine is best under 12% alcohol. Return juice in hydrometer jar to primary and add activated yeast in a yeast starter. Cover with cloth once again. Stir daily, turning bag over each time. When vigorous fermentation subsides (about 5-7 days), remove bag and let drip drain 15-20 minutes. Do not squeeze or wine will be very difficult to clear. Taste the drained juice. You should taste both acid and tannin. If either appears weak, add a little more (1/2 teaspoon acid blend, 1/8 teaspoon tannin) and stir very well. Return drained juice to primary and allow to settle 24 hours. Rack into glass secondary, top up to within one inch of the bottom of the bung, attach an airlock, and set aside. Rack after three weeks, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every two months until wine clears. Wait another 30 days and very carefully examine the bottom of the secondary with a flashlight. If you see even a very fine dusting of sediment, wait another 30 days and rack again. Repeat looking for sediment in another 30 days. The wine must go 30 days without dropping even a few dead yeast cells. When wine pasts the test for no sediment, stabilize it with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Remove one cup of the wine and dissolve into it 1/4 pound (1/2 cup) of finely granulated sugar or honey. When completely dissolved, stir this into the wine, reattach the airlock, and set aside 30 days. If there are no signs of renewed fermentation, rack into bottles and age 6-12 months. [Author's own recipe]

August 3rd, 2011

I have tried for one week to write this blog entry. Believe it or not, every single time I have opened it and started typing, the phone has rang with a major detour. It is 2:20 in the morning and I am fairly certain the phone will not ring at this hour. We will see if I can finish and tie together all the disjointed false starts I have invested in this entry thus far.

My stream-of-consciousness introduction last time I wrote here drew a few emails and an odd phone call that began, "Red Mountain Vin Rosé, it's perfect for breakfast!" The gist of what followed this opener is that the morning after a night of Red Mountain consumption, there is almost always some of the hair of the dog left in the jug -- for breakfast. I laughed when he explained and I wondered, do other people have such weird yet priceless friends? Treasure is where you find it.

I got an email trying to explain the lyrics of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," but the explanation tries too hard to make the words express things they don't actually say. It is too "tired" to be serious. Sorry Steve. Besides, I've read Keith Reid's account of writing the lyrics and know they have nothing to do with cocaine or any other drug, but booze is mentioned and cannabis may have been consumed when the initial kernel of the song (its title) was conceived. However, he insists that none was consumed during the actual writing of the lyrics.

Knowing what the song is actually about, straight from the guy who wrote the lyrics, and then reading the words does not mean the two share synchronicity. I love "A Whiter Shade of Pale," I know what the song is about, but that does not mean I know what the words mean. I recently drank a bottle of my Pineapple-Coconut Mead and it almost came together, but then I fell asleep. And that, I think, is part of the mystique that permeates the song.

Aside from the lyrics, Gary Brooker, who wrote the music, brought something to the piece that gave it an air of almost-familiarity when you heard it for the first time. He admits he borrowed a couple of bars of Bach's Air on a G String before he veered off to find his own composition. Matthew Fisher, who played the organ in the recording, composed the organ solo that is arguably the heart and unifying soul of the whole thing. Is it any wonder it remains the most played song on the radio in England?

Regarding my comments on "A Whiter Shade of Pale," another reader wrote simply, "...it brought back a lot of memories." Amen, Rick. Nothing more needs to be said.

And a woman wrote, "You can turn a phrase yourself, Mr. Keller. Every now and then you come out with some reality so wrapped in prose that I think I'm reading Jack London instead of Jack Keller. I think I would greatly enjoy a book of your reminiscences." Wow. Thank you, Sheila. You made my day.

There were other emails, but also another phone call. A dear old friend called and said, "You know that little bitty paragraph you wrote that started with, 'Youth, where did it go?'" I said yeah. He started crying, "It brought it all back."

Dear Lord, help us make peace with our pasts. All too many of us were, as Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway so eloquently noted, soldiers once, and young. We left our youth on the battlefield suddenly, without transition. The shock stays with us. Now, decades later, the circumstances that stole our youth so suddenly haunt us. War is a terrible thing. May God's hand grace and guide each and every one of our men and women in harm's way and bring them home with able bodies, healthy minds and intact spirits. For those who carry the emotional scars of war, and I would venture to say that encompasses everyone who was ever shot at, may the Lord help them find their way free from the horrors of battles past.

Everyday Tapas: A Collection of Over 100 Essential Recipes
Those Delightful Tapas, Again

I'm still going through this cookbook of Spanish appetizers and having a culinary blast. I look at the title this way; 100 essential recipes means 100 core recipes which you can take and run with. Now, to be fair, I try to make each dish the way it is prescribed and tweak it thereafter if I so desire. Occasionally I do not have the exact ingredients specified and have to substitute, but I do try to see what the literal recipe produces. The results have been delightful to the extreme. Some introduce dishes I never would have conceived of, but others border on the familiar.

My wife makes a very simple item which can be served as a side with the main meal or as an appetizer while the meal is being prepared. It consists simply of fresh green beans, ends trimmed and de-stringed if necessary, wrapped in 1/2 strip of bacon held with toothpicks and oven-roasted at 375 degrees F. for 10 minutes, turned and then roasted another 10 minutes. These are so good we make them just for us as well as for guests.

Everyday Tapas has a different yet similar recipe, using shaved slices of Serrano ham wrapped around fresh asparagus spears. I probably could have found Serrano ham in San Antonio if I too the time to look hard enough, but here in Pleasanton the best I could do is have a deli attendant shave some very delicious smoked ham. No toothpick is required if the end of the ham is tucked underneath the asparagus. After trimming off the woody end and wrapping 24 perfect asparagus, I placed them in a long, glass baking dish lightly coated with olive oil. I then lightly brushed them with additional oil and seasoned them with freshly ground pepper. They were roasted 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. They are served as finger food, dipped into an aioli sauce. They could be served formally on a plate with the aioli sauce drizzled over them.

Aioli sauce is very simply made. The recipe calls for using a food processor to blend a large egg yoke at room temperature, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar or lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and then slowly adding 5 tablespoons of olive oil and 5 tablespoons of corn oil in that order. The key is slow and the result is yummy. Instead of getting out the food processor, I uses crushed minced garlic and whipped it all together by hand. This sauce is not only superb, but versatile as well. It is perfect for dipping strips of carrot, celery, green onion and bell pepper, pieces of cauliflower, broccoli and mushroom, slices of zucchini, summer squash and cucumber, and many other vegetables raw, parboiled or fried.

Aioli sauce can also be used to marinate new potatoes. Cut them in half or quarters, cover with water and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer 7 minutes. Drain, place in a bowl and pour on the aioli sauce. Turn the potatoes to coat them, cover the bowl and marinate about 20 minutes. Alternatively, very small new potatoes can be steamed for 30 minutes, wrapped in shaved Serrano ham, brushed with olive oil, and roasted in a roasting dish for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven. The slightly cooled potatoes can be eaten as is or dipped with toothpicks in aioli sauce.

Having made all of the above, I combined several ideas to come up with this. Lightly spread softened cream cheese over shaved ham slices. Wrap each slice around a fresh, trimmed green bean and arrange in a lightly oiled baking dish. Brush lightly with olive oil and season with freshly ground pepper. Roast in 400-degree oven 18-20 minutes (until beans are just cooked but still firm). Eat as is or with aioli sauce. Alternatively, wrap the cream cheesed ham around asparagus spears and reduce roasting time to 10 minutes. Second alternative, wrap the cream cheesed ham around baby zucchini spears (quartered length-ways) and roast 8 minutes.

Each of the above can be served with a chilled white wine. Traditionalists might try a Sauvignon Blanc or even a Viognier. Country winemakers will love the ham-wrapped dishes with dandelion, key lime or elderflower wines. For a fruitier experience, try a White Zinfandel or a cranberry wine. Above all, experience the flavors.

Dandelion Jelly

I had 2-3 open jelly jars in the refrigerator just a couple of months ago, but the other day I emptied the last jar without realizing it. When my toast popped up that morning I looked for a jelly and realized there was none open. Besides wine, we have plenty of jelly stashed in this house. I grabbed a jar out of the dark pantry and in the kitchen saw that it was dandelion jelly. Just seeing the label brought back a flood of memories and got the saliva flowing. This stuff is like a gift from heaven and very much reminds one of honey. After eating the jellied toast, I decided to post the recipe here. After wine, jelly is the next best thing you can make from dandelion petals.

I do believe I published a dandelion jelly recipe before, but a search simply shows it being in my WineBlog, not which archive page it is on. Rather than open and search each archive looking for it (I really do have to index them one day), I went to our 3-ring binders of personalized, hand typed recipes. Dilemma. I found two recipes. One is simply the other recipe expanded and that is the one I am publishing here.

Another dilemma. Dandelion season is past, at least in south-central Texas. Should I wait until next year's dandelions appear to publish it, when it will be seasonally relevant, or publish it now while on my mind. The problem with waiting is that I will probably forget. I have stacks of notes to myself in various places of seasonally relevant topics I never revisited. Better do it now and leave it to you to remember. As a colonel once confided, a task delegated is a task completed.

Dandelion Jelly Recipe

  • 1 quart loosely packed dandelion flower petals
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 lemon rind, zested
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 package (1 3/4 ounce) dry pectin
  • 2 quarts spring water
  • 9 half-pint jelly jars w/lids and lid rings

Remove the petals from the greenery at the base of each dandelion. This takes longer to do than making the jelly, but has to be done. Place in a stainless steel pot, add the lemon zest and water and bring to a boil. Hold boil for at least 10 minutes and strain, saving the liquid. I use a cheesecloth-lined colander to strain, allow the petals to cool 10-15 minutes and then collect the sides of the cheesecloth to form a bag and squeeze to get extra-rich flavor from the petals. You can then run the liquid through a double layer of paper coffee filters for extra clarity.

Into a deep, 6-quart pot place 6 cups of this liquid and add to it the lemon juice, vanilla and pectin. Bring to a rolling boil and add the sugar, one cup at a time, stirring well in between each addition. When all sugar is in, stir some more to ensure it dissolves. When it returns to a hard boil, cook 1 1/2 to 2 minutes or until the liquid sheets from a wooden spoon. Turn off heat, skim as needed and ladle into sanitized, hot jelly jars to within 1/4 inch of rim and seal. Process in hot bath for 10 minutes, remove and let cool.

August 8th, 2011

Vision problems have returned to my left eye with Drusen under the macula causing a substantial central scotoma (blind spot). My father has it and it is hereditary, so check your own family records and get occasional ophthalmological exams after turning 40. Mine (and my father's) is being treated with an injection of Avastin into the vitreous of the eye. Mine will be monthly, but as the effects of the Drusen are negated the injections can be spaced out over longer periods like my father's.

I was very pleased with the latest edition of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild (SARWG) newsletter, which arrived Saturday. It was shorter than I like to see but very well packed with items of wide interest. It contained an item I'd like to share.

Quote of the Month

The famous German poet, Johan Wilhelm Von Goethe, once was asked which three things he would take if he were to be isolated to an island. He stated: "Poetry, a beautiful woman and enough bottles of the world's finest wines to survive this dry period!" Then he was asked what he would leave back first, if it was allowed to take only two things to the island. And he briefly replied: "The poetry!" Slightly surprised, the man asked the next question: "And Sir, what would you leave back if only one was allowed?" And Goethe thought for a couple of minutes and answered: "It depends on the vintage!"

Another Outstanding Quote

This was passed to me as a quote by a Texas legislator, but being cautious when something sounds too pat, I did some research and found the original attributed to Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages. His reply, in 1952, is worth preserving with the correct attribution:

"My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

"If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

"But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

"This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Strawberry-Raspberry-Blackberry Jam

Mixed strawberries, raspberries and blackberries

Yesterday morning I dashed to the market to buy a couple of staples and noticed a beautiful arrangement of berries greeting me when I walked in. There were strawberries in the center flanked on one side by red raspberries and blackberries and on the other by side by golden raspberries and blueberries. Having not yet eaten breakfast, I was putty in the hands of the produce manager. Yes, I bought, but I bought with a plan in mind.

At home I discarded the greenery from the strawberries and stems from the blackberries and washed all the berries. I dug out my recipe for strawberry jam and thought about it for a minute. I finally decided what to do and measured out enough of three berries to accomplish it. Then I made breakfast and ate the remaining raspberries with it.

Strawberry-Raspberry-Blackberry Jam Recipe

  • 2 cups crushed strawberries
  • 1 cup crushed red raspberries
  • 1 cup crushed blackberries
  • 7 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin

You will need more than a cup of berries to get a cup of crushed berries, but not all that much more. Sorry, but I didn't measure the raw input, But I crushed the berries in a bowl and then measured them until I had enough. I ate any crushed overage. Measure crushed fruit and combine in deep pot on high heat. Stir with wooden spatula to prevent burning and sticking. As fruit comes to a boil, stir in almond extract, butter (to reduce foaming) and, a cup at a time, the sugar. Stir continuously until it comes to a full rolling boil. Stir in pectin and continue stirring until mixture has returned to a full rolling boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, and ladle quickly into sterilized canning jars to within 1/4 inch. Using padded kitchen mitten to hold filled jar, wipe the jar rim and threads and cap with lid disks and ring bands, screwing the bands tightly. Process in boiling bath for 10 minutes and set aside to cool completely. [Author's own recipe]


I had another item to post, but have been interrupted and detoured so many times that this entry, which was begun at 9:35 a.m., has only gotten this far at 10:25 p.m. I am determined to post an entry today, so let this briefer one suffice and we will see what tomorrow brings.

August 27th, 2011

My previous WineBlog entry ended prematurely due to the interrupting nature of life. I had intended to continue it the next day when life once again intervened to thwart my plans. Now so much has happened that any attempt to continue where I had planned would take too much effort trying to revisit where I was when I stopped last. But much of it has been very nice.

I came into possession of some wonderful freestone peaches and thought about making peach wine, but in the end decided to can them in syrup and brandy. This took four hours and a quick trip to Wal-Mart to buy additional canning jars, but it was most satisfying. When all was said and done, I was out of brandy but rich in brandied peaches. I also had about 870 mL of peach-flavored simple syrup left over and am using it up on pancakes each morning. Life is good.

Several people wrote to tell me they have made the strawberry-raspberry-blackberry jam I featured two week ago. God bless you all for the delight you will experience when you spoon some onto a warm, toasted and buttered English muffin. You will pity those who haven't the wisdom or motivation to make it themselves. Yes, pity....

Another reader wrote to tell me his blueberry wine took a double gold in the Indy International Wine Competition. Two more wrote to tell me of less prestigious but equally satisfying wins. And my heart glowed for each of them. I remember my first ever winning wine and how wonderfully satisfied I felt.

Satellite image, Hurricane Irene, 27 Aug 11, 0910 hours EDT

On a very serious note, one reader was asking me about a strange smell and before he could describe it he suddenly stopped, switched to all caps, and typed, "MUST RUN. JUST ORDERED TO EVACUATE. IRENE COMING." That was last night and this image is this morning. Just looking at the size of this thing makes me shudder. It is wider than the combined states of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia measured east to west. Put another way, it is almost as big as the state of Texas, and if you've ever driven from El Paso to Beaumont you know how big that really is. We can be thankful it is losing steam but know full well this thing is going to bring more rainfall and wind damage than anyone needs. Randy, I wish you and your family Godspeed, as well as all in the path of this monster.

Dog Ridge

Dog Ridge vines in a live oak tree

Vitis x champinii (Planch.). It is a native rootstock discovered by T. V. Munson near its namesake, Dog Ridge, just west of Belton, Texas in Bell County. Vitis x champinii is often cited as Vitis champini but is actually a proto species (natural hybrid), thought to be V. mustangensis × V. rupestris. It may possibly also have some Vitis cinerea var. helleri (formerly known as Vitis berlandieri) genes.

Dog Ridge is drought and salt tolerant and resistant to nematodes, root rot and Pierce's Disease (PD), although it can be a host to the bacterium that expresses PD without being affected. It is a very vigorous vine and passes its vigor to any graft. It is susceptible to rust and to freeze damage occurring before onset of dormancy.

Dog Ridge vines 3 weeks after budbreak in 2nd year

I obtained Dog Ridge by mistake. I had ordered cuttings of Brilliant from the Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva, NY, a complex V. labrusca / vinifera / bourquiniana cultivar developed by T. V. Munson in 1883 from a Lindley x Delaware cross. Only two of the seven cuttings rooted and I planted them along a chain-link fence with the intention of rooting additional cuttings from them for planting in rows under trellis. They turned out to be Dog Ridge, a good rootstock but with grapes universally hailed as having no value for anything.

The photo on the right shows the vines only 20 days after budbreak of their second year and demonstrates their vigor. Almost every growth sports an emerging inflorescence. However, there were few grapes that year because there wasn't a healthy pollinator that year. The following year I noted that my Champanel and Cynthiana flowered at the same time as the Dog Ridge and the latter set many, many grapes and have ever since. Also, the photo shows the juvenile leaves of Dog Ridge, which look very much like Mustang and atest to the V. mustangensis lineage. Compare them with the mature leaves in the next photo on the left.

Dog Ridge grape clusters

During their second year the vines' roots found groundwater and I stopped watering them. They grew vigorously and before I realized it they had reached upwards and climbed into a large live oak that partially shaded them. I pulled the vines out of the tree during their winter dormancy two consecutive years, but the following winter I neglected them and after that they were impossible to pull down by hand. They are now well established and produce a great number of small clusters of 8-18 grapes. After tasting the first grapes to ripen, I judged the idea that they are useless as absurd.

Verasion begins at my location in mid-June. The grapes turn dark unevenly and verasion can span a full month. This, undoubtedly, is the reason the grape is considered useless. It cannot be reliably harvested except on a grape by grape basis. Few people have the patience to pick 2 or 3 berries from a cluster and leave the rest for another day. I am one who does.

Working from the ground, a step-ladder and an extension ladder leaned against the mass of vines, the first picking yields only a pint of berries, These are packed in a ZipLoc freezer bag and arranged carefully in the freezer. About three days later another pint is picked and added to the first harvest (you have my permission to chuckle at the use of that word). After about 2 weeks the harvest is about a quart every 2-3 days. When it starts dropping off again I begin to tire of the exercise, for after reaching a quart twice the pickings dwindle. I usually stick it out 3 weeks, at which time every cluster has 1-3 berries that are still green or pink or reddish-purple, but none that are the purple of maturity. I leave these for the birds to discover over time. If my total harvest reaches 3 gallons I am happy.

These are medium-sized berries with small seeds and good yields of juice. I am sure I would get 2 gallons of juice from them but I have never fermented them as a varietal. I always add them to other grapes to flesh out a weak batch. I have added them to field blends of Champanel, Cynthiana, Ives Noir, V. monticola, some V. cinerea var. helleri, V. vulpina (formerly called V. cordifolia), and even some V. aestivalis once. These blends are usually very, very good and bring high praise. Half of this year's harvest was blended with Champanel and frozen cranberries to create a nice blush. The other half is still in the freezer with a small harvest of Cynthiana and a lot of Mustang. I haven't decided what to do with it yet.

Post Script

Once again my day has been interrupted severely, but not as severely as our brethren on the East Coast. Pray for them as they face Nature's fury.

I will return when God wills it.

September 4th, 2011

I'm busy making preparations for our two weeks on Costa del Sol, Spain. We leave a week from today on, yes, 9-11. It is not the day I would prefer to be flying, but it's the way it turned out.

The last time we were in this area we visited North Africa. I don't know if we will do that this time. We have an open agenda, but I have a few wineries mapped out as "maybes." I am not one of those people who pepper my vacation with winery visits just so I can write it off as a business expense. Like Kaua'i earlier this year, this is a vacation. If we visit any wineries at all, it will be as tourists.

Homestead at Ebey's Landing, near Coupeville, Whidbey Island, Washington

I have featured photos by my nephew Patrick Keller before. He captured this view of the Jacob Ebey homestead as the fog was lifting last weekend on a hike through Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve, which surrounds the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island, Washington. I would love to see this same location shot when the old log blockhouse is fully illuminated. Such a picture, but from another vantage point, accompanies the Wikipedia article on Ebey's Landing (see links following this entry).

This photograph reveals more and more hidden detail as it is enlarged. I have examined it at length at full screen size and larger and am fascinated by what was actually captured. I am afraid I have destroyed much of that detail by reducing it in size but can point you to the original if interested.

Pier at sunrise at Ebey's Landing, 	Whidbey Island, Washington

I personally would like to have this photograph made into a jigsaw puzzle -- 1200 to 1500 pieces. I'm not sure it would be as challenging as many, but I do think it would be very pleasing to see the image emerge.

The second photograph (left) is a pier at sunrise somewhere at Ebey's Landing. When I first saw it, my memory pulled out, "Red sky at morning, sailor take warning." I don't know what it would evoke to a seafarer, but it is a soothing image to me. If I had a place to hang it I would have it enlarged and framed. I like it that much.

These photos of Ebey's Landing remind me of days past when I lived in Tacoma and took the ferries island hopping through the Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca on weekends. There wasn't a National Historic Reserve on Whidbey then but there were a number of parks and the Naval Air Station. I ate lunch in Coupeville, but the trip to Whidbey was hurried as I went on to Port Townsend from there and got stuck overnight. They were good weekends.

Worcesterberry Wine


I love original requests, something I've never seen before or even anticipated. So, I was delighted when I received a request for a worcesterberry wine recipe. Worcesterberry is cousin to the gooseberry and a distinct species native to North America but grown more in gardens in the United Kingdom than gardens in America. About 6 years ago I bought four cans of worcesterberries in light syrup and concocted a recipe for this fruit.

The worcesterberry (ribes divericatum) is related to the gooseberry and currants. The fruit are about the size of jostaberries, a hybrid between other Ribes species (probably gooseberry and blackcurrant). Worcesterberries grow on a bush that reaches up to 8 feet in height, sport leaves similar to both gooseberries and currants and bear vicious thorns. .

The flavor of worcesterberries is similar to that of jostaberries and red currants, but without the subtle aftertaste of the former. Worcesterberries are highly prized for jams, jellies, pies and torts, but are neither exceptional nor unappealing when eaten raw. The berries are well endowed with acidity and pectin and this must be kept in mind when making wine.

The woecesterberries I used were canned in light syrup. I used the syrup because I assumed it was rich in the berries' flavor. I don't know how rich it was, but it was flavorful. The recipe that follows assumes the fruit are not canned, but fresh or frozen and then thawed.

Worcesterberry Wine Recipe

  • 2 1/2 - 3 lbs worcesterberries
  • 1 can Welch's Red Grape Frozen Concentrate
  • 1 lb 4 oz sugar
  • 1 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed
  • Water to 1 gallon
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • General purpose wine yeast

Make a simple syrup by dissolving sugar in 1 1/2 cups boiling water, cover and set aside to cool. Wash berries, secure in nylon straining bag and crush in primary container. Add pectic enzyme and 4 pints cold water. Cover primary and let macerate 4 hours. Add simple syrup, thawed grape concentrate and yeast nutrient, recover primary and let macerate an additional 6 hours. Add yeast in starter solution. Ferment 5 days, punching bag down twice daily. Press pulp lightly and transfer liquid to a gallon jug. Do not top up. Attach airlock and ferment until still, about 3 weeks. Rack into sanitized jug containing finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Top up and reattach airlock. Repeat racking every 30 days until wine is clear, Stabilize, wait additional 30 days and bottle.

September 9th, 2011

This will be my last blog entry until we return from Spain near the end of the month. I will be flying on 9-11 so will miss the many memorial retrospectives made for television. If anyone feels like recording them for me on DVD, write to me when I return and I will send you my mailing address. I suspect Fox News Channel will have the best, but who knows?

I am still receiving email about memories triggered by my discussion of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" in my July 27 and August 3, 2011 WineBlog entries. Darrel wrote, "I was on the ferry from Catalina after drinking too much peppermint schnapps in Avalon. Two dudes and an absolute beauty were playing cards inside. I was drunk. The scene wandered in and out of focus, and then 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' began to play on someone's personal radio. It was surreal. It was perfect. The whole song acted out before me in my imagination. When the song ended I went outside so the mood would not be broken by the next song. Reading the words on your blog brought me back to that night. Like I said, it was perfect." Amen, brother, and may it always be....

Set of 6 handmade wine glass charms

Unusual Gifts for the Wine Connoisseur

If you happen to be looking for a gift for a wine connoisseur who already has the best wine bottle opener, decanter and personal wine glass, perhaps a little hand blown glass art with a wine theme would be just the right thing. I'm talking about unique pieces that make you or the recipient unique.

I want to disclose right up front that there is a family connection here, but I assure you I have no financial or emotional interest. I would have written this piece had I accidentally discovered these while surfing the net. They are that appealing to me.

Laurie Wolfer wearing red wine glass pendant

My nephew Tim Garner of Austin, Texas is a professional glass artist. He is teaching his son, Mason, the craft. If you read my April 12th, 2011 entry on The Salt Lick Bar-B-Que you read about the day that gave birth to what follows. After I departed that evening, my sister expressed a desire to have a small wine glass pendant to wear to remember the exceptional day we shared. Tim and Mason retired to their glasswork studio and produced the first of what would become an ever-growing line of small, glass, wine-related jewels.

What followed was a slowly expanding line of hand blown pendants, charms, decorative bottle stoppers and earrings. I think they are exceptional gifts for the wine lover who has everything else. Because each is handmade, no two are alike. That is my niece Laurie on the left wearing one of the first red wine glass pendants. Tim says the earrings are the most challenging because dozens of individuals are made and then they try to pair up two that are closest to the same shape, size and hue. The borosilicate glass is very durable and much, much stronger than regular glass.

I very, very rarely push a commercial wine or enterprise, but I make an exception here -- not because my nephew is involved but because they are so unique. These are not $4.00 pressed glass cheapos from China, but rather quality pieces of handmade art worthy of being a gift with meaning or of gracing your own collection. The champagne glasses actually have tiny bubbles rising in them. Fine Vine Gifts, Austin, Texas...check it out.

Excessive Gross Lees

I received the following from a fairly new winemaker along with the photo on the left. "My wife and I went raspberry picking in our native Northern Virginia a few weeks back, and I decided to make some wine out of the 6 pounds we picked. We put all 6 pounds in a single gallon, but we froze them first, mashed them to extract their juices, and put them in a nylon sleeve. I'm afraid when I did this, I squeezed the bejesus out of the nylon, and now a ton of the fruit bits have sunken to the bottom of the gallon jug. I'm afraid it's going to be a nightmare to rack this.... Any advice on how to proceed?"

Raspberry wine with excessive gross lees

First of all, I do believe everyone who makes homemade wine has done this at least once, if not with raspberries then with blackberries, strawberries or some other soft pulped fruit. All I can say is welcome to the "Gross Lees Galore Club."

There are several ways to solve the problem, but I'll jump directly to the quickest, least troublesome procedure.

You will need a brand new pair of pantyhose, a wide-mouth gallon jar (a "sun tea" jar or very well cleaned pickle jar [still risky]), 3-4 large, thick ribber bands, 2 quart-sized mason jars with lids or suitable surrogate. You will also need a second gallon jug like the one in your photo and a large funnel.

Cut the legs off the pantyhose and put them in a quart-size mason jar or similar container. In a separate mason jar crush a Campden tablet and dissolve it in just under a quart of water. When the powder is completely dissolved, pour over the legs and secure the lid. Shake to ensure soaking coverage and leave to sit 3-5 minutes.

Remove one leg and place it in the large funnel and stretch the cut edge over the rim of the funnel to secure it. Place the small end of the funnel in the sanitized gallon jug and very carefully and slowly pour the clear liquid on top of the lees into the funnel and jug. Stop when the main body of gross lees are about to be poured. Lift the pantyhose and let it drip until dripping stops. Droop it inside the wide-mouth gallon jar. Stretch the cut edge over the rim of the mouth of the jar and pull down about 2 inches. Secure with a few large, thick rubber bands and very carefully pour the remaining raspberry liquid and gross lees into the leg/jar.

Carefully remove the rubber bands while gathering the upper end of the leg and lift it out of the liquid. You need to work out your own way of holding the bag over the jar so it drip-drains. I tie the panty-leg into a knot and secure it with a short length of nylon cord which I tie into a loop and secure the loop to a cabinet door handle. You want the foot, with the gross lees inside, to hang over the opening of the gallon jar so the liquid drains free of the lees. DO NOT SQUEEZE. Let it drain until it becomes a slow drip (about 8-10 minutes), then discard the gross lees and pour the drained liquid into the gallon jug. Top up (if vigorous fermentation is finished) and attach an airlock to the jug.

If you still have a lot of very fine gross lees (more than 3/4 inch), fine with either gelatin or bentonite following the manufacturer's instructions and allow 5-7 days to compact, then carefully rack.

Raspberry Wine

While writing the above I realized I had not published a straightforward raspberry wine recipe in any of the recipe sections of my main website. I did post my recipe for Blackcap Wine, a type of black raspberry. The closest I came with red raspberries was my Raspberry-Chipotle Wine, which is not typical of raspberry treatment. I'll correct that oversight right now.

Red and Black Raspberries

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus and Rubus spp.) is a strongly flavored berry that makes a very good wine. Raspberries come in different colors and there are over a hundred cultivars. The vast majority are hues of red in color, but most of us are familiar with black raspberries. They also come in purple, yellow/gold, amber, and orange.

Wild raspberries are usually red or black, although birds have spread many cultivars to the wild. There are people who swear that wild raspberries have the strongest flavor, but I simply assume they have not eaten Amber, Amity, Black Hawk, Cumberland, Jewel, Latham, Meeker, Royalty, or many other superior flavored rasps. On the other hand, I have never met a ripe raspberry I did not like.

Raspberries may be very sweet to tart, mildly flavored to strong. It is okay if the berries are sweet, but in my opinion the tarter varieties actually make a better wine. However, some sweeter varieties have such exceptional flavor that you just have to try them. A blend might be the perfect answer, but unless you are growing your own or know a grower with several cultivars you will probably be confined to what is locally available. Brandywine Purple, Logan, Royalty, September, and Willamette are noted for tartness. The best wine I ever made was black raspberry from frozen berries of unknown variety.

The first raspberry wine I ever tasted was overly acidic and shaped my thinking for many years. I knew this wine was made with 6 pounds of fruit per gallon and so I arbitrarily set a limit of 4 pounds of berries per gallon of wine for all raspberry wines. It took some education in the berry from growers in the Mid-West and Northeast to change my thinking. The first raspberry wine I ever made using 6 pounds of fruit per gallon of wine was the black raspberry I mentioned previously. Now I let the berry and their availability tell me how much to use.

I have seen suggestions to puree the berries and force the juice through the finest nylon mesh to separate the juice from the seeds, thus avoiding extraction of harsh phenolics from the seeds. I have never done this because (1) I have never experienced an excess in phenols from raspberries, (2) I did not want a gross lees problem like that experienced in the previous item, and (3) different varieties present different seediness. Cumberland, for example, are never seedy and September's seeds are so small they might pass through the mesh.

Raspberry Wine Recipe

  • 5-6 lbs raspberries
  • 1 lb 10 oz sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • tartaric and citric acid as needed
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin powder
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • Water to make up 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • general purpose wine yeast

Wash fruit and tie closed in a very fine-meshed nylon straining bag and place in a primary container. Wearing rubber gloves, mash the berries well. Finely crush a Campden tablet. dissolve it in a quart of water and pour over fruit. Cover the primary and set aside 12 hours. Dissolve pectic enzyme in another quart of water and add to primary. Recover and set aside an additional 12 hours. Meanwhile, bring one pint of water to boil, remove from heat and dissolve the sugar into it. Cover and set aside to cool. To the cooled syrup, slowly add tannin powder while continuously stirring to integrate. Add yeast nutrient and stir a little longer. Add to must, stir gently and recover primary. Wait 2 hours and check the pH of the must. If not below 3.4 pH, add tartaric acid, 0.5-1 g/L to drop the pH 0.1. The reason for the spread is that different fruit buffer acids differently and you have to add, measure, add, measure to meet your exact needs. A pH of 3.2 - 3.0 is great, bur 3.3 will do. Add yeast in a starter solution and cover the primary. Punch down straining bag twice daily for 7 days. Remove nylon straining bag and drip-drain approximately 20 minutes. Do not squeeze. Transfer liquid to secondary and attach airlock without topping up. Ferment 30 days, rack, top up, and reattach airlock. If wine has not cleared in 30 days rack again. When wine is very clear, rack again. Taste. If wine tastes a little flat, add 1/2 teaspoon citric acid, stir and taste again. Repeat if deemed necessary. Stabilize and sweeten to taste. Usually, an off-dry or semi-sweet style is preferred to bone dryness in raspberry. Hold wine in secondary 30 days after sweetening and examine bottom of secondary with flashlight. If even a slight dusting of dead yeast appears, set aside an additional 60 days. Sweeten again or carefully rack into bottles, as appropriate. [Author's own recipe]

Raspberry wine tends to be a little thin in body. This can be improved by adding to the unfermented must 1 small can of a frozen grape concentrate per gallon. Alternatively, bring to a boil 1 1/4 cups water, add 1 pound golden raisins, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool (still covered). Chop in food processor or blender and add to raspberries in nylon straining bag. For black or purple raspberries, use dark raisins. As a third alternative, one can take the advice of Jon Iverson in Home Winemaking Step by Step and use the raisins and 2 pounds of sliced, ripe bananas. Bananas are ripe when the skins begin turning black and the fruit inside turns soft and translucent -- about the time most people throw them out. Just slice the bananas and add them to the nylon straining bag before mashing the raspberries. NOTE: If you use grape concentrate, reduce sugar to 1 pound even. If you use raisins, reduce sugar to 1 pound 2 ounces.

The bouquet that escapes a freshly opened bottle of raspberry wine is worth the effort to make it. Many years ago at the Cowie International Wine Competition in Paris, Arkansas I was treated to a homemade raspberry whose bouquet lingers in my nostrils still. Many, many raspberry cultivars can deliver that bouquet -- perhaps not as intensely -- and you owe it to yourself to try to capture it.

October 2nd, 2011

Caravan brand Mint Tea

After dining in Tangiers, Morocco two weeks ago, my wife and I were served a delicious, warm mint tea as a digestive. I discretely inquired where one might acquire some of the tea and was told "at a herbarium." In my lexicon a herbarium is a botanical museum, where botanical specimens are catalogued, mounted and stored for reference, so I must have put on a quizzical face. The gentleman (our guide) leaned forward and quietly said, "I will take you to one if time permits." Time permitted and I purchased three boxes of La Caravan brand gunpowder style mint tea. I bought it to make tea (I am drinking it now), but as the days pass the thought of mint tea wine whirl through my head. I will have to weigh this carefully. Oh, and in the Moroccan lexicon a herbarium is a shop where herbs and herbal remedies are sold. They did a brisk business in remedies against aging, wrinkles and baggy eyes.

In Spain we resumed our quest for the best tapas. We had abandoned this quest when we had previously left the country, but now the game was back on! Tapas are the collective name of small, delicious mouthfuls of something savory that are served with beer, white wine, sangria or sherry. The word "tapa" is Spanish for "lid," and acquired its culinary meaning when a Spanish innkeeper placed a slice of bread over a customer's glass of wine or beer to keep flies away from the drink between sips. In Andalusia someone came up with the idea of placing something tasty on top of the bread to nibble on -- a few cubes of cheese or ham, a few olives or almonds -- and a new Spanish innovation was born. When we first visited Spain 16 years ago there were free tapas almost everywhere we went, but even then "Tapa Bars" were common. Today they are a business, but free tapas are still widely customary.

Tapa bars have a display of tapas for sale. No one is required to buy these and if you don't you will still (usually) be served a small platter (this has replaced the slice of bread) of tasty little morsels. The free ones are relatively simple -- fried potato wedges sprinkled with paprika or curry powder, unpitted olives and pickle slices, or at fancier places, perhaps pitted olives stuffed with blanched almonds, anchovy pieces, twists of chile peppers or tiny pickles. It depends on the price of the drink....

We enjoyed many tapas, usually with beer while resting the feet. Most were potato based and we enjoyed the powdered wedges described above as well as fried wedges or thick chips with a small helping of garlic, pimento or cheese sauce. We also enjoyed small cubes of fresh fruit -- pear, mango, melon and quartered figs. An unusual serving was a small plate with sliced figs dribbled with olive oil and crumbled bleu cheese. You really never knew when you walked in what you might have with your beer.

Everday Tapas, Hardcover

Everyday Tapas: A Collection of over 100 Essential Recipes by Staff of Parragon (2010)
240 pages
New and Used

We did not buy many tapas, but I am a sucker for meat balls (they might display four kinds), or fava beans mixed with seafood (clams, shrimp, calamari, crab), and for any of the tortilla wedges on display. Tortilla, in Andalusia, is a thin baked pie, similar to but less substantial than a quiche, that may contain cubed or wedged waxed potatoes, chorizo, mushrooms and spinach, ham, chiles, scallions, always cheese and egg, and any number of other ingredients. The tortilla espanola was our collective favorite, although no two were quite the same.

Runaway Fermentation

I had many emails waiting for me when we returned from Southern Spain and Morocco. Obviously, these people did not read my September 9th blog entry saying I was leaving on vacation, but time was not critical for most that were inquiries. One, however, was very time sensitive and the critical window had already closed. Already two weeks old when I read it, it said, "My brother is making elderberry wine and has a runaway fermentation. How can he stop it?" My much-edited reply is as follows, along with a list of 13 yeasts that would have served his brother well.

My answer was far too late to help, but a runaway fermentation is one that is supposed to stop at a certain point and does not. Invariably, the cause is the use of the wrong yeast. In this case, the brother wished to produce a semi-sweet elderberry wine with14% alcohol and 2.2% residual sugar. He chaptalized the must to a specific gravity of 1.120. If he used a yeast that dies off at 14% alcohol by volume he would accomplish his mission. But he selected Lalvin's RC212, with an alcohol reach of 14-16% and took a chance that he lost. He gambled the yeast would stop at 14% and it didn't so he had a runaway fermentation. I know of 13 yeast strains that will die off at 14% alcohol and dozens that will not. The baker's dozen that will are:

  • Red Star Côte des Blancs is considered a 13% strain but will go to 14% with good nutrients
  • Red Star Montrachet is also a 13% strain but will stretch to 14% occasionally
  • Lalvin 71B-1122 is a reliable 14% strain
  • Lalvin AC stops at 14%
  • Lalvin CSM predictably stops at 14%
  • Lalvin ICV-D47 will go to 14% if supplemented with a nitrogen-rich nutrient
  • Lalvin MO5 will achieve 14% with good nutrition and oxygen addition
  • Lalvin Simi-White can achieve 14% with the right nutrients
  • Lalvin T303 reaches 14% with the right nutrients
  • Lalvin W27 is a wonderful strain requiring some nitrogen whose alcohol toxicity is 14%
  • Lalvin W46 is a dominator strain with a 14% ceiling
  • White Labs Steinberg-Geisenheim stops at 14%
  • White Labs Chardonnay White has a 14% alcohol ceiling

In the above case the yeast died out at 16% alcohol and I recommended that the brother stabilize the wine and let it clear before adding more sugar to get that 2.2% residual sugar.

As for the question, "How do you stop a runaway fermentation?" you don't. Yeast are extremely difficult to "kill." Like all life, they prefer to continue living and are tough to kill.

For over 40 years I have heard uninformed people say you can "kill" yeast by adding potassium metabisulfite. You can, but it would take so much potassium metabisulfite that the wine would be undrinkable. Either these people misunderstand the reasons for adding sulfites to crushed grape musts (to "stun" wild yeast long enough for cultured wine yeast to get so established that they crowd out the wild strains) or misunderstand the purpose of using potassium metabisulfite with potassium sorbate in stabilizing a wine (to prevent malolactic fermentation from starting up after bottling). Because sulfites are so essential in modern winemaking, wine strains selected for culture must have very good sulfite tolerance.

Forget trying to stop an active fermentation. Select the correct yeast, give it the right nutrition, and nature will take care of the rest. One word of warning. If you use a yeast that ferments to a higher level than you chaptalize for, do not sweeten the finished wine without stabilizing and allowing enough time for the yeast to die off.

Many Uses for Rosehips

Rosehips ready to harvest

Avid readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the rose. I make rose petal wine annually and have folded the delicate, aromatic petals into cake and muffin batter, bread dough, omelettes, and cut them into thin strips to adorn salads and ice cream. I have posted instructions for making rose water and intend to address rose leaves one day, but today I will focus on the seed pod of the rose, the rosehip. Rosehips have a taste unique unto themselves -- tangy, yet sweet. I offer three recipes for rosehip tea, jelly and wine that capture this wonderful flavor.

The rosehip is rich in vitamin C and in a form easily absorbed by the body. Dried and crushed, it will easily last until the next crop is ready for harvest. The crushed rosehips are best shaken over a sieve of 1/8-inch hardware screen to allow the seeds to be separated and discarded. The orange to cardinal to brick red shells are all you are really after, and the seeds are actually an irritant when dried and ground into an itching powder for pranksters.

Rosehip tea was once the autumn tonic for warding off colds and other winter infirmaries, while rosehip syrup carried the medicinal attributes far into the coming seasons. Rosehip jelly is a rarity today but once was quite common. But by far my favorite use of rosehips is in making wine.

Rosehip Tea

There are many ways to make rosehip tea, but they come down to choosing to use fresh or dried rosehips and whether you boil the rosehips or not. Fresh rosehips deliver more vitamin C, but boiling them destroys most of it. The following instructions should yield the highest amount of vitamin C along with a fantastic intensity of flavor.

  • 1 cup fresh, whole rosehips
  • 1 quart water

Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, rub off the blossom and stem and cut the rosehips in half lengthwise. Use the time left to scoop out and discard as many seeds as time permits. When water boils, remove from heat and cover the pot or pan the water is in. Continue removing and discarding seeds. When water has cooled 15 minutes, add to it all rosehip halves. Re-cover the pot and let steep 30 minutes. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the rosehips and water through the strainer, retaining water. Gather the cheesecloth and squeeze as well as you can to express juice. Add juice to water, tie cheesecloth closed with twine and place it in the rosehip water. After 3 minutes extract the cheesecloth and squeeze again. Repeat this latter procedure at least one more time. The tea is now made. You may warm it before serving, but do not approach a boil. I place the squeezed rosehips in a ZipLoc bag and freeze them for later use in making wine. [Author's own recipe]

Rosehip Jelly

Again, there are many ways to make this. I like to use Certo Liquid Pectin and so have developed this recipe using that product. I do not believe it converts 1:1 to dry pectin, so get the liquid if you make this. Rosehip jelly has a wonderful flavor and will become a favorite.

The most boring (but certainly not difficult) part of the jelly-making process is de-seeding the rosehips. I suggest in the recipe that you simply do it while watching the news or a favorite TV program. I follow this procedure when plucking the petals from dandelions for dandelion wine and it takes the tedium out of the process.

  • 8 cups fresh, whole rosehips
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 box (2 pouches) Certo liquid pectin
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 7 cups sugar

Sit down in front of your TV with a tray, cutting board and bowls and halve and deseed the rose hips while watching the news. When done, put rosehips in pan and add water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Line a strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the rosehips and water through the strainer, retaining water. Gather the cheesecloth and squeeze as well as you can to express juice. Add juice to water, tie cheesecloth closed with twine and place it in the rosehip water. After 3 minutes extract the cheesecloth and squeeze again. Repeat this latter procedure at least one more time. If needed, adjust rosehip water to exactly 4 cups. Add both pouches of Certo and bring to a rolling boil. Add juice of 3 lemons, sugar, and butter to prevent foam from forming. Bring to a hard boil and hold for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe mouth of jars with clean damp cloth, seal with lids and rings to finger tightness, and process in hot bath for 10 minutes. Will yield about 8 cups. [Author's own recipe]

Rosehip Wine

Rosehip wine is considered by some to be second in quality only to grape wines. Others may feel less strongly about it, but all agree that a good, mature rosehip wine is very good indeed. Pick 3 to 3-1/2 pounds of rosehips per gallon of wine. The bottled wine must age at LEAST two years to mature to its potential. Young rosehip wine will be almost undrinkable.

Rosehip wine requires a lot of fresh rosehips. When I lived in Colorado I could gather enough wild rosehips for a gallon of wine on a 2-hour walk through the foothills above Boulder or up any of the broader Front Range valleys. Today I have to harvest garden rose bushes or buy dried rosehips. The advantage of the latter is that they have been crushed and deseeded and it takes a lot less to make the wine. The following recipe uses strictly dried, deseeded rosehips, which can be purchased in bulk at any health food store.

  • 12 ozs of dried, deseeded rosehips
  • 2-1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden Tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Montrachet wine yeast

Rinse and soak dried rosehips in water overnight. Strain rosehips into nylon straining bag, saving water, tie closed and put bag in primary container. Put sugar in saved water and set on stove to boil. Stir to dissolve completely and when boiling pour over bag in primary. Cover primary and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add crushed and dissolved Campden Tablet, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast. Stir and squeeze the bag twice daily for 8-10 days. Drain and squeeze bag to extract maximum flavor. Transfer liquid to secondary. Fit airlock and set in dark place for 2 months. Rack, top up and refit airlock. Return to dark place and rack again, top up and refit airlock after additional 2 months. When clear, stabilize wine and sweeten to taste if desired. Wait 30 days and check for renewed fermentation. If none, rack into bottles. If refermentation is evident, wait 90 days and carefully rack into bottles. Age an additional two years in a dark, cool place. It will be worth the wait. [Author's own recipe]

October 6th, 2011

Apple.com page honoring Steve Jobs

The news cut like a knife. He was young -- only 56 -- yet his name graced my presence since 1976, when a friend invited me over to show me his Apple computer and excitedly told me everything he knew about Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. He knew a lot. Over the years, I too learned a lot. This single line from apple.com sums it all up beautifully: "Apple has lost a visionary and the world has lost an amazing human being."

What I have learned about Wozniak and Jobs over the years, much from my brother Barry and most of the rest from readings and oral passings, could fill a book. I just don't know how much of it is true. Stories seem to attach themselves to the Steve Jobs persona. He learned wherever there was something to learn, appropriated good ideas when he heard them or saw their fruit, and peered into a future that few ever imagined. Whatever he founded did well -- Apple, NeXT and Pixar. If a product has a small "i" in front of its name, Steve Jobs probably conceived of it and ushered it into existence. As Bill Gates said, "The world rarely sees someone who has had the profound impact Steve has had, the effects of which will be felt for many generations to come."

Go read about the man. Start with any two of the References following the Wikipedia entry (see links following this entry). Then mourn the loss all over again.


When I think of Spain with my stomach, I think of olives, tapas, paella, and wine, pretty much in that order. Olives are everywhere in Spain and the country produces 1/3 of the world's olives. The trees, with their pale green leaves, are easily spotted from great distances and on some of our drives we passed olive orchards for 10-, 20- and 30-kilometer stretches. In other parts of Spain the stretches could easily have been longer. With olives, I have a fondness for both seeing and eating.

Plaza de los Olives in Marbella, Spain

An aside about this olive tree in Marbella. The gnarly, well pruned base was about 3 1/2 feet in diameter and the tree was absolutely loaded with olives. I have no idea of its age but it could easily be centuries old. An olive tree in Athens, Greece was said to be approximately 2,400 years old when a bus accident uprooted it in 1975. At least seven ancient olive trees in Israel, still producing fruit, have been proved to be over 3,000 years old and an even older tree is located in Sardinia, Italy.

My sister introduced us early on to buttery Mantequilla olives, those vividly green, minimally processed delights, sometimes canned with a little fennel in the jar. We snacked on them indiscriminately, but they are especially good with a little sheep's milk cheese. Mantequillas are usually processed seed-in, and the seeds slow down the eating and discourage one from eating too many.

Olives and pickled vegetables on display in a street-side market

Olives are everywhere. The picture at the left, of olives and pickled vegetables on display right next to the sidewalk, is a frequent sight. The largest display of olives I have ever seen was in the huge Mercado Central in Valencia some 16 years ago and put this one to shame. Can you imagine a huge stall with perhaps 40 feet of frontage and with nothing in it but bin after bin after bin of olives -- every size, every color, every type, every variety? It made a lasting impression on me, I can assure you, and it was one of many stalls selling olives.

Olive aisle in market at Calahonda, Spain

Whenever we lost my sister in a supermarket, we could usually find her at the olive aisle. This one was not that impressive, but some are like the cereal aisle in an American supermarket. I, on the other hand, could be found perusing the fresh fruit, the cheeses and the wines. Since we prepared about half of our meals in our apartment, we did a lot of shopping.

We remembered from previous visits that food could be expensive, so we mixed supermarket shopping with shopping at many of the open air markets found all over the Old World. Common sense tells you that if the average Spaniard can afford to eat, the bargains are out there. You just have to find them. In the open air markets, where prices are not posted, you are expected the haggle after they supply the answer to, "How much?"

We supplemented local fare with packaged, freeze-dried entrées from Wise Foods that I lugged over in my suitcase. Designed for camping trips or emergency meals, they are simple, ample and delicious. You open the pouch, pour in 2 cups of boiling water, stir it well, close the ziplock pouch, and stand it upright while you prepare vegetables and a salad. Each pouch serves two and I brought enough for six meals for four people. Total weight was 4.5 pounds and they really did not take up much room. We had Savory Stroganoff, Cheesy Lasagna, Creamy Pasta and Vegetable Rotini, Teriyaki and Rice, Pasta Alfredo, and Chili Macaroni. These were easy to prepare (what could be simpler than boiling water?) after long days on the go when we did not eat out.

Kousa (Japanese Dogwood) Wine

Kousa Dogwood flowers

A gentleman asked if I had ever made wine from the fruit of the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), also known as the Japanese Dogwood (with subspecies Chinese Dogwood also prominent). In truth, I have not, but I have wanted to. I have tasted the fruit from two different trees. One was almost juiceless and had little appealing flavor, but the other was very juicy and tasty. Both trees were growing side-by-side, so there is definitely a difference in fruit from tree to tree. I just have not been able to obtain fruit with which to attempt it. But if I had the fruit, I know exactly how I would go about making Kousa wine. Maybe the emailer, or even you, will try it and let me know how it turns out.

For those unfamiliar with this tree by name, you may still have seen it as it is frequently planted as a landscape tree.. It is a very showy tree, growing as high as 37 feet, that flowers in late spring about a month after the common American or Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). The white to slightly pink flowers are actually bracts, spread open below the small cluster of inconspicuous yellow-green flowers. Unlike the American Dogwood, the Kousa Dogwood's bracts' tips are pointed rather than rounded.

Kousa Dogwood fruit

Kousa fruit are actually berries, round, pinkish-orange to a more common red, and compound, growing 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch in diameter. The internal segments contain a yellowish-orange pulp, juice and a seed. In the drier fruit I sampled, there was more pulp and less juice, the pulp was firm but yielding and the taste was not memorable. The juicier ones had a soft, squishy, almost custard-like pulp and plenty of juice. I honestly cannot recall the exact taste but think it was sweet and slightly citric. I think at the time (this was 18 years ago) I said it reminded me of both strawberry and mango. I tasted them while visiting a friend in Shreveport in October and they were at the end of their fruiting season.

The skin of the berry appears tough but is not. One can easily pull it apart or simply pinch it at one end (here I'm talking about the juicer ones) to break the skin and then squeeze it to expel most of the goodness within. If I had 8 pounds of fruit to work with, I would divide it into 2 equal portions and make two batches of wine to see which was better. One batch would be made with berries torn or cut in half, encased in a nylon straining bag, and crushed. I would ferment this batch on the skins. The second batch would be made with just the insides of the berries. I would simply squeeze the insides into a bowl, pour the mess into a nylon straining bag, and ferment with some grape tannin.

Since the actual chemistry of the berry is a mystery to me, I would dissolve a teaspoon of pectic enzyme in 6 pints of water and pour this over the fruit in the primary. After 12 hours I would hand press the bag a few times to get the juice out and then measure the specific gravity, calculate how much sugar to add and the add it. After chaptalizing the must I would measure the TA and pH to determine what to do, if anything, about acid. I suspect the dominant acid is citric but this is from a very old memory. In any case, I would probably like a 5.5-6.5 g/L titratable acidity with a pH of 3.4 or below. For the batch with the skins intact, I would sulfite, wait an additional 12 hours, add yeast nutrients, and probably use a general purpose yeast like Champagne, Premier Curvee or Prisse de Mousse (Lalvin EC-1118).

I think these berries would make a good wine. However, I am aware that not all Kousa Dogwood bear the same quality fruit. My friend in Shreveport is not a winemaker, but his wife makes jelly from the fruit of the "good" tree. I have heard others say the fruit is unremarkable while still others have the same favorable opinion as I do. If you like the taste, get a bucket and harvest them. If you don't, try another tree and another until you find the one that is good. You will know it when you taste it.

I brought a handful of seeds back from Shreveport one year and got 3 to germinate in this south Texas heat, but they did not survive the summer. Either they did not like the alkaline sandy soil, the sparseness of humidity or the 100 degrees F. heat -- or a combination thereof.

If any of you try making wine with Kousa berries, please let me know how it turned out and what exactly you did. I am very curious.

September 27th, 2011

We are back from our two weeks in Southern Spain and trying to pick up where we left off. Not easy, but doable. Just slow.

I want to thank all of you who visited my nephew Tim and his son Mason's website, Fine Vine Gifts, in Austin, Texas. Some of you made purchases I know you will be pleased with. Some did not but that is expected. Thank you all for your support or simple curiosity. Tim and Mason were thrilled by your visitations.

By the way, having done the dollar to euro conversion many times in Spain these past two weeks, I am much more appreciative of the prices of goods here in good old America (and Canada). If the rising prices of food, gasoline and drinks cause you pain during these economically difficult times, I can assure you it could be much, much worse. Count your blessings for what you can afford and be grateful you are where you are.

Ronda and a Single Grape

Grapes at Plaza de Toros, Ronda

We were late for the wine grapes in Andalusia. The vine to the right is one of several vines on the grounds of the Plaza de Toros (the bullring) at Ronda, admittedly not typical of vines in winery vineyards but nonetheless an example of the season. There were probably 20-25 clusters on this vine and most were empty skin shells left by the birds or were raisins. I found the last grape on this vine after a determined search and it was possibly the sweetest grape I have ever eaten. I even chewed the two seeds in an unsuccessful attempt to add some phenolics to the palate. The sweetness coated the entire mouth and tongue and stayed with me for about 20 minutes. Very, very enjoyable.

These vines were set a meter from a wall, well pruned, looked quite old, and were obviously planted for landscape purposes. They don't make wine at this historic Plaza de Toros, the oldest continuously operating bullring in Spain (built between 1779-1784). For purists, it is the bullring in Spain, Hemingway's Mecca.

This is where modern bullfighting by matadors originated, where the legendary Romero family advanced bullfighting from a display of footman courage to a matadorial art form, where the equally legendary Ordoñez family perfected the choreographed moves that define modern bullfighting. Although Seville had a Plaza de Toros as early as 1747, it was replaced by Seville's current bullring whose construction was begun in 1761 but not inaugurated until 1785. The Seville school of bullfighting featured picadors, men on horseback who killed the bull with a lance, but today matadors fight the bull and picadors play a colorful but decidedly adjunct roll. The two cities (and historians) argue about which bullring is older.

Bull statue outside the Plaza de Toros de Ronda

The statue to the left, just outside the Plaza de Toros at Ronda, is arguably the finest statue of a bull anywhere. Standing close, you can almost hear it breathing. I'm only showing you one photo but I have many taken from various angles. It is simply a masterpiece, with veins showing on the neck and every detail as it should be. I have searched but not found the name of the maker of this statue. Regrettably, we did not photograph the plaque with that information on it.

Ronda is located spectacularly on the edge of a high plateau. As one writer said, "Way back in 1350, Ibn Battutah noted that Ronda was one of 'the strongest and best sited fortresses' in all Andalusia and even today attacking it would be a bad idea." During the Spanish Civil War both sides held it at one time or another. The city is divided by a deep gorge spanned by an ancient (Moorish) bridge and a newer bridge (Puente Nuevo). The original walled city (La Ciudad) was protected on three sides by severe cliffs and on the fourth (south) side by considerable fortifications. It was a strategic stronghold even before the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula centuries before the Moors' crossed near Gibraltar in 711. The Moors built their small bridge with impossibly steep approaches to hinder any wheeled entry into La Ciudad. As a result, merchants coming to sell their wares at Ronda set up tents and later buildings on the other side of the bisecting gorge (Tajo de Ronda) and built El Mercadillo, the "little market" that became the "new city."

Looking at the cliffs of Ronda from <i>Puente Nuevo</i>

Because of its imposing location and natural defenses, the reconquest of Ronda by the forces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella could have been a very bloody affair. Instead, as Jerrold's Travel Guides put it, "In 1485 the Crusaders looked up the cliffs to Ronda and decided not to attack the city but instead cut off the water supply. Once the garrison protecting the water was taken, the city fell in 7 days." The water supply was at the bottom of the gorge.

No single photograph of Ronda can give you a judicious appreciation of its imposing location. The view on the right from the Puente Nuevo does not reveal the height, for the photo only reveals about a third of the cliff on the right side and about 200 of the 300 feet drop from the mid-left. If you know where to look you can see the 13th century, single arch, Moorish bridge at the narrowest point in the gorge, and if you can indeed see it you can only imagine the steep winding climb rightward to La Ciudad.

Ronda commands the surrounding lowlands and Rio Guadalevin valley, richly suited for farming, orchards, vineyards, grazing, timber and mining in the mountains, clay for bricks and tiles, and limestone for cement. It rains here, but the Moors brought advanced irrigation methods to the region and there is no shortage of food. Ronda is the commercial, administrative, financial, and leisure center of this region, but still part of the province of Málaga.

One winery tour map for the Malaga Appellation.

The single grape I ate at the Plaza de Toros may or may not have been a wine grape, but if I had to guess I would guess it was Pedro Ximénez. The vineyards below Ronda, established by the Moors, still serve the region. I fell in love with Spanish wines all over again, from the rich, dark Tempranillo-Garnacha (Grenache) blends to the new offerings by Málaga Virgen, I drank nothing I would not happily drink again.

Ronda lies 62 miles west of Málaga. Many of the grapes in the Málaga appellation (which includes Ronda) are allowed to reduce almost to raisins to concentrate the sugar and produce the hallmark sweet, fortified wines for which the region is noted. We tasted several soft, plump raisined black Moscatel (Muscat of Alexandria) grapes from Vélez-Málaga and they were both sweet and flavorful but lacked the long aftertaste of the single grape I ate at Ronda. In the Málaga appellation these grapes are invariably blended with Pedro Ximénez for added character, aromatics and fullness.

Málaga's dessert wines, once the delight of Popes and Russian Czars, began to decline in popularity in the late 20th century. But as the 21st century dawned, the Regulatory Council of the Wines of Málaga loosened its restrictions on the wines that can be produced in the Appellation to allow reds, whites and rosés. The result was almost immediate. The number of wineries grew from nine in 1999 to 32 in 2010, with the largest growth in the Ronda region. Some are sited to draw tourists and winery tours can be booked from any hotel, resort or tourist information center (note the tour map of area wineries above). The majority are producing off-dry table wines, with some sweets produced because, after all, it is Málaga. Oh, and there is a large amount of very good Sangria being pushed. But, it's Spain....

October 9th, 2011

You can't please everyone. I received two emails at the same time both praising and criticizing my reminisces about our trip to Spain. Life offers us countless opportunities to learn something or simply be amazed. When either of those occur to me, I am apt to mention them here. It is, after all, my venue. That some occurred the last place I visited is reasonable, whether it be Spain, Kaua'i or Minnesota.

A similar criticism occurs after I post a recipe for barbecue sauce, jelly, pies, tapas or whatever edible. I am urged to keep the focus on winemaking. But for each criticism I usually receive two or more later on that report having used the recipe, having stunning results and thanking me for posting it. I intend to continue as I have, so do as The Eagles suggested and "get over it."

Sidewalk cafe at Ronda, Spain

Food is a huge part of life and we ate out frequently in Spain and Morocco. Here, the four of us (Mick Gough, Barbara Garner, Donna Keller, me) had just finished with morning refreshments at Ronda. I can't tell you what we ate, but we were disappointed in very few things we tried -- and we went for variety. An exception was a place in Fuengirola. Mick and Donna each ordered hamburgers and both were very dissatisfied. The meat was a homogeneous, processed patty rather than ground beef particles pressed into a patty, and they put an egg in it, which is common in Spain but unexpected by us. The meat, if it was meat (we theorized it was soy bean or some other substitute and the egg is added for added protein) was tough to bite through, tasteless and resisted chewing. I ordered something whose name and menu description bore no resemblance to what was served. I do not recall what my sister ordered, but we were all dissatisfied with the meals. The tapas, on the other hand, were served with our beers and were delicious and free, and the waitresses, while speaking no English, tried hard to make our time there enjoyable. I left a tip for her efforts, not the food.

A wonderful cous cous platter in Tangiers

This experience in no way deterred our culinary experimentation. We had an absolutely delightful meal with extraordinarily large servings at an Italian place in Sitio de Calahonda. This Cous Cous platter (left) in Tangiers was very enjoyable with the topping of cabbage, tomatoes, sweet chiles, potatoes, parsnips, and chickpeas. During our day walks through quaint streets and historic structures, we stopped often for warm tea or a coffee and pastry, for ice cream during the hot afternoons, or for beer and tapas whenever thirst was not in a coffee mood. The whole idea of going there is to be there, and how better to be there than to relax at a sidewalk table, enjoy a snack, and take in the people and sights.

Those who have visited Europe, but especially along the Mediterranean, know that the coffee they drink is quite different than the coffee we drink. Their pedestrian coffee is akin to what we would call espresso, and their espresso is, well, thicker than you can imagine. It will certainly wake you up in the morning or after your siesta. If you want a less substantial cup of coffee, you order Café Americano, which is their weakest coffee and still probably stronger than any coffee you've had before. It was so strong that we typically ordered it con leche (with milk), and some establishments foamed the milk as in cappuccino. I have to admit that two or three of the best cups of coffee I've ever had were Café Americano con leche in Spain.

Great meal at Castell de Ferro

To the right, bad picture but great meal at Castell de Ferro, a dozen or so miles east of Motril on the coast. I love the unusual, and this place had it. It included two slices of fried pork, chunks of warm, smoked ham, a chorizo sausage, a blood sausage, a fried egg, French fries (they call them chips), and a wonderful giant, roasted, green chile. The fries were covered with a yellowish-orange sauce I could not identify, but was very tasty. The roasted chile was perfect.

Meals like this were actually commonplace, as was the ever-present paella. There are many kinds of Paella, but in Andalusia they almost always contain seafood. The origins of paella are well known, having originated near Lake Albufera at Valencia. Valencian paella includes most of the following: short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, snails (optional), duck (optional), butter beans, great northern beans, runner beans, artichoke (a substitute for runner beans in the winter), tomatoes, fresh rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, garlic (optional), salt, olive oil and water. Seafood paella is also Valencian in origin and replaces the meat and beans with a variety of seafood -- clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, octopus, eel, and pieces of fish. Outside of Valencia, many other ingredients -- sausage, pork, beef tips, lamb, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, various chiles -- found their way into paella and this is called mixed paella. We had some terrible, pre-frozen, packaged paella (at Mijas), but also some fantastic fare elsewhere.

We do not recall from previous trips the ubiquitous use of the fried egg in meals. We saw this so often that we joked about it. By consensus, we believed that this is done to add protein to the diet. Whether this is an established custom, a regional accompaniment or a recent development I cannot say, but none of us who had visited Spain before remembered a fried egg in so many dishes -- on some menus it was in 90% of the main dishes. One egg dish we did recall, however, was huevos rotas or "broken eggs." This incredibly simple dish of fried potatoes and onions topped with lightly sautéed chorizo sausage and scrambled eggs, is on the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is usually served as stated but may be accompanied by a single steamed or stewed vegetable. It was always a simple, hardy and inexpensive meal.

Ice Cream Filled Oranges

Ice cream filled orange

While on our vacation in Spain we discovered a dreamily divine treat (the credit goes to my sister, Barbara). Available in almost every supermarket we shopped in along the Costa del Sol, we bought ice cream filled oranges as a novelty. But after we ate our purchase back at the resort, we were snapping at the bits to buy some more -- and we did. Creamy and delicious would be understatements but nonetheless accurate. My wife, ever analytical when it comes to "delicious," quickly figured out how to make this treat.

The obvious part is the orange -- almost softball sized, thick-skinned oranges -- they had their tops removed (stem scar at the top) and innards scooped out. The hollowed shells were probably then frozen and filled with a softened, orange-flavored, creamy ice cream. The ice cream did not resemble most orange ice cream any of us had experienced. It was very lightly orange colored, mildly flavored, very creamy, without crystals, and did not freeze very hard even though we had some of them in the freezer for several days.

Hollowed out oranges

My wife speculated that the pulp removed from the oranges could be juiced and a portion of the juice filtered and used to flavor a softened vanilla ice cream. That would then be placed inside the frozen shells. It is obvious the oranges were filled with a softened ice cream, the tops placed back from where they had been removed, and then the whole thing frozen solid and packaged in a cellophane wrapper.

I'm not questioning my wife, but I did quite a bit of research on how to make an ice cream that didn't freeze hard as granite. I came up with three approaches and one imperative. The imperative first: do not set your freezer colder than 0 degrees F. Ice and frozen water undergo a fundamental physical change at -12 degrees (which is the factory setting for most freezers) and the individual ice crystals grow together into a solid mass. The three approaches are: (1) use corn syrup instead of sugar when making the ice cream (but reduce liquid elsewhere by half the measure of the corn syrup), (2) add alcohol when making the ice cream, and (3) whip the ice cream to get air into it and "fluff it up." Well, all the reading led to reading quite a few recipes for homemade ice cream and one was for orange and had great reviews.

Ice cream filled oranges

I applied the softer ice cream knowledge I gained to that recipe and came up with one of my own. We have a Cuisinart 2-quart ice cream maker with which you freeze the bucket and chill the ingredients and it is guaranteed to make ice cream in about 20-25 minutes. I thought some of you with the freezer style ice cream makers might enjoy making your own too. My recipe maintained the creamy consistency I was looking for after three days in the freezer, but it takes longer than three days after resetting the thermostat in a freezer for it to warm up to 0 degrees from -17 F. Indeed, after 3 days it is only up to -12. However, despite the low temperature the corn syrup, orange liqueur and vanilla extract (contains alcohol) all helped to keep the ice cream from freezing rock hard. It is still easily spoonable.

Homemade Orange Ice Cream

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 3/4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (strain to remove pulp)
  • 1/2 cup clear corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon orange liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients. Cover and place in the refrigerator until completely cold (several hours or overnight).

Transfer the mixture to the freezer stored container of your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Mine was done in 20 minutes.

Once made, spoon-fill four frozen orange shells. If any ice cream remains unused, eat it or pack into a chilled container and store in the freezer. Preparation time is 30 minutes.

Orange Ice Cream: An Alternative

My wife thought it would be easier to buy a quart of good vanilla ice cream, let it soften a while, move it to a bowl, and mix some of the orange juice from the hollowed oranges (filtered, of course) into the ice cream. As in my recipe, the orange liqueur could be added as well to discourage the ice cream from setting up too hard. If the mixing were done with an electric mixer, it just might introduce enough air to "fluff it up."

I have not tested her idea, but suspect she will. The orange juice should thin the ice cream, but the added water could turn into ice crystals in the freezer and lead to grainy ice cream. The liqueur, however, might counter that. I can't say until it is tried, but I know my ice cream is creamy, smooth and buttery rich.

Ice Cream Filled Oranges -- Post Mortem

Well, 30 minutes total preparation time is about right for the ice cream even if spread out over two days (assembling, measuring and mixing and ingredients one day and making the ice cream the next). I think 40-45 minutes about right for making the ice cream and filling the frozen orange shells, but making the ice cream and filling the shells are just the final steps among several.

I did some serious shopping for the right oranges. I suspect the oranges used in Spain were a thick-skinned, Spanish cultivar, possibly seeded. I went to four different supermarkets, two known for their produce variety, and the only thick-skinned oranges I could find were navels. I went through the better part of a whole bin and finally came up with five navel oranges (I needed four and bought an extra for insurance) with no perceptible navel that were also the right size, color and shape I wanted. The reason the absence of a navel is important is because the navel protrudes up into the orange and the ideal is that the bottom be round and smooth, not marred by a protruding lump.

I could have shortened the process considerably had I made the decision to turn the orange upside down and cut off the bottom rather than the top. Next time I may do it that way, but this time I wanted them to look the way they did in Spain.

Scooping out the innards is much easier said than done. The first orange I did was the most difficult because I sliced off the top a bit too close to the top and that did not leave a very big hole to work with. I used a spoon and a paring knife to very carefully remove the insides. The paring knife was used to cut down into the flesh and make it easier to remove. A grapefruit knife or spoon may have worked better but we lost ours somewhere over the years. That fact remains that you need to cut the flesh with something in order to remove it as the girth of the flesh is wider than the opening it has to be extracted through. Once the majority of the flesh is out, it is easy to use the spoon to separate the pith from the skin and clean the shell.

My wife and I both thought of sharpening the edge of the spoon to make it a better tool, but I really didn't want to go through the trouble when she suggested it. She also thought of those tools used to scrape the insides of a pumpkin, but this suggestion came too late. Between now and next time I make these, I will buy or create a tool to help me do the job better. I will look at grapefruit knives (my sister used a grapefruit spoon and I thing that would be better) and pumpkin scrapers, but I like the curvature of the spoon. If I can find a thin, shallow spoon that is strong enough not to bend, I just might sharpen it for making more of these wonderful treats. Oh, and the oranges currently filled with ice cream will be cleaned and recycled for refilling in the future.

The fact that you do not see a navel at the bottom of a naval orange does not mean that there isn't one. Each of the oranges I hollowed out had the distinctive protrusion of the navel inside at its apex. The navel in a navel orange is actually the growth of another orange trying to grow inside the first. It is a natural mutation that first was noted on a sport of a Selecta Orange tree in the courtyard of a monastery near Bahia, Brazil in the second decade of the 19th century. Almost all navel orange trees are clones of the original sport that produced the first navel orange. Cuttings from that sport were grafted onto common rootstock and transplanted to Australia, Florida and eventually the University of California at Riverside, where it was propagated through grafting on a scale unheard of previously. There have been other navel sports since that first, but the first is now well established worldwide.

Dealing with the navel protrusions was difficult. I was able to gradually scrape away the bulk of the protrusion in each orange but one, and that one ripped around the base of the protrusion and ruined it (glad I bought a fifth). I think slicing the cap off from the navel end just might be the best way to do this. I wish I could find the right oranges, but I have only seen oranges similar to the ones we had in Spain once before, and that was over 47-48 years ago when I was a teenager in California. They were thick-skinned, easily peelable, and sweet and seeded like a Valencia. I never saw them again. I do wish they would reappear.

The chunks of flesh I removed from the oranges, and the juice, were saved in a bowl and mixed with Jello for another delicious treat. You may use it in a fruit salad or however you wish.

Dandelion Mead

Dandelion honey, from Miswest Supplies

Shaun Thompson wrote that he had read my blog entry of May 31, 2011 about dandelion mead and the absence of dandelion honey and wanted me to know where to get some. I went to the web site he provided and immediately placed an order for 15 pounds of raw, unprocessed dandelion honey. Yesterday I started a 5-gallon batch of dandelion mead.

If you go back and read my post of May 31st, you will see that I quote two sources as claiming that there is plenty of pollen but not enough nectar in dandelions to produce honey, so I have to wonder about the honey I paid so dearly for. But that is for another day. Today the must is showing signs of fermentation and that means mead, whatever else it might be.

In case you are interested in making this mead, you can order the honey from Midwest Supplies at $23.99 for 5-pound lots. You will need three of these for the following recipe.

  • 15 pounds dandelion honey
  • 4 gallons water
  • 3 teaspoons acid blend
  • 2 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • 1 teaspoon yeast energizer
  • 1 sachet Unican Sauternes wine yeast

Since this is raw honey one should expect it to be quite "dirty". In previous years I would have boiled it to bring the impurities out with the foam, but I am a believer in Ken Schramm's admonition that boiling the honey destroys its aromatic qualities. I will therefore sacrifice time for aroma and not boil the honey. I did have to put each tub of honey in the microwave for 4 minutes to get it out of the tub -- it was crystallized solid in each one. A large serving spoon helped extract the honey from the tub (the microwave only liquefies the honey around the edges of the tubs). However, I am getting ahead of myself.

First, measure one gallon of water and pour it into a 3-gallon or larger stainless steel stock pot (do not use iron, copper or aluminum or you will get a metallic haze you cannot get rid of without heroic effort). Bring this water to a boil on high heat and keep it there for 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and immediately transfer the honey to the water in stages, being careful not to allow the crystallized mass to fall in and splash scalding water all over you. Yse a large spoon to bring out the crystallized honey a bit at a time. As soon as all of the honey is in the pot clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pot and stir the water slowly to help dissolve the honey. You can remove a half cup to a cup of the water and use it to dissolve the honey still in the tubs. Check the temperature. You want it above 150 degrees F. Set your timer for 10 minutes. If between 140 and 150 degrees F., set your timer for 25 minutes. If below 140 degrees (possible in Denver) apply heat to the pot to achieve 140 but stir it frequently to prevent scalding (caramelizing) the honey.

Meanwhile, place 3 gallons of cold water in you primary and dissolve into it the acid blend, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. On the side begin a yeast starter with 1/4 cup of the honey water, 1/4 cup of apple juice, orange juice or white grape juice, and a pinch of yeast nutrient. When the timer goes off, transfer the honey water to the primary. If you pour it, be very careful and have 2-3 wet towels standing by just in case. I racked it until there was less than a pint left and poured that. Cover the primary and wait 12 hours, during which you add 1/2 cup of the must to the yeast starter every 2-3 hours. After 12 hours, stir the yeast starter into the must and recover the primary.

Allow the vigorous fermentation to subside and transfer to a secondary, top up and attach an airlock. Fermentation may resume after transfer. Wait 30 days if no renewed fermentation, 60 days if renewed, and rack. Rack every 6-8 weeks until clear and no sediment drops, then stabilize and bottle. May sweeten to taste if desired. Meads need to age. Give it at least 6 months, but should improve with time. [Author's own recipe]

October 13th, 2011

The radio station I listen to most often (930 KLUP AM in San Antonio) plays a series called "This Week in Texas History" by Bartee Haile. If it's about Texas or a Texan anywhere in the world, it's considered Texas history. It is not only educational, but entertaining as well. This week's edition is about the Mexican Battle of the Alamo, the one that Texans won. The best way to tell this story is to tell it in Bartee Haile's own words:

"October 3, 1839. Mier, Mexico. After the loss of Texas, Santa Anna fights to stay in power. Along the Rio Grande, Mexican rebels rally to form their own nation and Texans cross the border to help.

"Today, flying the Lone Star Flag, 231 Texans join Mexican rebels to push government troops out of Mier. In hot pursuit, the rebels catch the Centralists outside of town at the Alcantro, or Alamo River. After a fierce battle lasting two days, the Centralists give in -- surrendering not to the Mexicans, but to the Texans.

"At the Battle of the Alamo River, Santa Anna's troops lost 150 men, the Texans only two.

"Texans won the Mexican Battle of the Alamo 172 years ago, this week in Texas history."

Every one of his Texas history factoids are worth knowing, and they usually cover some incident that most of us never heard of. Good stuff.

My Texas sized hamburger (note the quarter for scale)

At the market the other day I saw this beautiful Muffuletta Roll for $.99. At once a Texas sized hamburger emerged in my imagination and I bought it, along with a pound of 85/15 ground beef. At home, I put the ground beef in a bowl, added 1/2 teaspoon of Tony Chatchere's Creole Seasoning, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce, and began mixing, folding and kneading it by hand. I stopped twice because my hands got too cold, but managed to mix the ingredients incredibly well. I let them marinade about an hour.

Muffuletta loaves are generally about 10 inches in diameter. This roll was 6 inches across and about 1 3/4 inch thick. While heating a griddle I sliced the roll and bathed its interior with mayonnaise and Grey Poupon. Then I pressed the ground beef into a 7-inch patty and carefully transferred it to the griddle. While the patty was cooking, I covered both sides of the roll with lettuce and the bottom with three slices of a big tomato, tissue thin slices of white onoin and overlapping slices of an entire avocado. After the patty was turned and neared completion I laid two long slices of extra sharp cheddar on it and 10 seconds later placed it perfectly over the layer of avocado. Notice the quarter in the photograph to lend scale to the size of this monster.

I halved it for two meals (a very wise move). The burger, when compacted by two gripping hands, was still over 3 inches thick and took a very open mouth to get a bite. But the flavors were well integrated and it was delicious...!

Mint Wine

Mint plant

I happened to mention to some friends I ran into while shopping that I was enjoying this tea I brought back from Morocco after adding mint leaves to it. Tom said, "Oh, that's touareg tea, made with gunpowder green tea, mint and sugar." They asked what kind of mint I grew and I said I didn't, that I bought a bunch at the market. Well, they grow it in a planter where it is well established, so they offered me some. Sure, I could use some. About an hour after I got home the doorbell rang and there they were with a bag of mint. It was a lot of mint, but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. The moment they left I began cleaning it to make wine with. Of course, some of it was saved for tea.

They didn't say what kind of mint it is and when I called them later they confessed they didn't know. They had several kinds in small herb pots but after their first winter they died back and they thought that was that. They used some of the soil, root balls and all, from one pot to help fill a planter and were surprised when mint grew up in a clump. They guess that the other root balls were too deep in the planter to resurface the following spring. That's when they learned it is not an annual, as they had thought. It has since taken over the planter, crowding out whatever else they try planting with it.

Basil, catnip, oregano, rosemary and sage are all related by belonging to the same taxonomic family, . Within the family is the tribe Mentheae, containing between 60 and 70 genera, one of which is Mentha. Taxonomists differ widely in the number of species in the genus, but I think most agree it is more than a dozen but less than two dozen. Of course, there are hundreds of hybrids and cultivars. The two with the widest use in flavorings and aromatics are Peppermint (M. piperita) and Spearmint (M. spicata).

The following recipe is one I have used for years. It differs from the one I published on my site in the Requested Recipes section in that here I add white grape juice concentrate for body and other ingredients are adjusted. I prefer this recipe to that one. You can make this wine with any mint, although Horse Mint (,i>M. longifolia, M. sylvestris) is questionable and Pennyroyal (M. pulegium) contains pulegone, a powerful toxin. The North American native plant American or False Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) could be used but is not as pleasant as real mint.

Mint Wine Recipe

  • 1 qt loosely packed mint leaves
  • 1 lb 12 oz finely granulated sugar
  • 1 can (11.5 oz) 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 6 3/4 pts water
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • Champagne wine yeast

Wash mint leaves well and place in small pot with lid. In another pot or kettle, bring water to a boil and pour approximately 1/4 of it over mint leaves. Bring mint water to a simmer, remove from heat and steep one hour, covered. Meanwhile, begin a yeast starter. Stir the sugar in remaining water until thoroughly dissolved and allow to cool. Strain liquid from mint into primary and add the sugar-water and all additional ingredients except yeast. Cover primary and allow to continue cooling until room temperature. When water is at room temperature, add yeast starter solution. Ferment 7 days, rack into secondary, top up and fit airlock. Rack again after 30 days and again 3 months after that. Stabilize, sweeten to taste and set aside an additional 30 days. Rack into bottles. Age in a dark place for at LEAST a year before drinking. Serve chilled. [Author's own recipe]

October 31st, 2011

Email has been prolific of late, although much of it requires no answer. This is good because I barely can find the time to read it, let alone answer it. There are exceptions, of course. I have tried to help all who have problems with their wines, although this is usually a time sink for me as the writer rarely gives me enough information initially to work out the problem. I hate having to write back asking for descriptions of that "bad smell" or "funny taste."

Then there are delightful treats in the email, like the English wine blogger from Yorkshire who simply said "hello" and left two links. Curiosity got the best of me and I sunk an hour I had not planned to give up into his musings on winemaking and writing and life. I love English humor and Ben's writings were a delight to read. In the end, I even ordered his book, which I suspect will be equally delightful to read. Please note the first two links at the bottom of today's entry.

A Friend sent me a link to the video below. It was filmed on May 11, 2011 at Copenhagen's Central Train Station and is something I would very much have enjoyed witnessing. I suspect this sentiment will be shared by most of you and thus I sincerely hope it gives you as much enjoyment as it did to me. I give you Ravel's "Bolero," performed in a "flash concert" by the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra, with the musicians gradually assembling in place as the work progresses. Very uplifting....

Oh, and you show your age if, during the performance, you thought of Bo Derrick in the movie "10." I admit I did.

A Cranberry-Grape Wine

Cranberries and grapes, photo by Lesley Zeller (see link below for attribution)

At a recent competition I entered three wines. All three placed but my slightly sweet Blanc du Bois, made from my own grapes, won Honorable Mention -- runner-up to Best of Show. While I am pleased with this showing, I actually thought my Cranberry-Grape Rosé was a better wine.

The wine was made from frozen whole cranberries, thawed, which were field blended with Champanel and Dog Ridge grapes from my back yard. Cranberry wine is magnificent by itself, reminding tasters of white Zinfandel, but it can be a little thin. To add body, I added two grapes I grow that do not produce enough grapes to make separate wines.

I have given three bottles of this wine to friends and all three raved about it. I have drank two bottles with meals and found it a perfect accompaniment to both seafood and chicken dishes. In the recipe below, you may substitute any pinkish to light red or light purple colored grape for the two varieties listed.

Cranberry-Grape Wine Recipe

  • 3 lbs 12 ozs (4 20-oz bags) whole cranberries
  • 1 lb Champanel grapes
  • 1/2 lb Dog Ridge grapes
  • water to make 1 gallon (about 6 pints)
  • 1 lb 10 oz sugar
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 Campden tablet, finely crushed
  • 1 sachet wine yeast

Thaw frozen cranberries and chop. Place in nylon straining bag and add destemmed grapes. Tie bag closed and crush grapes by hand inside primary container. Bring 2 pints water to boil, remove from heat and dissolve sugar into it thoroughly and pour over bag of fruit. Add 4 pints cold water, cover and allow to cool. When cooled to 100 degrees F., stir in yeast nutrient, acid blend and pectic enzyme. Cover primary and set aside 8 hours. Stir in finely crushed Campden tablet, recover primary and set aside another 10 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution and press down nylon bag twice daily during vigorous fermentation. When fermentation slows, press bag to extract additional juice and transfer all liquid to secondary. Attach airlock without topping up. At 30 days, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Repeat every 30 days until wine clears, adding additional finely crushed Campden tablet as needed (every 2nd or 3rd racking). When wine clears, store in cool dark location 3 months. Rack, stabilize and sweeten to taste if desired. Set aside additional 30 days to see if fermentation restarts. Bottle when proven biologically stable for 30 days. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

I have two comments about the latter part of this recipe. First, "Bottle when proven biologically stable for 30 days" is shorthand for a long explanation, but briefly you stabilize, sweeten and then wait 30 days. Shine a flashlight on the bottom of the secondary. If there is even a slight dusting on the bottom, the wine still has yeast that are dying off from the stabilizing agents and cannot be bottled yet. Hold it an additional 60 days, rack, and wait a final 30 days. Examine the bottom again for signs of yeast and proceed from there. It must be clean for 30 days to safely bottle.

The second comment is the departure from my usual "[Author's own recipe]" attribution. Many of my recipes have been ripped off and republished by people who have no respect to copyrights and even publish "[Author's own recipe]" and sometimes the same background pattern from my website. I decided to change "Author" to "Jack Keller" based on the theory that people too lazy to delete the first attribution will also be too lazy to delete the more explicit one. I am personally sick of chasing down these pirates.

A Perfect Appetizer for the Cranberry-Grape Rosé

Sizzling bacon-wrapped apricots with cranberry glaze, phot from Ocean Spray's website

If you read this blog often you know that I have become fascinated by tapas, those Spanish appetizers served with drinks throughout Spain but especially in Andalusia. This fascination has led me to seek out other appetizers and I wanted one that would specifically go with this wine -- my Cranberry-Grape Rosé.

Discovered on Ocean Spray's website, this is the perfect appetizer to showcase this wine. Indeed, it would go well with any cranberry-grape blend and most rosés. It is called "Sizzling Bacon-Wrapped Apricots with Cranberry Glaze" and is delicious. Again, this is Ocean Spray's recipe, not my own.

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
  • 3/4 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 12 slices maple-cured bacon, halved crosswise
  • 24 dried apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups Ocean Spray® 100% Juice Cranberry Juice Blend

Boil the cranberry juice in a medium saucepan over high heat until it is reduced to 1 cup. Whisk in the cornstarch, brown sugar, mustard and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 1 minute until thickened. Cool to room temperature. Reserve 1/2 cup of the glaze.

Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack over foil and spray with cooking spray. Wrap bacon halves around apricots and secure with wooden pick. Brush with glaze and place on wire rack, not touching.

Broil 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until bacon is browned. Serve warm with reserved glaze for dipping or drizzling.

This recipe makes 24 appetizers.

November 18th, 2011

Pickle-stuffed olives from Spain

I found my sourdough starter in the back of the refrigerator while looking for the last of the olives I had brought back from Spain, stuffed with tiny pickles. I remembered hiding the olives so I would not eat them all the first week home. The tactic not only worked but yielded a bonus -- my long neglected sourdough starter, which I will get to in a moment. First, the olives.

If memory serves, I bought these from one of those vendors in a market day at Artola, just west of Sitio de Calahonda. This was not the largest of the community market days, but it had better food stalls than many. And one stall featured many types and styles of olives. At this booth I bought these and some of those buttery Mantequilla olives. At another I bought my wife some fresh figs and a melon slice. After having bought these stuffed olives, I later searched high and low for more like them but did not find any.

Free form crumpets served as pancakes

Okay, back to the sourdough starter. It had separated into a thick paste on the bottom covered by a dark liquid on top that I hesitantly sniffed. No foul odors, so I mixed it with a spoon, weighed it, and matched its weight with both flour and warm water. I did not expect it to revive, but it did. Not only that, but there was no evidence of the dark liquid. The starter returned to its former whiteness.

It took over a week of feedings to revive it to the point where I dared make bread. I had been making biscuits and crumpets served as pancakes (see photo) with the divide -- the portion you remove daily to make room for the feeding -- but finally decided to risk bread. My first loaves were Norwich Bread, a light whole wheat-white flour mixture that did not rise as fully as I would have liked. The starter was not really fully revived and I rushed it, but still the results went down well. As I write this I am baking Alaska Sourdough, which I expect to be light and airy. It sure smells good.

As for the crumpets, I did not have the tin rings to form them with so I poured the batter pancake style and each divide makes 8-10 crumpet pancakes about 5 inches in diameter. I have been eating them with a peach syrup I made for canning white-fleshed peaches. I took the leftover light syrup, put the peach skins in it I had carefully removed, and simmered it until the syrup was reduced by half. I removed and discarded the skins and bottled the heavy syrup for pancakes. It is perfect on the hot, buttered crumpets.

Before I forget it, I want to thank the Rochester Area Home Winemakers for making me an honorary member. I am most honored by this gesture and thank each of them.

Aeration and Oxidation

Rob, up in Dillon, Montana has asked some good questions regarding apparent contravening needs to both aerate the must while preventing premature oxidation. Must requires aeration initially to provide the oxygen yeast need to get a strong start. Most of the time, however, we try to minimize oxygen exposure to the must and wine as oxygen is the enemy of wine. But Rob pointed out two times when we apparently throw caution to the wind and aerate like mad. I understand this can be confusing, so I promised Rob I would discuss it here.

Except when we initially aerate the must to give the yeast a good breath of air, we spend the rest of the winemaking process attempting to avoid the mating of oxygen with our wine. While it is true that punching down the cap of grape skins, pulp and seeds on a frequent basis during the first few days of fermentation may seem like it breaches this sanctum in truth it does not. Before the yeast begin the process of fermentation they are still reproducing like mad, and during that time they need any oxygen brought into the must by punching down the cap. But once the yeast begin fermentation they produce a blanket of CO2that insulates the must from atmospheric oxygen. At least that is the theory.

While it is true that CO2 is heavier than oxygen and in the environment surrounding fermentation it does indeed form a blanket layer over the must, this layer is not impermeable. Oxygen can pass through it but tends not to, except when the blanket is disturbed, as when one is vigorously punching down the cap. The key, then, is to punch down the cap with less vigor -- do it slowly and deliberately.

Excessive aeration is called for when attempting to deal with excessive sulfites. This almost always occurs as an accident, when one is inattentive and adds more sulfites to the wine than is prudent. The villain then is SO2 and it can be driven out of the wine through aeration. Under these circumstances, the wine is well protected from oxidation by the excess of SO2, so the object is to drive out the excess but still leave an adequate aseptic dosage.

Another time we seemingly throw caution to the wind is when we degas a wine. The common method for home winemakers is to spin propeller-like blades with the aid of an electric drill, thereby creating agitation which knocks the absorbed CO2 out of suspension and out of the wine. In theory, the liberated CO2 forms that famous insulating blanket over the wine and protects it, but I have always had my doubts about this. That is why I degas my wine naturally. Given enough time, the CO2 will naturally find greater stability in the atmosphere. Or, if one is very careful, one can apply a weak vacuum to the ullage and force the CO2 out.

The only time I tried this was at the laboratory where I worked. I placed a 5-gallon carboy in a fume hood and inserted a vacuum intake into the hole in the bung. The entire 5 gallons of wine immediately went from deep red to the color of milk of magnesia and the escaping CO2 blew off the bung and expelled 1/3 of the wine as foam. Not only was I drenched in wine, but so was the fume hood and a good portion of the lab. I spent nearly 5 hours cleaning up my mess.

Every time we remove the airlock we threaten the wine. I personally accept the risk, but if you would rather not you can obtain a cylinder of inert gas -- argon being the most popular -- and flood the ullage with it whenever the airlock is removed. Similarly, you can flood an empty carboy with argon or CO2 before racking into it. I know several people who even fill their empty wine bottles with argon before filling them with wine. Many wineries use argon extensively when transferring wine, racking and bottling.

Invariably, any discussion of aeration and oxidation eventually works its way around to micro-oxygenation. Micro-ox has been around for 20 years, but is not widely understood well. In other words, while the number of people who understand it very well is growing, they are not widely dispersed throughout the wine industry.

Micro-ox is a process used in commercial winemaking to introduce oxygen into wine in a controlled manner aimed at mimicking the effects of slow barrel maturation in a shorter period and with greater control. Oak barrel aging allows for a slow and gentle aeration over a prolonged period during which tannins polymerize into larger molecules, which are perceived on the palate as softer. Micro-ox not only shortens the period but does it cheaper than the long-term costs associated with oak barrels. And that's about the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

But I have read enough about it to know that micro-ox is not for everyone. It is not even worth thinking about if one is not making wines from grapes suited to the process and making those wines on a large scale. In other words, it is not for the mom and pop winery and certainly far beyond the financial realms of home winemakers.

I once followed a thread in a home winemakers forum where someone had installed an aquarium pump in his storage area and had lines running to several carboys where air was pumped through aeration stones to "micro-oxygenate" his wines. I was so embarrassed for this guy that I could not make myself comment on his "method." In truth, he was adding more oxygen to his wines in 30 minutes than barrel aging would allow in 6 months. In other words, he was oxidizing his wines at a profoundly fast rate.

There are plenty of articles out there on micro-ox, but one of the best quick introductions to it was an industry seminar review back in 2007 by Alison Crowe (WineMaker magazine's "Wine Wizard"). The link to the review follows this entry and is listed as "The Role of Oxygen in Winemaking."

November 22nd, 2011

Jack Keller Sr. at age 86, soft pastels on colored Mi-Teintes paper, by Barry Keller, 2007

My father achieved the age of 90 today. Happy birthday, Dad. I wish I was there sharing it with you.

I know my father does not like this picture, drawn in soft pastels on colored Mi-Teintes paper by my brother Barry in 2007, but it captures him perfectly even if at a grumpy moment.

Prior to the occasion of my parents 50th anniversary (they just celebrated their 69th) we had them talk to us about their meeting, courtship and wedding. My sister taped the sessions and I took the tapes and wrote a pamphlet from them entitled "Our Story." My mother told of starting work in a bakery in Lake Charles in 1941 and meeting Dad, one of the bakers, for the first time. "He had wavy black hair, an olive complexion and the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen." Yes, he has wonderful eyes, even in his grumpy look.

Mom, Barbara, me, Dad, 1945

My dad was one of the 3,030,407 Americans who enlisted in the Armed Forces in 1942. The Navy sent him to San Diego for basic training and after two months my mother packed a small suitcase, boarded a train and went to be near him. As her train pulled into the station, his train pulled out for Bremerton, Washington. She got a job in an airplane factory until she earned enough to head for Seattle. There she got a similar job and they were married on Friday, September 26. To say they were ill prepared for marriage is, well, something most of us can say. When my dad left my mom on Sunday to catch the last ferry to Bremerton, he gave her all the money he had (the ferry was free to sailors) -- 35¢. That my mother made those coins last a week is a testament to what you can do if you have to and live in a friendly neighborhood.

My sister Barbara was born 13 months later and I was born 14 months after her. That's me my dad is holding in the photo from 1945.

I am quite proud of my dad for his success as a husband and father. He worked very hard to provide and we all made it. He did it without health insurance, without a retirement plan, without ever holding his hand out for a thing. He wasn't able to save anything until we kids started moving out, and in the time he had available he was able to save enough for he and Mom to be comfortable in their "golden years." My father is my role model.

Once again, happy birthday, Dad. I love you.

Malolactic Fermentation

I recently received an email from a gentleman in Illinois who has a Chambourcin that fermented very quickly and displays a tartness consistent with a measured acidity of 7 g/L. He maintained the wine in his basement at 65-67° F. for 65 days. He wondered if a malolactic fermentation was still possible at this late date.

While ideally it is desired that MLF occurs just as the alcoholic fermentation is ending, I think many MLFs among home wines occur later than this -- and occur unexpectedly...in the bottle.

First of all, MLF should not occur at all unless you, the winemaker, want it to occur. I am a very conservative winemaker despite the fact that I make wines from very unusual bases. I don't impose a procedure on my wines unless it is desired for specific reasons. MLF is only desired, in my opinion, if the acid needs reduction and enough of the acid present is malic. On the other hand, starting an MLF on a wine where malic acid is the only acid, such as in blackberry, can be ruinous for the wine. When I add potassium metabisulfite to a must at the very beginning, I am shutting the door on MLF.

So when is MLF desired? MLF is generally desired for dry red wines where malic is present but not the predominate acid and the acid is noticeable on the palate. MLF can also enhance some dry white wines, add complexity and smoothness, but is totally inappropriate for sweeter wines and wines with a lot of floral or fruity character.

The organism responsible for MLF is Leuconostoc bacteria. Like yeast, it is found in nature and can be brought into the must on the skins of the fruit you are making wine with. Or not. Almost half of the failed MLFs I am aware of occur because the winemaker relied on the natural presence of a Leuconostoc bacteria and there was none. If you want it, buy the culture and introduce it.

There is a practice going on today whereby a Leuconostoc bacteria culture is added to the must with the yeast under the assumption the two fermentations will occur concurrently. In many cases they do so, without problems, but sometimes the bacteria begin disassembling the sugars the yeast need and volatile acids develop. We cannot reliably predict when this will occur, so the best way to avoid the problem is to wait until the alcoholic fermentation is complete before adding the bacterial culture.

If you want an MLF there are several requisite conditions you should ensure your must/wine possesses. The most obvious is malic acid. If you are making a grape wine or a fruit wine and added a commercial acid blend, the must contains malic acid. If you are not sure, a simple paper chromatography test will tell you. I have always intended to post the instructions for this on my website but have not yet done so, but they are easily found through Google or in many of the better winemaking books. Paper chromatography kits are inexpensive and contain complete instructions. This kit is essential for knowing when MLF is complete. I strongly recommend you obtain a kit if you intend to do MLF.

While the presence of malic acid is desirable for conducting an MLF, too strong an acidity can be fatal to Leuconostoc bacteria. Here the controlling metric is pH. The lower the pH the stronger the acidity. A ph of 3.55 is considered by many, myself included, to be the very highest you can allow without placing your must at risk for all kinds of spoilage bacteria. For biological stability, 3.1 is far better. But even Leuconostoc bacteria dislike a pH that low. A pH of 3.3 is a tight compromise if you can achieve it. If your pH is low and you do not want to attempt adjusting it, you can try adding the bacterial culture and see what happens (you never know) or forego MLF altogether.

Leuconostoc bacteria do not like free SO2, so if you intend to do an MLF you should forego adding Campden tablets or potassium metabisulfite to your must until MLF is complete.

Leuconostoc bacteria prefer warmer over cooler. If your basement winery is 65° F. it would behoove you to bring the carboy upstairs to a warmer temperature or wrap one or two thermostatically controlled heater belts around the carboy. An advantage of adding the culture as alcoholic fermentation is ending is that yeast warm up the must during fermentation.

Last but not least, Leuconostoc bacteria are intolerant of high alcohol conditions. If you are one who always pushes for 16% alcohol because you like "the buzz," forget MLF.

My inquirer from Illinois was told the conditions the bacteria preferred. He had already moved the wine to a 72° F. environment and I encouraged him to try it. We shall see in a few weeks if it was successful.

Crumpet Pancakes

I was just waiting for someone to ask. Mary in Topeka, Kansas, Lynda in Flower Mound, Texas and Ronald in Druid Hills, Georgia all asked for the recipe for the "crumpet pancakes" I mentioned in the last WineBlog entry. If you have a friendship bread or sourdough starter, this recipe will be a Godsend.

A sourdough starter kept at room temperature must be "fed" at least once a day -- ideally twice a day -- to keep it healthy. If stored in the refrigerator, it should be taken out and fed once a week. Each time a starter is fed, it is divided in half and fed with fresh flour and water equaling the weight of the half removed. The half that is removed (I call it "the divide") must either be used or thrown away. If you are feeding a family or even just yourself and a spouse, you can use the divide every day for pancakes, biscuits, pizza dough, bread, etc. If you are single, you will end up tossing much of it out or moving the starter to the refrigerator as I did long ago where it was forgotten. Since my wife and I are geographically separated, I am cooking for one and throwing out a lot of divide.

Thin crumpet pancakes

When I read the recipe for sourdough crumpets on Jacqueline Pham's blog, the fact that they could be made into pancakes was not important to me. Then I made them -- pancake style -- and realized they are perfect for using up the daily divide. The recipe is much simpler than any sourdough pancake recipe, is extremely scalable, and the crumpet pancakes are delicious. I now use a cup of starter in the morning, make five 5-6-inch pancakes, and easily consume them because they are thin and airy and light and delicious.

My starter is kept on the wet side, about the consistency of pancake batter. If your is not this thin, then you might want to add a teaspoon or two of water to the divide to thin it out. My pancakes are more like crepes than crumpets but the recipe provides the pedigree. The following recipe is for one person with a hearty appetite. Adjust it accordingly.

  • 1 cup sourdough starter divide
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

When you divide your starter to feed it, place a cup of the divide in a glass bowl. To it sprinkle the sugar, salt and baking powder. Using a wire whisk, stir the starter briefly and watch it double in volume in just seconds as hundreds and hundreds of bubbles fluff it up. Coat a medium-hot skillet or griddle with a non-stick spray or oil and ladle onto it enough batter to make a 5-6-inch pancake. If the skillet is fully preheated the pancake can be turned in one minute. The flip side will be done even quicker.

I remove the cooked pancake to a platter, spray the griddle and ladle a new pancake onto it, then turn and lightly butter the pancake on the platter. All the batter is used up in about 10 minutes, leaving a platter with 5 thin but very airy pancakes that soak up syrup and go down easily. Not only are they delicious, they use up my daily divide with the least amount of effort.

November 24th, 2011

Troops observing Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

I loved this photo from the first instant I saw it. There are no more appreciative observers of this holiday than those who serve us in harm's way. God bless them all, and I am thankful they are there so I can be here.

My first Thanksgiving in Vietnam was in 1968. We were in the field, at a fire base near Dak To called simply, Bridge 3. We had been told weeks earlier that every man in the brigade, regardless where he was, would be getting a hot meal with turkey on Thanksgiving. Since all three of our daily meals came out of C-ration cans, this was a big deal and something we all looked forward to.

The evening before Thanksgiving we were informed on the Admin/Logistics net that there had been a screw up and we were not going to get our "hot meal" the next day -- no turkeys arrived on the convoy from Pleiku. My company commander called our XO (Executive Officer) back at Camp Enari on the radio and told him to go to every arms room in the battalion and get every shotgun he could and send them all out on the first chopper in the morning, with birdshot loads. The XO protested he would have a difficult time finding all the arms room custodians at night and the old man cut him off with, "Would you rather pack your rucksack and join us out here for the next month?"

The next morning 21 or 22 shotguns came out on a chopper with 20 rounds per gun. The First Sergeant had somehow identified every man in the company who hunted fowl "back in the world." Four men from my platoon were among them. Around 1000 hours the men left the safety of the perimeter and went out in two groups. Some 20 minutes later we started hearing shotgun discharges in the distance. Meanwhile, a long fire pit was dug near the company Command Post, filled with wood and set on fire.

The men returned in about an hour with dozens of doves and other birds, Several ammo cans were on the fire with boiling water and the hunters simply went to work. The birds were dipped, removed, plucked of their feathers, gutted and cleaned. Feathers, entrails, heads, feet and most of the wings went into a fresh pit, later to be joined by the bones. The birds were placed on bamboo spears, 4 birds to a spear, and cooked over the coals from the fire. Around 1300 hours we each pulled a bird from a skewer and enjoyed it with our C-rations. They weren't turkeys and there wasn't all that much meat on them, but they were hot, tasty and an altogether welcome break from our C-ration routine.

By the way, the next day -- a day late -- the "hot meals" arrived by chopper, turkey and all, so we had two Thanksgiving meals at Bridge 3.

Pear Wine Dilution Problem

Bartlet pears

I'm not sure where Mishawaka, Indiana is, but a fellow there made it a lot closer through email. He is making his first ever "wine from scratch" and chose to make pear wine from Bartlett pears. He did not use a nylon straining bag to contain the fruit and ended up with excessive gross lees in the primary and then again in the secondary. He had not read my blog entry on dealing with excessive lees and ended up with about a gallon of gross lees in each instance. Instead of downsizing to a smaller carboy, which I'm sure he didn't have, he topped up each time with a gallon of spring water and the wine's flavor suffered considerably.

He had the good sense to save half the pear halves from the primary and is attempting to reinitiate fermentation and extract more flavor. He will probably have to add more sugar as a simple syrup to give the yeast something to get started on and may even have to add fresh yeast, but this seems to me to be a good solution to his problem. And he is using a nylon straining bag this time. He simply needs to control the urge to squeeze that bag. Doing so will cause even greater gross lees and will, in all likelihood, cloud the wine beyond repair.

It is possible he can find some clarified pear juice to add to his wine although I am doubtful. I have only seen it in farmers' markets and even there rarely. The juice is extracted by very slow pressing. I do not think steam extraction is used, as that usually results in a haze of both pectin and collagen. It almost defies all attempts at clearing. Most large supermarkets today carry cans of pear nectar. My experience is that these are usually cloudy from aggressive pressing and will not clear. But they do taste good.

As a last resort, he can add frozen grape concentrate to it and make a blend, so to speak. Or add a can of frozen peach, passion fruit or strawberry/kiwi concentrate -- not more than one can or all evidence of pear will be lost. These "last ditch rescues" have almost always worked for me.

Pear Wine

Pears make a wonderful wine, although some people just don't care for it. I suspect they haven't tasted a really good one, but I could be wrong. Pears also make a great mead called Perry. The problem with pear wine (or perry) recipes is that different pear varieties vary a great deal. Generally, however, there are cooking, canning and eating pears. If you know what your particular pear is most often used for, you will be ahead of the game. But to be perfectly honest, each variety requires its own recipe due to inherent variations in hardness, texture, sweetness, acidity, tannin, and susceptibility to browning. Nonetheless, I will stick my neck out and offer a generic recipe. Tweak it as you see fit.

  • 4-6 lbs ripe pears
  • 1 12-oz can 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1-1/2 lb finely granulated sugar
  • 3-1/4 quarts water (more or less, depending on amount of fruit used)
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 packet Champagne yeast

Cut a pear in half and set it so both cut faces are facing upright. Set a timer for 15 minutes and go do something else. When timer goes off, come back and look at the pear halves. If they have turned slightly brown, add 1/16 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to the ingredients. If you think they have turned really brown, add 1/8 teaspoon ascorbic acid to ingredients. Don't overdo it! If you cannot measure or estimate 1/16th of a teaspoon, use a thin pinch.

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar into it thoroughly. Wash, destem and core the pears, being sure to remove all seeds. Chop roughly and put in a fine-mesh nylon straining bag. Tie bag and put in primary. Mash pears using a potato masher, bottom of a wine bottle, or a 4X4 piece of wood (be sure to sanitize whatever is used to mash pears). Pour boiling water over crushed pears. Cover with a piece of sanitized muslin. Wait one hour for must to cool a bit and add crushed ascorbic acid (if used), finely crushed Campden tablet, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover with muslin, wait 10-12 hours and add pectic enzyme. Again cover with muslin, wait another 10-12 hours and strain out enough juice to float a hydrometer. Measure specific gravity and add sugar sufficient to achieve starting gravity of 1.080 to 1.085. Pear wine is best under 12% alcohol. Return juice in hydrometer jar to primary and add activated yeast (that means make a yeast starter at least two hours -- six or eight is better -- before you get to this point). Cover with muslin once again. Stir daily, squeezing bag gently to extract flavor. When vigorous fermentation subsides (about 7 days), remove bag and let drip drain one hour. Do not squeeze or wine will be very difficult to clear. Taste the drained juice. You should taste both acid and tannin. If either appears weak, add a little more (1/2 teaspoon acid blend, 1/8 teaspoon tannin) and stir very well. Return drained juice to primary and allow to settle 24 hours. Transfer to glass secondary, top up to within one inch of the bottom of the bung, attach an airlock, and set aside. Rack after three weeks, top up, and refit airlock. Rack again every two months (but at least twice) until wine clears.

Wait another 30 days and very carefully examine the bottom of the secondary with a flashlight. If you see even a very fine dusting of sediment, wait another 30 days and rack again. Repeat looking for sediment in another 30 days. The wine must go 30 days without dropping even a few dead yeast cells. When wine pasts the test for no sediment, stabilize it with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Remove one cup of the wine and dissolve into it 1/4 pound (1/2 cup) of finely granulated sugar. For a drier wine use 1/4 cup sugar. Stir this into the wine, reattach the airlock, and set aside 30 days. If there are no signs of continued fermentation, rack into bottles and age 6-12 months. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

November 30th, 2011

My wife and me inside Ronda's famous Plaza de Torros

Some time back my wife bought me The Dangerous Summer by Ernest Hemmingway, his last book about his last summer in Spain. It has a long introduction my James A. Michener and together they offer one very fine introduction to the art and techniques of bullfighting. Within, Hemmingway describes the historic corrida in Málaga on August 14, 1959, when matadors Luis Miguel Dominguín and Antonio Ordóñez performed one of the most famous series of mano a mano bullfights ever witnessed by man. Hemmingway's description, according to Michener, "...is one of the most evocative and exact summaries of a corrida ever penned." With this background in mind, is it any wonder that I wanted to see every bullring we passed while staying in Spain?

We happened upon the bullring in Sevilla too late, as its corrida was well underway and in fact nearly over when we approached it. Considered the most beautiful bullring in all the world, it was a disappointment to miss it. But here are my wife and me inside Ronda's famous Plaza de Torros. I dreamed of this bullring last night and upon awakening sought out my copy of The Dangerous Summer and searched until I found the chapter referenced by Michener. Some things can never be relived, but great literature need only be reread to be relived. Meld it with your own experience and you can create a memory of a moment that never was and yet is very real. I was doing that when this picture was taken. I did it again this morning.

I challenge you to create your own memories of moments that never were. If you read Struggle for the Round Tops by Gary Laine, Stars in their Courses by Shelby Foote, or Gettysburg -- the Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz and then visit the battlefields of Gettysburg and listen to the whispers of the ghosts upon the breezes, you can create a memory of a moment that never was. I've done it.

A Cloudy Wine

A reader wrote to me about a particularly stubborn cloudy wine problem. Because of the things he mentioned, I offered him a 3-step method to solve his problem. I am certain this will work. It should also serve as a regimen for many others with similar symptoms.

Pineapple-Mango-Rhubarb wine

Roger wrote, "I love to make blended wines and have great success. A favorite is Pineapple Blackberry Rhubarb. I decided to try the same with Mango replacing the Blackberry. I have racked the wine several times to clarify, used unflavored gelatin, placed carboy outside at below freezing temps for days and still very cloudy. I am anal about sterility in all processes and have never "lost" a batch of wine due to contaminants or disease. Is there something about the Mango in combination with the other fruit that is causing this or should I consider contamination and how would I determine it? It tastes OK but has that slight metallic taste common with Mango (in my opinion). Is treatment with metabisulfate [sic] an option and how much would you use if so?"

Upon reading this my first thought was that he did not use sulfite or he probably would not have mentioned potassium metabisulfite (he said metabisulfate, which you would never use in wine, but I knew he meant metabisulfite). Not knowing his recipe, I did not know if he used pectic enzyne or not, or if he used enough.

I have friends who own and operate the Roatán Winery on Roatán Island off the mainland of Honduras. Some time back we conversed about a problem they had with mango wine. It simply didn't want to clear. No stranger to mango wine, I suggested using a two-part fining agent called Super Kleer. It worked.

So, my advice to Roger was as follows and treats for microbial contamination first, pectin haze second and mango's excessive protein third. Oh, I did not have the photo of the wine (above left) when I recommended this.

First, I would certainly add some potassium metabisulfite, enough to raise your free SO2 level to 45 ppm. If you are not sure how to calculate this, just use WineMaker magazine's Sulfite Calculator at http://winemakermag.com/guide/sulfite. You should not have to add additional sulfites prior to sweetening or bottling, although I would treat with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate per gallon 30 days before doing either.

Twelve hours after adding the sulfite, I would add 1 teaspoon pectic enzyme (as a powder) per gallon of wine, even if you have previously added a similar amount. If, after 48 hours, the wine has not changed for the better, add another 1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme per gallon. I would add another 1/2 teaspoon every two days until you have added a total of 3 teaspoons per gallon. Add the pectic enzyme this way: draw off 1/2-3/4 cup wine and dissolve in it the pectic enzyme powder by stirring with a fork or very small whisk; add this to the wine and stir just enough to get the addition circulating. The beauty of pectic enzyme is that if it is not neutralized by pectin, it does no harm to the wine. Still, 3 teaspoons per gallon is enough to clear any natural pectin haze.

Roatán Winery's Mango Tango wine

If, after a week, the wine has not started to clear, add 2-part fining agent Super Clear (a.k.a. Super Kleer) and rack according to instructions (2-3 days, if memory serves). Super Kleer works well because it is a 2-part agent. One part attracts soluble molecules with a negative charge and the other attracts soluble molecules with a positive charge, including the first fining agent. Thus, after a few days, the agents have not only grabbed anything in your wine that ought not be there, they have also grabbed each other and have precipitated to the bottom of the carboy so you can rack the wine off them. Good stuff. I keep at least four boxes of it on hand at all times and order two more when my inventory falls below four.

My friends at Roatán Winery make both pineapple and mango wines as both fruit grow naturally there. Mark Thiem, Roatán's winemaker and proprietor, recently commented on their method of clearing mango wine (seen here as their ever popular "Mango Tango"), which always seems problematic. "I use your recommended ratio of metabisulfite and after racking use the stabilizer/preservative. Then if after four months in the 5 gallon holding keg it does not clear I use the Super Kleer with excellent results. But the wine always tastes better after aging for at least 6 months. The pineapple is wonderful after aging for a year." Mark ought to know.

A longer discussion of clarification problems and solutions is found elsewhere of this site in the section entitled: "Finishing Your Wine." See the second link, below.

Pineapple-Mango-Rhubarb Wine

Roger was kind enough to share his recipe with me when I asked. He left out two ingredients (sugar and water) but after I added them in it sure looks sound to me. I will be trying this myself next year. Makes 5 gallons.

  • 5 lbs rhubarb, cut small and frozen before use
  • 3 large mango (3 lbs fruit after pitting and removing from skin)
  • 3 small pineapples (4 lbs small cut pieces)
  • 5 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 81/2 lbs sugar
  • 5/8 tsp liquid pectic enzyme (5 tsp powdered)
  • 3 Tblsp acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp tannin
  • water to 5 gallons
  • 5 Campden tablets or 1/4 tsp potassium metabisulfite
  • 1 sachet Red Star Montrachet yeast

Week to month in advance, clean rhubarb, cut into small slices and freeze them in ZipLoc bags. Two days before use transfer to refrigerator. Three hours before use remove from refrigerator and transfer to nylon straining bag in primary.

Cut off tops and bottoms of pineapple and remove peelings, saving juice. Cut flesh in long strips from core and then cut strips into small pieces. Best to add these to a separate nylon straining bag. Peel mangos and cut flesh from pit, saving any juice the drips. Cut flesh into small pieces and place in a third nylon straining bag. Place bags in primary along with any juice captured.

Bring 1 gallon water to boil, remove from heat and dissolve sugar in it, stirring well. When dissolved, pour over fruit in primary. Add 2 gallons cold water and crushed Campden or metabisulfite, acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and allow to sit 12 hours. Stir in pectic enzyme and remaining water. Cover primary and wait additional 12 hours. Add yeast in a mature starter solution. Cover primary and starting the next day push nylon bags under liquid 2-3 times a day. When vigorous fermentation subsides, remove bags and let drip drain. Pineapple and rhubarb may be squeezed, but not the mango.

Transfer to secondary, top up if necessary and attach an airlock.. Ferment to dryness, wait one month and rack, top up and reattach airlock. Stabilize wine with 2 1/2 teaspoons of crushed potassium sorbate and 1/4 teaspoon potassium metabisulfite, dissolved into 1 cup of the wine. Wait 2 months and rack, top up and reaffix airlock. May sweeten if desired and bottle in another 2 months. Allow to age a bit longer before tasting. [Roger Mattson's recipe adapted by Jack Keller]

December 10th, 2011

On the way to the store this morning to get some flour to feed my sourdough starter, I head the 1975 number 1 country, pop, and Billboard hit, "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," by the late Baldemar Garza Huerta, known to the world as Freddy Fender. I did some mental calculating and realized it has been 5 years since we lost him, to lung cancer, in Corpus Christi. As his beautiful tenor flowed seamlessly from English verse to Spanish and then back again, it dawned on me once again how great a talent he really was.

The late Freddy Fender

"Before the Next Teardrop Falls" won Fender the Single of the Year award from the Country Music Association in 1975, and was instrumental in his winning that year's Album of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year awards. But he also took "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" to number 1 that year, so he wasn't a one-hit wonder. Over the next three decades he gave us many wonderful songs, including "Since I Met You Baby," "Secret Love," "You'll Lose a Good Thing," "Vaya con Dios," "Living It Down," "The Rains Came," "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," and many others.

As an aside, in 1984 I heard Fender on the radio in San Francisco doing "Matilda," a remake of the Cookie and the Cupcakes' 1959 hit, and spent seven years tracking down a clean recording of it. (By "clean" I mean the only version I kept running into was a live recording in which, toward the end of the song, Fender broke off singing and started introducing the band.) I finally found it in his 1978 vinyl album compiled exclusively for military personnel, "Freddy Fender: His Greatest Recordings." It was originally on his 1976 "Rock 'n' Country" vinyl album and has since appeared on several CDs.

In 1989 Fender teamed up with three other Tex-Mex legends (Flaco Jiménez, Augie Meyers and the late Doug Sahms) to form the Texas Tornados. They won a Grammy in 1990 for Best Mexican American Performance. In 1998 he shared another Grammy in the same category with another group of legends, Los Super Seven.

In 2001 Freddy Fender used his real name on his final album, "La Musica de Baldemar Huerta," which won him his third Grammy -- this time for Latin Pop Album. This final effort is considered by many to be his finest album, his voice honed to perfection. The following year he underwent a kidney transplant, the donor his daughter. Two years later he underwent a liver transplant and that's really when most of us realized we would probably never see him perform again. Indeed, two years later we lost him to lung cancer.

Life flies by so quickly. We take our great talents for granted, only to wake up one day and learn they are gone forever. I remember my utter disbelief when, at the age of 14, I heard on February 3rd, 1959 that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson had perished in a plane crash in Iowa. It was the first of many sudden losses that shook the permanence out of my life. Freddy Fender wasn't the last, but my wife and I mourned his passing greatly. His beautiful voice would never create anew, but we did still have his recordings. Therein, he lives....

Christmas Wine

Santa with glass of wine

Every year around this time I get a flood of emails asking for a recipe for a mulled wine for Christmas. One can buy mulling spices readily about now, so making a mulled wine satisfies the need to create more than anything else. But, here we will look at three recipes for mulled wine -- two very old ones that merely mull (spice) a finished wine and one that you start now, from scratch, to enjoy at Christmas next year.

  • 1 bottle plain red wine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tblsp honey
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • a bit of ginger
  • cut up a small knob of galingale (optional)
  • 1-2 whole nutmegs
  • 5-6 cardamom pods
  • several whole cloves

This first recipe dates back to the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) of England..

Put all of the spices into a small strainer, with a long handle. Heat the wine gently in a small enamel saucepan, until it begins to steam a little; do not let it boil. Add the sugar and honey, and stir until they are well-dissolved. Place the strainer into the wine; reduce heat and cook gently for several minutes. Remove strainer and set aside; immediately pour wine into mugs and enjoy. The same spices can be reused several times on successive evenings before getting worn out. This is a variant of proper period hypocras, with a few tweaks. The period recipe would usually have been made with ground spices, wrapped in a fine cloth. The period version would also have been served either warm or cool, while this version is reasonably tasty at room temperature but is best when served quite warm. If cooled, it can be reheated in a microwave oven. The recipe is quite flexible and can be tweaked in many ways. Galingale, a relative of ginger, is optional because it is relatively hard to find. But it might be found in a Thai, Lao, Viet or Indonesian market. The author recommends using an inexpensive Burgundy or Merlot as the base. [Adapted from Pleyn Delit, by Heiatt and Butler, recipe 127, which in turn is adapted from Forme of Cury, a 14th century cookbook.]


This recipe calls for musk mallow seed, Abelmoschus moschatus (also known as Abelmosk, Ambrette seeds, Annual hibiscus, Bamia Moschata, Galu Gasturi, Muskdana, Musk mallow, Musk okra, Musk seeds, Ornamental okra, Rose mallow seeds, Tropical jewel hibiscus, Yorka okra; synonym Hibiscus abelmoschus) an aromatic and medicinal plant native to India. It has no substitute. Despite its tropical origin, it is quite cold hardy and seeds are available. All other ingredients in this recipe are common.

  • 6 gallons of red wine
  • 2 oz cinnamon
  • 1 oz ginger
  • 2 drams cloves
  • 2 drams nutmeg
  • 1/2 dram white peppercorns
  • 2 drams cardamoms
  • 3 oz musk mallow seed

Bruise all spices and place in spice bag (a cotton bag) with half-dozen marbles and tie closed. Sink spice bag in wine under airlock. Taste wine every other day until satisfied with the taste. Remove spice bag and sweeten wine if desired. [Recipe adapted from John French's Art of Distillation, 1651.]


This is a modern recipe for making the wine from scratch. The raisins should be chopped or, better still, run through a mincer. The recipe specifies Maury wine yeast, which is difficult to obtain in North America. Substitute Lalvin D-47, DV-10 or Red Star Premiere Cuvee. One could also use Lalvin EC-1118.

  • 2 lb dark raisins
  • 2 lbs honey
  • 7 pts water
  • 3 large lemons
  • 12 cloves
  • 1 blade of mace (2 tsp ground mace)
  • 1 cup cold, strong, black tea
  • 1/2 oz bruised ginger root
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkt Maury yeast

Bring water to a simmer while dissolving into it the honey. Add the minced raisins, zest of the lemons (retain their juice for later use), and the ginger, mace and cloves. Simmer (but do not boil) for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off any surface scum resulting from the honey. When cool, strain into a secondary fermentation vessel and add tea, lemon juice and yeast nutrient. Stir well, then add activated yeast and fit airlock. Ferment 2 months, rack, top up, and refit airlock. Set aside 3 months and rack again. Stabilize, sweeten to taste and refit airlock. Wait another 3-6 months. If no signs of renewed fermentation, bottle and wait for the holidays. [Recipe adapted from The On-Line Wine Makers Guide]

December 20th, 2011

I thank all of you who wrote or called me about various web pages being down. Indeed, depending on how you accessed it, you might have found yourself locked out of my several websites altogether for a little over two days. The culprit was a combination of things both recent and distant and all attempts to explain them have been both long, mentally tedious and boring. So, I will dispense with the explanation and simply say a password could not administratively be satisfied and many of you, including myself, found yourselves looking at a page informing you that the page you were looking for could not be accessed.

I jumped through many hoops and spent quite a bit of my domain host's money on phone calls over a 47-hour period before the problem was finally identified and solved, but solved it was. My apologies to all of you out there who freaked out or were simply inconvenienced by being turned away. As far as I can tell, it was no one's fault. Files and procedures have shelf-lives, beyond which things may randomly go wrong. Thank you for informing me of the many aspects of the problem, many of which I did not know until I read your emails. Most of all, thank you for your patience and your patronage.

Frisbee Trick Shots

This has nothing whatsoever to do with wine, but it's my blog and so.... A friend sent me an email with a video link to a short clip of Brodie Smith doing a frisbee throw off a bridge in Australia and then a speedboat comes by and a guy leaps off it and catches the frisbee before it hits the water. While the whole stunt was impressive, I give the speedboat driver and the catcher more credit for pulling this one off than I do Brodie Smith. Brodie is a two-time national champion and Florida Ultimate player with legendary skills and I found some better videos to show them off.

I have a very soft spot in my heart for frisbees. My late English Springer Spaniel loved to play frisbee. When my wife or I were out doing yardwork, she would bring her frisbee over and set it on the ground next to us, then back away and wait patiently. We may have been doing something very important but one look at Coli's expectant expression would melt us in our tracks. We just had to stop and throw it. And she would then launch herself into a race with the flying disc and leap into the air to catch it. Coli is buried with her frisbee, out in the far back, under the wildflowers she loved to smell and romp among. I still grieve for her. I invite you to visit her page, linked after this entry. If you love dogs, or just one special dog, I think you will enjoy her page.

So, seeing the Brodie Smith's frisbee toss off the bridge reminded me of my departed companion, Coli, but it also reminded me of much more impressive clips of Brodie's frisbee throwing. These are extremely skillful shots, not mere tosses off a bridge someone else has to chase to catch. Here is the first of the clips I am referring to, I am most impressed by the shots he made where the target was not even visible to him, but the 85-yard toss near the end is mind-blowing. Click to see what I mean.

Now, as Emeril Lagasse says, let's kick it up a notch. The next link is one of the finest exhibitions of frisbee throwing (and basketball throwing) I have ever seen -- Brodie versus the 4-man team Dude Perfect in a frisbee vs. basketball shoot-off. I would like to see Kobe Bryant make just 1/3 of these basketball shots....

Finally, here is another clip of truly epic trick shots with frisbee, basketball and cricket ball starring Brodie Smith and an Australian team. Near the end is the piece of Brodie throwing the frisbee off the bridge and the speedboat-passenger catching it.

Forgive me if precision frisbee-throwing does not impress you. Having thrown that disc thousands of times, I know how difficult such precision is. I am lucky to hit the broad side of a barn, so such accuracy impresses me greatly.

Winter Dewberry Wine

Wild dewberries in various stages of ripeness and non-ripeness

I decided to rotate the contents of my chest freezer, knowing full well I would find things on the bottom layer I didn't know were there. Boy was I ever right. Among the buried surprises was a plastic container containing 6 1/4 pounds of dewberries picked several years ago near Leming, Texas. They were badly freezer burned but still viable for wine, so I started a gallon. It should be ready to drink next Christmas.

Dewberries are very close cousins of the blackberry. Blackberries grow on canes, either upright or trailing, while dewberries grow on thin, ground-hugging vines that rarely reach knee-high. But dewberries, and here I'm referring to the berries rather than the whole plants, can grow quite large, very juicy and extremely tasty. But, as in all fruit, some are better than others.

Many years ago my wife and I dug up four dewberry plants in Jasper, Texas and transplanted them at our home in Pleasanton, Texas. Within two years we regretted doing so. The vines are extremely invasive and have resisted all efforts to contain or eradicate them. Being a trailing vine, wherever a vine-tip touches the ground it sets roots, much as strawberries do, but dewberry vines can extend several feet. Worse, they send out rhizomes -- horizontal stems growing underground in all directions that set new root masses (and often new upward growth) at every node. You can attempt to dig these out, but every small fragment left behind will most likely reestablish a new plant. You can spray the visible growth with Round-Up or some other herbicide, but these only affect the immediate growth. The rooted growth from trailing tips and all the rhizomes survive and new plants pop up everywhere. Do not plant dewberries unless you really want them, and then do so only in absolutely contained areas. Even then, the birds will spread them.

Dewberry Wine Recipe

Because of their ground-hugging growth pattern, dewberries are a bit of work to pick and hard on the back. And, when you're bent over picking dewberries, it's very tempting to go ahead and pick a few that are not quite fully ripe -- that still have a hint of redness in them. This is a big mistake and one only you can correct. These not-quite-ripe berries are rich in malic acid will sour the wine. I once aged a dewberry wine three years waiting for the tartness of unripe berries to mellow out of it. I finally gave up and sweetened the wine with simple syrup to cover up my mistake. Pick only jet black berries.

  • 6 lbs of ripe dewberries
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp tartaric or malic acid
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 1-1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • water to make up one gallon
  • Burgundy wine yeast
Fresh, ripe dewberries

Use freshly picked and washed berries if you can. Frozen berries are fine but my long-frozen berries are probably marginal. We shall see in a few months to a year. Put them in a nylon straining bag and press them in a grape or fruit press. Save the pulp. Put one quart of water on to boil and dissolve the sugar thoroughly in it. In a primary, combine the dewberry juice and sugar water and add sufficient cold water to bring the volume up to a gallon. Dissolve the crushed Campden tablet in the must and stir well. Add the bag of pommace (pressed pulp) and cover the primary. Wait 10-12 hours and add remaining ingredients except yeast. Recover primary and wait another 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast starter.

Squeeze the bag twice daily -- more often if you'd like -- but remove the bag 48 hours after a vigorous fermentation is evident (if you use a good starter, this will be 2 1/2 to 3 days after pitching the yeast). Drain the pulp and press it again. Return all juice (but not the pulp) to the primary and cover again. When vigorous fermentation subsides, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock.

Rack after 30 days, top up and refit airlock. Allow another 60 days to finish and rack again. At this point I add another crushed Campden tablet and set it aside in a dark place to age for 4 months. Rack again, stabilize, sweeten to taste and set aside another month. Check to make sure it has not started refermenting and if not bottle it. This recipe works equally well with blackberries. Enjoy it. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

December 24th, 2011

Christmas tree, fireplace and festive lights

On this Christmas eve, I wish to thank all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, Coast Guardsmen, and Border Patrol agents who put their lives at risk to guarantee my security. I am going to enjoy a peaceful, relaxing Christmas with loved ones because they do their duty 24/7 for you and for me.

Several months ago I received an old fashioned letter from a friend in Israel who mentioned in passing that his children were doing very well in school, "But this is natural since they stay inside all the time and study. They cannot play outside because of the threat of another rocket attack." That sort of put things in perspective.

My wife and I wish all of you and yours a peaceful, Merry Christmas and happy new year. If you are not a Christian it is okay. You can still accept my wishes for a period of peace and merriment and extended happiness.

A friend sent me the link to Hans Klok and the Divas of Magic performing 10 illusions in 5 minutes. Any one of these would be impressive, but the rapid-fire delivery of one after the other is simply overwhelming and extremely entertaining. The second half of the lady cut in two is, well, something to behold. Click and enjoy....

Pretty amazing, wasn't it. I swear I have no idea how they do the instant appearances and disappearances, let alone the others. But the woman cut in half is still my favorite.

A stack of crumpets made this morning

I owe you an apology. In my November 22nd WineBlog I gave credit to Jacqueline Pham for the recipe I base my crumpet pancakes on. I got lazy and simply cited the link at the bottom of my November 18th entry, but it was for the photograph I used. I didn't cite the recipe in my November 18th entry because I did not give the recipe in that entry.

The correct link for the crumpet recipe I use to make my crumpet pancakes follows this WineBlog entry and points to a page on the King Arthur Flour website. My apologies and thank you Kathy and Richard for catching this.

By the way, I finally bought some crumpet rings and made my first "proper" crumpets this morning. They rise inside the rings and look very much like English muffins -- until you take a bite. Ummm, so very good! I ate these with homemade red wine jelly. The photo on the left is my first batch of real crumpets, with one difference. I added two tablespoons of salted, toasted sunflower kernels to the batter and they held up really well in the baking.

The other day I poured some prickly pear cactus syrup on my crumpet pancakes and the marriage of flavors was simply marvelous. I made this from the purple fruit of the cactus. One year I extracted more juice than I needed for wine (see the link following this day's entry for the wine recipe) and made syrup with it. It was so good that I now pick the fruit to make both jelly and syrup as well as wine. For 2-3 months of the year, there are tens of thousands of the fruit along the fence lines flanking the back roads all around my house. I'm only sorry so many go to waste.

Merry Christmas everyone!

December 26th, 2011

Prime rib roast

I spent Christmas with Martin Benke and Lesley Lunt at their party house on Lake Corpus Christi. I got up at 4:40 and made two loaves of French Bread on my new baking stone. Lesley made a beautiful prime rib roast that tasted every bit as good as it looked. Indeed, it was one of the best tasting prime ribs I've ever enjoyed. And of course, we drank lots of wine -- a tad too much, in fact, as I fought off sleep all the way home.

My wife gave me a new, high end fly rod and reel with extra spool. Some friends and I are planning a pack horse fishing trip into the high country just northeast of Yellowstone in September and the new outfit will be put to the test. Many years ago I was a pretty good dry fly fisherman, in the high country in Colorado and in northern California up to the Klamath.

As I said elsewhere, flyfishing is not about fishing and not about flies, but rather about communing with nature.

There is, to me, no feeling quite comparable to that experienced after studying a river and its environs, correctly selecting the appropriate fly, laying it gently where it will drift naturally to the chosen spot, and then, suddenly, watching it be taken by the intended prey. A quick flick of the wrist sets the hook and then the water explodes with the frenzied fight of a contending trophy King salmon, steelhead, rainbow, cutthroat, brown, golden, or brookie. To have outwitted the ever-cautious instincts of the adversary is but the beginning, for it is the play and the netting that is the main event.


To those who think of flyfishing as sport, I pray we never meet. Flyfishing may be many things, but sport should not be one of them. On the one hand, it is the natural extension of the art of fly-tying and, on the other, is an art unto itself. But, in its sublime essence resides a respect for and communion with nature and life. As a process, flyfishing is an integration of understanding, of presentation, of skill and cunning, all subconsciously interwoven and operating while the fisherman's mind drifts, reflects, contemplates, and appreciates among endlessly changing vistas. Only when the fly is taken is focus required, for all else is, or at least should be, both outwardly reflexive while inwardly relaxing, therapeutic and almost spiritual by design. These attributes belong to no sport of which I know.

To flyfish for food is acceptable where allowed and needed, but to release the catch back into its native habitat--not to be caught again another day, but to honor its struggle for survival--is to give ultimate homage to the fish and the art of catching it, and elevates the mere flyfisherman to the realm of reverent naturalist.

I trust I have not forgotten the skills I once honed and commanded, but if I have I hope the relearning now will be every bit as satisfying as the learning was so long ago.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Wine

Chocolate covered cherry

It is the day after Christmas so I went to my local supermarket to buy 8 boxes of chocolate covered cherries on sale. It's that time of year to make chocolate covered cherry wine and they are always on sale today. Only they weren't on sale. I had a choice. Either go to the Dollar General store and buy Zachary Cordial Cherries in Milk Chocolate, which are not as good as Queen Anne Cordial Cherries in Milk Chocolate or try to talk the manager into a sale.

I won't go into the details, but the manager has been there a long time and we have had discussions previously. He informed me when they most likely would go on sale and I discovered reasons I would be away then. He then dented the corner of the box and said damaged goods could be sold for less. He wrote out a slip identifying the brand, the product, the size box, and the price. Underneath he wrote "Damaged." I thanked him, he winked, and I went about doing other shopping. A few minutes later I was back where the chocolate covered cherries were and dented seven more boxes. The checker discounted all eight.

The sad thing is that these boxes used to weigh a pound. Then they weighed less -- how much less I don't know. But I did note when they weighed 10.6 ounces, then 10, then 8.8, then 8, and now 6.6 ounces. This is the price we pay for the unlimited printing of paper money without gold or silver backing and the inflation that necessarily follows. From 16 ounces to 6.6 in less than two dozen years.

Tommy Wilson, of Tyler, Texas recited this recipe to me at Robert Cowie's big wine competition at Paris, Arkansas about eight years ago. Tommy entered this wine and won a medal for it. That he told me exactly how he made it is a tribute to his character. I first published this recipe in this WineBlog on November 11, 2006.

Tommy said he used eight 1-pound boxes of chocolate covered cherries. I believe Tommy thought they were 1-pound boxes, but when I went to the store shortly thereafter the only boxes I found were 10.6 ounces. The next year they were 10. They went down every year, but I did miss a year of checking. I don't know what they weighed last year. Anyway, Tommy used 8 boxes and even though the boxes today hold less than they did in 2006, I'm keeping the recipe the same -- 8 boxes -- but tweaking it elsewhere.

Now, a word about commercial chocolate covered cherries. When you look at the ingredients you absolutely will find things you don't want in a must unless you put them there -- things like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. These two items are used to control yeast, not ideal ingredients when yeast fermentation is essential to your plans. Luckily, the amounts used are not great, but because they are still there I am tweaking the recipe slightly by adding yeast energizer and a well-developed yeast starter. I have added 1/2 pound of sugar to the recipe to make up for the sugar lost to less chocolate cherries. If you want to avoid this, add two additional boxes of the cordials. Finally, at my wife's suggestion, I also added 3 drops of almond extract. Increase this amount at your peril.

  • 8 boxes of chocolate covered cherries
  • 7 pts water
  • 1/2 lb finely granulated sugar
  • 4 tsps acid blend
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3 drops almond extract
  • 1/16 tsp tannin
  • 1-1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
  • 1 pkt Champaign wine yeast

Bring the water to a rolling boil and dissolve the sugar in it. While it is getting there, dump the chocolate covered cherries into the primary. Pour the boiling water over the chocolate covered cherries. The heat will melt the chocolate and expose the creamy filling and cherries. Stir well to get everything dissolved that will dissolve. Cover the primary and let it cool to room temperature.

Immediately make a yeast starter solution to get that yeast rehydrated and multiplying. If you really don't know how to make and husband a starter solution, see the link following this entry. You really should make a starter for every wine you make but few people do.

To the primary, add the acid blend, crushed Campden tablet, tannin, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. Stir well and recover the primary. Wait 12 hours and add the activated yeast as a starter solution and 3 drops of almond extract (no more than 3 or you'll regret it). After a vigorous fermentation builds and subsides, transfer the liquid to a 1-gallon glass jug, top up if necessary, and attach an airlock. Toss out the residue in the primary, which will contain 99% of the chocolate. Don't think twice; there's nothing you can do with it.. Ferment to completion, rack, wait a month and rack again, and stabilize. Sweeten to taste (this wine should be moderately sweet, so don't overdo it), wait another month, and bottle it. Set aside 3 months before tasting, then thank Tommy Wilson for sharing his original recipe. You can thank me for the tweaks.

Chocolate covered cherry wine is smooth, rich and delicious. After tasting this, you will wish you had made more -- much more. If you can afford the ingredients, be my guest.

December 30th, 2011

I went to bed late last night, or I should say early this morning, and was awakened by a phone call wishing me a happy birthday. Well, I think I am having a happy birthday. Email, Twitter and Facebook greetings, along with cards and gifts, have teamed up to put my in a happy frame of mind. Thank you one and all for your thoughtfulness.

Ruger .380 LCP

And what am I doing on my birthday? Besides writing this blog, I am making a couple of loaves of German Rye Bread and going to shoot targets with my Ruger .380 LCP at a range. Not in that order. Finishing the blog will undoubtedly be last as I'm leaving for the range right now and my bread dough is proofing. Will continue when I return.

Fired a box of 50 and was squeezing tight groupings at the end. Love this little concealable. Not as big a bite as a 1911 .45 caliber, for sure, but you wouldn't want to get hit with it either. My shooting buddy said, "It has no reach. At 50 yards you're shooting for the side of the barn." Hell, at 50 yards I would want a rifle, not a pistol. I replied, "I bought it for concealed carry. I never intend to use it, but if I do I will be close enough to the target not to miss." End of discussion.

The loaves are proofing and will go in the oven as soon as they rise enough. We wait and write.

There are all kind of games one can join on Twitter that require only a response. In response to "#2011in3words" I submitted, "Bin Laden dead." For "My favorite song of 2011" I submitted, "'I Will Always Love You' by Landau Eugene Murphy Jr at http://bit.ly/sFPuXF, although there is a question as to whether this is actually Landau singing it.

Written by Dolly Parton in 1972, "I Will Always Love You" was twice taken to number one on the charts by Parton and once by Whitney Houston. Houston's version twice set the one-week single's sales record in the US and was the longest running number one single from a soundtrack album. What I like most about this version (whether it is actually Landau or not) is, to my ears, it is by far the best version by a male performer.

Original soundtrack from The Mission

Speaking of soundtracks, one of my all-time favorites is Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for The Mission. I have listened to it hundreds of times and it always lifts me, inspires me, and fills me with awe. Two of the tracks are titled "Gabrielle's Oboe" and one is a variation of the other. The melody of "Gabrielle's Oboe" permeates and very much sets the mood for several of the remaining tracks.

Earlier this year, like many of you, I was sent a link to an audition on "Korea's Got Talent." In it 22-year old Sung-bong Choi recounted his life of being left at an orphanage at age 3, running away at age 5 after being beaten, being sold, selling chewing gum and energy drinks on the street to eat and sleeping in stairways and public toilets for 10 years, of being inspired by the sincerity of a singer in a night club, and from that moment on starting to sing himself. He says, "I don't sing that well, but when I sing I feel like I become a different person." He tells the judges, "I'm not a good singer, but I just like it." The judge says, "Let me hear you sing." And he then delivered one of those stunning, Susan Boyle-like performances that moved the entire auditorium to tears.

And he sings "Nella Fantasia," an Italian song based on "Gabriel's Oboe," with lyrics by Chiara Ferraú and originally sung by Sarah Brightman. I have watched this clip probably 20-30 times, and I am moved to tears every single time I do. Watch it and see if you are not moved.

Luke Clark, this one was for you.

Loganberry Wine


I received another request for loganberry wine, the third in two months. Both requests cited having frozen Loganberries and desiring a recipe. Since Loganberries ripen in early summer, they would have to be frozen or canned to be available at this time of the year. But fresh, frozen or canned, they make a truly fantastic wine.

Loganberries are an 1883 natural cross between an Aughinbaugh blackberry and Red Antwerp raspberry in the Santa Cruz, California garden of American lawyer and horticulturist James Harvey Logan. There are now many cultivars of Loganberry that vary from developing large, light red berries that do not darken when ripe or dark red berries that maintain their darkness. They possess a unique, tart flavor that many people prefer over all other berries. It is naturally a spiny plant, but thornless cultivars have been developed. They make a truly exceptional wine that must age considerably if dry, a lot less if sweet. I have won many awards for Loganberry wine, including a Best of Show.

Loganberry Wine Recipe

  • 4 lbs ripe loganberries
  • 1 lb ripe bananas
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

Slice the pound of bananas and simmer them in 3 cups of water for 20 minutes. Skim off any surface scum, strain and discard the solids. To the retained liquid, add 5.5 pints of water and bring to boil. Meanwhile, wash and inspect fruit for ripeness. Put in nylon straining bag and tie closed. Put bag in primary and crush berries, then add sugar. Pour boiling water over fruit, stir until sugar dissolves, cover, and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, stir in pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient, recover and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast and ferment 4 days, stirring twice daily. Remove nylon straining bag and press to extract maximum liquid. Discard pulp, transfer liquid to secondary and attach airlock. Rack, top up and refit airlock every 30 days until wine clears and no new sediments form over 30-day period. Stabilize, sweeten if desired, wait 30 days, and rack into bottles. If bottled dry, this wine typically requires two years to mature but will then be exceptional. In rare cases, it may require up to four years to mature. If bottled sweet, this wine may be consumed after 6 months of aging. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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