What the heck is a Blog?

Jack Keller's WineBlog Archives

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

rss buttonblank spaceSubscribe to Jack Keller's WineBlog

[Valid RSS]

Twitter logo

Join us on Facebook logo

Jack's Winemaking Links

Jack Keller's
The Winemaking Home Page

Ben Rotter's
Improved Winemaking

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

Terry Garey's
Joy of Home Winemaking

Marc Shapiro's
The Meadery, my favorite mead site

Forrest Cook's
The Mead Maker's Page

Dave Polaschek's
Mead Made Easy

Mathieu Bouville's
Mead Made Complicated

Mead Lover's
The Bees' Lees


Michiel Pesgen's
The Home Winemaking Page

Roger Simmonds'
Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
Making Table Wine at Home

Viticultural Roundtable of SW Ontario

Winemaking Fundamentals

Wine Page

Drink Focus'
All About Apple Cider

The Brewery's
Cider Recipes

San Antonio Regional Wine Guild

Discussion Forums

WV Mountaineer Jack's
WVMJ Elderberry Wine Making

rec.crafts.winemaking news group

Fine Vine Wine's discussion groups

Follow me on Twitter

horizontal divider

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

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

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

Jack was 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.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

Remove the patriotic colors and replace the parenthetical items with their symbols.


WineBlog Archives

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

January 3rd, 2012

I received more electronic birthday wishes this year than ever. I guess that is to be expected as more and more aspects of our lives are wired or wireless and Facebook is on both. I appreciated them all. Thank you.

1997 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The number one question I was asked regarding my birthday was, "What wine are you celebrating with?" or words to that effect. I almost didn't open a wine on my birthday, but then I grilled a beautiful ribeye steak and decided to open my last bottle of 1997 Clos des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

This is my fifth and last bottle of this wine, the lot purchased a decade ago for $100. I'm glad I drank it now, as I fear it has peaked and would disappoint me in another year. I opened the bottle and decanted a scant half-hour before pouring a glass. The second glass had more weight, attesting I had not opened it early enough. The color has darkened, from bright garnet to deep ruby. This cries age, so I took that first sip hesitantly.

I remember this wine as having buckets of red fruit -- cherries, I think -- and lavender, and something else I could never find a word for.. The fruit has largely withdrawn, grown darker, like over-ripe blackberries, and earthy. Its tannins are gone, left as a sludge in the bottle after decanting, but the wine is as ever silky in the mouth and smooth in the finish. It still goes very well with a tender, juicy ribeye grilled medium rare, served with asparagus spears and buttered new potatoes sprinkled with tarragon...and warm German Rye Sourdough Bread. It all went together very well.

I recently received two questions I have decided to answer together, below. The first begins, "I keep seeing the word 'acetaldehyde' and know nothing of it. Some people say it is good, while most say it is bad. Can you enlighten me?" The second says, "You have stated several times that sulfites are not responsible for the headaches some of us get after drinking red wine. Then what is?" Good questions, so here goes....


Acetaldehyde is an intermediate product of yeast fermentation and is thus present at one time or another in all wines. The sensory threshold for acetaldehyde is 100-125 mg/L. In trace amounts below the threshold it adds complexity to wines and, as Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing." However, it is more commonly associated with ethanol oxidation or as a byproduct of acetic acid production by bacteria where it can exceed threshold amounts. In amounts greater than threshold it imparts a sherry type character to the wine which can also be described as green apple, sour and metallic. If barely detectable it is a defect, a flaw. If obvious, it is a fault. But there is more to acetaldehyde you should know about.

Acetaldehyde (pronounced a sə 'tal de hid) is an organic chemical compound with the formula CH3CHO (the molecular formula is C2H40). It is a very important aldehyde, occurring widely in nature and produced on a large scale industrially. Acetaldehyde occurs naturally in coffee, ripe fruit, and is produced by plants as part of their normal metabolism. It is produced by yeast and therefore found in breads and fermented beverages. It is also produced by oxidation of ethanol and is popularly believed to be a cause of hangovers from alcohol consumption.

The last steps of alcoholic fermentation by yeast involve the conversion of pyruvate into acetaldehyde by the enzyme pyruvate decarboxylase, followed by the conversion of acetaldehyde into ethanol. The latter reaction is again catalyzed by an alcohol dehydrogenase, now operating in the opposite direction.

So, what the heck does all of this mean? Well, simply put, all wines have some acetaldehyde in them, but in excess it is a fault to the wine. Aside from its effects on the wine, in excessive amounts it is not good for your body. Fortunately, a wine faulted by excessive acetaldehyde will not be enjoyed enough to drink to excess, but there is another, more general danger.

Acetaldehyde is more toxic than alcohol. In the liver, the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase oxidizes ethanol into acetaldehyde, which then encounters another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and a substance called glutathione. The result of their collusion is the formation of harmless acetic acid. The acetaldehyde is not really around long enough to do any damage, but the body's supply of glutathione is limited and rebuilds slowly, so if large amounts of alcohol are consumed the liver creates acetaldehyde it cannot then get rid of for a prolonged period. The buildup causes severe headaches and vomiting. This is all liver centered and takes time to correct. Unfortunately, we usually suffer through this period from a variety of symptoms collectively known as being drunk and having a hangover.

The average male body can process about 3/4 of an ounce of alcohol per hour -- females process less because they produce less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase and glutathione than males. From what I've read, no one knows why this is so, so don't rag on me about it. If you are smart, you realize I just told you how much you can drink without getting sickly drunk or having a hangover. Yes, body size plays a part and can stretch the quantity a bit, but science says just a bit. If you knock back two mixed drinks an hour for 3-4 hours, you're going to pay a price for it.

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine

Kauai'i Chocolate Macadamia Nut  Coffee

When my wife and I visited the Kaua'i Coffee Plantation and tasted their flavored ground coffees, we fell in love. I loaded my carry-on with bags of Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee and Coconut Caramel [Macadamia] Crunch Coffee. It was not until I was down to two bags that I decided to make coffee wine from each, and what wine it is!

Some of you may remember that I had previously waned against making coffee from chocolate flavored instant mocha mixes. Neither of these wines use a mocha mix so that warning does not apply. How Kaua'i Coffee Plantation gets the chocolate flavor into the bean cannot be a great secret as I have seen Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee from Mau'i, Kona, and many other places. I think you could substitute any of those coffees for the Kauai'i brand. We bought the coffee as beans and ground it when needed.

Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine

  • 8 ozs freshly ground chocolate macadamia nut coffee
  • 21/2 lbs dark brown sugar
  • 11/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • 7 1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Sauterne or general purpose wine yeast

Pour water in a pot and put it on to boil. Stir in sugar until dissolved. When sugar is completely dissolved, stir coffee into water and wait until it just returns to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool to room temperature. To a sanitized secondary, combine the acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Using a large funnel, strain coffee through double layer of muslin into the secondary, discarding the grounds. Add activated yeast and cover mouth of secondary with napkin held in place with rubber band. Stir every 2 hours until fermentation is evident. When fermentation is vigorous, attach an airlock. Rack three times, 60 days apart, topping up and refitting airlock each time. If desired dry, rack into bottles. If desired sweet or semi-sweet, stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed Campden tablet, sweeten to taste, wait 30 days, and if no refermentation has started rack into bottles. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Kauai'i Plantation Coconut Caramel  Crunch Coffee

I used the same recipe to ferment the Coconut Caramel Crunch Coffee and it was very nice. The "crunch", by the way, is macadamia nut. Both wines were a gallon batch, but 3-gallon batches would have been better.

I thought of blending a bottle of each to create a Chocolate Coconut Caramel Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine, but alas, I procrastinated and gifted my last bottle of the Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine without realizing it. I have no idea how it would have tasted but suspect it would have been great.

I believe the same recipe will work for any flavored coffee beans. You may want to use light brown sugar instead of the dark for some flavors (hazelnut), or demerara sugar for really delicate flavors (banana, vanilla).

I know some of you experiment. If you come up with a better recipe or a different blend of flavors please consider sharing it with me. After all, I share all of mine with you.

January 9th, 2012

The first five bars of Eric Clapton's 'Layla', image from <i>Wikipedia</i>

I woke up this morning with the first seven notes of Eric Clapton's "Layla" playing in my head over and over again. It was not necessarily a bad thing, but I had to concentrate to get the second half of the song playing. Some will disagree, but I think the second movement, Jim Gordon's piano coda, is the more melodic and better part of the song.

The first movement of "Layla" was written by Clapton. Shortly after he recorded it, he happened upon Jim Gordon, a member of his band, playing a piano piece he had composed. Clapton convinced Gordon to allow him to integrate it into Layla and it was soon recorded. Gordon played his piano piece without alteration, but Clapton and Duane Allman each played two guitar tracks that were mixed with the piano. The two movements were spliced and the song titled their 1970 album. A shorter single was released in 1972 and an accoustic ("unplugged") version in 1992.

Album cover, 'Layla' by Derek and the Dominos

The song is widely considered a masterpiece and has earned great acclaim. It is often hailed as being among the greatest rock songs of all time. In 2004 it was ranked number 27 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", ranked 16th place on VH1's "100 greatest songs of rock and roll", and was included in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's "Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll". The acoustic version won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.

I could listen to the album version for hours, and in fact have. Like "Bolero", the second movement is a great piece to play while making love. Aside from that, there are dozens of concert recordings of this song. Some are better than others but seven are special enough to be featured on Eric Clapton's own "Layla" site. In my opinion, two are really special.

One is a faster tempoed version of the song performed in 1984 by Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Andy Fairweather-Lowe, Steve Winwood, Charlie Watts, Kenny Jones, Ray Cooper, and others. It is simply a fantastic piece by some of the greatest legends of Rock. Incidentally, Clapton, Page and Beck are listed numbers 2, 3 and 5 respectively in Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."

The other features Clapton and I don't know who else. He has one hell of a band backing him up but I only recognize two of them. It lacks a piercing slide guitar, but Clapton's brilliance makes up for it. If you search "Layla" on YouTube, you will see it listed as "The greatest 'Layla' by Eric Clapton...EVER". I think the album version wins that title, but this is arguably the best concert version ever and is 8:02 minutes.

If you want to listen to other versions, go to Eric Clapton's "Layla" site (second link after this entry) and click on any of the 7 offerings on the right. As soon as the video starts on site, click the video screen and you will get a larger YouTube screen. You can find ripped versions of each posted by other people, but they will not be as good as these in either audio or video. If you want to see the version with the legends I mentioned earlier, see the third link following this entry.

30-Day Wine

It has been many years since I posted this recipe in my Visitor-Submitted Recipes section and over three years since I post posted it here. I am amazed by how many requests I get for it, usually with a preface similar to, "I found a recipe on your web site once for a 30-day wine and now cannot find it." There are seven places I post recipes but when really looking for something most people miss a few or are just too lazy to really look. They go to "Requested Recipes," don't see it, and then write to me instead of going to Google. I'm reposting the recipe here, with a tweak, but first I want to tell you where the several hundred recipes on my site are located.

This site's navigation menu

In the navigation menu above, which appears on almost every page on The Winemaking Home page, the third line contains six entries -- "Winemaking Recipes", "Requested Recipes", "Winemaking in Texas", "Wines From Edible Plants", "Grapes of North America", and "Visitor Recipes". On the next line down, underneath "Grapes of North America", is "Jack's Wineblog". These are the seven places you'll find recipes on my site. Unfortunately, the recipes in this WineBlog are scattered through the current presentation and the many archives, and there isn't a master index where all of the recipes in these various locations are listed alphabetically. I started to build one once but after working on it off and on over a span of several days I shelved the project for lack of time to dedicate to it. Maybe I will start it again -- the original project was lost in a hard drive crash. But the point is that my recipes are spread over seven distinct portion of the website.

So how long does it take to find a recipe on one of these seven section? Well, if you look back up at the navigation menu, the last item on the first row is "Search This Site." How fast can you click and type? A word of warning: if looking for, say, Ginger Wine, just type in the word "Ginger". If you enter "Ginger Wine", the search engine will report every page on the entire website because each contains the word "Wine."

30-Day Wine Recipe

Welck's Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate

This recipe came from a visitor to The Winemaking Home Page He wrote, "Here is a simple recipe for 30 day wine. Many old hillbillies here in Tennessee still use this one, and wouldn't have it any other way. They don't want any Cabernet, Merlot or Champagne; this is Tennessee, not France. Back during my teens I used to make this, but now grow my own grapes and pick fruits in the wild. SouthernWine"

I modified this recipe slightly by adding yeast nutrient. The yeast do the work so I want them to be healthy. Also, I have had several people write to me over the years saying the must would not ferment. After playing 20 questions with them, in EVERY case the person added 3 POUNDS of sugar instead of cups. Three cups is only 1 1/2 pounds so get it right, please.

  • 24 oz Welch's frozen concentrated grape juice, thawed
  • 3 cups sugar
  • water to make up one gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet wine yeast

Mix all ingredients together well with water and fill the jug to about an inch below the shoulders. Cover with a clean rag secured with rubber band. Keep in a dark place about 70 degrees. About 2 weeks later replace rag with a good thick piece of plastic wrap. After 30 days from starting date, siphon wine off from sediment in bottom and drink. For a good old "Mad Dog 20/20" type wine, add a pint of cheap blackberry brandy to the mix before drinking. [Recipe by SouthernWine]

As you can see, this is a very crude wine, but it is wine and not really all that bad if you are in a hurry and don't have a refined palate. I've made it several times, but I have always used airlocks and extended things a bit to about 120 days because my palate cares.

Mustang Grapes and Wine

My 2003 Mustang Wine won a gold medal at  the 2005 WineMaker's International

I get a lot of email -- mostly questions -- about my local wild grape. This entry answers several and I hope won't bore the rest of you. The mustang grows all over Texas and into Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and curiously, in Alabama but not Mississippi. It is the most awful tasting grape I've ever eaten, but it can be coaxed, with practice, into a damned good wine. It is extremely acidic, so much so that destemming them by hand without rubber gloves is almost certain to burn the hands. If you don't eat the skins they are edible, but too many will burn the mouth. Ahhhh, but the wine. My 2003 Mustang (right) won a gold medal at the 2005 WineMaker's International Competition.

In the world of botany, there are (in descending order) genus, species, variety, etc. Over the years, mustang has been known as Vitis (Linnaeus) [genus] candicans (Engelmann) [species] and V. mustangensis (Buckley) [species]. Today, taxonomists recognize the grape as V. mustangensis after comparing the descriptions of the species by Engelmann and Buckley and deciding that Buckley more correctly described it -- Engelmann chose as his holotype specimen a vine that was probably a natural cross between mustang and another grape, probably champinii. Be that as it may be, four named varieties were offered over the years. Taxonomists have rejected them all as being "within the natural diversity of the species." What they are saying is that the grape exhibits diverse character without exhibiting unique differences in botanical speciation.

That was technical talk. Here's the down-to-earth skinny. The only major differences reported in the grape are in berry color, size, sweetness, and cluster size. Aside from these differences, the vines are botanically identical. I cannot look at a vine that forms white grapes but is currently fruitless and tell you it will fruit white. Similarly, I cannot look at a vine that forms large, black grapes in large clusters but is currently fruitless and tell you it will produce these and not white or reddish-purple or bluish-black ones in small, medium or large clusters. The vines are identical, but the fruit are diverse. It is the vine, not the fruit, that must differ in order to have a sub-species or variety.

Most mustang grapes are very acidic but a few are sweet. But you cannot tell what they will be until you eat them

Still, there are five differently colored mustang grapes. These are, from darkest to lightest, the bluish-black (the most common), the bluish-purple, the reddish-purple, the pinkish-red, and the white (actually, a translucent yellowish-green when ripe). The seeds from any one of them will produce seedlings that can become any of the others (although the white are very rare).

I have two different lines of white mustangs (meaning they came from two distinctly separate wild vines, found in the wild some 85-90 miles apart) and have tried to discover some small difference that can botanically distinguish them apart from all other mustangs, but I cannot find a single one. If I could, I could become famous by differentiating and naming the white.

Eight different shaped leaves found on the  same Mustang vine

Despite the fact that all Mustang vines are identical, or "within the natural diversity of the species," novices might think they see differences. For example, Mustang leaves can take on several shapes, as seen in the photograph to the left. They vary from deeply lobed adolescent leaf-shapes (upper row) that give way to the more representative heart- or shield-shaped adult leaves (lower row). The incredible fact is that all eight of the leaves in the photograph were collected from the same male vine on my property and there is nothing unusual about that fact or the leaves except that a ninth shape, which is actually quite common, was not present or visible on the vine the day I collected these specimens. The missing shape is a cross between the lower two, with the flatter sinus depression (where the petiole [stem] is) of the one on the lower right and the more angular sides like the one on the lower left. There are also two slightly different outer barks, stem shapes and, as we have already said, a variety of berry sizes, colors, clusters, and tastes. But botanically, they are the same, or at least "within the natural diversity of the species."

I have found several mustangs in the wild that are "unique." Each produced, year after year, very large, sweetish, usually bluish-black grapes in large clusters; the skins were thinner than most mustangs. I marked each vine so as to return to it in late January or early February and obtain cuttings, but in each case road crews or property owners took out the vines before I could get cuttings. These were superior vines -- I call them "alpha vines" -- and I am sure the cuttings would have preserved the uniqueness, but they are gone. I am still looking for a similar grape.

You can propagate them with air or compound layering. Some people have better luck with these techniques than I do -- I have tried every year to layer white mustangs and failed. However, I once succeeded in rooting a green shoot -- but only once. Dormant cuttings are still the best way to reliably propagate them but even that is troublesome -- mustangs are one of the more difficult species to root from dormant cuttings.

Although I have posted Mustang grape wine recipes on this blog before, I have not posted this one. It is as close as you want to get to making a pure Mustang grape wine. If you made it with 100% Mustang juice it would probably be very difficult to drink. Mustangs are not very good at making sugar (so you will have to add a lot of it), but they are 10th degree Black Belts at making acid and almost as efficient at making tannins. So, while the list of ingredients below looks very precise, read the instructions very carefully.

Mustang Grape Wine (Sweet)

  • 10 lbs ripe mustang grapes
  • 1 lb 10 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 4 pts 6 oz water or as required
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Burgundy wine yeast

This wine may have too strong a "wild" flavor for some. It can be blended with almost any thin wine without detracting from the flavor. Remove the stems and wash the grapes. Place in large pot with one cup of water and set over low to medium heat, covered, but do not allow to boil. Stir with wooden paddle every few minutes until grapes break apart and juice oozes out. Depending on how close to low or medium you set the heat, this should take 20 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile, boil remaining water and pour over sugar in primary, stirring to dissolve. Pour half of the sugar-water in a quart container and refrigerate.

When grapes have cooled, pour grape juice and pulp into a nylon straining bag over the primary, tie bag and leave in primary with juice. Add yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. Cover and set aside 10-12 hours. Add yeast and re-cover primary. Use wooden paddle to push bag under juice twice daily for 7 days.

Remove reserved sugar-water from refrigerator and allow to warm to room temperature. Drain nylon straining bag and press pulp well to extract residual juice. Pour into secondary fermentation vessel with finely crushed Campden tablet, top up with reserved sugar-water, fit airlock, and let stand three weeks. Rack and top up, then rack again in three additional weeks. Set aside two months or until clear. Rack, top up and refit airlock. Wait one month. If lees are still being deposited, allow another month. Rack, stabilize, sweeten to 1.008-1.010, allow a month minimum or age as desired and bottle. May taste in 2 months but improves remarkably with age. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

January 13th, 2012

Kona Vanilla Macadamia Nut Coffee

I had two appointments three hours apart in San Antonio on Tuesday and passed the time between them with a trip to the Fort Sam Houston Commissary. In the coffee section I spotted this Kona Coast blend that got my mouth watering. I bought enough to enjoy freshly brewed coffee for many months of mornings and still have enough left over for some Vanilla Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine.

If you find this coffee and want to make Vanilla Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine, use the recipe for Chocolate Macadamia Nut Coffee Wine in my January 3rd WineBlog entry. It will work and you will enjoy it. Drop me a line when you do and tell me what you think.

Last night I made two loaves of sourdough rye bread. I made two last week and they were wonderful. Last night I tweaked the recipe a bit and the bread came out "really rye." Not quite pumperknickel, but strong nonetheless. My previous loaves made great ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches, great roast beef and cheddar sandwiches, great toast topped with almond butter and marmalade, and even a great grilled salmon and blanched cabbage with Baby Swiss sandwich. I expect the same from these loaves.

I make a really good spicy potato soup that I think this rye will accompany very well, toasted. I made it two weeks ago and have two pints in the freezer so will know tonight if I am right.

Praline Coffee Dessert Wine

Savannah  Praline Mix label

Roger King, up in Michigan, has done me proud. He has taken my award-winning Praline Dessert Wine and overlaid it with coffee wine to come up with a completely new entity. I have not made it yet but the recipe is sound. Since I recently restocked my dwindling supply of Savannah Praline Mix, I will be making it soon. I might also try the other variation Roger came up with.

Roger wrote, "I combined your praline wine with my coffee wine and then had to come up with a recipe bringing them together. I am still tweaking it a bit but I think you'll love it. I used Ec-1118 for low foam, quick fermentation and high abv. let me know if you improve the recipe. I have also dropped the Praline mix and added zest and juice of 20 Oranges for an awesome Orange Coffee Wine. You have to add 2.5 tsp pectic enzyme and lower the acid blend by half."

Praline Coffee Dessert Wine (5 Gal)

  • 4 25-oz bottle Savannah Mixes Southern Praline Mix
  • 15 lbs dark brown sugar (SG to 1.130)
  • 4 lbs Fresh Ground Coffee
  • 6.5 tsp acid blend
  • 5 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 5 crushed Campden tablets
  • 30 pts water
  • 1 sachet EC-1118 wine yeast

Cold brew coffee in 30 pints of water for 3 days (should have a good medium to strong coffee flavor), strain coffee through double layer of muslin into the primary and discard the grounds. Add Savannah Mixes Southern Praline Mix, and sugar, stirring until dissolved and SG is at or slightly above 1.130. Add acid blend, yeast nutrient and crushed Campden tablets. Stir well, cover the primary and set aside 24 hours. Add activated yeast and recover primary. Stir daily for 14 days, then transfer into secondary and attach airlock. After 30 days, rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Wait additional month and rack, top up and again refit airlock. Repeat as needed until clear. Stabilize, sweeten to desired taste and set aside 30 days to make sure fermentation has ceased. Rack gently into bottles. [Recipe by Roger King, edited by Jack Keller]

Problem with Muscadine Wine

Muscadine grapes

A fellow winemaker wrote about a problem he had with a muscadine wine after bottling it. After stabilizing, he said the wine was crystal clear so he sweetened, waited two weeks, bottled, and stored in a cold garage. "When I opened the small bottle after a month or so, the bottom of the jug contained what looked like trash...For a very young wine it tasted great...." My immediate thought was it could be one of two things, and it was.

Describing the sediment as looking like trash was not much to go on, but he also said, "...whatever it was in the bottom of the bottle clung to the sides of the bottle and some of it even floated." This led me to think it was yeast sediment. So while I asked for a better description of the "trash", I explained the truth about yeast.

I explained, "The bummer here is that yeast are so small that the wine can look very clear and still contain billions of suspended cells. After stabilizing, those billions of cells remain in suspension until they die of old age or starvation. Potassium sorbate doesn't kill them -- just destroys their ability to reproduce. Because no new cells are being produced, the population dwindles with time. But the sad truth is that certain yeast can last a year, but probably not in numbers great enough to be noticeable."

When I started making wine, what few books there were said to stabilize, sweeten and bottle. I soon realized the hard way this was not a good idea and began introducing a time period of 10, then 14 days to check for renewed fermentation. I later extended that period to 21 days because neither 10 nor 14 days were enough. Today I recommend that you wait 30 days (look for fallout from yeast and rack if you see any), sweeten, then wait another 30 days. If you see sediment at this point, give the wine another 60 days (or even 90 days if you shine a flashlight or pocket laser on the bottom and see a dusting of dead yeast at the 60-day mark) and sweeten again if needed. Yeah, I know it's a lot of waiting when the wine looks finished, but it isn't really that long if you have something else to drink.

The winemaker responded to my request for a better description with, "Your description of solid, hard crystalline [structures] better describes my problem. When I pour a glass, it looks like crystals clinging to the wine jug afterwards, yet there are floating particles visible to the eye in the wine jug."

It sounds like a little of both problems, but the crystals are the greater. "If it were me, I would put the wine in my spare refrigerator (or out in the garage during a cold spell) to encourage more crystals to form. Then, while the wine is still cold, I would uncork it and pour it through a funnel with a coffee filter in it into new bottles. The crystals will pull a lot of excess potassium and tartaric acid from the wine. It will actually make it smoother. If you leave the crystals in there, when the wine warms up they will dissolve back into the wine. It is better to remove them."

The crystals are just the high acid combining with unbound potassium and a little hydrogen and forming a potassium salt of tartaric acid called potassium bitartrate, chemically the same as cream of tartar. They are affectionately known as "wine diamonds."

He wrote back saying there was another cold snap coming through and he would leave the wine out in the garage another week and try filtering afterwards. I wanted him to know there are alternatives. "If that cold snap isn't long enough (3-5 days is fair, but when we put the carboys in the refrigerator we leave them for 2 weeks) you can extend it by placing the carboy in a washtub and then dumping a couple of bags of ice in around it. Kept in the garage, it will stay cold for many days, longer if you drape a blanket over it to encase the carboy and the washtub.

"Warning, if the cold snap includes a very hard freeze, check on the carboy every 4-6 hours. If you see the slightest hint of ice forming in the carboy, move it to a utility room for 2-4 hours and then take it back out to the garage. You want it cold, but don't let it freeze or the carboy might very well break from the expansion of the ice and you will have wine all over the garage.

"Another trick is to leave it in the garage during the prolonged freeze and run an extension cord to the carboy and plug a little 7-watt night light into it and drape a blanket over the carboy and light. Just keep the blanket away from the night light. When I did this (several years until we got the new refrigerator and the old one became my wine chiller) I just took a pair of hedging shears, opened them a few inches, stood them up points down with the handles leaning against the carboy, and that formed a frame from which I could hang the night light next to the carboy with the shears keeping the blanket away from the light. I also used a timer that plugged into the outlet and the extension cord plugged into it. I set it to have the light on for an hour and then off for 3. It did the job without letting the wine become warm while also not allowing it to freeze."

I think I got all of the important points across. Oh, and if you were wondering, we addressed the crystals because they are the biggest problem he has. He also has a lesser problem with the "floaters" he mentioned. These undoubtedly are from the yeast and will pass right through the coffee filters, but he knows about racking and can work it out after he removes the crystals. He's on the right road.

January 20th, 2012

I am making sourdough French bread as I write. Most of the work is done and the loaves are proofing. I mentioned proofing in a previous post and a friend called me just to ask what proofing was. He always thought it had something to do with proving how much alcohol is in a distillate. Well, that is one type of proofing.

I explained to my friend that "proofing" in baking is waiting for the dough to rise sufficiently to "prove" the presence of viable yeast to make a leavened bread. If you want light, airy loaves, you wait however long it takes for the shaped dough to expand to about double its original size.

So my dough "proofed" overnight. When I woke up it had expanded wonderfully. I then deflated it, let it rest a while and divided it into two loaves. The loaves are now sitting, covered, undergoing a second expansion or "proofing." This could take as little as two hours or as long as four. We shall see.

I was making bread and proofing my loaves while writing a previous blog -- on my birthday. I was making two loaves of German rye bread at the time, but I had injected my sourdough starter into the recipe and so it did indeed come out as a sourdough rye. I don't know how "German" it turned out, but it was delicious and I have since made two more. This last time, however, I put the recipe aside and just made the bread from my own understanding of breadmaking. I later looked at the recipe and saw that I had added ingredients not in it (sourdough starter, baking soda, vital wheat gluten, and King Arthur Flour Rye Bread Improver), but it came out just super!

Last night I wrote to a friend of many years and explained how odd it was that I was making rye bread and loving the results. Rye is not a favorite flavor of mine and indeed I have avoided it most of my life. But somewhere in my genes there must be some north country peasantry because once every 5-6 years I'll buy a loaf of pumpernickel, a pound of thin deli-slices of Black Forest Ham, a half pound of Baby Swiss, a jar of sliced Kosher Dills, a jar of Grey Poupon and then indulge in some sort of primeval gorging. Then I don't even think about it again until the next subconscious craving surfaces many years later.

All I can say is I am enjoying my breads immensely -- regular loaves of white and whole wheat, rye, potato, and blended wheat artisan boules -- all made with sourdough. I've had sourdough starters for decades -- in Colorado, San Francisco and here in Texas. I have always limited their use to pancakes, biscuits, rolls, and rarely bread. I always thought the breads were a lot of work but they are not. It simply requires becoming comfortable with the various steps -- and kneading. I like to knead the dough by hand and find it somehow relaxing and meditative, but I can use our $800 Electrolux Magic Mill DLX does-everything Mixer if I want. I have just begun to explore the possibilities.

Bluebonnets and Wine

<i>L. texensis</i>, photo by Thomas R. Hyde,  the 'Texas Photo Wrangler'

I was out among my vines, trying to decide if it is much too early to prune or just a little too early. I judge this not by the calendar but by the dormant buds along the canes. Small, tight, totally dormant buds tell me it is too early. But when the buds begin to "loosen up" and swell ever so slightly, I pay attention. I prune when the buds begin to swell to about twice their dormant size. So I was checking out the buds and looked down. That's when I noticed the growing carpet of bluebonnet plants among my vines.

The bluebonnet -- also spelled blue bonnet -- is the official state flower of Texas. This is not one flower, but five. Although approved by the legislature and Governor Joseph Sayers as the state flower in 1901, at that time they specified Lupinus subcarnosus as the official flower. It was soon noted that there are several species of bluebonnet native to Texas, and many people thought the L. texensis of Central Texas, with it's deep, royal blue base giving way to a richly hued azure and finally a white tip, was more attractive. The "bluebonnet debate" raged for 70 years, and at the insistence of no less than former First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson the matter was resolved in 1971. The legislature passed and Governor Preston Smith signed a resolution designating as the state flower of Texas Lupinus texensis and "...any other variety of Bluebonnet not heretofore recorded." Thus, Texas has five official state flowers:

  • Lupinus subcarnosus
  • Lupinus texensis
  • Lupinus Havardii
  • Lupinus concinnus
  • Lupinus plattensis
Budbreak among  the bluebonnets in Pleasanton, Texas

Getting back to my inspection of my vines' buds and noting the carpet of bluebonnet plants, none with a sign of flower anywhere in the near future, I remembered something important. In my little corner of Texas, the bluebonnets always bloom before the grapes break bud, and the bluebonnet carpet is always thick but without flowers when I prune my vines. Oh, those bluebonnets...so many memories.

I remember the time back in 1995 when my wife and I went for a drive in the Hill Country north of San Antonio and came upon what looked like a broad sea of bluebonnets. We stopped and walked out among them and then another car stopped and emptied itself to the blue landscape, and then another and another and soon there were dozens of people walking among the flowers. My wife, always outgoing, volunteered to take photos of all who broke out cameras, and after a while she began picking a bouquet of lovely blue flowers.

That's when someone told us it is against the law to pick bluebonnets in Texas. My wife hurriedly hid her collection in the car and we sneaked away like two kids caught in the act of doing something forbidden. We believed what the stranger had told us but later learned it is only against the law to pick the bluebonnets on state lands, like state parks and alongside state highways and roads. The flowers my wife picked were probably too far from the highway to be in the easement, but you never know. In any case they were wilted by the time we got home and placing them in water in a vase failed to revive them.

This discussion has progressed far enough for you to wonder when I am going to get to the story of and recipe for bluebonnet wine. So here it is.

When my wife's picked flowers wilted and would not revive after a day in water, my mind turned to the possibility I could use them to make wine. I realized I would have to risk arrest by picking many more, but I was willing to do so if the flowers suggested great potential. So I picked several flowers from a stalk and chewed them, but only briefly. They tasted slightly bitter -- not strong enough to be repulsive but just enough to be unpleasant. I spit them out and that was that.

Later, I learned that all parts of the plant contains alkaloids, most notably lupinine and sparteine, but these are most concentrated in the seeds. The alkaloids make the plants unpalatable to most herbivores, but cattle and sheep will eat them if other greenery is not available. The result can be lupin poisoning, a nervous syndrome similar to neurolathyrism. Ergo, no bluebonnet wine.

January 25th, 2012

Birdscapes Copper Festival Feeder

I had to break one of my rather expensive bird feeders. This one had a study plastic cylinder with metal facings around the four staggered, adjustable, feeding holes with perches underneath. As the morning's darkness turned to light, I noticed something odd about one of my feeders. From here, at my computer, it looked like a bird was actually inside the feeder.

Anyone who has read this blog faithfully over the last two years knows I have been fighting a non-stop battle with squirrels raiding the bird feeders. Evidently, a squirrel's pawing at the feeder openings turned one of the adjustable discs that opens or closes the individual feeder openings. As a result, one opening was about half open -- not a large opening at all -- and yet a small finch managed to fit itself through the opening and crawl inside. I honestly don't know how it managed to get its feet through there, let alone its body and wings, but it was inside and would never get out without destructive measures.

I tried to pry the metal fitting around one hole to do the least amount of damage. I couldn't do it. I then tried to remove a pin that is mounted crosswise near the top to prevent entry when the top is removed to load the feeder. I finally accomplished that, but only after breaking the cylinder itself where the pin was attached on one side. It is an irreparable break. I contemplated attempting a repair with super glue, but too many things would have to be aligned just right all at once with glue applied that I decided only the hands of two skilled surgeons could pull this off. I dumped the bird into my hand, it looked at me, hopefully in appreciation for my sacrifice in freeing it, and flew off.

I wished I had had a paint brush ready with a dab of orange paint on it to place a spot of orange on it's head so I could recognize it again if it returned to one of my feeders.

One of the most iconic symbols of America, possibly on par with the Statue of Liberty, is the Golden Gate Bridge. Perfectly sited and perfectly proportioned, it sings in the hearts of all who have seen it rising out of the fog that visits San Francisco regularly. The bridge is constantly being painted with a color formula I was told is orange vermillion. The painters, whose work is never finished, are frequently visited by seagulls, whose wings catch the breeze blowing in from the sea and allow them to hang motionless in the air while they inspect the painters and gliding toward them if it looks like they have something edible to offer. Long ago and many times since I heard the story of the painters reaching out and placing a spot of orange vermillion on the heads of the curious seagulls. For awhile, bird lovers in the region thought there was a new variety of seagull with orange crowns.

Chickweed Wine

Common  chickweed

I was looking out at a winter lawn the other day and noticed a couple of green spots floating on a sea of mostly brown grass. I went out to investigate and discovered my old friend, chickweed. I pinched off several arms of several plants and washed them in the kitchen. There wasn't nearly enough for wine yet, but what I had would go nicely in a salad.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is known variously as winterweed, satin flower, starwort, starweed, and tongue grass, to cite just a few American names. It is widely distributed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia and thus has many other names. It is widely used in folk medicine to treat asthma and respiratory and bronchial problems, indigestion, stomach and bowel problems, and externally for a whole host of applications. Traditional Chinese herbalists use it internally as a tea to treat nosebleeds, rheumatism and all forms of internal inflamation.

I do not pretend to know anything about it's efficacy as a treatment for anything, but can attest to its suitability fresh in salads, cooked as a vegetable, or the stalks of a larger variety being suitable for pickling. Further, I have many times made chickweed wine. While it is not a spectacular wine, it has won awards and is refreshing served chilled on a summer afternoon. I admit I have made tea from it several times when I had a cold, but cannot swear it played any part in their demise.

Chickweed Wine Recipe
  • 1 qt chickweed leaves, stems, flowers
  • 1 lb 12 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 can Welch's 100% pure white grape juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 lemon , zest and juice
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • water to make 1 gallon
  • wine yeast

The whole plant, except the roots, is used in the wine. Bring 6 1/2 pints water to boil. Meanwhile, wash the chickweed and zest the orange and lemon. Put the zest and chickweed in the primary and pour boiling water over them. When cool, strain the liquid back into the primary and discard the chickweed and zest or warm and serve as a vegetable with a meal. Add sugar, thawed grape juice concentrate and juice of the orange and lemon. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Add remaining ingredients and cover with clean cloth. Ferment 7 days, then pour into a sanitized secondary, top up and fit airlock. Rack every 30 days into a sanitized secondary until wine clears and no further sediments are dropped during a 30-day period. Add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet at 1st and 3rd racking. Stabilize wine with 1/2 tsp potassium sorbate and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, sweeten if desired and rack into bottles. This wine will not be remarkable until aged at least one year. It wins ribbons at two years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

One can dispense with the citrus fruit and use 1 1/2 teaspoons of acid blend instead, but I like the zest mixed in with the greens when I eat them. They are very nice tasting and terribly nutritious. And who knows? They might be performing unseen medicinal duties after consumption. I am certain the wine is....

A Tale of Hickory

Shagbark hickory nuts

At some point in the past I reminisced on this WineBlog about hickory pie. A very gracious reader wrote me and said I had done so much for his winemaking that the least he could do in return is send me some hickory nuts from his grandmother's tree. The nuts had already dropped when he wrote, so I had to wait until they dropped in 2011. And sure enough, about the middle of October a 13-pound box arrived from Etna, Pennsylvania loaded with hickory nuts.

The hickory tree (Carya ovata) tree is a cousin of the walnut and ancient parent of the pecan. I am told by folks older than me that Shagbark Hickories are the sweetest and best to eat, while the nut meats of the Pignut, Mockernut and Bitternut Hickories are practically inedible.

Sometimes I am a wee bit arrogant. I think I know what I'm doing and just dive right in and create a mess. That's what I did with the hickory nuts. I've opened tens of thousands of pecans and walnuts -- even the hard to open black walnuts -- so I plowed ahead and discovered I was in over my head -- destroying more nut meat than I was recovering.

Hickory nuts laugh at pecan crackers. We have a really cool hand-crafted nut cracker that never fails, but it could not crack but one in five hickories. I then retired to the garage where the hammers are kept. Little taps won't do it. That is one tough shell. A little more force and still nothing. So then I crank up the force index and hickory goes flying everywhere. I wrap the nut in an old wash cloth and capture the pieces, but the meat is smashed.

Google "easy way to open hickory nuts" and you get 1,620,000 hits, most of which are keying off words like "easy," "way," "open," "hickory," and "nuts."

Shagbark Hickory nut halves

But the first dozen are exactly what I was looking for. In fact, the very first one was paydirt and told me all I needed to know. I'm not going to go into the detail, but if you are curious it is the fourth link below.

When I had a whole 4 cups of hickory nut meats, I went looking for a killer recipe for hickory nut pie. Many recipes said to just use a pecan pie recipe and substitute hickories for the pecans. No way. I wanted a recipe that was tailored to the specific attributes of the hickory nut, so I spent an hour and five minutes pouring over recipes until I found the following recipe.

Remember when I said I am sometimes a wee bit arrogant? I followed the recipe to the tee, until I got to the part about dumping 1 cup of hickory nuts in the pie shell and topping the finished pie with another cup of hickory meats. I had a 2-cup measure full and another bowl with 2 cups in it, so I dumped two cups in. I had a retrospective and doubled the bourbon in the gooey mix. Every thing else was pretty much the same as called for. Then I had to pour a cup of hickory nuts on the top. But the two cups underneath sort of took up the room the nuts on top needed, so I carefully laid a single layer of nut pieces on top and carefull placed it in the oven. My advice: don't do this.

My second pie followed the recipe exactly and was fabulous. If you are wondering why doubling the meats and bourbon are bad ideas, it is because the nuts on the bottom are too thick and there isn't enough gooey stuff on top of the nuts to slither down and bind it all together. The nuts underneath took up too much room and the gooey stuff was sort of heaped on top. I was counting on my layer of nut meats to hold everything together but when heated up the gooey stuff just ran with gravity and the slope and dripped all over the bottom of the oven where it became carbon.

I neither saw nor tasted anything detrimental about doubling the bourbon, but once humility forced me to follow the recipe the second time I followed it to the letter. And the result the second time was truly delicious. I will admit that my third pie had quite a bit more bourbon in it than called for.

Hickory Bourbon Pie
  • 3/4 stick of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 Tblsp of bourbon
  • 2 cups hickory nuts
  • 1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked

Cream together the butter and dark brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla, salt, corn syrup, and bourbon. Blend all well. Put 1 cup hickory nuts on the bottom of the pie shell. Add pie mixture over the top and then add 1 more cup of hickory nuts on the top. Bake 55 to 60 minutes at 350° F. [Recipe found on the internet]

I regret that I did not record the website that I found the pie recipe on. I like to give credit where due.

January 30th, 2012

I am two days away from paying off our mortgage. I have never done that before, so it is a new experience. But it does not mean that a great sum of money will suddenly become available each month due to the payoff. Thirty-eight percent of each payment over the years was not dedicated to principal or interest, but rather to that nebulous term "escrow."

Escrow is, to me, somewhat akin to my pancreas. It does important things that must be done but beyond that is somewhat of a mystery to me. So, if escrow is really needed, what am I to do when I am no longer paying Bank of America to "take care of it" for me. So I called Bank of America.

Bank of America Home Loans

As anyone knows who has tried to call a Bank of America toll-free number, you are connected to a "voice menu" -- a pleasant voice controlled by instructions entered by a software programmer. The programmer was given a list of options to put into the "voice menu" system, none of which offered, "Press X to speak to a real live person." You can talk all you want to the pleasant voice delivering options you don't want to hear, but she will only hear certain words the programmer told her to expect and nothing more, and for all we know she could have passed away shortly after she recorded the options Bank of America stipulated. As our president loves to say when he is about to obfuscate something, "let me make this clear." I am not accusing Bank of America of having a hit man "rub out" the woman with the pleasant voice to forever hide the fact that they never presented her a line to read that sounded anything like "if you want to speak to a representative, press 0." All I am saying is what you hear is a recording and you should not assume the person behind the voice is a "live person." They certainly are not on the phone with you in person.

So I dialed a toll free number hidden in small print on my final mortgage payment statement and had to identify myself to assure Bank of America that the pleasant voiced woman's recording would not be wasted on a computer program dialing random numbers. I then had to enter my account number. When they want to know things like this you think you are getting somewhere. You aren't. You are merely assuring Bank of America that they have your money or they have your collateral and either way they have you by the...well, use the anatomical reference you prefer. Giving them your account number only starts the voice menu.

So I listened to the first set of options. These are very, very general, and of course none of them are close to what I wanted. So I said nothing. No problem. After a suitably long pause, the program looped and started over again. After the last non-relevant option, I very clearly said," I want to speak to a representative." After being informed my answer was not understood (you just know that is a lie), the program looped again. This time I selected an option relating to account information and fell right into their trap.

I will not relate all nine agonizing minutes of my encounters with the possibly deceased woman with the nice voice (no accusations, you understand, but...) but will, as they still say in the heartland of this great country, "cut to the chase." I finally said "representative" after yet another slate of non-helpful options and was told this was not a valid choice. I repeated it and they repeated that this was not a valid choice. After I uttered it the third time, the lady with the pleasant sounding voice (may she rest in peace) asked, "Do you want to speak to a representative?" I nearly wet myself with joy. "Yes! Yes I do," I shouted excitedly into the phone. She then made some telephone tones to make me think she was connecting me with someone and then, without warning, terminated our connection. WTF?

Fast forward two minutes. I am given a list of options and I repeatedly say, "representative" to everything the programmer throws at me. Finally, "Do you want to speak to a representative?" I tried my very best not to convey any emotion as I delivered my line: "Yes." There was a pause as some hidden instrument probably plotted my response on an "excitement index.". The program finally decided I didn't really care one way or another if I spoke to a representative and therefore there was no reason to screw around with me any longer. "One moment please while I connect you." Telephone tones. A ring. Harriet comes on the line.

I talked to her for somewhere around 40 minutes. I found out everything I wanted to know about my escrow account, that I would be responsible for making four payments over the year, every year, to my insurance company and three taxing entities. Did you know that part of your mortgage payment goes into escrow to pay a "hospital district" for people who go to emergency rooms without insurance for a bad case of the sniffles? I tried to discover who these people might be even though I had a good idea. Harriet could not -- or would not -- say. She probably knows what happened to the lady with the pleasant voice and she's not going to cross any lines. After all, Bank of America is recording this call "for training purposes." Clearly, Harriet does not want to discuss the "hidden costs" of the illegal immigration problem.

She keeps asking me if there is anything else. What an open question that is. Of course there is something else. Your stupid automated phone menu system hung up on me and I want a pound of flesh! Not literally, of course, but I'm not hanging up.

I ask if Bank of America has a service by which I continue sending in payments to cover my escrow and B of A continues making those four payments throughout the year. Harriet says no. I ask if she is sure. She says she is quite sure. I express my opinion that there is a great need for such a service. I ask Harriet if B of A has an employee suggestion program, where employees can enter a suggestion to the corporate higher ups that can improve the bottom line. She said yes. I say, "Harriet, you need to suggest that Bank of America start an escrow payment service. Collect the escrow money from mortgagees who have paid off their mortgages, add a couple of bucks a month to more than compensate B of A's expenses to run the program and send out four checks a year, and I'll bet the company would make millions. Nobody wants to face eviction because they forgot to pay their hospital district for the illegals. I would be the first to sign up!" I'm very enthusiastic about this. Harriet, not so much.

"Is there anything else I can help you with?" I told her my wife got some checks last week that were misprinted and it upset her greatly. I could hear her keyboard humming away. She asked if it was for X account or Y account? Hmmm, Harriet knew more than I suspected. "The joint account," I offered. "Would you like me to order new checks for your wife?" she asked. "I think she already did. But can you check?" That was something Harriet could not do. Bank of America contracts out the printing of checks. "Does Bank of America own the company that prints the checks?" I asked. Harriet did not know. "There's another suggestion, Harriet. If the company that prints the checks for Bank of America's customers makes a profit, B of A could buy them, keep the business 'in-house' as it were, and add numbers to the bottom line. Your suggestion could become a direct instrument of the company's future success." Again, I was excited. Harriet, not so much.

"Is there anything else I can help you with?" I had run out of ideas for making Bank of America more profitable. "I'm getting ready to open a bottle of wine. Do you prefer blackberry or pomegranate?" "Good afternoon, Sir, and thank you for trusting Bank of America." Wow. That's the second time today Bank of America hung up on me.

Dried Elderberry Wine

Dried  elderberries

Last year when we were busy getting things settled so we could leave without anxiety for our trip to Spain, I received quite a few emails I wish I had time then to answer but simply didn't. Oh, I answered some, but I always receive more email than I can answer and during that period I was especially frugal with my time. Answering them now would be pointless as their time has past, but one has nagged me because answering it would not have taken that long but it was a topic I could easily have gotten lost in for half a day. It had to do with making elderberry wine.

I will not go into the specifics of the question, but will simply answer it. If my memory serves me well, no, I have not published such a recipe. But I will. The problem with publishing an elderberry wine recipe in January is that elderberries will not be ready for harvest for another seven months, give or take a month. So I will publish one using dried elderberries you can make right now or any time of the year. Later below I will build upon this recipe to publish the recipe I was asked about.

You can buy dried elderberries from any local homebrew shop, most health food stores and online. The are widely available and if you have a dehydrator you can make them when the elderberries are ripe in late summer.

Dried Elderberry Wine Recipe
  • 6 1/4 oz dried elderberries
  • 6 1/4 oz white (golden) raisins
  • 1 lb 13 oz granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 oz acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet general purpose red wine yeast

Put raisins in small bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Strain raisins, discard water, return raisins to bowl, and add another 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside two hours. Strain again and chop raisins in blender, food processor or electric nut or coffee grinder in several short pulses. Place chopped raisins and dried elderberries in nylon straining bag, tie closed and place in primary. Add sugar to primary and then add 7 pints boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside.

After 12 hours add pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 12 hours. Remove 1/2 cup liquid and dissolve finely crushed Campden tablet in it. Add liquid back to primary and then add yeast nutrient and acid blend. Stir to blend, add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. Punch down bag twice daily for 3 days. Drip drain bag (squeeze if desired) and discard contents. Transfer liquid to secondary and affix an airlock.

Ferment 30 days and rack. Top up, reaffix airlock and set aside until wine clears. Rack again, adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, both dissolved into a cup of the wine. When completely dissolved, add to wine, top up if needed and reaffix airlock. Let stand in dark place 2 months, then rack, sweeten to taste if desired, reaffix airlock, and return to dark storage. Allow another 2 months and rack into bottles. Wait 6 months before tasting, longer for full maturity. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

In a previous dried elderberry wine recipe, I called for 4-5 1/4 ounces of dried elderberries and no raisins. This made a decent wine and I was always happy with it, until I tasted a better dried elderberry wine. The winemaker freely shared his secret but not the quantity -- increase the dried elderberries slightly and add raisins in the same amount. I had to work out the quantity.

Spiced Elderberry Wine

Jack Keller's Spiced Elderberry Wine  label

The original question I was asked is if I have ever published a recipe for spiced elderberry wine. I have not but have been meaning to. I have made this wine twice, using two different formulas. The second batch was so "right on" that I'm not sure I can improve upon it. Here it is, built upon the dried elderberry wine recipe just discussed.

First a word or two of caution. There are many qualities of cinnamon stick. Splurge and go first class. Ginger root comes in all sizes. For this recipe, it need not be very fat, it need not be peeled, and thinly sliced means 8-12 slices to the inch. There are small cloves and larger ones. I use larger ones, but if you are not especially fond of cloves use smaller ones or cut the quantity as you see fit, but do not leave them out altogether, please.

Spiced Elderberry Wine Recipe
  • 6 1/4 oz dried elderberries
  • 6 1/4 oz white (golden) raisins
  • 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 inch ginger root thinly sliced
  • about 20 cloves
  • 1 lb 13 oz light brown sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
  • 1 oz acid blend
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 sachet general purpose red wine yeast

Put raisins in small bowl and cover with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside 12 hours. Strain raisins, discard water, return raisins to bowl, and add another 2 cups boiling water. Cover and set aside two hours. Strain again and chop raisins in blender, food processor or electric nut or coffee grinder in several short pulses. Slice ginger root. Place chopped raisins, dried elderberries, cinnamon stick, sliced ginger, and cloves in nylon straining bag, tie closed and place in primary. Add brown sugar to primary and then add 7 pints boiling water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover primary and set aside.

After 12 hours add pectic enzyme, recover primary and set aside another 12 hours. Remove 1/2 cup liquid and dissolve finely crushed Campden tablet in it. Add liquid back to primary and then add yeast nutrient and acid blend. Stir to blend, add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. Punch down bag twice daily for 3 days. Drip drain bag (squeeze if desired) and discard contents. Transfer liquid to secondary and affix an airlock.

Ferment 30 days and rack. Top up, reaffix airlock and set aside until wine clears. Rack again, adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet, both dissolved into a cup of the wine. When completely dissolved, add to wine, top up if needed and reaffix airlock. Let stand in dark place 2 months, then rack, sweeten to taste if desired, reaffix airlock, and return to dark storage. Allow another 2 months and rack into bottles. Wait 6 months before tasting, longer for full maturity. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

February 2nd, 2012

The Passing of 'The Grape Grower'

Lon Rombough, among his vines

Late yesterday I received news of the passing this past Monday of someone I thought of as a friend, although we'd never met. We began exchanging emails in 2003 after the publication of his book, The Grape Grower, a masterful work detailing every aspect of grape growing I wanted to know and some I did not. Most importantly, he opened my eyes to the actual science of grape breeding, the deliberate cross-pollination of two species in an attempt to improve the pollen recipient by injecting one or more traits from the pollen donor. Of course I knew the mechanics from reading some of the 19th century American pioneers. Lon Rombough made it truly understandable to even me.

Lon started growing grapes in his early teens and went on to do graduate work in plant breeding and Viticulture at U. C. Davis, where he studied under and formed a lifetime bond with grape breeder Dr. H. P. Olmo. Lon has been growing and testing grape varieties on his own ever since, for four decades, and grew over 200 varieties in Oregon. He grew many unusual fruit, wrote articles for many publications, sold grape cuttings, lectured and gave presentations, and was a horticultural consultant.

The canned piece on Lon, from one of his websites, goes like this: "Lon Rombough's background includes: Two degrees in horticulture, plus Ph.D level work in plant breeding and genetics; 40+ years experience with several hundred varieties and species of plants; working for and with organizations such as the National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Corvallis, Oregon, North American Fruit Explorers, and the Seed Savers Exchange." It's all enough to impress you, but does not tell you who the man was.

The news of Lon's passing came from one of his sons via email. His email was also forwarded to me by three other friends, each of whom is dear to me although, like Lon, I have never met two of them. Chris Rombough wrote:

"If you are receiving this email, you are his friend, and I wanted to let you know what happened. I am sorry I could not inform each of you more personally. My dad died Monday afternoon of what was probably a heart attack. He was 62.

"My dad was a great man. He was intelligent, kind, and always ready to help anyone in need. He loved his plants. His interest was endless and his passion was infectious. He was the bravest and the best man I have ever met, and he was my hero.

"I want you all to know that he loved you, his friends and considered you all a great blessing."

Now that tells you who the man was.

Lon Rombough,  The Grape Grower

At the urging of Luke Clark I joined an e-group called GrapeBreeders. Lon Rombough was the moderator if not the actual founder. Around the same time I joined MunsonManiacs, another e-group with a passion for the work and the grapes of the late, great, grape breeder T. V. Munson; Lon was there as well, full of vigor, helpfulness and knowledge. Sometimes I think he suppressed his knowledge and asked questions he knew the answer to just to provoke a discussion. He loved discussions. He did not care for conflict or junk science.

Once an e-group discussion turned to global warming. This was before the massive evidence was discovered that the global warming grant cultivators were deliberately skewing, and even manufacturing, the evidence to support their agenda. I had been critical of this topic because I remembered when the people looking for grant money were claiming we were heading for another ice age and a scientist from the newly formed NOAA warned that climate change is cyclic. I introduced all the evidence I could find to debunk the Al Gore hysteria. After a couple of days of back and forth, mainly between me and a young zealot who had evidently drank the global warming kool aid, Lon announced that henceforth the proper term in this group's emails would be climate change, and he would expel the next person who mentioned global warming. Lon had our respect, and that gave him authority.

Ron wrote me once with questions about Viburnum rufidulum, commonly Southern Black Haw. I had no hidden knowledge of this small tree (large shrub) and so I compiled a couple of pages from the internet and sent them to him. He wrote back asking where I got the berries to make my Black Haw Wine. I related a story of happening upon a tree near Beaumont, Texas. It was loaded with berries and I filled a plastic bag. Having no idea what these berries were or even if they were edible I asked an old fellow sitting on his porch just down the road. He looked at the berries and said they were Nannyberries -- make good pie and jelly. It was not until I got home and searched "Nannyberry" that I discovered they were more commonly called Southern Black Haws. Ron wrote back asking permission to use the story in a future project. He asked that of several of my stories.

Lon wrote several of us just three weeks ago, excited his new book was coming out later this year. The announced title was, The Bountiful Grape: Using Everything the Grape Vine Produces. I am looking forward to it.

I always planned to go visit him when I next visited my sister in Oregon. It never happened. I am so sorry. I will miss his insightfulness, his helpfulness and his friendliness. My profoundest sympathies go out to his family and many friends.

February 5th, 2012

I'm probably going to get a lot of static for this intro, but I hope not. There is a TV commercial out there for AT&T Mobile to Mobile service that just tickles me. After chuckling over it when it aired again a while ago, I typed "The Silent Treatment TV Commercial" into Google and was pleasantly surprised when it was there on YouTube.

Forget the absurdity of the scenario for a minute (a girl is calling her boyfriend for the eighth time to tell him she is giving him "the silent treatment") and just look at the girl's face. Lovely, very subtle expressions....

You might not think it's cute. We all have different tastes. But I like it. A lot.

Heck, I like the Geico commercial in the country dancehall with the gecko dancing at the end. Yes, I know some guys never got past the gorgeous blonde on the right at the 15-18-second mark while others were eying the steak, but it was the dancing gecko and the song that got me. In fact, the 10 seconds of song in that commercial got stuck in my head. I finally went on a search to find out what song it was and who was playing it. Yes, we all have our strange moments, but in fact the song is called "Central Daylight Time" and the band is Wrinkle Neck Mules. You can't make that up....

Did you know (or even suspect) that there is a contest involving the gecko's dance? Oh yeah. You learn the dance by going to one site, then film yourself doing the dance and email your clip to an address (geckoassistant@geico.com). And you can download the song, "Central Daylight Time", to dance to, at the second link following this day's entry. But first, here's the commercial for those who have no idea what I'm taking about....

Emails from various friends living in the northern tier of states complain of rain (Pacific Northwest) or snow (everywhere else) and lots of it. Indeed, there has been widespread hardship and outright tragedy caused by too much precipitation in too short a period of time. I cannot imagine my home being flooded while the temperature hovers just below 40° F. That spells nothing but heartache, misery and a long chest cold or worse. Say a prayer for those evicted by nature unleashed.

I woke up the other day with a hidden memory freshly recovered. An old friend once told the story of a time back in Wisconsin in the '50s, he was a kid, and they woke up to something like 4 feet of fresh snow. They couldn't even break a path to the street. His father was getting bundled up to go shovel snow when there was a knock at the door.

Under the circumstances, they simply knew no one could get through to the door so they were flabbergasted when the doorbell rang. They opened the door and there was the mailman. He had a thick letter for them with insufficient postage and he was there to collect the 2 cents postage due! Yes, he kicked a path to the door for 2 cents! It probably took him a good half hour and a lot of effort. Those pre-union days when getting the mail through was the only thing that mattered are surely gone, but what a great reminder of what we have lost....

Strawberry-Chocolate Wine


I smelled them the moment I walked into the supermarket because the display of strawberries was just inside and to the right. I looked at them and felt the saliva flowing. I raced through Produce and collected just the items on my list and then set a speed record to the fruit section of the frozen foods. I looked and looked, but the only frozen sliced strawberries they had were in tiny, 8-oz cartons which, ounce for ounce, cost about 60% more than the fresh. Back to produce.

If you wonder why my first instinct was to look for frozen sliced strawberries, the reason is simple. Strawberries are picked and rushed to a processing station where they are culled for ripeness, size and quality. The very ripest berries will never make it to the store before turning brownish and mushy and probably growing a mold carpet. These are washed, blow dried and either flash frozen whole, sliced, packaged and frozen, or moved to a juicing line.

The ones that are not ripe are packed and ripen on the way to markets. Rather, they look like they ripen as they do change to a more uniform and darker red. But the truth is that they are as ripe as they ever will be when they are picked, as once the stem is severed no more sugar flows from the roots to the berry.

So, given the choice I would rather buy the tubs of frozen sliced strawberries. Thawed, they just reek ripeness. But in the end I bought four pounds of fresh, but only after picking them over pretty good to get the very best berries I could. Even then I found eight strawberries to be too "pink" when I got home: I ate them. Waste not, want not. They were far from ripe.

Chocolate-dipped strawberry

As the title of this section hints at, I decided to make strawberry-chocolate wine. Those who have followed this web site over the years know that the first time I tasted a chocolate wine I was not only unimpressed, I was practically nauseated by the experience. I firmly steered people away from attempting such a wine, but later tasted and then made an absolutely wonderful chocolate covered cherry wine, so I knew there could be other exceptions.

Then one day I received an email from a very reputable source who told of a to-die-for orange-chocolate wine being produced by a small winery in Florida. A few months later another good source told of an orange-chocolate wine being produced in Oregon. I began experimenting and published a resume of my failures.

About a year later a couple in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee sent me some wine samples to evaluate. Two of them were fruit and chocolate marriages. They shared with me their secret and I published it here. Ever since, fruit and chocolate wines have been very popular. Many, many people give me credit, but the credit goes to the couple in Tennessee who did not care that I shared their secret. The only secret is their names, as they have never said I could publish it.

The fruit wines are fermented fairly straight-forward with one exception, and that is the integration of the chocolate in the form of cocoa powder. Here's how it's done.

Strawberry-Chocolate Wine Recipe

  • 4lbs fresh (or frozen sliced) strawberries
  • 2 lbs 4 oz sugar
  • 1 can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 4 oz (by weight) Dutched cocoa powder (see article following this one)
  • 1 tsp acid blend
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Lalvin W15 or Red Star Côte des Blancs wine yeast

Wash and thinly slice the fresh strawberries, depositing them in a nylon straining bag. Tie bag and set aside in bowl. Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts water to boil. Place sugar in primary and pour approximately 1 quart boiling water over sugar. Stir until thoroughly dissolved. Stir in grape tannin, acid blend and yeast nutrient. Set nylon bag of sliced strawberries in primary and add remaining 2 quarts boiling water . Cover and allow to cool 4 hours. Place 2 cups cold water in blender. Turn on blender at its lowest setting and add cocoa powder one heaping tablespoon at a time. When all powder is in and mixed, add pectic enzyme and mix additional 10 seconds. Stir cocoa mixture into primary, around sides of nylon bag, while stirring. Cover primary and set aside 1-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution while stirring. Cover primary and set aside.

Stir and punch down bag 2-3 times daily. At end of third day of fermentation raise bag and allow to drip drain while gently squeezing bag. If any pulp escapes bag stop squeezing and drip drain only. Discard contents of bag. Add thawed grape juice concentrate, stir and transfer to secondary. Affix an airlock but do not top up. After additional 3 days of fermentation, check specific gravity. Mine was just a hair's width below 1.000.

Check daily until s.g is at or below 0.994 and add a slurry of Bentonite and water, prepared according to manufacturer's instructions. Stir well and set airlock. Stir hourly for next 4-6 hours. Bentonite will settle within 2-3 days but allow 5 just to be sure. Rack, stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside 2 months. Rack again, top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional month and if there is a fine dusting on the bottom of secondary, rack, top up and reattach airlock. Wait additional month and check again for dusting of dead yeast. When no dusting is evident, you may assume all yeast are dead and can now sweeten to taste, either with sugar in a simple syrup, clarified strawberry juice or a strawberry mixer (Bacardi, Orchard Splash, Cocktail Dancers, etc.).

Whichever you use, do a trial first. Sweeten a tiny bit at a time, taking notes, and when it tastes too sweet go back two increments. For example, if you are sweetening a 100 mL sample and you are sweetening 1 mL at a time, if 6 mL is too sweet, go back two increments to 4 mL and scale that up to your overall batch. Why two increments instead of one? The wine will gain some sweetness as it ages. After sweetening, allow another month and then, if no tiny bubbles appear around the edge of the secondary, bottle. Allow at least 4 months before tasting, but 6-8 months is better. {Jack Keller's own recipe]

Dutched Cocoa Powder

Valrhona Cocoa Powder

If you have shopped for cocoa powder in any sizeable supermarket, you probably know there are choices. But if your choices are between Baker's, Hershey's and Nestle's, you might consider looking for a larger supermarket. Even then, your choices may be limited but could open up a couple more brands. Why is this important? Because all cocoa powder is not the same, and if you are making a base-chocolate wine, you want the right kind.

At the most basic level, there are essentially two kinds of cocoa -- natural and "Dutched." Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (actually, cacao) beans that have been washed with a alkaline solution to neutralize their acidity. Natural cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted, pressed to extract at least half the cocoa butter and then pulverized into a fine powder.

Natural cocoa powder and chocolate contain more antioxidants because the "Dutching" process removes some; "heavy Dutching" removes as much as 90%. However, experts tell us that cocoa is so rich in antioxidants that removing 90% still leaves it in the "super-antioxidant" class of foods.

Natural cocoa powder has a richer, more acrid aroma, but accordingly has a more acidic and bitter taste. Contrary to intuition, natural cocoa powder is lighter in color and more difficult to dissolve in water. Dutch-processed cocoa has less acidity, a smoother flavor and darker, redder color, and it is also more soluble, which is really important when making wine. .

So, which kind is best for integrating into wine. If you are used to making base-chocolate wines from natural cocoa powder and know how to adjust the amount to balance the acidity, then natural cocoa is probably your best choice except with more delicately flavored base ingredients like strawberry, kiwi, mint, nectarine, and peach. These bases can easily be overwhelmed by a rich, natural cocoa flavor and leave you wondering what the base actually was.

The first time I made strawberry-chocolate wine the strawberries were frozen slices and very flavorful, but I only used 2 1/2 pounds and a rich natural cocoa. Only the aroma hinted at what was under the chocolate. Still, the aroma was so intense that everyone "tasted" strawberries when in reality they didn't. This was proven when we all pinched closed our noses while drinking the wine and all but one admitted not being able to discern the strawberries.

When it comes to baking with cocoa powder, the type you use is dependent on the recipe. If it calls for natural cocoa powder, you must use it or risk having a flat or dry product. Natural cocoa, you'll remember, is more acidic. As a result it reacts with baking soda and causes a leavening (rising) action within the batter and finished baked goods. If the recipe isn't clear on which type to use but calls for baking soda, use natural unsweetened cocoa powder. If the recipe leaves out baking soda but includes baking powder, use a Dutch-processed cocoa powder. It's all in understanding what various ingredients do for a recipe. The same applies to winemaking recipes.

The following are some of the Dutch-processed cocoa powders I've identified, although most will never cross your path in a supermarket. I have only found the Hershey's, Ghiridelli, Lindt, and Penzeys. I am told the U.S. military commissaries occasionally carry Pernigotti and Van Houten but I honestly have never looked for them when I shop there. However, you can buy any of them (and a lot more) online. As I said, these are some:

  • Bensdorp Cocoa Powder "Royal Dutch"
  • Callebaut Belgian Chocolate "Belgian Cocoa Powder"
  • Droste Cocoa Powder
  • Ghiridelli Chocolate Dutch Process Cocoa Powder "Superior"
  • Ghiridelli Chocolate Dutch Process Cocoa Powder "Sunrise"
  • Guittard Cocoa Powder, Full Dutched Process "Jersey Cocoa"
  • Guittard Cocoa Powder, Full Dutched Process "Perfection Cocoa"
  • Hershey's Special Dark Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Lindt Dutch Process Cocoa
  • Michel Cluizel French Chocolate Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Penzeys Dutch Process Cocoa
  • Pernigotti Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
  • Poulain Dutch Cocoa Powder
  • Rademaker Dutch Processed Cocoa
  • Ramstadt-Breda Medium Dark Cocoa (France)
  • Ramstadt-Breda Rich Dark Cocoa (Holland)
  • Valrhona Pure Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • Van Houten Premium Dutch Cocoa

There are also some non-branded, generic Dutched cocoa powders that reportedly are high quality. Most notable of these are Pier 1 Imports, Trader Joes and nuts.com. But they also sell natural cocoa powders, so read the descriptors carefully or ask before you buy.

I do think I will splurge soon and order some Valrhona Pure Unsweetened Cocoa Powder online. Absolutely every authority I've read rates it as the very best...with a price to match. But I know I am mortal and would like to taste the very best once before I check out.

One last thing, most of the online recipes for base-chocolate wines were ripped from my site or adapted from my 2007 recipes. I don't really care about that except if you copy you are supposed to attribute the source. My greater concern is that most copiers and adapters see "4 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder" in the ingredients but fail to notice (or understand) the following: "I measured the cocoa powder in dry ounces...." Over and over again I see the cocoa in the ingredients listed as "4 oz (1/2 cup) Hershey's Cocoa Powder". There is a huge difference between a half cup and 4 ounces by weight. Four ounces -- that's 114 grams -- of cocoa powder is a lot more than a half cup, in which case you may very well want to use Dutch processed cocoa powder.

February 13th, 2012

I have not received any negatives so far of the two videos I linked to in my last WineBlog entry. Could it be that my tastes are more mainstream than I thought?

But I have received plenty of emails and messages concerning the strawberry-chocolate wine recipe and discussion of Dutched chocolate I featured last week. All of it was appreciative or experience-sharing. There are a lot of people out there struggling in their own ways, as I once did, to make chocolate-flavored wines without really knowing how. I'm glad I could help so many.

Humorous picture of man cleaning a  computer
Website Housecleaning

A very kind lady advised me of some broken or dead links in my list of winemaking and homebrew shops and recommended a couple more, which I added. These were only in Texas, and I fear the other states have suffered attrition and renewal as well. If you know of a local homebrew shop on the list that is no more, or know of one not on the list, please be so kind as to let me know about it. If you don't tell me what is and isn't anymore, chances are I'm not going to know.

It pained me to go to Paul's Elderberry Page, that friendly site in the UK for many years, only to find the link failed. If anyone can tell me what happened to it (and Paul), I would be most appreciative.

If you find a dead link on my site, please send me an email informing me of such. And it would help greatly if you tell me where the dead link is located. With almost five hundred web pages in this site, I simply cannot remember where every link is located.

Photo Cropping the Alhambra

The Alhambra at  Granada, Spain

This has nothing to do with wine but everything to do with preserving memories. The Alhambra at Granada, Spain is a unique, monumental and exquisite complex of military functionality, palatial grandeur and aesthetic splendor. Rising with the topography of the hill called La Sabica, it dominates the city below while hiding its own magnificence from the outside world. Today it is owned by the nation of Spain and anyone can visit it and the Generalife (pronounced 'he·ne·rah·lee·fay'), an adjacent series of perfumed gardens and serene galleries which, collectively, make a statement that literally overwhelms the senses. If the Alhambra is not on your list of places to visit before you die you should seriously consider putting it there. Every person would be enriched by visiting it at least once.

The problem with the Alhambra is that there is so much of it to see, to understand, to appreciate. Everywhere one looks one is reminded that the Moors who built it were mathematically precise and artistically accomplished.

We took scores, perhaps hundreds, of photographs, but lacked the time, focus or skills to concentrate on taking them. In rooms, galleries and courtyards of breathtaking grandeur, one could only point and shoot and hope some small essence of what we saw was captured and later revealed through careful photo cropping. The task is doubly daunting because in my case I only have what we shot to work with and I have the simplest of photo editing software. I can't even straighten a slightly tilted shot.

A portion of the previous photo of an  Alhambra courtyard and galleries
A  glimpse at a courtyard in the Alhambra

My wife paused and shot this hurried glimpse of the Patio de los Leones (left) from the flank, an unusual shot looking through one of the pavilions located at either end of this magnificent courtyard. I cropped 15 aspects of this one photo which I will not bore you with, but two of them illustrate what is possible even for the untalented and with very unsophisticated technology.

The slice of columns and arches (right) pleases me greatly. It does not show the larger complexity but does portray an almost enigmatic depth and shows some of the detailed stone carvings that were everywhere one looked. The delicate, polished columns frame a shrub which is uncharacteristically in need of a manicure. Yes, the focus could have been sharper but this is a point-and-shoot digital that still resolved details seemingly unrecorded here. For example, the vertical panels above each column contain intricately carved designs which can be resolved with sufficient zoom.

The selection below reveals some details and suggests far more of the same throughout the depth of the picture. In truth, almost all the details are recoverable at higher zoom, and a student of 14th century Arabic might be able to read the many stylized inscriptions. The single window visible on the far wall is plain, possibly to an apartment. The buildings surrounding this particular courtyard contained apartments and rooms dedicated to leisure and pleasure, for this part of the Alhambra was the harem, built in the latter half of the 14th century by Muhammed V.

A detail of the previous  photo of an Alhambra courtyard and galleries
A  different view of the Patio de los Leones

The photo on the left is a more traditional view of the Lions Court (Patio de los Leones). The previous picture and croppings were taken from the left. The fountain it the center of the courtyard is surrounded by 12 lions. The pavilion in the foreground, a templette of three arches, is mirrored at the far end of the courtyard. If memory serves, there are 124 columns, many of them double, incorporated in the courtyard.

The photo below, cropped, shows an intricately decorated entranceway with three ached doorways to another palatial complex within the walled city. Almost every ceiling is different but we captured so few that this picture is a definite keeper. And just try to imagine the number of artisans employed to produce this one wall and ceiling. The totality throughout the Alhambra simply boggles the mind.

An ornate wall, doorways  and ceiling at the Alhambra
One of several dancing water gardens in the  Generalife at the Alhambra

The picture at the right of the Patio de la Acequia is not cropped at all. You are seeing it at 350 X 197 pixels, but at it's natural size (4288 X 2416) details jump out at you -- hundreds of flowers and individual droplets of water in the jets of water to name a few. Had my wife been standing a foot or so to the left, it would be obvious that the waters are being shot up from both sides of the long pond and the impacts of the left and right jets are at the same points in the pond, a precision that probably escapes most visitors. These and all the other dancing waters, fountains and sprays were built in the 14th and 15th centuries and were originally powered by gravity from cisterns located on still higher ground and fed by aqueducts bringing water from the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. The engineering of these waters by the Moors was clearly superior to that of the indigenous peoples they conquered and the Christians who later conquered them, as evidenced by many of the waterworks failing to function until the displaced Moors were invited back to get them working again.

A rose in a  garden at the Alhambra

The rose at the left was shot by my wife. The only cropping necessary was to center it. It is not the most perfect rose, but it was very fragrant and the focus was near perfect for a point-and-shoot camera. I give much credit to the state for doing its best to maintain the gardens as they were originally planted. One sees a pink rose in a partucular spot and does not question whether that is the flower that was originally planted there by the Moors when they established the many gardens in the Alhambra. But we are told yes, that what you see today is what was originally there, as best as can be determined from historical research. Knowing that makes the experience of wandering through the gardens all the more enjoyable.

There is no way to display the grandeur of the Alhambra and Generalife, the adjacent gardens and apartments within the walls, in just a few photos. Nor was that my purpose. I simply wanted to demonstrate that even seemingly poor photographs can be mined for interesting content with minimal skill and the most basic of software.

To get a better look at the Alhambra, reward yourself and do a search. Use the internet to access the wealth of information and photography out there to look at and read. I will not suggest any links, but leave it to you to find what you can. If you look, you will find. And by all means, if you have not walked through it in person, start planning a vacation to southern Spain with a stop in Granada.

Orange-Chocolate Port

My  Orange-Chocolate Port label

Some years back I gave Lesley Lunt and Martin Benke a bottle of my Orange-Chocolate Port. At a recent meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild at their party house on Lake Corpus Christi, following a fantastic meal of battered shrimp, oysters and white bass with at least a dozen and a half side dishes and desserts, Martin broke out that 5-year old gift and we sat back, stuffed and satiated, and enjoyed it immensely. Having just received another supply of dark Dutched cocoa, I decided to make some more.

Originally, I did not use Dutched cocoa in this port. Even after 5 years, you can still taste a very slight bitterness from the Hershey's unsweetened natural cocoa. As I said last week, that is one of the detractors of the natural cocoa powders. The Dutch-processed cocoas do not have this bitterness and that is why I will be using it in my new batch. Still, I have to admit, the 5-year old port was pretty darned good. You could definitely taste the orange immediately, while the chocolate caught up with you in the finish and persisted for quite some time. In a word, it was "delicious".

I will share with you the recipe, but you will have to calculate the amount of brandy to add at the end. It is not difficult, and I will even provide you a calculator to assist, but you must keep good records so you can enter the correct numbers in the calculator.

  • 2 cans frozen orange juice concentrate, no pulp
  • 2 pounds sugar
  • 4 dry ounces (by weight) unsweetened Dutched cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid (or acid blend)
  • 1/4 level teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • 1 tablespoon orange extract
  • water to raise volume to one gallon
  • Montrachet, Champagne or any wine yeast with a 12-15% alcohol by volume range
  • Napoleon (or any other) brandy (you must calculate the volume needed)

Thaw orange concentrate and pour into a primary with a 1-gallon mark. If you don't have one, before you start add a gallon of water to your primary and mark the waterline with indelible ink, paint or fingernail polish. Add sugar, acid, tannin powder, yeast nutrient, and 2 quarts warm-to-hot water. Stir until sugar is dissolved and top up to 1-gallon mark. At this point, use a hydrometer to measure your specific gravity and WRITE IT DOWN! Allow to cool to 95 degrees or cooler and place 2 cups of must in a blender. Turn blender on to slowest speed and add cocoa powder 1 tablespoon at a time. When all 4 ounces are well blended, stir into primary. Pitch activated dry yeast and cover the primary with a clean towel, muslin or plastic wrap. Stir 2-4 times daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (usually in 5 to 10 days).

Rack or transfer to 4-liter secondary (1-gallon secondary if you do not have a 4-liter one), top up only to the bottom of the neck of the secondary and attach an airlock. During next day or two cocoa powder will rise with air bubbles to neck of secondary. Use a small spoon, butter knife or other instrument to remove as much as you can. Repeat as required (usually only once is sufficient).

In 3 weeks, prepare a Bentonite slurry according to the manufacturer's instructions; this usually takes several hours. When slurry is completely liquefied and cool, rack wine into clean secondary, shake or stir Bentonite slurry to agitate, and add about 2 tablespoons to wine. Stir wine well, attach airlock, and stir again every 6-8 hours for 2 days. Let rest until wine clears and then wait 2 more days. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. In 60 days, rack again, measure the specific gravity and WRITE IT DOWN! Add one tablespoon of orange extract (not a drop more!). Based on starting specific gravity and finished specific gravity, calculate alcohol content (see first link immediately following this recipe). Now calculate how much brandy you will need to add to bring wine up to 20% alcohol (see second link immediately following this recipe). Add brandy (you may have to move wine to a larger container to accommodate the addition of the brandy). Stir and bottle immediately. Wait at least 6 months before tasting [Jack Keller's own recipe]

  • Using Your Hydrometer, go to table, find starting s.g. and potential alcohol (PA) in far right column. If finished s.g. is 1.000, the starting PA is the alcohol by volume (ABV). If finished s.g. is 0.998, add 0.3 to starting PA; if 0.996, add 0.6; if 0.994, add 0.8, if 0.992, add 1.1; if 0.990, add 1.4.
  • Blending Wines, use the first calculator (Blending to Adjust Alcohol). Enter % desired alcohol, the ABV of your finished wine, the ABV of the brandy and click "submit". The answer will be in parts. Suppose you want a 20% port, have a 13% finished wine, an 80-proof brandy (40% ABV), the result will be 20 parts wine to 7 parts brandy. A US gallon contains 128 ounces; divide by 20 = 6.4 ounces per "unit"; 7 X 6.4 = 44.8 ounces of brandy (3 pints = 48 ounces) to raise the wine to 20% ABV.
  • Conversion and Equivalents, might prove useful in your calculations
  • Free PC Services, secure your computer, my site
  • Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support

February 16th, 2012

I've received very good feedback on my Orange-Chocolate Port and Strawberry-Chocolate Wine recipes. They have inspired several to try other chocolate infusions. Among these are Elderberry-Chocolate, Blackberry-Chocolate, Banana-Pineapple-Coconut-Chocolate, Strawberry-Kiwi-Chocolate, Black Raspberry-Chocolate, Merlot-Chocolate, Chardonnay-Chocolate, and Apricot-Chocolate. Way to go folks! Just send me a small sample bottle of each one....

Looking back through my notes on the orange-chocolate port, I see that I made two versions. Oddly, I do not recall actually doing so but must have, as I found bottles of three distinct batches. Funny how I did not recall this while writing up the previous recipe. The second recipe is a "Dark Orange-Chocolate Port," which is actually what Martin served us although the label on their bottle was the one on my last WineBlog entry. The first time I made the "dark" I must have used the previous label, which makes no mention of the grape concentrate. I can find no separate "Dark" label for 2007. The "dark" color is from red grape concentrate. I made it twice -- 2007 and 2008.

Hershey's 100% Cacao Special  Dark

I was asked about Hershey's Cocoa Powder. The key is the word "Natural." If it appears on the label, it is not Dutched cocoa. Hershey's starting making a Dutch-process cocoa in 1989 that was in a silver can. As with all good things, they decided to "improve" it and in the process ruined it. Their new offering is in a chocolate colored can with a brickish-red lower panel announcing "Special Dark", under which is, "A Blend of Natural and Dutched Cocoas".

Can you use the Hershey's? Yes, but it will retain some of the bitterness of the natural cocoa. It should, however, work better with dark wines such as Merlot, Zinfandel and Noble Muscadine. I say this based on pairing several chocolates with wine some time back at a San Antonio Regional Wine Guild meeting. I don't know about blackberry, elderberry and black raspberry. The only way to know is to try it, and if you are going to do that and if you have enough fruit you might as well make two batches -- Hershey's Special Dark and a purely Dutched cocoa. But by all means shoot us the results.

A Second Orange-Chocolate Port

2008 Dark Orange-Chocolate Port label

As I mentioned in the introduction, while looking back through my notes on the orange-chocolate port I discovered a second page and saw that I made two versions. As you can see on the label, it is a "Dark Orange-Chocolate Port" -- the "dark" color is from red grape concentrate. I made it twice -- 2007 and 2008 -- and the 2007 is what Martin served us. There are two ways to make the "Dark" and I will mention both.

Back in 2007 I had a can of Zinfandel concentrate which I used in several wines to add color and a vinous quality (body) to non-grape wines. After opening the can I poured the leftover concentrate into a whiskey bottle and kept it in the refrigerator. Late, after using more of it, I moved the remainder to a smaller bottle to control the ullage. By 2008 the cup or so that remained had oxidized and I used Welch's 100% Red Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate instead. The batch made with the Zinfandel was superior to the one made with the Welch's, although it too was very good. The recipe below simply states, "red grape concentrate". You can use either kind -- a varietal or a frozen concentrate.

  • 2 cans frozen orange juice concentrate, no pulp
  • 2 pounds sugar
  • 11 fluid ounces red grape concentrate
  • 4 dry ounces (by weight) unsweetened Dutched cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid (or acid blend)
  • 1/4 level teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons yeast nutrient
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon orange extract
  • water to raise volume to one gallon
  • Montrachet, Champagne or any wine yeast with a 12-15% alcohol by volume range
  • Napoleon (or any other) brandy (you must calculate the volume needed)

Thaw orange concentrate and pour into a primary with a 1-gallon mark. Add sugar, red grape concentrate, acid, tannin powder, yeast nutrient, and 2 quarts hot water. Stir until sugar is dissolved and top up to 1-gallon mark. At this point, use a hydrometer to measure your specific gravity and WRITE IT DOWN! Allow to cool to 95 degrees or cooler and place 2 cups of must in a blender. Turn blender on to slowest speed and add cocoa powder 1 tablespoon at a time. When all 4 ounces are well blended, stir into primary. Pitch activated dry yeast and cover the primary with a clean towel, muslin or plastic wrap. Stir 2-4 times daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (usually in 5 to 10 days).

Rack or transfer to 4-liter secondary (1-gallon secondary if you do not have a 4-liter one), top up only to the bottom of the neck of the secondary and attach an airlock. During next day or two cocoa powder will rise with air bubbles to neck of secondary. Use a small spoon, butter knife or other instrument to remove as much as you can. Repeat as required (usually only once is sufficient).

In 3 weeks, prepare a Bentonite slurry according to the manufacturer's instructions; this usually takes several hours. When slurry is completely liquefied and cool, rack wine into clean secondary, shake or stir Bentonite slurry to agitate, and add about 2 tablespoons to wine. Stir wine well, attach airlock, and stir again every 6-8 hours for 2 days. Let rest until wine clears and then wait 2 more days. Rack, top up and reattach airlock. In 60 days, rack again, measure the specific gravity and WRITE IT DOWN! Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange extract. Based on starting specific gravity and finished specific gravity, calculate alcohol content (see first link immediately following this recipe). Now calculate how much brandy you will need to add to bring wine up to 20% alcohol (see second link immediately following this recipe). Add brandy (you may have to move wine to a larger container to accommodate the addition of the brandy). Stir and bottle immediately. Wait at least 6 months before tasting [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Removing Red Wine Stains

Red wine spill, from  http://pinotblogger.com/2006/08/09/how-to-get-red-wine-out/

If you drink red wine, sooner or later you're going to spill some on something you wish you hadn't. My wife spilled some Merlot on a yellow cotton blouse and did the wrong things. We're going to explore the right ways to do it so you'll know what to do when it happens.

First and foremost, you simply must treat the stain before it dries. My wife took off her blouse and put on a dry one and the stained one dried out before she attempted to treat it. If you cannot treat it immediately, at least isolate the stain and try to keep it wet. That doesn't mean soaking it, rolling it up and putting it in a plastic bag, for all that will do is spread the stain to other parts of the garment or tablecloth. Just treat it before it dries by spraying a little water, club soda or white wine on the stain with a spray bottle to keep it moist but not so much that it spreads the stain. Although you want the stain to be wet, you should carefully blot up any excess wine with a paper towel.

Using white wine to neutralize a red wine stain is an ineffective old wives tale, although it does work fairly good on nylon and pure polyester; however, most polyester fabrics are blends with cotton or other absorbent fibers woven in. The same is true of club soda.

Most Effective Home Remedy

I've read quite a few articles on this subject and the overwhelming number one home remedy consists of combining equal parts of hydrogen peroxide and Dawn dishwashing liquid detergent and applying it directly to the stain. One source (which has been widely copied and therefore has multiplied) says to apply the mixture to the stain in a blotting motion, continuing until the stain is removed. Another source, based on tests, suggests soaking the stained portion of the fabric in the mixture for as long as three hours. When my wife got around to trying this, the stain had dried and set pretty well. Still, she placed a plate under the stain to keep it from touching the back of the garment and mixed 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1/4 cup Dawn together before pouring on the stain. It did a pretty good job even for a dried stain, leaving only a light pink spot. She is quite certain had she treated it right away she would have gotten it all out.

After treating the garment, wash it in the washer in cold water.

The only danger I can think of using this method is that the peroxide could bleach out certain colors. However, I read nothing about it in the literature except it was a possibility.

Second Most Effective Home Remedy

After blotting up excess wine, combine one tablespoon of dish soap or detergent with one tablespoon white vinegar and two cups lukewarm water. Apply the mixture by blotting with a towel or washcloth, then blotting the area with a dry towel or washcloth to remove stain-laden moisture, then repeating until the stain is gone.

Afterwards, wash the garment in cold water. If the stain is not completely gone after washing (but before drying), use the hydrogen peroxide and Dawn detergent method and wash again.

Removing Red Wine from a Carpet

For carpeting, first apply straight hydrogen peroxide, allowing a few minutes to penetrate carpet fibers . Next, using a spray bottle filled with one part water and one part carpet cleaner, mist the stain. Blot with a clean cloth until stain is removed.

If the Wine Stain Dries

I am not certain this works, but it is mentioned enough that it might. I discovered it too late to help my wife.

First, soak the red wine stain in white wine or club soda. These will not remove the stain but will dilute it. Next, cover the stain with a thick paste of baking soda and water. Leave the baking soda paste on the stain for a few hours, periodically moistening the solution with water. Once the treatment is done, wash the garment in cold water.

Commercial Products

Wine Away. Made from fruit and vegetable extracts, Wine Away is an industry specific red wine stain remover that regularly ranks among the best on the market. Wine away is free of bleach and is safe in households with pets and/or children. To use, spray heavily on affected areas immediately and let sit from one to 15 minutes, depending on severity and age of stain. Then wash off or launder as usual in cold water.

OxiClean. If you or someone else spills red wine on a non-wool carpet, OxiClean is a great option. Mix the OxiClean powder with water and apply to stained area. Wait a few minutes and blot with a clean, dry towel. Repeat until stain is removed and rinse with water. After the area dries, vacuum. If the carpet had not been cleaned in a while, a general cleaning may be required so the one clean spot is not obvious.

Resolve. Resolve is a great brand of all-purpose stain removal products that also can help in the elimination of red wine stains. In particular, Resolve is well known for its effectiveness at removing stains from carpet. For red wine, Resolve Max Trigger is recommended. Follow Resolve spot treatments with regular laundering or carpet cleaning for best results.

Gonzo Wine Out Stain Remover. I have read glowing testimonials and reports of residual yellow stains. Reportedly you spray on, leave a few minutes, blot up, and that's it. Having not tried it, I cannot say one way or the other. I'll leave it up to you.

Parker & Bailey Red Wine Stain Remover. The manufacturer says it removes the toughest stains from clothing, carpets, tablecloths, napkins and more. Simply apply Red Wine Stain Remover, blot with a dry white cloth and see the stain disappear right before your very eyes. I could not find any customer testimonials on the product yet.

A Final Word

Whether you are anticipating using a home remedy or a commercial product, you simply have to have what you need on hand when you need it. My wife discovered she only had 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide left in a 2-quart container. I have some but it is old and I don't really know if it is as chemically active as it should be. I've put it on my shopping list. Wine Away is on my list too, but I will probably have to order it. Until then, I don't want to spill any red wine. Are you prepared?

  • Using Your Hydrometer, go to table, find starting s.g. and potential alcohol (PA) in far right column. If finished s.g. is 1.000, the starting PA is the alcohol by volume (ABV). If finished s.g. is 0.998, add 0.3 to starting PA; if 0.996, add 0.6; if 0.994, add 0.8, if 0.992, add 1.1; if 0.990, add 1.4.
  • Blending Wines, use the first calculator (Blending to Adjust Alcohol). Enter % desired alcohol, the ABV of your finished wine, the ABV of the brandy and click "submit". The answer will be in parts. Suppose you want a 20% port, have a 13% finished wine, an 80-proof brandy (40% ABV), the result will be 20 parts wine to 7 parts brandy. A US gallon contains 128 ounces; divide by 20 = 6.4 ounces per "unit"; 7 X 6.4 = 44.8 ounces of brandy (3 pints = 48 ounces) to raise the wine to 20% ABV.
  • Conversion and Equivalents, might prove useful in your calculations
  • How To Get Red Wine Out, photo and information source, from PinotBlogger
  • Wine Away, product's site
  • Free PC Services, secure your computer, my site
  • Help Keep the Winemaking Home Page a Free Website, a self-serving plea for support

February 20th, 2012

Publishing a website and blog the old fashioned way, by hand encoding each and every page, is difficult and time consuming. A friend came by a few weeks ago when I was close to finishing up a WineBlog entry. He came in, we chatting a few minutes, then I asked if he would mind if I finished up a blog entry and posted it -- it would only take 15-20 minutes. He said sure and pulled up a chair next to the computer to watch what I was doing.

Almost immediately he interrupted me to ask what all those strange markings were. I explained they were HTML -- hypertext markup language -- tags and pointed out which ones opened and closed a paragraph, italic text, a subheading, a blank line, etc. I showed him how I told the browser to display small numbers in chemical formulas. For example, to display SO2, I have to type:
SO<font size="-1">2</font>.
He didn't understand so I took time out to explain that the SO part was just plain text, but I wanted the 2 to be smaller and had to tell the browser to make it so by making the font one size smaller than the normal text. Then I had to tell the browser to stop making text smaller or the rest of the blog entry[ies] would be in small text until the browser found the command to stop rendering the text small.

Due to my having to explain every new HTML tag I introduced, it took and hour and a half to finish my blog entry and upload it. When I was done, he said his nephew has a website and he just goes in and types stuff regularly, clicks on icons to do most of what I typed out in code, and clicked a button to publish it and it was done. I could have strangled him. (Not really, Dave, so don't get your dander up.)

Yes, I know all about the many WYSIWYG, "no coding required" virtual studio editors out there that open a template and insert your text where you want it with all the appropriate tags dropped into place. I actually own two of them. But I don't use them. For some strange reason, I prefer to have total control and understanding of what goes into my site.

My nephew has a website. He asked my opinion of it. I suggested he do such-and-such and he said okay. Later he said he simply could not get his program to do that. What I suggested required a few lines of code, but my nephew doesn't really understand the code that forms his pages and so couldn't interject it into his site's template code.

Why mention all of this, you might ask? Because earlier this morning I discovered a stray fragment of code suspended in empty space next to an unordered list of ingredients in a recipe. It took me about 15 minutes to find and correct it, but I realized that fragment would have never been there had I used one of my WYSIWYG "no coding required" editors. Am I going to change? Nope. The satisfaction I derived from correcting that mistake was priceless. Just call me an old dog with no interest in learning new tricks.

I make a very good spicy potato soup. If there were a "soup cook-off" I would enter this soup. It's that good. It started several years ago with a recipe sent to me by a long-time friend who raved about it. I looked over the recipe and decided then and there I would try it. With each batch it changed a little. It uses tomato sauce as a stock base. I made it once with a vegetable stock and diced tomatoes, thickened with rice boiled until it broke down to a thick starch. It was good, but lacked the character tomato sauce added. One should not agonize over soup ingredients, but....

The recipe called for ground beef. I have added an equal amount of bulk hot, Italian sausage. It called for diced carrot. I used shredded carrot. It used 8 small red potatoes chunked. I evolved to using 6 medium golden Yukon potatoes diced. It called for sweet corn freshly shaved off the cob. I now use canned, chipotle white corn (Green Giant). I added purple-hulled peas and tiny field peas to the recipe, both canned. I chopped a large instead of medium white onion, added a large portabella mushroom, diced, and tripled the amount of thinly sliced celery called for. I added both red and green bell pepper, 6 large green onions sliced, a can of cut green beans, and 2 cans of diced Hatch green chiles. I used the liquid in the cans of corn, peas, green beans, and chiles. I dice 6-8 cloves of garlic and 6-8 large jalapeños, depending on size. And there are spices galore but no added salt.

I start by browning the ground beef and sausage, adding the white onion, garlic and bell peppers. Just when the onion was turning translucent I drained off the fat, moved everything to a large stock pot and added 3 15-ounce cans of tomato sauce, the carrots, corn, a half cup of rice, diced jalapeños, and chopped celery. I brought this to a simmer and held it, covered, for an hour. Then I added the potatoes, canned peas, beans, Hatch green chiles, mushrooms, and everything else. I returned it to a simmer for another hour. I tasted it, held my breath, and added a tablespoon of Sriracha and a cup of Malbec. I then stirred it for 3-4 minutes and removed it from the heat. I let it sit 15 minutes and then devoured two bowls, each topped with a dollop of sour cream and diced shallots.

I made close to two gallons of thick, chewy soup. When it cooled I containerized 10 large servings (2 bowls each) and loaded the refrigerator and freezer. I have made this many times now, varying the recipe slightly each time until finally deciding my original attempt, with the addition of 4 diced tomatillos, was the best. The wine changes -- Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Elderberry -- to what I have on hand. I want body and depth and tannins, which go well in this soup. When I have fresh cilantro I chop it finely to add to the topping. I could live on this stuff and have eaten it and nothing else but sourdough or rye bread for a week at a time.

I have no idea what the nutritional values are for this soup, but they simply have to be good. Like I said, I could live on this stuff.

Photo Cropping the Alhambra: a Final Look

A confined view of the Alhambra from the  Generalife
A cropped view of the Alhambra from the  Generalife

I want to thank all of you who contacted me regarding my February 13th entry on Photo Cropping the Alhambra. Every single response was positive, and several asked for more "before and after" examples. I do not want to overdo my presentations, but do not mind doing one more entry with three examples. These croppings result in differences that range from profound to slight. You must judge if the shots were improved.

The first is a narrow view (left) of a landscape squeezed between a building and some trees. When encountering this shot for the first time, I had to wonder what it was my wife was trying to capture. The one thing I knew was that she saw something here worth preserving. At high resolution I saw it and caught it in the cropping (right). This view is from the Generalife (foreground rooftops) looking over wall (mid-ground) surrounding the Alhambra proper and the distant buildings and rooftops of a portion of the Alhambra.

On a less hazy day you just know the landscape to the far distant horizon would convert this into a spectacular shot. As it is, it is still quite nice and I thank my wife for taking it.

Windows with a view, from the  Generalife
Cropped windows with a view, from the  Generalife

I am not sure if this location is from the Generalife or the Alhambra proper, but I think it is the former. I know the intent of this shot (left) is to both capture the spectacular windows in this room as well as the view below. The doorway allow a proper appreciation of the depth of the room, but if you were not interested in that feature the doorway can be removed (right) through simple cropping to open up the room. Now the windows and view are central, without the peripheral distraction of the doorway.

This technique was applied in many shots, where my wife purposely framed a room or gallery or courtyard or landscape. The framed shots are preserved, but I cropped many of them to selectively draw one's attention to details otherwise lost in the "noise" of too much or to alter the perspective.

Second dancing waters in the Generalife
Cropped second dancing waters in the  Generalife

This is another of the finely engineered "dancing waters" gardens in the Generalife. This garden (left) is widely portrayed in books, postcards, and photo journals and the long, open, covered gallery to the right of the garden is integral to the whole setting. But I thought the two people stepping out of the gallery detracted from the picture, although I would not have thought so had they been members of out foursome.

If I had time galore I could remove the two strangers by copying and pasting small sections of image over them. In PhotoShop there are other, more sophisticated methods for doing this but they accomplish the same thing. I thought it easier to simply crop the strangers out of the photo (right). In doing so I sacrificed a significant chunk of the gallery and its openness both inward to the garden and outward to a view.

Once again I feel compelled to point out the precision of the engineering of the Moors. They built these gardens in the 15th century, using only gravity to force the water through the finely aligned jets. Yet the waters from the opposing jets impact at the same points in the long, central pond. This is, quite simply, astounding.

Vitis riparia, the Riverbank Grape

Vitis riparia

A very kind visitor of The Winemaking Home Page wrote me some time back about some wild grape vines on his property that turned out to be Vitis riparia (first described by André Michaux), a grape once prolific in Texas but now believed to be extinct here. Well, my website visitor recently contacted me through Facebook for a mailing address and today I planted 8 rooted V. riparia cuttings.

V. riparia is often incorrectly called the Frost Grape. That name belongs to V. vulpina. V. riparia's common name is Riverbank Grape and it is appropriate. While it does not like standing water, it prefers a deep, rich, moist, well-drained, moderately fertile, calcareous loamy soil. It will thrive in sun or partial shade, but a warm sunny position is required for the fruit to ripen. This grape is a strong climber with prolific growth reaching legendary status. Once established, it is an undemanding, drought tolerant and cold hardy species.

<i>V.  riparia</i>

V. riparia does not usually produce large grapes or large clusters, but alpha plants can be found that produce larger grapes, larger clusters, or both. Cuttings from these vines will produce identically larger berries or clusters or both if a suitable pollinator is nearby.

V. riparia are usually described as sour grapes, improving in sweetness after a first frost. This simply means they retain high acidity until a cold spell urges the vine to push more sugar into the berries. The sweeter berries make wonderful wine. Sweeter, pre-frost specimens can occasionally be found in the wild. Cuttings from these vines will produce identical, sweeter pre-frost fruit.

We await the kindred spirit who lives in prolific V. riparia country and is willing to walk the woods or fencerows tasting the ripe fruit in early fall in search of those sweeter fruit, as well as vines producing larger berries and/or clusters. Upon finding such a specimen, we would hope a piece of white or yellow ribbon be affixed to the cane producing the berries of interest. Using waterproof ink, write the characteristic of interest on the ribbon (large berries, large clusters, sweet grapes, etc.) and make a note of where the specimen is located (GPS coordinates are the most accurate way, but do include other guidance). Then, in the winter, when leaves are gone, the correct cane can be found and cuttings taken for propagation. By crossing the sweet with the large, perhaps a better V. riparia can be developed. Read Lon Rombough's The Grape Grower for cross-pollination instructions. I want cuttings from the improved V. riparia.

T. V. Munson reported in 1909 of V. riparia occurring west along the Red River to Denison, TX and in southeastern Texas. But this and one other grape (V. rupestris) have suffered from heavy ranching and logging activities. To the best of my knowledge and after having done years of field and herbaria research, no representative of this species has been identified in Texas in modern times or found in herbarium collections as a specimen from Texas.

But they are back. Once the genders of my plants are established, I intend to take new cuttings and move them to the wild in locations suitable for their survival. Thank you, Vito, for the plants.

February 24th, 2012

I want to again thank all of you who have made donations to keep this blog and its parent website free. Without your support I would have had to lock up the site and restrict access to paid subscribers. I never want to do that, and your generosity has made free access possible for a while longer. Thank you.

And I thank you for your emails. I don't answer most of them because they ask questions already answered on my site if folks would simply read it or search it. I simply don't have the time to search my site for them. But I do read each of them and answer the ones I feel require my attention.

In my last entry I posted the ingredients to my spicy potato soup. I have received several requests to post it as a recipe, identifying the herbs and spices I use as well as the correct measures for all the ingredients. I hereby respectfully decline, not because the recipe is a secret but because it is so flexible that I wouldn't want to rigidify it with numbers.

You can leave out several ingredients and still make a tremendous soup. You can substitute and add ingredients. Last time I made it I was in a hurry, was distracted, and left out half the herbs and spices -- and it is fabulous (I still have 6 double servings divided between the refrigerator and freezer). Just dive in and add what you like and have on hand.

An ovo-vegetarian (one that eats eggs and dairy products) wrote that he substituted a half dozen eggs, lentils and chopped soy bean sprouts for the meat. I might try that myself one day.

I once used potatoes and parsnips (half and half) and loved it. Be inventive. You can add diced eggplant, hard squash (Hubbard, Acorn, Butternut, etc.), white beans, peas, chopped broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower. I'll bet it will be good any way you do it, so long as you simmer long enough and stir occasionally to prevent scalding the bottom. And if it looks too thick, don't fret. You can stand a spoon up in mine and it will still be upright 10 minutes later. Soup might be the wrong word....

This morning a received an email that proves my point. "Using most of the ingredients you listed and guessing on the spices, I made your soup yesterday. It took over an hour to chop everything and I left out the red bell pepper, jalapenos and canned green chiles and added 4 large diced yellow banana peppers and 3 heaping tablespoons of crushed red pepper. I used Tabasco instead of Sriracha, white mushrooms instead of portabella, and could not find fresh tomatillos so cut up a green tomato. I added diced red tomatoes and a small jar of pimentos for color. I also added some corn meal. My wine was Chianti. It was so thick I could have served it on a plate rather than in a soup bowl. But we loved it. My husband renamed it 'Potato Chili' because it was nice and hot, and he was delighted we had so much left over." You get the idea? Do your own thing. That's what makes cooking so much fun. Bon appétit!

Italian Sausage and Potatoes with Hearty Burgundy

Italian Sausage and Potatoes, from  Good Housekeeping and Delish.com

Here is a recipe I will share, for I think with this one the measures are somewhat important. This began as a simple recipe from Good Housekeeping and Delish.com (see photo) and evolved significantly in my kitchen. But it is tasty, filling and especially good on a cold night. I made a similar dish when I lived in Colorado but served the sausages whole. That one took a little more work. This one is easy and delicious.

  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound small red potatoes, quartered
  • 1 large white onion, chopped coarsely
  • 20-25 black olives, pitted and halved
  • 10-15 small button mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, cut lengthwise into 8 pieces and halved
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, scattered
  • salt and pepper to taste, scattered

Preheat oven to 450° F. In 15 1/2" by 10 1/2" pan or glass baker, combine all ingredients, dribbling olive oil widely and toss to coat. Roast uncovered 30 to 35 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender and sausages are lightly browned, stirring once halfway through roasting. Makes 4-6 hardy servings.

Serve hot with steamed vegetable(s), a simple salad, garlic bread and a hearty burgundy. Then loosen the belt and have seconds.

Dried Apricot Wine

dried  apricots

I received a request a year ago for a fruit wine you can make in the winter, other than apple, that you would be proud to serve year-round. I almost didn't reply because the answer is so obvious -- dried fruit wine. I looked in my pantry and there were two pounds of dried Turkish apricots I picked up from Whole Foods. The wine just sort of made itself. I tasted it last night and drank half a bottle before I realized what I was doing. Need I say it? Fabulous!

You don't need dried Turkish apricots for this recipe, but you do need dried apricots. Mine were sulfited to preserve the color and discourage bacterial attachment. Do not worry about the sulfites, please. Their amount is very slight, far less than you would get by adding a Campden tablet.

I used Demerara sugar, but you can use any light brown sugar you can find. Turbinado sugar would be a good substitute and is easy to find. If push comes to shove, use Light Brown Sugar, which is white sugar with molasses added.

  • 2 lbs chopped dry apricots
  • 1 can Welch's or Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
  • 1 3/4 lb Demerara sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • sachet of Kitzinger's Madeira, Red Star Premier Curvee or Lalvin EC1118 wine yeast

Bring apricots to boil in 3 1/2 quarts of water, reduce to simmer for 30 minutes, then strain into primary without pressing. Discard pulp or save to make jam or preserves. Add remaining ingredients, except yeast and nutrient, and stir well to dissolve sugar. When warm, add nutrient, and stir. When cool, add activated yeast as starter solution, cover and ferment in warm place for three weeks, stirring daily. Strain into secondary, top up to one gallon, and fit airlock. Rack after one month. Rack every 30 days until clear, rack again adding 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and one crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Set aside two months, then rack again. Sweeten to taste and wait 30 days to see if refermentation occurs. If not, bottle. Taste after six months, but allow one year for best quality and flavor. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This wine can be made using Flor Sherry yeast, but requires very careful measurement of sugar in the must -- from the apricots, white grape concentrate and sugar added -- so the potential alcohol falls between 14.5% and 16%% alcohol. This window is crucial to grow a flor. Ferment normally (anaerobically) to dryness, then move to a larger secondary to allow air in over the wine. Either seal mouth of secondary with cotton or cover with a double layer of muslin secured with a rubber band.

A flor does not develop under all conditions. A cooler temperature (60° is ideal) and high humidity are desired, but there is not much you can do about the latter. If floret's do not develop within one month stabilize the wine and await yeast die-off -- about 3 months. Rack and then rack again in 30 days. Sweeten to taste and wait a final 30 days to see if refermentation occurs. If not, bottle. Since the wine has been exposed to air, drink within one year.

If floret's do develop, wait and they will form a complete flor over the wine, protecting it from further air exposure until the flor collapses. When that occurs, stabilize the wine. Sweeten if desired and wait a final 30 days to see if refermentation occurs. If not, bottle.

February 28th, 2012

Squirrel-proof bird feeder

As Gilda Radner used to say on Saturday Night Live, "It's always something." I have a bird feeder very similar to the one shown. It's supposed to stop squirrels from stealing your bird seed. It sort of works. The squirrels jump at it from great distances (now I know how flying squirrels evolved) and when they hit it they shake so much food out of it that they then drop to the ground and eat just the seeds they like. Bas**rds!

For the past 3 weeks or so every other day, when the seed level drops below the lowest opening, I look out and notice a bird fluttering inside hysterically. These are baby sparrows, small enough to fall through the opening but not smart enough to fall back out. I have to go outside and unscrew the top, tilt it down until they slide out, and then refill it with seed. I'll be glad when the babies grow too large to fit through the holes.

I just did an educated calculation of the number of baby birds that have managed to entrap themselves inside the feeder. I figure 10-12 have done so, as a couple of times there have been birds in there two days in a row. I have to wonder if any of them are stupid enough to get in there twice. After all, their brains are smaller than a pea and we really don't know if they can deduce that like actions produce like results.

One was trapped a while ago and the feeder wasn't even empty. That's two days in a row. I prepositioned a bottle of my wife's blood red fingernail polish on a shelf next to the patio door and took it outside with me. I unscrewed the cap and set it carefully upright in the grass before capturing the bird. My plan was to place a dab of red on the top of it's head so I could recognize it if it became entrapped again. But the bird escaped when I was taking it out -- just wiggled out of my grip.

I'll have to put the feeders away when I go to California in two weeks so one doesn't get in there and die.

This is really unbelievable. Four of the eight Vitis riparia rooted cuttings I planted eight days ago (on the 20th) are in full leaf and the other four have green emerging from their buds. The temperature since planting has consistently been over 60° F. with the exception of one day and night which almost made it down to 50°. My mustangs, always the first to break bud, have not yet done so, although their buds are swollen and showing an inclination in that direction. It usually takes a 70° day or two to pull them open.

I pondered this over toasted sourdough with my black cherry, clementine and walnut marmalade (damn good stuff). I am pretty sure it is the temperature, not the date, that triggers bud-break. These plants came from a much colder climate. In their natural habitat, the ambient temperature might not get to 60° until late March. The plants could care less what date it is. They just know when it is warm enough to push leaves with a decent chance of survival.

It is quite possible I will see some inflorescence (flowers) on some of these plants this year. If so, I will determine the gender and mark the plants accordingly. Remember, my idea is to grow vine for new cuttings to return to the wild here in Texas.

Two Blood Orange and Port Marmalades

Blood orange,  photo from monogram.com

I mentioned eating toasted sourdough with my black cherry-clementine-walnut marmalade. Well, I recently saw blood oranges at the market and picked up a few. Winter is their season and they are great for upside down cake and marmalade. Some varieties are sweet (Tarocco, Sanguinello and Cara Cara) and others are tart (Moro). All varieties make good marmalade, especially when combined with port wine and hickory nut pieces or port wine and mango, but the tart varieties are better in marmalade. The tartness can be added with lemons.

The red color in blood oranges, which can vary from slightly red to crimson to deep maroon, only appears when night temperatures drop. The color is commonly from anthocyanins (some are pigmentation by lycopene) and the darker the color the richer the juice is in antioxidants. The sweeter the blood orange, the greater the amount of lemon required to acidify the marmalade. To increase the amount, use larger lemons.

The assumption is that the port will be balanced at 18-20% alcohol. This means it will probably be both acidic and sweet. The amount of alcohol is not important as it will boil off. A sweet, acidic non-port would work just as well -- any sweet, native grape wine should be perfect.

Hickory nut (or walnut) pieces means the broken bits and pieces that occur occasionally when extracting the meats from their shells. If you don't have enough pieces, you'll just have to chop up some halves. If you can get black walnut meats, they are tastier than the English or Persian walnuts.

Blood Orange-Port-Hickory Marmalade

  • 4 blood oranges
  • 2 small to large lemons(larger if oranges are sweet)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 1/2 cup hickory nut pieces (or walnut pieces)
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Peel blood oranges and thinly slice, then quarter the slices, saving all juice that escapes. Remove all seeds and place juice and slices in large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Squeeze juice from lemons, remove and discard seeds, then thinly slice lemon rind and add juice and rind slices to saucepan. Add water and port and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat as soon as boiling occurs, cover and maintain a high simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add hickory pieces, cover and simmer additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sugar, bring to a boil and maintain rapid boil, uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a thick gel when sheeting off a cold metal spoon dipped into mixture (about 15-18 minutes, but longer at altitude). Remove from heat, ladle into sterilized jars, wipe mouths, apply rings and lids hand-tight, then process 10 minutes in boiling bath.

Blood Orange-Mango-Port Marmalade

  • 2 blood oranges
  • 2 small to large lemons (larger if oranges are sweet)
  • 2 mangos
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 4 cups granulated sugar

Peel blood oranges and thinly slice, then quarter the slices, saving all juice that escapes. Remove all seeds and place juice and slices in large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Thinly slice and then halve the lemons, remove and discard seeds, then add juice and slices to saucepan. Add water and port and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat as soon as boiling occurs, cover and maintain a high simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile peel mangoes, carve flesh from seeds, then thinly slice flesh. Add mango slices and juice to saucepan. Return to boil over high heat, then reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sugar, bring to a boil and maintain rapid boil, uncovered, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a thick gel when sheeting off a cold metal spoon dipped into mixture (about 15-18 minutes, but longer at altitude). Remove from heat, ladle into sterilized jars, wipe mouths, apply rings and lids hand-tight, then process 10 minutes in boiling bath.

Marmalades should gel when cool if cooked until a thick gel forms off cold spoon, but if canned too early could take several weeks to set. Just store in pantry or in box in closet or under bed and forget about it until you need a jar.

Parsnip and Ginger Wine

Fresh parsnips

If you have ever eaten parsnip and ginger soup, parsnip and ginger pakoras, parsnip and ginger cake or muffins, or parsnip and ginger anything you know how well the flavors combine. The nutty sweetness of parsnips and the warming spiciness of ginger just go well together. Parsnips and ginger wine is a real treat in the cooler months of the year and adds a little je ne sais quoi to any meal. Make it once and you will be glad you did. Because this wine takes so long to make, start a batch every 3 months and you will be very thankful you did. Finally, the parsnips can be recycled to make a great side dish to any meal (recipe included).

The recipe calls for setting aside the cooked parsnips for use in a second recipe. By all means do this. You can change the complexity of the second recipe by adding 1 cup of peeled, sliced, very well cooked carrots; 1 summer or butternut squash peeled, deseeded, sliced and cooked; or 1 peeled, diced and well-cooked rutabagas or sweet potato.

The wine recipe calls for 1 pound on ripe bananas, peeled and sliced. Banana peels turn dark when ripe and the banana meat inside turns soft and translucent. Make sure the bananas are ripe before using for wine.

  • 4 lbs parsnips
  • 1 lb ripe bananas
  • 10-1/2 oz can of white grape concentrate
  • 1 inch ginger root very thinly sliced
  • 4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend 7-1/4 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
  • Sauternes wine yeast

Put 1 pint water on to boil and add sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Set aside in sterilized jar for later use. Meanwhile, scrub and rinse the parsnips well (do not peel) and then slice them crosswise into thin discs no thicker than 1/4 inch. Trim the meat from the fibrous core of the larger slices and discard the cores. Smaller slices can be left as is. Place parsnips only in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and settle in large saucepan with 3 quarts water on high heat. Add thinly sliced ginger root to saucepan. Peel and slice the bananas and add them to saucepan. Bring to rolling boil, reduce heat to maintain a low boil for 30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat to cool, but immediately drip drain parsnips 2-3 minutes, then place bag in large bowl to cool separately; set aside. After saucepan cools 2 hours, place a large funnel with straining screen insert in a 1-gallon secondary and carefully pour liquid through funnel. Seal secondary with paper towel folded and secured with rubber band. Set aside to settle for 24 hours. Meanwhile, use parsnips as per the recipe below.

After 24 hours, siphon the clear liquid off the sediment into clean secondary. Add thawed grape concentrate, acid blend, tannin, and yeast nutrient and energizer. Stir to mix and add activated wine yeast. Cover secondary with paper towel held in place with rubber band. When fermentation is vigorous, add sugar-water and fit airlock. Ferment until wine begins clearing. Rack, top up and refit airlock. When wine is completely clear, rack again and add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and 1 finely crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water, stir, top up and refit airlock. After 3 weeks, rack again and add additional crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water. Sweeten to specific gravity 1.008, top up and refit airlock. Check airlock periodically and rack every 3 months for 18 months, adding additional crushed Campden tablet dissolved in 1/2 cup water every 3rd racking. Rack into bottles and store additional 4-6 months. Yes, it's a long process but entirely worth it. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Puréed Parsnips and ?

This recipe calls for a second ingredient -- carrots are traditional, but also good are summer or butternut squash, sweet potato or rutabagas. Peel, dice and cook until very tender, then drain and add to the cooked parsnips.

  • 4 lbs parsnips, cooked and drained
  • 1 cup or more of second vegetable
  • 4 tblsp butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or water
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepare and cook second vegetable. Meanwhile, untie nylon straining bag and pour parsnips into microwave safe bowl. Cover bowl and warm parsnips in microwave about 2 minutes on 50% power, stirring halfway though and when finished. When second vegetable is cooked and drained, add to parsnips. Place milk or water in blender or food processor, add parsnips and second vegetable and pulse until puréed. Add additional tablespoon of liquid if needed, Add nutmeg, salt and pepper and pulse a few more seconds to integrate. Pour into serving bowl and carefully stir melted butter into puréed vegetables. Serve as a side dish to meal while warm.[Jack Keller's own recipe]

March 7th, 2012

This is my last WineBlog entry for a couple of weeks. I'm off to California and then on a cruise with family. This is a 90th birthday gift to my father. His birthday was back in November, but the cruise was put on hold until it warmed up a bit. The thermometer says "until" has arrived. The best way to know when I am back and a new WineBlog entry is ready is to click on the button below and turn on your RSS feed. That way you won't have to stop by daily looking for change. You'll be hearing from me as soon as I post a new entry.

rss buttonblank spaceSubscribe to
Jack Keller's WineBlog

With that out of the way I can turn to lighter, less officious matters. If you have read the WineBlog before, you probably know that I like to share things that amuse, entertain or inspire me. I ran across a video ad that I found to be both amusing and entertaining (the two often form a duetic relationship) and simply had to share it.

If you did not find that either (1) amusing or (2) entertaining or (3) both, then we simply occupy different parts of our respective brains and I apologize. Please allow me to try again.

Back on December 30th, 2011 (my birthday) I posted a WineBlog entry about a performance on the TV show Korea's Got Talent. In it 22-year old Sung-bong Choi recounted his life of hardship and then astonished the judges and audience with a beautiful rendition of Nella Fantasia, a musical piece composed by Ennio Morricone as Gabriel's Oboe for the soundtrack of the movie The Mission and later set to lyrics by Chiara Ferraú. I mentioned it was first sung by Sarah Brightman. If you wish to see my original entry and hear the Korean boy's performance, click on the first link following this entry.

What I have found is a beautiful video of Sarah Brightman performing Nella Fantasia. This is very much worth seeing (or just listening to). Click, and then tell me I am wrong....

Music is such an emotive stimulus that I often mention it here and elsewhere. I make no apologies if I like something you do not. Oddly, I find that today I like some music I did not care for 30 years ago and don't particularly care for some pieces I used to love. Constants: I still love doo wop, rhythm and blues, classic rock, country, most folk and bluegrass, some jazz and classical; I like some new age but not too much. I have never cared for heavy metal, punk rock and rap. I still believe that rap is a con perpetrated by those who can't sing upon those who don't know enough to care in order to make obscene amounts of money "rapping" about anything obscene. Your opinion, of course, might differ.

As an aside, after viewing my previously mentioned WineBlog entry of Korea's Got Talent, a viewer wrote to me about the default image for the piece on the video player. It shows one of the judges with a look of disbelief on her face and her fingers at her temples in reaction to the performance she was witnessing. You really have to see the picture to fully understand (try the link below). The viewer wrote, "I like to invent captions for images I see. For this one, I came up with the judge thinking to herself, 'WTF? He's singing in Italian. Koreans don't do Italian.'" Well, I thought it was funny.

I guess it's time to turn to wine and winemaking....

The meat and potatoes of my WineBlog entry today is something I wrote for the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's March 2012 newsletter. We have a new feature called "Wine Judge's Corner" which focuses on subjects of particular interest to wine judges. I have edited it minutely for the WineBlog, but it is essentially the same piece.

Judging a Wine's Bouquet and Aroma

Leslie Lunt and Charlie Suehs judging  wines

The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's judging sheet begins with Aroma and Bouquet. They were consciously moved up from farther down on the form for a reason. A wine's aroma will remain constant throughout the judging, but bouquet is often very short-lived. If one waited until they got down to its former position on the judging sheet to evaluate bouquet, the chances are very good that whatever bouquet was in the glass would have dissipated into the atmosphere within a minute of the wine being poured.

A wine's aroma is what the fermented base smells like -- the grape or fruit or berry that makes up the majority of the wine. Essentially, all Cabernet Sauvignon's should have the same basic aroma. We know this is not the case because all grapes are not gown in the same soils, climates and weather, nor are they harvested at the same level of ripeness and transported the same distance and in the same time to their respective wineries. Also, the wine is often a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and another grape, usually Merlot, and so the aroma is altered slightly. Still, the blend is so routine that experienced judges recognize the wine as Cabernet Sauvignon and better judges can often identify the blending wine as well.

Bouquet is something else. It is a byproduct of the winemaking techniques employed by the winemaker and the chemical evolution of the wine during its aging lifespan. Bouquet is volatile and fleeting. A vigorous pulling of the cork can completely evacuate all the immediately available bouquet. This is why corks should be eased out and then reinserted partially to capture the bouquet for the judging.

Factors influencing bouquet are various, but most commonly involve:

  • Yeast selection
  • Oak: vanilla, toasty, smoky, etc.
  • Malo-Lactic Fermentation: buttery, sometimes "cheesy"
  • Bottle Aging: time in the bottle, storage conditions, pH, TA, etc.

The last is by far the most variable. A wine undergoes a constant chemical evolution. This evolution slows considerably once bottled and the cooler it is cellared, but the truth is that any given wine changes on a daily basis. It is during this period of bottle aging that bouquet forms.

We "smell" with our olfactory receptors, which respond to gas molecules. Our olfactory epithelium, the membrane where these receptors are located, is the roof of our nasal passage. We also smell (and taste) through chemoreceptors, which respond to molecules dissolved in mucus fluids. Experts tell us that most taste is actually "smell perceived on the tongue." We have about 40 million smell receptors as opposed to only 1 million for taste.

San Antonio  Regional Wine Guild Judge Rob Overley evaluates a wine's bouquet at a Guild competition
How to Judge a Wine's Bouquet and Aroma

As soon as the wine is poured, bury your nose into the glass and sniff quickly but not too deeply to catch those volatile compounds containing the bouquet. Pause a moment to let the first impressions register. These are the most reliable impressions of bouquet.

Then swirl the wine one or two quick revolutions to increase its surface area and allow less volatile bouquet compounds to evaporate. Some judges wrap their hands around the glass to warm it and allow better evaporation. This is allowed as long as it is not too time consuming. It is far quicker to hold the wine briefly in the mouth. This brief hold will warm the wine far more than the hands around the glass and therefore release more odor molecules. Then draw air over (or through) the wine to release still more volatiles.

There are enough post nasal olfactory receptors at the upper back of the mouth to actually experience the volatiles as smell. But a word of caution: don't hold the wine too long in the mouth or you risk fatiguing your taste receptors. Three seconds is long enough for a non-chilled wine and twice that for a chilled wine.

Now spit the wine and take a short breath through the mouth. The correct procedure is to close the lips and release a very little air from the lungs. This will push the volatiles still being released from the wine residue in the mouth up into the nasal passage. Then sniff quickly, inhaling before the air actually exits the nose. This technique requires a little practice, but it is easily mastered. Just try it right now without the wine. Practice until you can push up just a small amount of air and then suck it back in before it leaves the nose.

You have in fact tasted the wine, but this should not be the tasting from which you will judge the wine's taste. Your focus now is bouquet and aroma. By now you have done enough to evaluate the wine's bouquet -- if it has any. Now bury your nose in the glass once more and breathe deeply to grasp the wine's underlying aroma.

The only grapes whose juice smells the same as their wines are the 20 or so varieties of Muscat, All others differ slightly to substantially. Learning the aroma of the Merlot grape will not help you identify Merlot wine by smell.

The same is not true of most fruit and berry wines. Well made peach wines have an aroma reminiscent of (but not identical to) peach. On the other hand, if a strawberry wine does not possess the aroma of strawberries it should be faulted.

Knowing which wines possess an aroma suggestive of its base is part of the challenge of becoming a home wine judge. Knowing the aromas of those non-grape wines that do not smell like their base is perhaps a bigger challenge, but no more so than learning the aromas of most grape wines.

When judging a wine, judge its bouquet first and its aroma second. If you are uncertain of the aroma, you can come back to it all through the judging. Unlike bouquet, which rapidly dissipates, a wine's aroma is part of the wine itself and will be constant throughout the judging period.

Get Ready for Dandelions

Common dandelion, courtesy University of  Missouri Extension

Dandelion wine is one of my favorite white wines, bar none, and the flowers are already appearing here in Texas. I don't know anyone who doesn't recognize the bright yellow, many-rayed flowers of Taraxacum officinale at first glance. Most think of them as a weed but others look upon them differently. My wife actually planted dandelions in one of our flower beds, and the result was quite stunning when they bloomed en mass. Others look upon their leaves as salad or greens, and indeed they are quite edible raw or steamed until the flower appears, at which time its greenery becomes bitter. But for the winemaker, the dandelion simply makes the best flower wine there is.

I actually don't know how many dandelion wine recipes I have, but I would guess between 200-300. I have only published 30. Even so, I have my favorites. Among them is the following.

Dandelion Wine

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

Prepare flower petals beforehand. Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, prepare zest from citrus and set aside. Combine flowers and zest in nylon straining bag and tie closed. Put bag in primary and pour boiling water over it. Cover primary and squeeze bag several times a day for 3 days. Drain and squeeze bag to extract all liquid. Pour liquid into primary and stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Stir in remaining ingredients except yeast, cover and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast and cover. Stir twice daily for 5 days. Transfer to secondary and fit airlock. Rack after wine falls clear, adding crushed Campden tablet and topping up and reattaching airlock. Rack again every 2 months for 6 months, adding another crushed Campden tablet during middle racking and stabilizing at last racking. Wait another month and rack into bottles. Cellar 6 months and enjoy a bottle. Cellar another 6 months and enjoy it all. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

March 30th, 2012

I am home from my adventure and began coming down with the flu the day before I returned home. I lost my voice, have a severe chest congestion and am sapped of strength, but otherwise fine. Next year I will take the flu shot although it would have done no good this year. They guessed which strains would surface and guessed wrong.

I expected I would return home to numerous emails criticizing my comments in the last entry regarding rap music. Instead, only three emails even mentioned it and they were in agreement with me. The overwhelming criticism I received was for posting a video of Sarah Brightman singing Nella Fantasia in Italian while the words were displayed in Spanish.

I must admit it bothered me too, but it is the most beautiful video of her performing the song I could find and believe me I looked. Indeed, I searched for perhaps an hour for that same video without the captions but never found it. If you find it, please send me the link and I will replace the Spanish captioned version with it.

Four of you asked me what the lyrics mean. Have you not heard of Google by now? You enter "Lyrics, Nella Fantasia, English" or whatever language you prefer and Google does the rest. However, here are the Italian and English words for the internet challenged:

Italian English
Nella fantasia io vedo un mondo giusto,
Lì tutti vivono in pace e in onestà.
Io sogno l`anime che sono sempre libere,
Come le nuvole che volano,
Pien` d`umanità in fondo all`anima.

Nella fantasia io vedo un mondo chiaro,
Lì anche la notte è meno oscura.
Io sogno d`anime che sono sempre libere,
Come le nuvole che volano.

Nella fantasia esiste un vento caldo,
Che soffia sulle città, come amico.
Io sogno d`anime che sono sempre libere,
Come le nuvole che volano,
Pien` d` umanità in fondo all`anima.
In my imagination I see a fair world,
Everyone lives in peace and in honesty there.
I dream of souls that are always free,
Like the clouds that fly,
Full of humanity in the depths of the soul.

In my imagination I see a bright world,
Even the night is less dark there.
I dream of souls that are always free,
Like clouds that fly.

In my imagination there exists a warm wind,
That breathes on the cities, like a friend.
I dream of souls that are always free,
Like clouds that fly,
Full of humanity in the depths of the soul.

The first three notes of <i>Taps</i>

Back in the 1950s and later in the '70s and '80s there was a TV show called Name that Tune. There were several formats used but the one I remember best was the bidding war to name the tune in the fewest number of notes. A clue was given and the bidding opened with the claim by one of the contestants that, "I can name that tune in 5 notes." The Opponent would counter, "I can name that tune in 4 notes." Eventually, one contestant challenged the other to make good on his claim and the number of notes claimed by the contestant were played. If a contestant thought he had it based on the clue alone, he might boast that he could name that tune without any notes. That was dicey indeed.

Some friends and I were talking about that show one day and ended up challenging ourselves to come up with the fewest number of notes that the greatest number of people would recognize if they heard them. After much debate, we finally decided that the three notes up there on the right would overwhelmingly win in the United States. Do you recognize them? They are the first three of the 24 most recognizable notes in the US, the bugler's notes for Taps.

Does anyone think they can beat that with two notes? Remember, I'm talking about the fewest number of notes that the greatest number of people would recognize as a specific song if they heard them. I think not, but would love to be proven wrong.

Bodegas de Santo Tomás

A barrel of  Santo Tomas Tempranillo, aging

The area around Ensenada in the State of Baja California supports dozens of wineries and produces 90% of all the wines of Mexico. Three wineries have established facilities in Ensenada itself as well as in their grape growing locales north and south of the city. The valleys in this area -- Calafia, San Antonio de las Minas, Guadalupe, Palmas, Santo Tomás and San Vicente Ferrer -- are blessed with the right soil, climate, weather, altitude, and watershed favorable to "the vine," and thus have supported vineyards since 1791. Our time was limited and so we chose to visit the Bodegas de Santo Tomás, whose vineyards boast the oldest cultivated vines in Baja and whose winemaker produces some of the finest wines in Mexico.

The Santo Tomás facilities in Ensenada were established in and since1934 and are the oldest of their kind in the city. Much, much older facilities -- the oldest winery in Baja -- exist in the Valle de Santo Tomás and newer facilities have been established in the Valle de Guadalupe. The winery produces almost three dozen wines, almost all of which are excellent and a few of which are exceptional. The two I did not care for are varietals I seldom find enjoyable, but some people find them delicious.

I'm not sure this is the "top of the line" at Santo Tomás, but the Santo Tomás Cabernet-Merlot Único Gran Reserva is a mystical blend by winemaker Laura Zamora. This wine is deep, chewy, tannic, spicy, dark, and silky. It is a superb blend of these two fabled grapes, uniting to form a blend much greater than the individual contributors, yet subtle, distinguished and refined. For most palates, the exceptional 2005 is ready to drink now and may improve for several more years. The 2009 is on the market but needs to be cellared a few years.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is aged 12 months in new French oak barrels and the Merlot also enjoys 12 months in French oak. The blended wine is then aged an additional 8 months in French oak and 8 months in the bottle before release. The result is fabulous -- Santo Tomás Único.

Winery at Valle de Santo Tomas

But there were three affordable wines that caught my fancy -- the Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Barbera -- and a fourth I will mention.

I start with the Barbera for reasons that will be come clear later on. Barbera is a wine with great persona and Santo Tomás Barbera has personality to spare. It offers a multifaceted nose, with hints of raspberry, cherry and something else -- blackberry perhaps -- with a subtle spiciness in the middle (vanilla is noteworthy) and nuttiness (hazelnut!) at the end. The wine itself is deeply red, less tannic than I prefer but still well balanced between acid and fruit. It is aged in toasted oak for a year and bottle aged 6 months before it is released. This is an exceptional wine for the price, full bodied and sound. When I closed my eyes I could picture this wine with my slow-cooked brisket, barbecued ribs or a meal centered around roasted carnitas.

Tempranillo is fighting Cabernet Sauvignon to become my favorite varietal. Both wines lay heavy in the mouth, but the Tempranillo has a tad less tannin, a slightly lighter fruitiness, and a velvety smoothness that enraptures me. But Santo Tomás' Cab is deep, dark, meaty, and filled with fruit -- just the way I like it. Both deliver ambrosia to the nose perfectly in line with what the palate will experience. For this reason I cannot choose a favorite between them. Both would go well with a thick, juicy steak or cut of prime rib. I am torn for obvious reasons.

As if to mediate the battle within me, Santo Tomás offers a Cabernet-Tempranillo blend. Actually, they offer the blend and the Duetto -- same grapes but different story I will skip. The interesting thing I discovered about this blend is that some years it is a Tempranillo-Cabernet but usually a Cabernet-Tempranillo. The grapes dictate the blend.

In my opinion, this is not as good as their pure Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo, but it has something -- a je ne sais quoi -- that makes it a great value for the daily table. I guess it is the lightness of the wine in comparison to the straight varietals that makes it more suitable for a wider variety of meals, and perfect for Mexican fare. At best, this is an 88-89 point wine, but priced to buy. Had my travelling arrangements been different, I would have bought a case of this wine.

Mexican wines, unfortunately, are priced much the same as American wines. They cost more at the winery's tasting room than at a discount house. Santo Tomás wines are no different. We found them cheaper elsewhere, but the variety was not there and you have no idea how they were stored before being displayed in the discount bins. At the winery, you know the product was treated with respect from bottling to sale. That peace of mind is worth a few bucks.

A Succulent Brisket

Succulent brisket

At the last meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild, at our home in Pleasanton, Texas, I prepared and served a whole brisket as I always do. I made some changes to the recipe and trimmed the cut more than I usually do, but the result was exceptional, so much so that not a scrap was leftover for later enjoyment. Even every drop of the gravy was consumed. I have decided to share the recipe that blessed us last Sunday.

First, a primer on brisket. Beef brisket is the lower chest muscle of beef beneath the first five ribs. A typical brisket can weight 11 to 15 pounds, but a really large one can exceed 18 pounds. I look for 11-13-pound briskets because they fit my roasting pan (a large turkey roaster).

Brisket is a tough cut containing a lot of connective tissue and collagen. It must be prepared correctly or it will be tough and very, very chewy. It also is a cut of meat loaded with fat, some of which can be easily trimmed but much of which cannot without changing the nature of the cut and the resulting flavor. The most meat is in the flat portion of the brisket, which is often removed intact and then trimmed. It is this portion that is most often made into corned beef and pastrami. The "point" of the brisket is the fattiest part, but also contains an extra layer of fat called the deckel that possesses a unique, highly prized taste.

In Texas, the only reason to buy a flat of brisket (a trimmed cut) is because you (1) have a small stove, barbecue or smoker, (2) have a small roasting pan, or (3) live alone and have a freezer too small to store the 8-9 pounds of leftovers. Having said that, I have to admit that I bought an 11-pound brisket and trimmed almost two pounds of fat off of it. But I did not cut the deckel!

To turn tough brisket into tender, succulent meat, it must be cooked over low heat for a very long time. The collagen throughout the meat slowly gelatinizes if water is present to create steam. I will not go into smoking or barbecuing over indirect charcoal or mesquite wood heat, but be advised that serious Texans consider this the only way to do it. My way has a large following and, if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, is an extremely credible alternative. Indeed, I would wager that more people cook their brisket in the oven than over charcoal or mesquite.

Dry Rub

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

I am assuming an 11-pound brisket trimmed to 9-10 pounds. Cut the plastic wrapping off the brisket and drain it over the sink for about a minute, then place it on a large, rimmed baking sheet. After trimming, mix the dry rub ingredients together and work them into the fatty side first, then turn it over and really work the rub into the meaty side, coating every surface. When good and coated, turn the brisket over and place it carefully into a trash bag, sprinkle the remaining rub on top, roll the bag closed and place it in the refrigerator all day and half the night (at least 8 hours).

Braising Mix

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup strongly brewed black coffee
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup liquid smoke
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon A-1 Steak Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha hot chili sauce

Around 11:00 p.m. remove brisket from refrigerator and set aside to achieve room temperature (about 45-55 minutes). Near end of period remove one oven rack, place the other rack at lowest level and preheat oven to 225° F.

Slice one large or two medium white onions very thinly and cover the bottom of a large roasting pan, overlapping to complete the coverage. Combine the ingredients for the braising mix and pour evenly over the onions. Remove brisket from bag and place in roasting pan, fat side up. Evenly dribble 2 tablespoons liquid smoke over brisket. Place roasting pan uncovered in oven (it should now be around midnight) and set alarm clock to wake you in 5 hours.

When the alarm goes off, race to the kitchen take a quick look before placing the lid on the roasting pan. The brisket will have acquired a dark "crust" from roasting uncovered. Shake the lid to make sure it has a solid seal. If you do not have a lid, make a tent of heavy duty aluminum foil and seal it tightly all around while wearing baking mittens. Be careful that no aluminum foil touches the meat. Return to bed and sleep well.

Succulent brisket with gravy

Awaken to wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. Resist temptations to peek. Remove brisket from oven at noon. If your brisket is larger or smaller, adjust cooking time based on 1 hour 15 minutes per pound. Remove lid and behold your masterpiece. There will be 1 to 2 inches of liquid around the brisket. Use a turkey baster to remove about 2 cups from the bottom for gravy. If you do not have a large enough serving platter to hold the entire brisket, either use a cutting board with juice trench around the edge or a baking sheet with rim. Alternatively, you can cut the brisket in half in the roasting pan and remove and slice half at a time.

Sharpen your carving knife and slice against the grain. Mine was so juicy and tender that I could not slice thinly, but the thick slices were eagerly devoured. After arranging the slices on the serving platter, I halved them in an attempt to coax the guests into taking less. It did not work. They ate every single scrap of brisket and complained there wasn't more. It isn't that there wasn't enough to eat. Every member brought a side dish or dessert.

Use the removed liquid for making a gravy. I cheated and stirred a packet of brown gravy mix into the juice. They consumed it all, on the meat, on mashed potatoes, on macaroni and cheese, on bread. I forgot to remove the onion slices with a slotted spoon to serve as a side dressing (they are delicious by themselves or spread over the meat and then drizzled with gravy). In hindsight, two onions would not have been enough for this crowd. Your mileage may vary.

April 9th, 2012


Aggravation. It is a word I have seldom used during the past few years because I am seldom aggravated these days. I take medication do smooth out my moods. But for two days now I have been aggravated. Really aggravated. Three Saturdays ago I put things away, dusted shelves and furniture and things, and vacuumed the house in preparation of the San Antonio Regional Wine guild meeting here the following day.

Some things have a place and went there, but there are things we do not want out but have no regular place of storage. One such thing is my camera. It is always "out" and available. It has no storage place because I never store it. But it was on the dining room table which needed to be empty to receive food. So I put it somewhere.

Living room bookshelves, showing location of  the electronics travel bag

I also have a toiletry bag that I use to put my Zune, headphones, connecting cable, recharging and AV cables, charging devices for my camera, Galaxy Tablet, and an extra charging device for my cell phone. There are also two cables for using the Zune in the truck and a USB-2 hub that plugs into the cigarette lighter. This is my "travel bag" and it usually sits on the sideboard next to the entrance to the utility room and exit to the garage, handy when I need it. It messed up the look of the sideboard so I put it somewhere out of sight.

The aggravation started yesterday when I wanted my camera. I began looking for it without success. During that hunt it occurred to me I may have put it in the electronics travel bag although this is unlikely because the bag is fairly full. That's when I realized I had not seen the travel bag during my hunt for the camera.

I searched the house for 3 1/2 hours yesterday without finding either the camera or the travel bag. I opened every drawer and cabinet door in the house. I looked in boxes, luggage and under beds. I even looked in the laundry basket. This is aggravating, doubly so because I did not "hide" these items; I simply put them somewhere else. Had I hidden them I could understand the difficulty. I have hidden things in the past so well that they remain hidden to this day.

This morning I awoke from a restless sleep at 4:00 a.m. I remembered something I hadn't done and...I jumped from the bed, raced to the living room, and there, sitting on the coffee table in plain sight, was the camera. I then began searching the house again for the electronics travel bag. At 6 a.m. I gave up and returned to bed. The bag remained in a resting place I had yet to discover. Aggravating....

Later this morning I found the electronics traveling bag sitting on top of some CDs in a cluttered built-in bookshelf in the living room -- again, in plain sight. The circle in the photo shows its location. Forgetfulness is worrisome.

I thank those of you who wished me good health. The flu itself left me after about a week, as my doctor predicted, but a chest congestion lingered for two additional weeks. My body heals more slowly with each passing year, but I am only 67 and that is not old!. Thank you again for your concern.

I repeatedly find myself thanking Mark Zuckerberg for coming up with Facebook. As my 50th high school reunion approaches (next year) and we search to find the 653 or so graduates of my class, I keep running into ghosts from my past on our Facebook reunion page and through Facebook messaging.. What a pleasant surprise each day brings. Rich memories from the past are revived and the long period since we last met is slowly filled in with content, both joyful and tragic.

And I am so glad to meet so many virtually. I cannot wait to meet them again, face to face, old friend and distant acquaintance. Oh, how we have changed physically, but that is just the skin and weight we wear. It is the rediscovery of personalities that counts most, for that, after all, is who we are.

I am most grateful to live in a time when such electronic networking is possible. Fifty years from now what we are doing today to communicate will seem like antiquity to the people using new technologies then.

Rotary dial  gooseneck phone

In 1963, the year I graduated from San Bernardino High School, Bell System introduced touch-tone dialing. Two years later they introduced the trimline phone with rotary dial and a year later with the touchpad in the handset. The smaller communication devices revolution had begun. In 50 years it has taken us to the thin, trim smart phone. Where will take us in the next 50 years?

A couple of years ago I was in an antique store (I use the term "Antique" as loosely as they did, for I doubt they had anything in the store that was truly 100 years old). They had a collection of rotary dial phones. All were priced insanely high, but I wasn't there to buy anything, really, much less a phone. Still, I looked.

A thirtyish-something woman came up and looked at one. It was a rotary-dial gooseneck model with fixed mouthpiece and a removable earpiece that rested in a cradle. Her daughter, aged 10-13 (I can't tell any more), asked her mom, "How does it work?" Astonishingly, her mom replied, "I don't really know," and moved on. Good grief, hasn't she watched any movies older than herself?

Glenn Ford, one of the best actors in the 20th  century western genre

The other night I watched two old westerns from the '50s starring Glenn Ford. Almost from his first appearance in each film I immediately recognized his natural fit into the role. It was not as if he were acting at all, but rather that he was living the scene.

I love to discover great actors. You know them, you know they are good, but then you see them in a film and you say, "Wow, he really was [is] a great actor." John Travolta is like that. Every time I see him in a movie I appreciate him all over again. He doesn't act. He lives the role he is dealt.

Wikipedia said it best about Glenn Ford: "...a Canadian-born American actor from Hollywood's Golden Era with a career that spanned seven decades. Despite his versatility, Ford was best known for playing ordinary men in unusual circumstances." His best roles were in the Western genre, standing with John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, and Randolph Scott as the best in the Westerns.

He made his first western in 1941, in the film Texas, with William Holden, and Go West, Young Lady, also 1941. He took a semi-break during World War II and joined the Marines, but still managed to star with Randolph Scott in his first classic western in 1943, The Desperadoes. In 1948 he made The Man from Colorado and the following year Lust for Gold.

In the '50s he starred in The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951), The Man from the Alamo (1953), The Violent Men (1955), Jubal (1956), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), Cowboy (1958), and one of my favorites, The Sheepman (1958).

In the '60s, he starred in the classic western Cimarrón (1960), Advance to the Rear (1964), A Time for Killing (1967), The Last Challenge (1967), Day of the Evil Gun (1968), and Heaven with a Gun (1969). The list goes on (I counted 104 movies), but you get the picture.

He was a natural in the saddle and rode like he was born there. And they say he was one of the fastest gunmen in Hollywood, able to draw and fire a heavy period revolver in just 4/10 of a second, a feat unmatched by any other western stars.

Navy Captain  Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford Joined the Navy Reserves after the war, was commissioned, and kept up his Navy Reserve duties. In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam on temporary duty and the following year promoted to Captain, the Navy equivalent to Colonel. It was that rank at which he retired.

Glenn Ford became a naturalized citizen in 1939. As Wikipedia says, "After Ford graduated from Santa Monica High School, he began working in small theatre groups. Ford later commented that his railroad executive father had no objection to his growing interest in acting, but told him, 'It's all right for you to try to act, if you learn something else first. Be able to take a car apart and put it together. Be able to build a house, every bit of it. Then you'll always have something.' Ford heeded the advice and during the 1950s, when he was one of Hollywood's most popular actors, he regularly worked on plumbing, wiring and air conditioning at home. At times, he worked as a roofer and installer of plate-glass windows." They don't make 'em like that any more.

The next time you check the Guide and see that a Glenn Ford movie is on, tune in and see if I am wrong. You will believe in the character he plays. I guarantee it.

Bramble Tip Wine

Young growing tips of dewberry brambles

I have been trying to get rid of some dewberry plants that became invasive. Nothing works except digging up the soil, running it through a sieve, and discarding any and all roots discovered. But we are well beyond that, as they cover too large an area, so I do the next best thing; I cut the growing tips several times during the growing season in an attempt to deny them any new energy to store away for additional growth. They are slowly declining and no longer spreading so I am encouraged. I hate to waste things, and all the cut growing tips are a perfect example. I do two things with them. I dry most for bramble tip tea throughout the year and I make bramble tip wine. The latter is definitely worth the effort.

The tender growing tips are best for the tea. For the wine, older growth will work just as well as the tender tips. Since I need at least a gallon of the tips for wine, I usually make it when I am a couple of weeks late in cutting back the new growth. When I say a gallon of tips, I mean a gallon pail filled and compacted lightly. If uncompacted, there would be about 3 gallons of bramble tips.

  • 1 gal compacted bramble tips
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp acid blend
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 1 gal water
  • 1 sachet general purpose wine yeast

Cull and discard woody growth from bramble tips and wash remaining growth. In a stock pot, bring the water to boil. Add the bramble tips and maintain a low boil for an hour, covered. Remove from heat and allow to cool 30-40 minutes. Water and bramble tips will still be hot. Pour sugar, acid blend and yeast nutrient in primary. Place a colander over top of primary and carefully pour contents of stock pot into colander. Allow to sit 10-15 minutes to drain, then discard bramble tips. Stir water to dissolve sugar. Cover primary with cloth and set aside to cool a few hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, siphon off lees into secondary and attach an airlock. In two months, rack, add 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and reattach the airlock. Wait two more months and rack again. Wait additional two months and check for clarity. If wine is not brilliantly clear, add 3 tablespoons Bentonite slurry or other fining agent, stir well, reattach airlock and allow 10 days for clearing. Rack carefully into bottles and seal. Wait at least six months in the bottle before tasting. Nine months is better. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This wine is very good chilled and goes well at the table where a white wine would be served. It is also a good social wine.

April 13th, 2012

The First Time, in Two Respects

This entry is about a song and the first time one makes a wine from scratch. The song first.

I love to follow the odyssey of particular songs. Recently I fell in love all over again with The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face), what I consider to be one of the best love songs of the 20th century. However, I knew nothing of its origins until I dug a bit.

It was written in 1957 by British folk singer and songwriter Ewan MacColl for a play his wife, Peggy Seeger, was about to appear in. The play, and Peggy, were in the United States, but because he was an avowed communist, MacColl was not allowed in the States. She called him with the request for a specific kind of song. He wrote it hurriedly and taught it to her during a long distance telephone call. It was popularized in 1961 by The Kingston Trio. Here it is performed in 1965 by Peter, Paul and Mary as it was actually written.

In 1969 the song was rearranged at half tempo for Roberta Flack as an album cut. In 1971 it was notably featured in Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty for Me" and subsequently cut to four minutes and re-released as a single in 1972. It became a huge success, winning MacColl a Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Flack a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Here is the definitive performance of this song.

During the 2010 season of The X Factor, contestant Matt Cardle, who went on to win the competition, sang a much abbreviated version of the song due to the show's 2-minute limitation on performances. He has not yet released a commercial version, although there is great interest in hearing him sing the whole song. I originally embedded his performance in this page, but embedding has since been disabled by higher powers than me, so I have removed it from here but a link to the YouTube presentation is in the links below if you are interested. I apologize for this hiccup.

Carboy collection, courtesy of Barbara Pleasant

I love it when home winemakers finally graduate from kit wines to starting a grape or fruit wine from scratch. Kit wines are to me slightly analogous to "some assembly required" boxes of parts that can be transformed into a bicycle or swingset, although both can deliver a superior product. Still, there is little challenge in it and if that is all one does then he or she can claim they make wine but saying they are a winemaker conveys a subtle difference (to me). In the first instance they follow directions and mix measured and prepared packaged contents with water according to a scripted schedule. The results are always acceptable, often outstanding, and sometimes exceptional. The same thing can be said of the results of opening a box of "just add water" food mix. A winemaker may have a recipe and general instructions, but there are a host of variables that enter the process and must be dealt with by the craftsman to make a good product. If the results are pleasing, this person can claim to be a winemaker.

My inbox almost always contains at least one email from a person who has made their first wine from scratch. These are, to me, the most pleasing emails to read. They frequently relay having entered the wine into a local or regional competition and placed for a ribbon or medal. I sense the pride and am happy for them. I remember my first ribbon, a third place for an apple wine. I was walking on air that day.

For those of you who make kit wines, I am not ridiculing this endeavor. I too make a few kit wines. To me, it is a mindless exercise, a paint-by-numbers formula that you have to work at to screw it up, but it gives us access to grape varieties you and I might never have direct access to. But if that is all you do, then let me suggest you are missing out on what the hobby of winemaking has to offer. Expand your repertoire. You will thank me later.

How Do You "Sweeten to Taste"?

Sugar over a  wine glass, courtesy of Quentin Sadler

Many of my wine recipes include the phrase, "Sweeten to taste," meaning to sweeten the wine to suit your own taste. But how does one go about doing this? If one blindly adds sugar it would be real easy to over-sweeten it. If one adds just a little bit of sugar and tastes it, then adds a little bit more, one could be at it all day. Here is a practical way to go about it.

No one can anticipate what level of sweetness is right for you. You have to arrive at it yourself and then try to repeat it with successive batches of wine. Here is a method for arriving at what works for you.

First, be very sure the wine is stabilized before adding sugar to it or it will start fermenting again, a potentially explosive situation if you sweeten and then bottle it. It takes both potassium metabisulfite (or crushed Campden tablets) and potassium sorbate and a little time to stabilize a wine.

One crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and ½ teaspoon of potassium sorbate (also dissolved) per gallon of wine will do the trick, but this only prevents the existing live yeast from reproducing and keeping the colony going. Until they die out, these existing yeast are quite capable of restarting fermentation. So, stabilize, wait about 4 weeks, sweeten to taste, and then wait another couple of weeks just to be sure the airlock doesn't start bubbling again. I always rack my wine one last time before bottling, as racking removes more yeast from the wine than any other thing you can do shy of filtering. You will usually see a very fine dusting of sediment on the bottom of the secondary after you stabilize and wait. That dust is the dead yeast that weren't able to reproduce.

Second, you can sweeten with just sugar or you can make a simple syrup. You make a syrup with two parts sugar dissolved in one part of water (as in two cups of sugar in one cup of water). You may have to boil the water, remove from the heat, add the sugar, and stir like heck to make the syrup, as that much sugar doesn't easily dissolve in cold or warm water.

Here's a helpful hint. If you have a really strong blender (we have a Bosch), put the sugar in it, turn it on high for 2-3 minutes or until the sugar becomes powder, and then add the prescribed amount of warm-to-hot (not boiling) water and turn it on low until the sugar dissolves completely. Do NOT use commercial powdered sugar, as it contains corn starch to keep the sugar from re-solidifying and corn starch will permanently cloud your wine. Also, do not try this with an inexpensive blender or you may burn it up. If it hasn't got the power, the sugar could "fuse" together and stop the blades, causing the motor to burn up.

Allow the simple syrup to cool to room temperature (not in a refrigerator or it might start re-crystallizing) before continuing.

Third, measure how much liquid it takes to fill your hydrometer test jar to within two inches of the top. It take about a cup to fill mine that far. Measure out that much wine into a large water glass and stir into it one tablespoon of simple syrup and stir to integrate. Fill the hydrometer test jar with this sweetened wine and measure the specific gravity. Write that number on a piece of paper and set a wine glass on top of the number. Pour about one inch of wine from the hydrometer test jar into that wine glass and pour the remaining wine back into the large water glass. Replace the amount of wine you poured into the wine glass so you have as much as you started with last time and stir into it one more tablespoon of simple syrup and stir. Again pour it into the hydrometer test jar and measure the specific gravity. Write the number on a piece of paper and set an empty wine glass on the number. Pour an inch of wine into the glass and return the rest to the water glass. Again replace what you used and add another tablespoon of simple syrup. Stir, pour into the hydrometer test jar, and repeat the previous procedures. Do this until you have four or five wine glasses sitting on their specific gravity figures. Now taste them in the order they were filled (first glass to the last) and note the one that tasted best to you. It will be the one you tasted just before you picked up the one that was too sweet. Look at it's specific gravity. That's the specific gravity you want to sweeten your wine to.

Hitting a target specific gravity is not hard, but it does take time and patience. Unfortunately, I can't simply construct a look-up table for you saying to add this much simple syrup to achieve that specific gravity reading because not all wines will be equally dry to begin with. You just have to add some, stir, measure, and adjust until you are very close to the target s.g. Then add syrup, stir real good, wait 15-20minutes, and stir again. This time when you measure the specific gravity the syrup will be better integrated into the wine and the reading will be more accurate.

Here's another consideration. Over time, all wines mellow out somewhat and actually taste a little sweeter than they did when first bottled. If you plan on keeping the wine for a couple of years, you might want to back off the target sweetness just a hair to allow for this. For example, if the target s.g. is 1.012, you might want to sweeten it to 1.011 or even1.010 to allow for this perception.

The Problems with Melon Wines

Santa Claus Melon, by Jeff Widener, <i>The  Honolulu Advertiser</i>

A gentleman wrote to me about making wine from Santa Claus melons. I had to admit I have not made wine with this melon, although my records show I once tried. That was before I discovered how to successfully overcome the problems inherent in making wine from many melons, especially watermelons and related cousins.

The problem of spoilage with Santa Claus melons is the same as that for watermelon. I have addressed this at least twice on my blog in the past and elsewhere on my site, but will review it one more time. What follows applies to all melon wines.

Many melon juices spoil before they ferment to a high enough alcohol level to preserve them. To prevent spoilage, do the following:

Yeast  starter solution started in a flask

Purchase enough melon(s) to make a gallon of 100% sweetened juice. Store the melons in a cool place, but not the refrigerator.

In the early morning, in a 1-quart mason jar (or other suitable container, like the flask on the left), make a yeast starter solution of 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup apple, pear or orange juice and a pinch of yeast nutrient. Sprinkle a sachet of very fast wine yeast (Red Star Montrachet is my recommendation) on top (don't stir) and set the lid on top of the jar (but NOT the ring). Go do something.

In 2 hours, add 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, stir 1/2 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient into 1/4 cup fruit juice and stir until completely dissolved. Add to the starter and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, add 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, stir 1/2 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient into 1/4 cup fruit juice and stir until completely dissolved. Add to the starter and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, add 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, stir 1/2 teaspoon sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient into 1/4 cup fruit juice and stir until completely dissolved. Add to the starter and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, add 1/4 cup of the fruit juice and return the lid. Go do something.

In 2 hours, stir 1 teaspoon sugar and two pinches of yeast nutrient into 1 cup fruit juice and stir until completely dissolved. Add to the starter and return the lid. You now have 2 1/2 cups of starter solution with 256 times the number of yeast cells you started with. Let sit until next morning (after another 8 hours, you should have 4,096 times the number of yeast cells you started with, more than enough to ensure a quick fermentation).

Next morning, in a primary, juice the melon(s) to obtain 6 pints of juice. Use a hydrometer to determine the specific gravity and a hydrometer table to determine how much sugar to add to achieve a starting specific gravity of 1.088 to 1.090. Stir very well to completely dissolve the sugar. Add 3 teaspoons acid blend, 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient, 1/4 teaspoon yeast energizer (important!) and 1/4 teaspoon powdered grape tannin. This compensates for the near total absence of acid in melons and tannin. Stir again. Now stir the yeast starter solution and very gently pour the starter into the must. I hold a large spoon just at the surface and pour into it. This keeps the starter solution near the surface where the yeast have ready access to oxygen. You now have about a gallon of must. Cover the primary and go about your day.

Note: You could use slightly less melon juice and add 1 can of frozen 100% white grape juice concentrate (thawed and at room temperture). This would change the acid (reduced sugar addition by 1 teaspoon) and sugar calculations (use the hydrometer!) but would give you a more bodied wine.

In 6 hours stir the must and recover the primary. Stir it 2-3 times a day until vigorous fermentation subsides (3-4 days). Transfer to a secondary (do not top up) and attach an airlock. In about 3 weeks, rack, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, and top up. Reattach the airlock and proceed as you normally would with any wine.

This works 90% of the time.

April 24th, 2012

The weather is wonderful, with a few cool nights, and flowers are coming out in bloom in profusion. What a great time of the year! I hope you, wherever you might be, are enjoying similar spring days.

I missed the critical time to plant a garden and just don't want to fool with it when behind schedule. Been there, done that, and the results are not as fulfilling as with proper timing. Next year I will pay closer attention to my Farmer's Almanac -- still the best authority I know of.

Sparrow in birdhousei

I know other parts of the country suffered this past winter, but here in Pleasanton, Texas we had a mild one. I only recorded 5 nights during which it froze. I was only absent for a week and my neighbor said it got cold but did not freeze. But the severity of the winter was further confirmed, in my mind, by the fact that the house sparrows bred and occupied our birdhouses all year long. Whether a mating pair occupied the same birdhouse or nest repeatedly is something I cannot say, but I knew when the female was about to lay eggs because she cleaned the house or nest to some degree, the scatterings beneath it.

Maybe this is normal and I just haven't noticed it in the past as I did this year. I know that these omnipresent winged friends do not migrate, but I do not recall so many fledglings during January and February. March is when I usually notice them. Further, I do believe I have seen three broods already this year. I saw fledglings in early January, the latter half of February and then early April. Another wave of eggs is evident right now, as the females are cleaning the habitats. Whether the quick, successive broods have anything to do with the weather is something I cannot say. I am just reporting my coincidental observations -- mild winter, successive house sparrow broods. I have two friends who are avid birders and they should be able to put my observations into context for the species.

As I look out the window beyond my monitor I see sparrows at work in the three hanging bird houses and many nest in the patio rafters, an empty bird seed feeder, a squirrel raiding a second, several hummingbirds visiting two of my four hummingbird feeders, and a herd of 6-8 deer eating weeds in my far back. Yesterday at dusk there were at least a dozen out there. They are difficult to count because an out-building, trees, grapevines, and the tall weeds themselves constantly shield about half my view. I see them best when they move about. Yesterday I thought there were 7-8 out there until they all moved at once to another feeding area and I realized there were at least 12.

Be right back. I've got to fill the empty feeder and chase away that damned squirrel....

Both feeders are now filled to the top. The squirrel is gone for the time being. I brought out a large rawhide "bone" and gave it to the dog near the feeder the squirrel attacks (the other has a "squirrel-proof" cage around it). That will keep the dog occupied for an hour or two. Sigh. What we do for our little feathered friends....

The mild winter also resulted in more bugs (and flies) and caterpillars than usual. The sparrows come in handy there after their eggs hatch. I wish I had a couple of swallow houses....

Aging Wine With Mesquite

Torrey  Mesquite tree, from www.fourdir.com

I've received three inquiries in two months about aging wines with mesquite, so have decided to address it here. I've done so before, but people seem unwilling to dig through the WineBlog's archives.

The lowly mesquite (or majestic in rare cases) is usually a multi-trunked small to medium tree, but in fact the multi-trunks are usually separate trees from multiple beans that have grown together. Single trunks are not rare but also not the norm. What is rare these days are the massive trees, 4-5 feet in diameter, with a 10-15-foot straight trunk section before dividing in large branches supporting a spreading canopy. I have seen solid doors 3-4 feet wide, 8 feet or taller and 3-4 inches thick cut from a single trunk, but they are rare. Many have been bought up by craftsmen who turn them into tabletops. The wood blackens with long age in the weather, but underneath is deeply reddish, sometimes streaked with fine lines of dark brown to black, rarely with yellowish streaks. The oiled and lacquered wood is beautiful and lasts for centuries, as evidenced by many such doors in early colonial structures in Old Mexico.

Mesquite is common in my area. I had seven trees on my property but removed two and a falling oak took out another. They produce hundreds of pods containing multiple beans. The pods, broken up, make a honey-tasting wine, jelly and syrup if collected just as the pods turn brown. The fully hardened beans can be ground into a flour. We have a mill and I keep thinking I will make some mesquite flour one day.

To age wine, straight branch sections 6-8 inches in diameter and no longer than 2 feet are cured outside about 9-12 months. The bark is removed, often with the aid of a chisel. The exposed wood will be blackish. You could do the following by hand but a power planer will turn an all-afternoon job into an hour one.

Use a power saw to dress the weathered ends. Cut off an inch to be safe. With the power planer set to 3/16 to 1/4 inch bite, remove all the dark wood that was next to the bark. You must then brush all residue from the machine, sweep the floor well and sterilize the planer blade and table top with alcohol. The sap that flowed once is highly resinous and any latent hint of it will ruin the wine. Go have a beer while the alcohol evaporates and the fumes dissipate. Then use the same planer at the same bite to reduce the section into small chips. Smoker chips are too big for my taste and the small planer chips have far more surface area to impart flavor. I make enough to fill a few gallon ZipLoc bags and that lasts me a couple of years.

I obtained some mesquite sawdust from a furniture maker once (who assured me all his wood was dressed) and it worked beautifully, but he is about a 90-mile drive away and I can make the chips at a local woodworker's shop.

I use 1 to 1 1/2 cups per gallon of wine because I am in a hurry. You can use less and leave it in longer. Same results. Use it like oak. Leave it 2-3 weeks and taste. It usually takes longer to get the flavor I want -- 4-5 weeks -- but you never know. And, it also depends on the wine. Taste and wait. Taste and wait. You'll know when you get there.

I use it mostly with my local mustang grape wine, or V. aestivalis var. lincecumii, or Norton. It just works better with dark reds in my opinion. It works with blackberry and blueberry with a lighter application. If I had black raspberries I would try it, but I don't. It might work with dark muscadines but I haven't gone there yet. I was not happy with elderberry but the judges were.

I once spread some oak chips on a hardware cloth (coarse screen) and put them in the meat side of my smoker and smoked them for 4 hours in mesquite smoke. I used the oak on a large batch of kit burgundy and the results were so outstanding I nearly had an orgasm. I called it "Smoked Burgundy" and it won a first place locally, Grand Champion at two county fairs and best in class nationally.

You can use it in lieu of oak, but it has a different flavor and doesn't work with...Chardonnay, for instance. It did work with persimmon but not mesquite wine (a big disappointment). You just have to experiment and see what you like. Always experiment with 1-gallon batches.


Heavily toasted oak cubes

A winemaker from Travelers Rest, South Carolina asked me about oak. His wife loves the "oaky, ashy tastes -- full deep body, good flavor but on the dry side." She has good taste. He asked how best to obtain that flavor from oak. I relayed to him some of my own experiences.

I use heavily toasted oak cubes and oak beans. I have other grades, but if I'm going through the trouble of oaking I prefer to go all the way.

I also have a white oak sawdust I obtained from a cooperage in Missouri (you can buy it from many places on the web). I spread it on a rimmed cookie sheet in a thin layer and placed it in the middle of a 500-degree oven. If your oven is small, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the sawdust to prevent broiler heat from overdoing it (you might want to reduce all times and check early). I initially set the timer for 10 minutes and then check it every minute or two. When it begins to toast to my satisfaction I remove it, stir it with a spatula, and put it back in for maybe another 4-6 minutes -- unless it starts to smoke. When cool, I pour it in a quart Mason jar and then fill the jar with 100-proof Smirnoff Vodka (don't waste your time with the 80-proof). After about 3 months, the vodka is useful for adding oak to my wines. When the vodka reaches the level of the sawdust, I toast some more and put it in a new jar. I strain the vodka out of the original jar real good into the second jar, then top up with fresh vodka. I have a similar jar of mesquite sawdust and vodka I use with my mustang wines when in a hurry.

Marvin Nebgen of Fredericksburg, Texas makes a similar oak infusion for his wines by a slightly different method. He uses the toasted chips (these are the small chips produced by a power planer), boils them (see explanation further down), and puts them to within an inch or so of the top of a small Starbucks Frappuccino glass bottle and fills it with Everclear. The higher alcohol (190 proof) acts faster at extraction and he can use it within 2-3 weeks. Since he typically uses only a ounce or two at a time, he just adds more Everclear until the flavor is diluted. This is a more efficient method and I may switch to Everclear myself. His red wines are always stellar.

One other difference between my method and Marvin's is that a slight taste of vodka is immediately noticeable in my wines but dissipates during bottle aging. There is no such taste with Everclear. Just don't overdo it, as Everclear adds alcohol to your wine and can alter the balance.

There are several commercial products similar to what Marvin and I make. One is Winemakers Oak Extract from E. C. Kraus, another Oak Essence from I. D. Carlson, and there is Sinatin 17 Oak Extract from Crosby and Baker. All impart good oak flavor.

Oak cubes and beans are denser than oak chips or powder and therefore allow fewer phenolics to leech into the wine. This does produce a smoother, more rounded flavor with more subtle complexities. You can also buy strips of staves to place in your wines. Oaking with a cup of cubes or beans per gallon requires about 6-8 weeks to do the job, but longer contact will only increase the intensity. Remember, there comes a time when too long is simply too much. As you hit 6 weeks, taste. If you want a little more, taste at least weekly.

You get better results from the oak chips and powder if you boil it for 15 minutes and when it cools place it in muslin and give it a good wringing. This does not remove any of the oak flavor, but does eliminate most of the harsh phenolics you don't want in your wine. I thank Marvin Nebgen for that tip.

Oak cubes, beans and strips can be used over and over again for up to 8-10 months. At some point you know they are not doing as you hoped, so add a fresh batch and keep on truckin'.

There are many manufacturers of oak chips, cubes, beans, strips, and powder, so you won't have trouble finding them. Personally, I think that StaVin is among the best, but that's just my opinion.

Remember, oaking is only appropriate for some wines. I have tasted some very good wines that were greatly reduced in quality by oaking. A fellow in an adjacent town grew a few Symphony vines and made a great wine year after year, then he oaked it and that was a huge mistake. Experiment, but if you make a bad choice drink it yourself -- don't pass it off on friends.

May 4th, 2012

I'm off tomorrow to the Small Scale Winemakers Symposium at Cat Springs, Texas, about 3 hours from here. I'll be giving a presentation on making fruit wines, something I have some experience with. It should be a nice day.

Not much has been happening except some medical stuff I won't bore you with and a two-front battle royale with both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. I won't bore you with that either. I bottled a pretty good tangerine wine I'll share with you below.

Lighthouse at Bolivar Point, Galveston  County, Texas

I was going through some photos we took and came upon this one of Bolivar Lighthouse, which sits at the western tip of Bolivar Peninsula and announces the eastern edge of the narrow channel into Galveston Bay. It isn't the prettiest lighthouse I've seen, but at 117 feet it is still impressive. Erected in 1872, it is made of brick and sheathed in cast iron plates riveted together. It was once decorated in black and white horizontal bands, but today it is almost solid black with rust.

The lamp was fed by kerosene, contained in storage tanks on the lower level, which was forced through nozzles into a mantle where it became gas, burning with 52,000 candlepower. Eight rays of light were produced every 15 seconds as the lamp slowly revolved throughout the night.

It survived the two worst storms ever to hit the Texas coast, the hurricanes of 1900 and 1915. The 1900 hurricane, which took an estimated 6,000 lives on Galveston Island, caused the tower to sway, but the lighthouse stood and gave refuge to 125 people. In 1915, 61 people took refuge in it as 126 mph winds rocked it again.

It was considered one of the most attractive and efficient lighthouses on the Texas Gulf Coast, but today it is privately owned and closed to the public. Its utility was retired in 1933 when the South Jetty light went into operation. I still think it is splendid and treasure the photo, cropped for this blog.

Tangerine Wine

Tangerines,  from Walker Indian River Groves

Tangerines are a wonderful citrus fruit, great for snacking. They peel very easily and the sections separate easily too. I've read there is a seedless variety, but I've never encountered it. The seeds are the only drawback. When eating, if my teeth happen to crack one I spit it out, usually with a few others. Otherwise, I generally swallow them because spitting was always frowned upon by my mother. They make no difference when making tangerine wine, so ignore them.

The tangerine (Citrus reticulata) is a close cousin of the orange (Citrus sinensis). More than 37 cultivated varieties are grown, but the best known are the Changsha (Mandarine), Clementine (Algerian -- acidic), Dancy (Mandarine), Fairchild (Clementine), Fortune, Honey (sweet), Murcott (sweet), Nasnaran (acidic), Nova (Clementine), Page (sweet), and Satsuma (7 varieties plus hybrids--more weakly flavored than other varieties). The Kinnow and Wilking are also highly prized for winemaking, each possessing a rich, aromatic flavor.

The recipe below makes one gallon of delicately flavored wine, but it is important that the oranges used be Valencia and the tangerines be an equal mix of acidic and sweet varieties. If you cannot find Valencia oranges, a can of frozen orange concentrate will work.

Calamondins, Citranges or Minneola Tangeloes--none of which are true tangerines--can be substituted for acidic tangerine varieties, If using Calamondins, which are very small, use 2-1/2 times as many as the number of sweet tangerines you use. Eight cans of Mandarine orange segments can be substituted for sweet tangerine varieties.

  • 16-24 tangerines (sweet and sour varieties, equally mixed)
  • 8-10 small Valencia oranges
  • can of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
  • 1 lb finely granulated sugar (or to S.G. of 1.090)
  • 1 tsp citric acid
  • 3/4 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/4 tsp tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 pkt Champagne wine yeast

Bring about 5 pints of water to a boil and in it dissolve the sugar. Save zest of 5 oranges (if using concentrate, zest from 8 tangerines). Peel and section all citrus, being careful to remove all pith. Place zest and sections in nylon straining bag, tie closed and mash in primary. Pour boiling water with dissolved sugar and thawed grape concentrate over fruit, cover primary, and set aside to cool. When must has cooled to room temperature add acid, tannin, yeast nutrient, and pectic enzyme, recover primary, and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution, cover the primary again and set aside. Stir daily until specific gravity drops to 1.010. Drip drain bag (do not squeeze) and transfer liquid to secondary. Top up if required, attach airlock and ferment to dryness. Rack when fermentation ceases, top up and reattach airlock, Rack again, top up and refit airlock every 60 days for 6 months or until wine clears. Taste. If too tart, stabilize, sweeten to taste, wait additional 30 days to ensure fermentation does not restart and rack into bottles. Age another 6-12 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

This recipe makes a 12% alcohol wine, but at 10% it is a more enjoyable wine served cold on hot summer afternoons.

May 11th, 2012

Check fraud. Scary thought. It could happen to you. It just happened to me. I logged into my bank to confirm receipt of my pension and decided while there to balance my checkbook. I noticed an out-of-sequence check and looked at the payee. It was a store my wife shops and her book of checks is always out-of-sequence with mine so I didn't really pay too much attention to details. Then I ran across seven more out-of-sequence checks, but one of them was at the end of the checkbook I was using and the others in the next book, which I also had possession of. The amounts were always in the $200-$500 range, but added up. I called the bank.

I won't bore you with details, but it has turned into a saga of sorts. Together with the bank's Fraud Department, we have determined the check I wrote that was intercepted, probably from my mailbox. My account is closed. Affidavits and signature cards are on their way to me. A notary and police report will be needed. Then I have to track down all automatic payments and withdrawals and notify them of the new account when issued.

George Gershwin wrote, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy." He obviously lived before the computerized printing age, but thanks to computerized bank data I was able to nip this in the bud early. I just hope it doesn't get more complicated.

French bread sourdough rising

My sourdough starter was producing rises like the one pictured (the shot glass was intended to show perspective, but is too close to the lens and looks almost twice as large as it is), was at just the right degree of sourness for me (which was pretty sour), and had reached the point of near perfection...when I dropped it.

I had not dried my hands well enough when I picked up the bowl containing the starter to move it to an opposing countertop and the moist fingers lost their grip. It shattered on a rug runner past it's time for cleaning, so there was no salvaging from the drop. Still, I had a small amount set aside that I am using to revive the culture.

When the culture is to my liking, I will spread a thin layer on a sheet of parchment and dry it in a cracked oven on pilot. As long as temperature doesn't exceed 105 degrees F., the yeast and the starter will survive dried out for many years.

I want to thank all of you who bring to my attention errors in my recipes and other writings. I sometimes write on auto-pilot and the result can lend itself to error. I apologize for the errors, but thank you for bringing them to my attention. You guys and gals are truly awesome.

Malbec and Rosemary Sausage

Homemade sausages

I rarely ever do this, but I'm lifting the following entry wholesale from an email I received from Nicole Schnitzler of The Thomas Collective. It just sings to me and might just sing to you, too, if you like Malbec and sausage.

"Man first learned to cook with fire. Maybe that explains our enduring fascination with barbecue-that primordial satisfaction of gathering the tribe around the fire to celebrate another day's successful quest for meat. Wine was invented for these occasions, and if anyone is more popular than whoever's tending the fire, it's whoever is supplying the wine.

"Now pair that wine with a great sausage, and suddenly you're not just making food, you're participating in a ritual that's 10,000 years old. The world comes alive.

"To test our hypothesis, Graffigna, Argentina's pioneering winery, has commissioned butcher Sara Bigelow of Brooklyn's Meat Hook to create a singularly knock out sausage. In the recipe below, she uses Graffigna Centenario Malbec 2010. The wine's ripe tannins balance the meat's unctuous qualities, and hints of pepper and sweet spices mirror and enhance those found in the dish. Just make sure to share the remainder of the contents with your guests."

The Meat Hook's Malbec and Rosemary Sausage
Serves 8

  • 2 1/2 lbs Fatty Pork
  • 20 grams Kosher Salt
  • 3 grams Cayenne
  • 5 grams Paprika
  • 3 grams Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 grams White Sugar
  • 8 grams Garlic
  • 5 grams Minced Rosemary
  • 2 ounces Graffigna Centenario Malbec 2010

"Grind pork and garlic together. Add salt, and mix well by hand. Add the rest of your spices, and continue mixing by hand for two minutes. Add red wine and continue mixing until liquid is fully incorporated. Once the sausage has begun to bind to itself, form a small patty with your hand. Turn your hand upside down, and if the sausage does not stick, continue to mix. Once the sausage will stick to your hand, form into patties or stuff intonatural hog casing. The Meat Hook recommends 4 to 5 inch links, or small pinwheels. Grill and enjoy with a glass of Graffigna Centenario Malbec 2010."

Wisteria Blossom Wine

Chinese wisteria flowers, from Wikipedia

Wisteria, especially Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), is a very hardy and fast-growing vine. It can grow in fairly poor-quality soils, but prefers fertile, moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Wisteria can best be propagated from hardwood and softwood cuttings. They can climb 60 feet and completely cover a tree. Because of their sheer bulk, they can grow so heavy that they break lesser branches. The American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), especially, is considered invasive. But the flowers, well, can you spell w-i-n-e?

The plant flowers in long, pendulous racemes. The Chinese Wisteria is considered the best for making wine, as they are the most fragrant, have the largest racemes, and flower before putting out leaves and new vine laterals that can impede harvesting the flowers.

All portions of the plant, except the flowers, are poisonous. Select the most fragrant flowers and clip the individual flowers from the raceme. Discard the raceme's stem. The resulting wine, after aging, will be both fragrant and flavorful.

  • flowers from 8 wisteria racemes
  • 1 can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • 1 1/2 pounds sugar
  • 4 lemons, juiced
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 1/4 powdered grape tannin
  • 7 1/4 pints water
  • 1 sachet wine yeast

Clip the wisteria flowers from the stems and discard the stems. Put the flowers in a nylon straining bag, tie closed, place in a primary and set aside. Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the flowers. Let the mixture sit for 2 hours, covered. Raise the nylon straining bag and squeeze gently to extract as much of the infusion as possible. Keep the liquid and discard the flowers. In a large, non-reactive stock pot, bring the strained wisteria infusion to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the lemon juice and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lemon zest and the thawed White Grape Juice concentrate. Remove from the heat, cover the stock pot, set aside to cool to room temperature, and stir in the yeast nutrient and tannin. Pitch the activated yeast as a yeast starter solution. Cover and leave at room temperature until the vigorous fermentation subsides, stirring 2-3 times each day. Strain into a gallon jug and attach an airlock. After 1 month, rack, top up and set aside until clear. Wait another 30 days and rack again. Stabilize the wine and set aside an additional 60 days. Sweeten to taste and allow to maturate another 30 days. Carefully rack into bottles and age a year before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

May 15th, 2012

It was 8:50 p.m. I went out on the front porch to sit on our bench and enjoy a rum drink I concocted. It was almost dark, the sky a deep gray-blue but not yet black. I couldn't clearly see the nearest house across the street. The sound of hundreds of cicadas chirping to each other up in the large oaks was loud and constant. It was a nice orchestra with which to enjoy a drink.

I know from experience that the chirps will almost completely die out in two hours. Those seeking mates will have found them and no longer need to chirp. Nature, in all its detail, is majestic. I know that if I go sit on the bench to enjoy a cup of coffee at 6:45 in the morning, I will hear a different orchestra -- one of birds calling and singing. It too is nice. Two mornings ago I saw a covey of perhaps three dozen quail working their way across my lawn. Haven't seen them in a couple of years. I love where I live.


Levon Helm on drums with <i>The Band</i> at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium 1976

While the nation mourned the passing of Dick Clark last month, the passing of Levon Helm the next day was far more significant to me. The legendary drummer and lead tenor of The Band moved my soul many, many times. Dick Clark never did. Levon was the winner of three Grammys for his own albums (2008, 2010, 2011), inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Band (1994), awarded the AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing (2003), the AMA Artist of the Year (2008), and in 2008 Rolling Stone ranked Helm #91 in their list the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.

His most legendary songs were with The Band: "The Weight," "Ophelia," "Up on Cripple Creek," "The Shape I'm In," and my favorite, "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." But his most original work was during his last decade and included his three Grammy albums and the Midnight Rambles at his home at Woodstock.

Most people who follow rock and roll are familiar with Martin Scorsese's documentary film of The Band's 1976 farewell performance, The Last Waltz, widely considered the greatest rock and roll film ever made. Levon Helm performed in it, but no one was acting. Levon's acting career opened as Loretta Lynn's father in Coal Miner's Daughter. Three years later he played test pilot and engineer Jack Ridley in The Right Stuff. He acted in nine other films. He played many instruments besides the drums. Bruce Springsteen called Helm "one of the greatest, greatest voices in country, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll ... staggering ... while playing the drums." I'm really going to miss you, Levon. I doubt I will miss Dick Clark at all.

Carroll Shelby with his Cobra

Those who follow auto racing already know this, but Carroll Shelby, the legendary auto racer and car designer who built the Shelby Cobra and injected muscle into Ford's Mustang and Chrysler's Viper, has died. He was 89.

Shelby. There is a name I grew up with. Shelby first made his name behind the wheel of a car, winning the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans with teammate Ray Salvadori in 1959. According to his longtime friend Dick Messer, executive director of Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum, Shelby already was suffering serious heart problems and ran the race "with nitroglycerin pills under his tongue."

Soon after his win at Le Mans, he gave up racing and began designing high-powered "muscle cars" that eventually became the Shelby Cobra and the Mustang Shelby GT500. The Cobra was the fastest production model ever made when introduced at the New York Auto Show in 1962.

The 1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta

I had the privilege of owning one of the five 250GT short wheel-base Berlinettas Ferrari built for the 1961 Le Mans. I was frequently challenged by Corvette owners to race, but I only accepted if the run was five measured miles. The Ferrari had terrible low-end torque and the Vette wallowed in it, but after the first mile and a half the Ferrari was red-lining at 193 miles per hour and the Vettes were left in the dust. I made the mistake of racing a Cobra -- once. It cost me $100 and earned my deepest respect for Carroll Shelby.

Shelby was one of the nation's longest-living heart transplant recipients, having received a heart in 1990 from a 34-year-old man who died of an aneurism. Shelby also received a kidney transplant in 1996 from his son, Michael.

In 2007, an 800-horsepower 1966 Cobra, once Shelby's personal car, sold for $5.5 million at auction, a record for an American car. Wouldn't you just love to take that one out for a spin?

Most of the above Shelby nuggets were pulled from an Associated Press article by Jeff Wilson.

I join your many fans, Carroll Shelby, in saying we're going to miss you.

Corn Silk Wine

Corn silk on ear of corn

Many years ago I made a list of things I have not yet made wine with. The list was not inclusive and no matter how many times I updated it I could always think of another candidate for wine. One item on that list was corn silk. It was not tackled early on simply because I had no idea how to approach it. Two years ago I gave it a whirl, guessing at every step of the way. It didn't turn out bad at all.

I assumed I could make a wine because corn silk tea was a medicinal beverage in the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus, and most teas can be made into wine. Corn silk is rich in vitamin K and its tea is still used to help purify the blood, treat urinary and bladder infections and detoxify the kidneys. But how much to use? Here I merely guessed.

The number I guessed at was the corn silk from 12 ears of corn per gallon of wine. How did I arrive at this figure? It was the number of ears of corn a friend gave me. Very scientific....

The first step is to make a tea and then use that to make the wine. First, cut off any brown tassel tips protruding from the ears of corn. The carefully shuck the corn to expose the corn on the cob surrounded by the thin, shiny, greenish-yellow threads of corn silk. There will be one thread of silk for every grain of corn. Grab the silk near the top of the ear and pull it away from the ear. Place the corn silk in a stock pot and cover with two quarts of water. Bring to a high boil but immediately reduce heat to a simmer and hold it there for 15 minutes, adding water to maintain level. Remove from heat and allow to steep for a half-hour. Strain, reserving the liquid and discarding the silk. The liquid is the corn silk tea and will smell like corn.

  • 2 qts corn silk tea
  • 1 can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
  • Juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 1 large orange
  • 1 1/2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/8 tsp grape tannin
  • Water to one gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • sachet general purpose wine yeast

While tea is still warm, stir in sugar until completely dissolved. Contain lemon zest in a tea ball infuser and place in a primary. Add all remaining ingredients except yeast. When must is cooler than 90 degrees F., add activated yeast in a starter solution. Cover the primary and set aside for 3 days. Remove tea ball infuser and discard the zest. Recover the primary but monitor its progress. When specific gravity drops to 1.020, transfer to secondary and attach airlock.. Set in a dark, cool place for about 45 days. Rack, top up and return to dark place for 2 months. Wine should be clear. Rack again, stabilize, return to dark place at least 30 days. Sweeten to taste if desired and allow a final 30 days in dark place before bottling, or bottle now if not sweetening. Age in brown or amber bottles 4-6 months, but improves out to a year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

My wine suited my taste buds at specific gravity 1.002. This is considered off-dry but certainly not sweet. You can smell the corn ever so lightly in the glass, but I was not sure I could taste it due to the citrus. Still, it is an enjoyable wine best served chilled with a salad or socially on a warm summer afternoon.

Corn Stalk Wine

Young corn stalks, courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension

I have twice been asked about corn stalk wine but never really had the interest or knowledge to pursue it. Recently, reading Patrick E. McGovern's fascinating book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, I came upon his discussion of corn stalk wine. He says we know from evidence that corn was domesticated approximately 6,000 years ago, but stable isotope analysis of ancient human bones reveals that maize (what we call corn) was not consumed as a food until around 3,000 years ago. So what the heck were the ancient Americans doing with that corn for 3,000 years? The answer is making and drinking corn chicha, or corn wine.

It was not until selective breeding produced a large cob bearing large kernels that the corn itself became the crop. Prior to that, the young corn stalks themselves, containing up to 16% sugar, were the crop, harvested before the ears began development and the sugar was transported to them for conversion into starch. The sweet juice was extracted from the stalks and fermented. McGovern's evidence is compelling.

The stalks of both maize and its ancient ancestor, teosinte, were used in the production of chicha. Teosinte, a wild mountain grass with tiny ears containing only 5 to 12 kernels, contained almost no nutritional value, but we know it was domesticated and over millennia lost its many thin stalks in favor of a large central one and the ear size increased. It evolved into maize, or corn.

While McGovern tells me enough to know how to make a corn stalk wine, the development of an actual method and construction of a recipe would require me to actually do it. I have no corn stalks at my disposal and do not own a press I consider sufficient to that purpose. If you have both, perhaps you might undertake the experimental work and share it with me. It cannot be too difficult. After all, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayans, and pueblo dwellers of the U.S. southwest did it thousands of years ago without ever knowing there was an organism called yeast that made it possible. Surely you can do it too.

Uncorking the Past, paperback

Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages by Patrick E. McGovern (2010)
352 pages
New and Used

May 30th, 2012

Marine saluting graves on Memorial Day

I was going to the Memorial Day ceremony here in Pleasanton. The local VFW puts it on and I got up early enough to do it, but got busy with laundry and missed it. So I did some meditating instead, visualizing the face of each of my men I lost in Vietnam. It was better than the ceremony I missed, of that I am sure. At least it was more personal and meaningful.

For some reason, Memorial Day has become a day for firing up the grill. A couple of months ago I had an intestinal bug that all of the self-help cures I found would not lick, so I finally went to my gastroenterologist and he took care of it with two prescriptions. During the ordeal, I changed my eating habits considerably and lost 12 pounds. I ate five times a day, but the portions were small. I really ate only one real "meal" per day. but I had two salads and two pieces of fruit for the other times I ate. In the process, my stomach became used to the small intakes and so I continued this routine after my bug was history. I lost another three pounds. I could afford to lose them so I am happy about it. So what does this have to do with Memorial Day and the grill? Everything.

On Monday, I grilled some sausages -- enough for 10 days if I only eat one a day. Then I made a thin gravy-like cooked veggie concoction with onions, garlic, red and green bell peppers, thinly sliced celery, portabella mushrooms, and sliced water chestnuts. I divided it into 9 cup-sized refrigerator containers. The idea is I will slice a sausage, get it warming in a small skillet, add a container of whatever one wants to call my concoction, warm it up, and pour it over rice, chunked baby potatoes, noodles, or alfalfa sprouts. Add a steamed veggie, green or fruit salad, a slice of my sourdough French bread, and it will be a seam-busting meal. I'm set for a week and a half. Before the intestinal bug I would have finished it off in 3 meals. My portion control is really working and I am a happy camper. If I get back into walking, I might drop a couple more pounds.

I hope your Memorial Day was as satisfying as mine. I know the folks along the lower-to-mid-Eastern Seaboard had the tropical storm spoil their outdoor plans, but perhaps being forced indoors offered new opportunities to interact and share some quality time.

When Does a Flaw Become a Fault?

After a recent home wine competition at which I was a judge, I was asked by an entrant after the judging to explain why I faulted two wines for the same defect (high alcohol) but one judging sheet showed a numerical deduction only for "high alcohol" under Balance and the other showed that same deduction plus another numeric deduction under Taste. My explanation satisfied the entrant, but the answer may be of greater interest so I will explain it below in my own rambling fashion.

I recently wrote a piece describing wine faults for the Wine Judges Corner, a feature inaugurated in January in the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's Newsletter. For each fault identified I described the sensory symptoms, the probable causes, how it might be prevented if at all, and over and over again I said, "...could be a flaw or a fault, depending on severity." This is not always true, of course (TCA comes to mind), but for many, many faults it is. A flaw is a juvenile fault. Given time it will change a wine from being "off" to being undrinkable. The difference is in the way the wine judge treats the defect in scoring the wine.

Take, for example, a "hot" wine -- one imbalanced with too much alcohol as in the anecdotal example above. The wine is going to take a hit in balance because the alcohol is not balanced against residual sugar, acid, tannins, and glycerin. If it were the wine would not be "hot" in the mouth. This is true whether the wine is a little hot (a flaw, perhaps) or decidedly so (a fault). In judging the taste of the wine, where the judging criteria is more interested in whether the wine clearly presents the grape(s) or fruit the wine was made from than in the character of its balance, the judge has some latitude. A minor alcohol imbalance might be mentioned in comments here but not actually reflected in the numerical score for this judging section. But a dry Seyval Blanc with 15% alcohol by volume is going to suffer a numeric deduction both in balance and in taste. The wine demands it.

Flaws and faults can refer to the same problem. The difference is in severity. An "off" smell is more than likely a fault that has just reached sensory threshold but is not yet strong enough to possibly identify or make the wine undrinkable. Unless it spoils the enjoyment of the wine, many home wine judges will tread easy, noting the defect and deducting a point under Aroma/Bouquet. But that same wine in another month or two may earn a deduction of multiple points as the defect becomes an unambiguous obstruction to enjoyment. Then we say it is a fault.

Having said all of that, the reader would do well to consider that not all home wine judges think as I do. Some make no distinction between a flaw and a fault and will deduct the same number of points for one as for the other. Since these are not commercial wines, home winemaking is supposed to be fun and people enter competitions for constructive feedback, I would hope this type of judge would evolve into a more discriminating and compasionate soul. There is a difference between an "off" smell and full-blown hydrogen sulfide.

Gorse Wine

Gorse (<i>Ulex europaeus</i>) flowers

I was surprised when a friend in California called to ask me if I had a recipe for gorse wine. He had come upon an area with acres and acres of gorse in bloom and filled a beer cooler with flowers, relating along the way that his fingers were like little pin cushions from being stuck repeatedly by their spines (which in fact are their leaves). I told him I had a recipe posted on my site but had improved upon it, and after some digging I called him back and dictated it to him. I thought I should share the improved version with the rest of you.

Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is native to the British Isles and much of western Europoe. It grows in sunny sites, usually on dry, sandy soils, is quite drought hardy, and reaches a height of 7-10 feet. Brought to Canada and America as ornamentals, it quickly escaped and became a naturalized, invasive pest. A member of the pea family, the yellow flowers give way to green pods which then dry and burst open on hot days and spread their seed. The large stand my friend found is testament to their invasiveness.

Gorse do have actual leaves, small and trifoliate on new growth, but these soon are reduced to spines which are the mature form of the leaves. Because of the protection the spines afford, the plants are haven to a multitude of insects, spiders and caterpillars, which in turn are food for birds small enough to navigate the thick growth.

Picking the flowers can be painful, as my friend discovered. Stiff leather gloves are advised.

  • 12 cups of gorse flowers
  • 6 1/2 pints of water
  • 2 pounds sugar
  • 12-ounce can 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered grape tannin
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
  • 1 pkg Lalvin EC-1118 yeast

Put the flowers into primary immediately. Boil half the water and stir in half the sugar until dissolved (1 to 2 minutes), then pour over flowers. Thinly peel the rind from the oranges and the lemons and add rind (no pith) to primary. Squeeze out the juice and add that too, but not the pulp. Add the tannin and stir thoroughly. Add cold water to bring total to 1 gallon. When water cools to 90 degrees F. or less, add the yeast nutrient, stir well, and then add the activated yeast in a starter solution and cover. Ferment vigorously for 3 days, stirring twice daily, then add remaining sugar and stir until dissolved (about 5 minutes). Recover primary and continue stirring twice daily until fermentation subsides or s.g. drops below 1.020. Strain through a sieve or cloth and transfer to a gallon secondary. Affix an airlock and set in a warm place. Rack after 30 days and again when clear, wait a month and rack again. Stabilize, wait 30 days, and sweeten to 1.004-1.006. Wait additional 30 days to ensure no refermentation, rack into bottles and age 6 months before tasting. Drink before it ages 2 years. [Jack Keller's own recipe.]

June 6th, 2012

Just as I was ready to post the entry below, I heard of the passing last night of Ray Bradbury, noted author, at age 91. Bradbury wrote 30 books, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote over 600 short stories, many television scripts, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his screen play for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick.

Dandelion Wine was, for many, the classic collection of stories that defined a childhood summer in the golden era of 1928. The title is woven throughout the book as the boy's grandfather captures the joys and turns of summer and bottles it -- to be sipped during the winter. It was the book that taught me the meaning of the word metaphor.

We'll miss you Ray, but your words live on -- unless there comes a real Fahrenheit 451.

There is no explaining the way the mind works. I have not heard this song by the Bellamy Brothers in many years, but when I woke up this morning their 1979 number 1 country song was playing in my head.

If I said you had a beautiful body
Would you hold it against me?
If I swore you were an angel,
Would you treat me like the devil tonight?
If I were dying of thirst
Would your flowing love come quench me?
If I said you had a beautiful body
Would you hold it against me?

For those who might not remember the song, or do but not the whole thing, here is a live studio performance in Belgium from the early 1980s....

I thank David and Howard Bellamy for simple purity of their music and the great memories, and may God bless the Bellamy Brothers.

Francis Gary Powers in U-2 flight suit

It was May Day, 1960, a Sunday, and I had 26 days remaining before I graduated from the 9th grade. On that day, during what was intended to be (and in fact was) the last overflight of the Soviet Union by a U-2 spy plane, a Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missile ended the photoreconnaissance mission of Captain Francis Gary Powers. He was tried and confined for 21 months before being returned to U.S. custody through an exchange for Soviet spy Colonel Rudolf Abel. Captain Powers was harshly interrogated by the Russians and rudely treated by his own country when returned -- ostensibly for failing to activate the U-2's self-destruct mechanism before ejecting.

I was an instructor at an Army intelligence school when, on August 1, 1977, the radio announced the death of Francis Gary Powers, when the news helicopter he was piloting ran out of fuel and crashed near Burbank, California. It seemed like such an unfitting end to a man who had endured so much for his country.

In the year 2000 the Air Force declassified Powers' personnel records and acknowledged he was still an active duty officer when the U-2 incident occurred. He was posthumously awarded the Prisoner of War Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, National Defense Service Medal, and, from the CIA, the Director's Medal and Intelligence Star. On July 15th, 2012 a negligent Air Force will also award Captain Powers the Silver Star Medal, the third highest combat valor award. It's about time.

Hydrometer in wine, fair use
When Logic Fails

Dale Ims, from the Rochester Area Home Winemakers, contacted me a week ago regarding a mystery. He was trying to assist Jill and Mark Misterka resolve why there is data indicating a frequent but not consistent rise in the specific gravity of some wines -- from the cessation of fermentation to the time of bottling. The effect is about 0.002, not large but observable.

Jill assumed it was due to the presence of dissolved CO2 in the wine, an assumption based on comments I made in an article published in WineMaker magazine.

Dale looked into the effects of CO2 dissolved in water as he was unable to find the effects of it dissolved in wine (if no one does the research, no one publishes the results). Dale found that the solubility of CO2 in water at 20 C. and at a pressure just over atmospheric is about 1.5 mg/L. That level of CO2 would raise the specific gravity of the water by about 0.0003, too small to explain the observed rise. So Dale asked me if I had any insight that might explain the rise.

My comments in WineMaker concerned specifically the rise in acidity during fermentation and for a diminishing period thereafter. Under pressure, some of the CO2 is converted to carbonic acid (CO2 + H2O [is equivalent to] H2CO3), a weak and unstable compound. It does have a greater density than its two constituents separately, but as Dale pointed out the increase is minute. But it does measurably increase the acidity slightly, both as TA and as pH. And, after fermentation, as pressure is released internally, the carbonic acid breaks back down to it's former CO2 and H2O. This explains the slight increase in acidity I commented on but really sheds no light on the increase in density.

I thought I had a logical explanation but my logic ignored Dale's research and failed. A chemist friend I contacted seemed uninterested in the problem, but suggested someone ought to compare the solubility of CO2 in various wines with that of water. He thought the variabilities in wine are so numerous that "meaningful organization of the results might be difficult." Uh, well, yes, but that applies to every chemical analysis of "wine," doesn't it? There isn't a generic wine we can model, but the literature of wine chemistry is rich nonetheless.

If anyone has any insight into solving the problem Jill, Mark and Dale are wrestling with, please drop me a line and I will forward it to Dale. My contact link is at the top of the left column.

What's In A Name?
Jack Keller's 2003 Mustang Wine, with its 2004 <i>WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition</i> gold medal

I was recently at Poteet Country Winery to arrange a future visit by the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild. I have been visiting this winery since it opened on July 4th, 1998 and am good friends with the owners, winemakers and volunteers. Over the years I have followed the battles the winery has fought to obtain approval of its various labels. Few people outside the winery end of the business have the slightest clue how difficult it can be to gain regulatory approval for a label for a new wine. Take, for instance, the label for White Mustang, a White Zinfandel-type rosé made from the mustang grape.

They may have changed the name of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but the ATF name survives in the title of 27 CFR: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Part 4 is Labeling and Advertising of Wine and Subpart C of Part 4 is Standards of Identity for Wine. §4.23, Varietal (grape type) labeling, contains subparagraph (e) List of approved variety names: "Effective February 7, 1996, the name of a grape variety may be used as a type designation for an American wine only if that name has been approved by the Administrator. A list of approved grape variety names appears in subpart J of this part." Indeed, Subpart J is American Grape Variety Names and contains an exhaustive list of grape names. Mustang is not among them.

Despite the omission, "mustang" is the common name for the recognized species Vitis mustangensis and has been recognized botanically, commonly and officially in Texas for at least 153 years. The 1859 First Report of Progress of the Geological and Agricultural Survey of Texas says, "...the mustang grape (vitis mustangensis)...makes, what we think to be, an excellent red wine, which, by age, attains strength and flavor."

Page 66 of this document reports, "The returns of wine made in this State in 1859 are 13,946 gallons, most of which, we suppose, was made from the mustang grape, except perhaps a few gallons made from the El Paso grape on the Rio Grande." I have dozens of historical reports citing mustang grapes, mustang wine, mustang pie, and mustang jam and jelly. Thousands of batches of the wine are made annually throughout the state by amateur winemakers, as evidenced by entries in home wine competitions throughout the state. Yet the grape is not recognized by the esteemed Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (curiously abbreviated to TTB).

Poteet Country Winery's White Mustang label

And so when Poteet Country Winery requested a label for White Mustang Grape Wine it was flatly rejected since the federal government knows of no "mustang grape." Poteet then requested a label for a white wine with the fictitious name White Mustang; the application was accompanied by a painting of a white horse jumping through mustang grape vines. The label was approved for "White Mustang" [fictitious name] "White Wine" [type wine], but leaves no doubt to Texans as to what kind of wine this is.

Believe me, I have abbreviated the back and forth between the winery and what was then the ATF and which occurred over several months. The label for their red was issued by "mistake" and has ever since been grandfathered in and used continuously. Still, the TTB insists there is no such thing as "mustang grape wine." Is this silly or what?

"My friends over at Poteet Country Winery", I wrote back on October 10th, 1998, "invited me over to taste their new Mustang Grape Wine while it was still in the bottling tank. I couldn't make it that day, but swung by a few days later and they graciously (and proudly) popped corks and let me leisurely smell, sip and finally drink at my own pace. What a pleasure it was!

"To my surprise, they have two mustangs available. Both are full-bodied, dry reds that go down smoothly but without the pronounced "wildness" mustang grapes are so capable of imparting. Both were served chilled, which is certainly the way to do it. One was a regular mustang; the other was a mesquite flavored mustang that will blow your socks off! Mesquite barrels run about $1200-$1500 each, so this wine was simply flavored with mesquite chips -- but it was done mighty well. The flavors of mustang and mesquite, each of which is bold in its own right, blended together as if by marriage. The result is a wine as big as the clear blue skies and as vibrant as a newly broken filly given her own reins. This stuff could win medals."

And it did....

June 17th, 2012

Today is Fathers Day, a day to spend with, call or remember your father. I am blessed to have my father still among us at age 90. Although I cannot be with him today, I did send him a card and called him. I hope you observed this day in your own way.

My nephew Patrick's barbecued pork ribs

My nephew Patrick wrote me today to report that they celebrated Father's Day yesterday, a day early -- few details but it looked like a gathering for a barbecue feast judging by the photo he sent.

He reported, "I had about a cup of Malbec left from the previous night and added it to the apple wood chips for smoking. They added a nice subtle flavor." Now that's an interesting idea, one I had not thought of. I would probably have worked it into the barbecue sauce, but only if I were making enough to bottle for this and several future barbecues (1/4 to 1/2 cup is the most I would use for a single-use sauce.

But look at those ribs! Seeing that photo sent me to the kitchen to dig out some sausages I grilled a few days ago. I scored them diagonally, heated them under the broiler long enough to take off the chill and open the scores, dabbed some commercial sauce into the scores and returned them to the broiler for about 8 minutes. No, it was no substitute for Patrick's photo, but the one I ate immediately did taste good. The rest -- well, that's what refrigerators are for.

I have published several barbecue sauce recipes back in 2008 and 2009. I have links to them after this entry, in the order published. I am including another below, adopted from an old Southern recipe. If you have your own barbecue sauce, containing wine as an ingredient, please consider sharing it.

I receive lots of email thanking me for the information and recipes offered freely in my WineBlog and The Winemaking Home Page. These are the rewards I receive for the time and effort I put into these sites, and I appreciate them greatly. Recently I received a different kind of email.

A fellow Texan explained that after he started his fourth carboy of wine, his wife complained that his wine was "taking over" their home. He asked if it had taken over my home and if I had any advice.

Bottled and aging wines at the author's home

The photos show one of two wine racks in my home. Together they hold 144 bottles of wine. I have a cabinet with another 38 bottles. I used to have six cases stacked in our spare bathroom and another two in a closet, but they are all long gone.

The other photo shows six carboys along the wall of our entryway. There are five more carboys tucked here and there throughout the house and a dresser in my wife's sewing room (doubles as a second guest bedroom) with 16 gallon jugs with airlocks on top of it. I used to have almost twice this amount. That's when my wife said my wine was taking over the house. What I have now is what I can manage.

I bottle wine when I have room in the racks for whatever I bottle. In a pinch, I can store two cases in the closet (my closet, not my wife's or any of "our" closets), but I have to get them into the racks fairly fast. Since I don't drink wine every day, and even then in moderation, I share or give away what I have to in order to make room for new wine.

That is how I have managed my hobby. Each winemaker must come to an understanding with his or her spouse about what the limits are. In San Francisco, when I was still between marriages, I housed my wine in a homemade rack in the closet under the stairs. It held 72 bottles. That was my limit. Even though I built in a 3/4-inch slope to the rack, the 7.1 earthquake of 1989 tossed all 72 bottles on the floor with one heave. Only two didn't break. My neighbors and I drank them outside on the street that night as we waited for the aftershocks to subside and the gas to be shut off in each building. Since we didn't know when the electricity would be restored, we ate everything ready to eat in our refrigerators, cold, while sitting on the curb.

Back to the point, manage your hobby as your home allows, and if you have a spouse, do it with harmony.

Zucchini Wine


I received an email last night from a gentleman in Mississippi who has a problem I am familiar with. He planted too many zucchini seeds and they all germinated. Like me nearly four decades ago, he could not make himself thin them to a manageable number and as a result he has zucchini coming out of his ears. "Do you have a recipe for zucchini wine?" As a matter of fact I do.

My original recipe is published in my "Requested Recipes" section, but I have tweaked it some so am republishing the revision here. Also, I know that not all readers of the WineBlog are intimately familiar with my main site, The Winemaking Home Page, and might not ever see the vast collection of recipes in "Requested Recipes."

When I first published this recipe in 2003, I had devised the recipe from having made squash wines but had never actually made it yet. I later made it and was quite happy with it, so I hope you are too if you try it.

  • 5-6 lbs fresh zucchini, chopped
  • 1-3/4 lbs finely granulated sugar
  • 1 11-oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice Frozen Concentrate
  • 1-1/3 tsp acid blend
  • 1/2 oz fresh ginger root thinly sliced
  • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
  • 6-1/2 pts water
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Hock, Sauternes or Champagne yeast

Bring 3 cups water to boil and dissolve sugar in it completely. Set aside. Meanwhile, select, wash and chop the unpeeled zucchini cross-wise into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces. Mix all ingredients except the yeast in primary, cover, and set aside for 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and recover the primary. Stir every 6-8 hours for 3 days, then strain off and retain solids and transfer liquid into secondary. Cover secondary with muslin or another fine, lint-free cloth held in place with a rubber band. Press solids lightly and retain the liquid from them, covered; discard the pressed solids. When vigorous fermentation subsides, add reserved liquid, top up if necessary, and attach airlock. Rack after 4 weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Rack again after additional 4 weeks and add another finely crushed Campden tablet. If wine has not cleared, add amylase according to instructions and set aside an additional month. Fine with Bentonite if desired and rack 10 days later. Stabilize, wait 4 weeks and sweeten to taste if desired. If sweetened, wait 4 weeks before bottling to see if wine is indeed stable. Wine should be aged 3 months after bottling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Southern Barbecue Sauce

Barbecued pork ribs

My wife and I bought a cookbook years ago at a yard sale called "Heritage of Southern Cooking" by Camille Glenn. In it were numerous handwritten recipes on plain stationery paper. One is called simply, "Southern BBQ Sauce," under which was written, "An old family favorite, from one of Grandma's recipe books." I have modified it slightly by substituting wine for the water in the original.

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1/4 cup tomato juice
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 2/3 cup tomato puree
  • 1/4 cup chile sauce
  • 1/4 cup Tabasco Sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 Tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup very finely diced sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soft butter
  • 6 cloves garlic juiced
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger root grated
  • 2 teaspoons dry ground mustard

    Put everything in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Use immediately or store in closed jars and refrigerate for up to a month. Warm before using refrigerated sauce. [Found recipe, modified by Jack Keller]

    June 25th, 2012

    There are two groups of commercials on TV that annoy me. I wonder if they annoy you as well.

    The first are a series of "pending crisis" in America. I have noticed, based on different websites you are asked to visit and view a video, two -- possibly three -- different persons who predicted this first. Each was the "first" to predict the Dot-Com crash, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the inflated housing price bubble crash, and the financial meltdown of the European Union. So, exactly how many can be "first"?

    The second is the "taste test" series of commercials by a large insurance company. The "consumers" are offered two drinks to taste. One always tastes great (the commercials' sponsor's drink) and the other (the "other" insurance company) tastes awful. Based on this, you are supposed to buy the sponsor's insurance. Does ANYONE out there think this is a valid comparison of insurance companies and their products?

    Grilled sausages

    In my previous entry I posted a photo my nephew Patrick sent me of barbecued ribs he made. I said the photo made me so hungry l went to the refrigerator, pulled out some sausages I had grilled previously, scored them diagonally, put them under the broiler long enough to take the chill off and open up the scores, and then dabbed a commercial barbecue sauce in the scores and returned them to the broiler to set the sauce. A reader wrote and asked me what I meant by scoring them. The photo shows sausages scored, although not diagonally. It simply means cutting them to allow recesses on their smooth surfaces to allow the sauce to rest. Without the scores, the sauce would just drip of the smooth skins of the sausages.

    But we score surfaces that aren't smooth too. Hams are traditionally scored in a diamond pattern to cut through the skin and allow some of the fat underneath to render out and soften what would otherwise bake into a tough shell, and to create recesses where glaze can be applied or cloves can be inserted to flavor the meat underneath. I have scored lean beef roasts more deeply and inserted strips of bacon into them to allow rendered fat to penetrate the meat, prevent it from becoming overly dry, and adding another flavor (bacon) to the roast beef.

    I have now confirmed that Cranberry Wine will last at least five years under quality natural cork without the slightest sign of browning or other degradation. I brought a Gold Medal winner 2007 Cranberry to a recent San Antonio Regional Wine Guild meeting. The aroma was fresh and powerful, reminiscent of strawberry. The wine was the color of White Zinfandel. The flavor was fresh, crisp and typical for cranberry wine, more like a grape wine than a berry. It was bottled off-dry and I believe the perception of sweetness increased over the years. I am mighty proud of that wine, now gone. That was the last bottle. But it will not soon be forgotten. The Gold Medal remains.

    I am publishing the recipe below. This is not the season for making it -- unless you bought several bags of fresh cranberries after Thanksgiving and froze them -- but I feel compelled to publish it before I forget. A similar recipe, for Highbush Cranberry Wine, is on my website under the section, Making Wines from Wild Edible Plants.

    Most commercial fresh cranberries sold in the U.S. in late Autumn are of the lowbush variety. I still believe that highbush cranberries make a better wine, but finding them and beating the wildlife to them once they turn red are two tasks that can prove troublesome. A reader sent me some highbush berries two years ago, but the box he packaged them in was not sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of parcel post shipment and many were squashed and bacteria and yeast on the berries had made a mess of things by the time I received them. Still, I washed and sorted them well, dried those that were salvageable, and froze them for later use. I mixed them with commercial lowbush berries and made a very good wine.

    The first thing one notices when combining highbush berries and lowbush berries is the strikingly deep, uniform redness of the former and the uneven pinkness to redness of the latter. The wine also came out much redder than my Gold Medal winner.

    I had an address once of a grower of highbush berries, in Michigan I believe, who shipped his berries in sealed plastic buckets and guaranteed a no damage to the berries. But alas, I have lost it. But if you live in highbush cranberry latitudes and can find a commercial grower or a you-pick-it farm, take advantage of this wonderful berry and make some wine. Otherwise, join the crowd and wait until just after Thanksgiving when the bagged berries go on sale and use them then or stock your freezer for later.

    The highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) is not actually a true cranberry, belonging to a completely different genus and family than the true cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos). To confuse matters more, a common attachment of the name lowbush cranberry has been erroneously applied to the lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). As long as you know the difference between highbush (Viburnum trilobum) and lowbush i>Vaccinium oxycoccos), the recipes below will serve you well. Lingonberries are treated differently.

    Lowbush Cranberry Wine

    True cranberries

    Lowbush cranberries are true cranberries, as explained above. When fully ripe, they are red. The bags of fresh cranberries we see in the markets in the late autumn are unevenly pink to red. Given that less than perfect situation, they still make fabulous wine often mistaken in blind tastings for grape wine. An example is my gold medal cranberry I mentioned earlier. Here is how I made it and you can too.

    First, let me say a few things about the quality of the berries you use. If commercial berries sold in 16-ounce bags or larger, buy more than you need for the wine. When it is time to make the wine, open each bag and pour the contents onto a raised-side baking sheet pan. Remove all berries that do not look ripe. These have prominent white or green areas near the stem scar. You want berries that are red or at the very least red with lighter red areas. Discard any that are damaged, have insect holes or brown spots. The ones with lighter areas can be boiled, sweetened, thickend with corn starch, and, when cool, mixed with whipped cream and other fruit (grapes, pineapple chunks, crerry halves) for a nice dessert.

    Cranberry Wine
    • 3-4 lbs fresh cranberries (depending on desired intensity)
    • 11-oz can 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
    • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 6 1/2 pts water
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • packet Champagne yeast

    Wash cranberries and sort for soundness. Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cranberries, place inside a nylon straining bag and tie closed, then put in primary. Pour sugar over fruit and boiling water over both. Stir to dissolve sugar. When cooled to room temperature, add thawed grape concentrate, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Stir, cover with sanitized cloth and set aside for 12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution, recover and stir daily. After 14 days of fermentation, extract nylon straining bag, squeeze to extract all juices, transfer liquid to secondary, and attach airlock. Rack after 30 days, add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and refit airlock. Ferment to dryness. When clear, rack again if deemed necessary. If racked again, wait 30 additional days. Rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    This wine is best dry or off-dry. To make off-dry, the wine must be stabilized with both another Campden tablet (finely crushed and dissolved) and 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate, allowed to rest a few weeks, then sweetened to your likeness with simple syrup. The wine should them be set aside for 30 days to ensure it does not begin fermenting again. Watch the airlock.

    Before bottling, carefully check the bottom of the secondary for a fine dusting of dead yeast. If present, either rack again to remove wine from yeast and then bottle, or very carefully rack the wine into the bottles. The latter is problematic. Any movement of the wine, or backflow from the racking hose between bottles, will stir up the dusting of yeast and your bottled wine will be "dirty." Even when very careful, it is best to mark the last bottle (I write LB for last bottle on the top of the cork) as it will almost certainly contain some of that dead yeast. You would not want to give it to a good friend or enter it in competition. This applies to all wines.

    Highbush Cranberry Wine

    Highbush cranberries

    As mentioned in my introductory remarks, highbush cranberries are not really cranberries. They look like cranberries, taste like cranberries, and make a delicious wine that is difficult to differentiate from real cranberries -- except it may be darker red. Here is how to make it.

    First, highbush cranberries ripen in the fall. If the wildlife leave them alone, they will stay on the bush through spring. Their flavor improves, according to many, after experiencing at least one frost. If you know of a stand of highbush cranberries and can wait until that first frost, go pick them. It is unlikely the birds and bears will save them for you mush after that.

    Highbush Cranberry Wine
    • 3 lbs ripe highbush cranberries
    • 1 lb minced or well-chopped golden raisins or sultanas
    • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar*
    • 7 pts water
    • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • packet Champagne yeast

    *In my original recipe I used more sugar. This is a revision.

    Wash cranberries and sort for soundness. Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the cranberries. Run the raisins through a mincer or finely chop them -- not an easy task. Place raisins and chopped cranberries inside a nylon straining bag and tie closed, then put in primary. Pour sugar over fbag and boiling water over both. Stir to dissolve sugar. When cooled to room temperature, add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Stir, cover with sanitized cloth and set aside for 12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution, recover and stir daily. After 14 days of fermentation, extract nylon straining bag, squeeze to extract all juices, transfer liquid to secondary, and attach airlock. Rack after 30 days, add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up, and refit airlock. Ferment to dryness. When clear, rack again if deemed necessary. If racked again, wait 30 additional days. Rack into bottles and age at least 9 months before sampling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    This wine is best dry or off-dry. Comments following the first recipe above also apply here. So do the comments about bottling.

    This is a wonderful wine to savor. I've made it but once because the highbush cranberry grows nowhere near Texas. Berries shipped to me were damaged in shipment and I only salvaged enough for one gallon. After tasting the wine, I was disappointed I only had five bottles.

    For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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