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Jack's Winemaking Links

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The Winemaking Home Page

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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

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Homemade Wine

Jordan Ross'
Going Wild: Wild Yeast in Wine Making

UC Davis'
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Winemaking Fundamentals

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

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

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

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

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Some Other Wine Blogs

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

Alder Yarrow's
Vinography: A Wine Blog

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

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

Charlie Short's
Clueless About Wine

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

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

Darcy O'Neil's
The Art of Drink

Eric Asimov's
The Pour

Washington Winemaker

Frugal Wine Making

Ian Scott's
The Home Winery, about home winemaking

James Jory's
Second Leaf, about home winemaking

Jamie Goode's
Jamie Goode's Wine Blog

Jeff Lefevere's
The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

My Wines Direct

Chez Ray Winemaking

Karien O'Kennedy's
New World Winemakeer Blog

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

Ken W.'s

Wine Amateur

Marisa D'Vari's
A Wine Story

Mary Baker's
Dover Canyon Winery

My Wine Education

Mike Carter's
Serious About Wine

Mike McQueen's
Life on the Vine

Noel Powell's
Massachusetts Winemaker

Noel Powell's
Random Wine Trails

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

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

Russ Kane's
Vintage Texas, searching for Texas terroir

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

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

Vines & Wines

Thomas Pellechia's
VinoFictions, interesting variety

Tim Patterson's
Blind Muscat's Cellarbook

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

Tom Wark's
Fermentation: the Daily Wine Blog

Tyler Colman's
Dr. Vino's Wine Blog

Who is Jack Keller?
How to contact Jack Keller:

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WineBlog Archives

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

July 5th, 2012

Antenna mast for wireless internet

I am on a wireless access feed. My 50-foot mast is topped with a radio transceiver and a tightly focused antenna that points to a water tower 3.2 miles away which is ringed by more sophisticated and powerful transceivers. Several weeks ago the one that services my area became erratic and very, very slow. My ISP moved everyone whose antennas could possibly see another transceiver to whichever ones they could see, but mine was square-on the bad one and it took several phone calls to finally get the company to suffer the expense of repairing it.

Meanwhile, on one of two service calls (they wanted very badly to determine that my problem was the much cheaper radio on my mast) they finally dropped my mast and replaced my radio. This occurred three days after they repaired the one on the tower (typical case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing). The tower fix had made me happy, but the service guys ran diagnostics on my computer and the transfer speeds were still sluggish by their standards, so with great physical effort they dropped my mast and replaced the radio on it. After that they were happy and I was an ecstatic camper, until 1:45 on Thursday, June 28th. That's when my brand new radio stopped working. The soonest they could get someone out to me was exactly a week from that date. Too few guys covering too large an area.

They finally came out today, July 5th, and again dropped the mast and replaced the radio (can anyone spell "Made in China"?). The new radio was working fine, but my access point on the tower 3.2 miles away is once again producing a sluggish throughput. They are telling me it might be another week before they can get to it. Meanwhile I suffer. I am posting this blog entry today, but do not know if I will actually get it uploaded today. Please be patient. This is out of my hands. But if anyone from Internet America is reading this, FIX THE TOWER'S NORTH ACCESS POINT!

Before my outage, I was backed up in email. So, while I usually read all but answer few, for the past week I have answered none. I am now so backed up that I doubt I will answer any anytime soon.

Signatures on the Declaration of Independence

We celebrated the 236th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence yesterday. Over a cup of Kaua'i Vanilla-Macadamia Nut Coffee, I read the Declaration -- all of it. It is a document worth reading every now and then. The grievances against the Crown of England were numerous and well enumerated by Thomas Jefferson and his fellow patriots.

In reading them, one gains a better appreciation of what our Founding Fathers considered as tyranny against the freedom of citizens by an oppressive government. It causes one to pause and consider the smothering encroachment of the Federal Government against the freedom of us as citizens and the sovereignty of our States. Our next Revolution, as with 112 previous Revolutions, will be staged at the ballot box in November.

I trust our citizens are wise enough to never again elect a man with no record of success except as a community organizer for the Democratic Party in Chicago and the record holder for voting "Present" in the Illinois legislature -- a man who claimed there are 57 states in the United States. How could one hear that and not realize the man knew nothing of the basic structure of the country he sought to govern? Enough said. You know where I stand.

We had two days of cloudy overcast and a little rain. It cooled things down enough that I thought I would go pick some mustang grapes for wine. I was disappointed that many had dropped and the birds had been feeding heavily. I didn't pick any because I wasn't sure I could get the 40 pounds I needed for a strong 5-gallon batch. Oh, I could have gotten that many, but not from the stand I usually pick. I would have put some miles on my truck and just didn't want too. I'm getting lazy with age.

I reported earlier that my Blanc du Bois were devastated by the birds. That was during a long dry spell and I don't blame them for wanting the juicy berries. This is just not my year for grape wines, so I will fall back on fruit and novelty wines. I find them more interesting anyway. Oh, I'll harvest my Champanel and Cynthiana, may pick some Dog Ridge, and may still pick a few mustangs for a field blend

We'll see. One thing I know for sure is there will be no shortage of wine in my homestead.

Judging Extreme Novelty Wines

Garlic & Basil Cooking Wine label

This is an expansion of an article I wrote for the San Antonio Regional Wing Guild's July Newsletter. The point of the article is that the wine judge may occasionally be presented with certain novelty wines that cause anxiety and trepidation. The wines either appear unlikely to be enjoyable or even offensive to the taste buds. Here we look at how to judge them with no prior experience with the wine, but much experience with the base ingredients, to fall back on.

It is important to remember that a wine seldom tastes like it base. It may carry forward many characteristics of the base, but Cabernet Sauvignon wine does not taste like the grapes from which it was made. But some bases are different. Some of the wines mentioned below taste very much like the bases they are made from -- some, but not all.

Every now and then judges are presented with a wine that draws hesitation, reservation, a certain amount of anxiety, and possibly even trepidation. It might be something unusual, like Tomato, Eggplant or Cilantro Wine, or something that suggests an assault on the taste buds, like Jalapeno, Habanero, Onion, Garlic, Horseradish, or Horehound Wine. The judge knows when he or she sees the name that they might regret having to judge it, so they leave it for last. That is understandable, but the question is how does he judge it when he has little if any experience with this type of wine? Let us examine this dilemma.

I have often been asked, more-so in the past than in the near present as more people venture into novelty wines, to offer my opinion on a wine the judges have no experience with. In several cases the wines have been my own and, as always when I am not the wine's judge, I offered pointers for judging without offering an opinion on the wine's worthiness. What follows are some of those pointers and other considerations.

Bouquet and aroma should speak for themselves, although some wines offer odors one might not expect if completely unfamiliar with it. Herbal wines such as fennel, cinnamon, anise and allspice all make wines that carry their distinct aromas, but some judges leave all the cooking to their wives or the chef at their favorite restaurant and haven't a clue what these and other herbs and spices smell like.

I advise all judges to make it a habit of visiting a Whole Foods or other market that sells herbs and spices in bulk and open the containers, smell the product, and pause to make mental notes as to what they smell like. Do this as time permits, but do it. I did this ages ago in Colorado and brought with me a notebook where I recorded my impressions. My interest then was more related to cooking and flavoring my own homemade butter and cheese, but the education carried over into my winemaking over time. I also discovered that not all things taste like they smell. Did you ever secretly take a swing of vanilla extract as a child? Big shock!

The odors of various chile peppers, onions, garlics (there are varieties), and greens (parsley, cilantro, collard, mustard, mints, etc.) all capture in their aroma the odors we associate with them. But remember, aroma and bouquet are different creatures. Aroma is the smells directly associated with the base ingredient. Bouquet is the combined esters, higher acids and other volatile compounds created by chemistry in the bottle and may have no resemblance to the aroma, although some aroma will always be inhaled when inhaling that first breath of the wine where bouquet resides.

One must learn to search for that fleeting whisper of essence that is the bouquet. Breathe in the air above the wine and mentally analyze it, then take a second breath and sort out what is missing the second time. That missing character is the bouquet. Swirl the wine up on the sides of the glass for 15-30 seconds to increase the surface area of the wine. Now breathe it again. The bouquet is back.

Color is easy to sort out, even though it may not correspond to your expectations. Most herbs and spices make white wines, but a few produce slightly brownish, pinkish or even greenish wines. The judge should not rush to pronounce a brownish wine oxidized when this is his first introduction to it.

If he simply cannot believe the wine should be the color it is, he should call in the Head Steward or Head Judge, whomever the competition rules as the arbiter. If the Steward or Head Judge cannot explain it, he might search through the entry records or even consult with the winemaker, if present, and discover that molasses (by itself or in brown sugar), caramel or black tea (for tannin) are involved. Then again, sassafras root makes a brown wine -- lightly primed and fermented in the capped bottle it makes root beer. Knowledge leads to fair judging.

Then there are wines that traditionally are one color and are presented with brownish hues. There is an exceptional recipe for strawberry wine that uses brown sugar. The first time I entered it in competition the judge commented under "Color" that the wine showed evidence of browning. Thereafter, whenever entering this wine I label it "Strawberry Wine, made with brown sugar." That seems to have stopped all such comments with their corresponding points deduction.

It behooves the winemaker to declare on his entry form or label any browning agents used in making the wine -- molasses, brown sugar, coffee, black tea. Then, if questions about color arise, the entry form or label tells the story.

A word about oxidation is in order. Color alone is not evidence of oxidation. It must coexist with the odors and smells associated with oxidation. It is a shame that so many inexperienced judges at some competitions pronounce a wine "oxidized" based on its color and then never taste it, which would prove the error of their prejudgment.

Years ago I railed against this practice at a large wine competition in Arkansas that used enology students as judges. Being schooled only in grape wines and with no experience or education in country wines, they pronounced every brownish wine "oxidized" and didn't even taste it. Many of the eliminated wines were perfectly sound, but their winemakers were penalized by the inexperience and ignorance of the judges.

Judging a wine's clarity should require no comment here, but does. Clarity is clarity despite the base used. But exceptions do exist. For example, wines made from coconut milk or cream, as opposed to those made from the liquid (juice) inside the otherwise hollow chamber of the nut, will never clear. It is naturally milky in color and consistency and completely opaque. When presented with such a wine the Head Steward or Head Judge should be consulted, who can determine how many points can be awarded the wine. Since this wine is not supposed to be brilliant or even clear and in fact cannot be, the only negatives should be if particles can be detected suspended in or precipitated from the wine. But such exceptions are rare.

Before a judge can score the balance of a wine -- the correctness of body, sugar, alcohol, tannin, and acid -- he must taste it. Body is felt in the mouth. Observing the legs of the wine on the inner sides of the glass might indicate body, but more likely is attributed to residual sugar or alcohol. Sweet and fortified wines should have pronounced legs. In scoring balance, each element of balance should be considered separately.

I have seen judges hold their nose and taste a garlic wine. How unfair to the wine! Smell and taste go hand in hand to deliver what is called the organoleptic profile -- the union of the olfactory (smell) and taste sensory organs and membranes to deliver the true taste and flavor of the wine. We must smell as we taste to experience it.

Garlic, onion, chile pepper, horseradish, and horehound wines, by their very names, suggest an assault on the taste buds. If well made, they will probably do no such thing. Certainly they will deliver the essence of their base, but it can be anything from suggestive to profoundly pronounced and everything in between. Wherever the wines lies between these two extremes, the wine itself should be judged like any other wine. Taste will certainly provoke notice, but the balance of the wine is married to taste. The judge must consider the whole -- fairly. He may not care for the taste of garlic or horehound, but if the taste was unmistakably that of the base and the wine well balanced, it should score well -- all other things considered better than adequate. If flat because of acid deficiency, hot because of rocket fuel alcohol, hazy rather than clear, lighter than expected for this kind of wine, then it should suffer judgment.

Judging extreme novelty wines is not easy. They present a number of challenges to the judges, but education and fairness are key to good judging. The judge should score what is presented, not what he likes or does not like. He might despise the taste of horehound but should still be able to judge it fairly.

Apple Sherry

Granny Smith apples, from Wikipedia

Apple sherry is a marvelous sipping wine. It is easy to make -- well, you have to chop some apples, apricots and raisins and boil some water -- and difficult to mess up. You have to like the taste of sherry to really enjoy it, but anyone can acquire the taste and thus appreciate this wine. And the best part is that these days apples are always available in the produce market.

I have several recipes for apple sherry from various sources and have made all but a couple. My recipe is sort of an amalgamation of those that worked the best. I used to use a tea biscuit in my recipe, but I saw a recipe that used a piece of shredded wheat. I tried it and liked the result better. It certainly gives the yeast more surface area to attack, and that is good.

A few words about raisins are in order. You can use dark raisins or golden raisins. I use golden raisins because I like the lighter color and adequate flavor they impart on the sherry. Dark raisins impart a stronger sherry-like flavor, but golden raisins suit me fine. You have to decide for yourself.

Chopping raisins is not easy. Once cut, the reduced pulp sticks to the knife and you spend more time scraping sticky pulp from the knife than you do chopping raisins, and the knife is difficult to clean afterwards. I use a mincer, an old fashioned device that clamps onto the counter or table edge, has a hopper above and worm gear inside that turns by a hand-crank to move the raisins into a rotating cutting disk. It is much easier to use but still requires soapy water and elbow grease to clean.

Please read the instructions carefully. This wine is made in steps.

  • 6 lbs tart apples
  • 1 lb dried apricot halves
  • 1 lb raisins chopped or minced
  • 1 large shredded wheat biscuit
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • packet Red Star Premier Curvee wine yeast

Wash and inspect apples. Cut out any brown spots or insect damage. Cut and core apples, then chop apples into 1/4 to 1/3-inch slices. Place apples in fine-mesh nylon straining bag and tie closed. Place in primary. Chop dried apricot halves into several pieces each. Place in 6-quart or larger pot and add water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Strain off solids and pour water over apples. When cool add pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside 10-12 hours. Add activated yeast in a yeast starter solution. Recover primary. Punch apples down 2-3 times a day for two weeks. Remove bag, drip dry and discard apples.

Add sugar to primary and stir well to dissolve. Place chopped or minced raisins and shredded wheat biscuit in nylon straining bag and place in primary. Submerge bag 2-3 times a day for 3 weeks. Remove bag and gently squeeze. Discard raisins/shredded wheat. Rack wine into secondary and attach airlock. Rack again after 2 months. Rack again and allow another month for all lees to drop. Bottle wine and allow at least 6 months to mature. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

Apple sherry will last several years, but there is no reason to keep it more than two years if you make a batch every year.

July 13th, 2012

It's Friday the 13th and my wireless feed is still only a trickle. This will be brief because it will take too long to upload and the ftp will time out if too long. All I can do is pray the ISP solves the problem soon.

Complicating things is that my ISP claims that another wireless company that recently began operations in Pleasanton is broadcasting a signal that interferes with my ISP's signal. The problem is not frequency sharing, but signal strength. My ISP claims its signal is the maximum allowed by regulations, but the new company is exceeding that. If this is true or not is beyond my ability to know, but my ISP claims they are seeking a desist arrangement. We shall see.

I want to thank all of you for your patience and loyalty. Several of you have expressed concerns about my situation and offered alternate solutions. Believe me, there are none that are practical for me. But I appreciate the suggestions.

Bacterial Contamination

Cloudy wine from bacterial contamination

I have received many requests for recipes that do not use sulfites. I don't really have any such recipes, but advise folks to try the recipe of their choice without adding the Campden or potassium metabisulfite -- at their own risk. Three months ago an elderly friend asked me to make her some sulfite-free wine. She is such a dear I could not refuse, so I began a batch of apple-cranberry wine. The method was straight-forward, using both fresh apples and frozen cranberries I had in the freezer and doing a cold maceration. The result was a bacterial contamination that only heat or sulfites would cure.

Three months into the process and after two rackings, the wine should have lost its yeast bloom and started clearing. Instead, I noticed the wine appeared to get cloudier rather than moving toward clarity. I drew off a liter of the wine and sulfited it. It cleared within five days. That's when I knew the problem was bacterial contamination. Since I keep my equipment scrupulously clean and well sanitized, I surmise a bacteria had hitched a ride on the apples. I had rinsed (but not scrubbed) them prior to chopping, but did not give then the 3-miunte sulfite bath I usually do.

I salvaged the batch but cannot present it to my friend. I will make her something else -- perhaps a citrus wine as I saw Valencia oranges and Clementines the other day at the market.

The morale of this tale is that even a seasoned pro like myself can suffer the indignity of bacterial contamination when sulfites are not employed. And their anti-bacterial action is only one of the several benefits sulfites bring to the wine. They are anti-fungal as well, postpone oxidation, prevent premature browning, and have other benefits only a chemist might appreciate.

The rush to condemn sulfites when one experiences a physiological problem after drinking wine is, as I have explained previously in great detail, usually misplaced. If a person has a serious problem with sulfites they would have suffered long before reaching legal drinking age from eating raisins, dried fruit, and many common snack foods. The problem is most often histamines from red grapes and this can be countered by drinking red wine in moderation and/or taking an antihistamine immediately before or after consuming the wine. Before is better.

If you make wine without embracing the benefits of sulfites, you do so at your own risk.

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    July 19th, 2012

    Poteet Country Winery Sweet Reserve Blackberry Wine

    I'm enjoying a glass of Sweet Reserve Blackberry Wine from Poteet Country Winery of Poteet, Texas. This is an exceptional blackberry, fermented normally to dryness, but the wine is then stabilized and pure, slightly concentrated blackberry juice, which had been clarified and frozen, was added to the wine to raise it off dryness to a slight sweetness. The result is a delicious, just-sweet wine, bursting in fruitiness and well balanced with tannins and acidity. Mu first glass is room temperature, but I placed the bottle in the refrigerator to chill it slightly for my second glass.

    The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild held our July meeting there Sunday and could not have asked for a more perfect day. The weather was fairly mild, about 86 degrees F. rather than the mid to high nineties the days prior. Recent rains and gathering clouds were responsible, although it did not rain that day until a couple of hours after we left. Great venue, great wines and great tour for those interested in small winery operations.

    The Guild rotates its meetings, from personal residences to special businesses with outdoor attractions, to parks, to wineries. This was our second visit to Poteet Country Winery since it opened in 1999. Their signature wine is strawberry, but they also make a Sweet Reserve Strawberry and a Strawberry-Mustang blend, a wonderful Mustang, a unique and tasty White Mustang, and a multi-grape blend they call Texas Red. Finally, they make a house wine for a Hill Country restaurant, which is a full-bodied Tempranillo.

    My internet problems continue. Thanks to all for your sentiments on this situation, but I do not need any more suggestions for alternative ISPs, please. I know my situation, I know who provides what to my remote area, and I know what works here and what doesn't. I know you mean well and I appreciate it, but no more suggestions, please.

    For those not familiar with my internet problems and curious, please review the two entries prior to this date.

    Watermelon rind pickles made in

    I just finished making another batch of watermelon rind pickles. I finished eating the last pint of my last batch six days ago and that triggered the need for another batch. They are not difficult to make, but it takes several steps over three days from start to canning. I harvest the watermelon rind as I eat the melon and refrigerate it until I have enough for a batch.

    I published the recipe I use on September 11, 2009 in this blog. You'll find it in the archives and the link is listed at the end of this entry. These are spiced with lemon, ginger root, cinnamon bark, cloves and allspice berries, and the pickles are awesome. If you plan on eating a watermelon soon, you might want to take a look at the recipe to determine if you want to try making these. I seriously doubt you will regret it.

    I refrigerate a jar overnight before opening it. That makes the pickles a bit more crunchier. They can be eaten as a treat by themselves or as an accompaniment to a meal.

    If pickles are not your thing, then you might try making watermelon rind preserves. I am including the recipe below. These are very good by themselves or with ice cream.

    Pink Lemonade Wine

    Old Orchard Pink Lemonade frozen concentrate

    This is an easy, relatively low alcohol wine to make for serving chilled on a hot afternoon. At 9.7% alcohol, in moderation it will refresh without sending you to the sofa for a nap. I made this recently for consumption during the dog days of September, but if a sample bottle (375 mL) proves too young, it will easily keep until next summer.

    The ingredients are few and the method is straight forward. Anyone can make this wine.

    I used Old Orchard brand frozen concentrate, but any brand for a non-light pink lemonade will do. The sugar content of all I checked was the same.

    Use whichever general purpose wine yeast you have on hand. I used Lalvin W15, which has a 16% alcohol upper limit so will ferment this wine to dryness. This yeast is good for both white and light reds, so is perfect for pink lemonade. It spotlights the fruitiness of the base and its wines have good mouthfeel due to higher than normal glycerol and succinic acid production when fermented above 77 degrees F. I keep my home at 78 degrees year-round.

    • 2 containers (12-oz each) Old Orchard Pink Lemonade frozen concentrate
    • 1/2 lb (one heaping cup) finely granulated sugar
    • water to one gallon (8 2/3 concentrate containers)
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/2 tsp citric acid or 1 tblsp and 1 tsp lemon juice
    • Lalvin W15 wine yeast

    Thaw 2 containers of pink lemonade frozen concentrate and pour into primary. Add 8 2/3 concentrate containers of water to primary and stir in 1 slightly heaping cup of finely granulated sugar and yeast nutrient, stirring until completely dissolved (about 2-3 minutes). Specific gravity should read 1.070 uncorrected, 1.072 or so corrected for room temperature. Add citric acid or lemon juice and stir briefly. Add yeast in a yeast starter solution and cover primary. Ferment to 1.010, transfer to secondary and attach airlock. Rack after 30 days and add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Top up, reattach airlock and set aside additional 30 days. If wine tastes too dry, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate in 1/2 cup of the wine and stir until completely dissolved (I powder my measured potassium sorbate with a glass mortar and pestle to make it easier to dissolve), then add to wine. Top up and reattach airlock. After 30 days wine can be sweetened if you prefer or carefully racked into bottles. If sweetened, allow another 30 days to be sure wine does not begin a renewed fermentation Age bottled wine at least 3 months before consuming. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    Watermelon Rind Preserves

    Watermelon rind pieces

    When one eats a watermelon, one tosses away about 5-6 pounds of rind for an average melon. The rind is easily harvested for making watermelon rind pickles (see link below), candy or preserves. The preserves are easy to make and will last several years if stored in a cool pantry or under the bed. They are sweet, slightly spicy and quite delicious. This recipe makes 10-12 cups, depending on the size of your melon.

    I cut my rind into 1/2-inch strips, cut away the green outer skin and most of the red/pink, and then cut the strips into 1/2-inch cubes or as close to that as I can get. Whether cubes or rectangles depends on the thickness of the initial rind. Exactness is not crucial, but as close to uniformity as possible is so that they cook uniformly. My weight measurement is for the cubed pieces. Weight the bowl empty, then weigh it again with pieces. Four pounds is the minimum, but more is okay.

    • 4 lbs trimmed watermelon rind
    • 1/2 cup salt
    • 9 cups sugar
    • 4 lemons, thinly sliced, seeds removed
    • 4 4-inch sticks of cinnamon bark, broken in half
    • 4 tblsp whole cloves
    • water as needed

    Select melons with thick rinds. Cut rind into manageable-size pieces and cut these into 1/2-inch strips. Carefully slice away the outer green portion and any remaining pink flesh, using only the white portion of the rind. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. An average melon (large round or medium long) should yield at least 4 pounds of diced white rind (11 cups); slightly more or less is fine. Place diced rind in large bowl or non-reactive stock pot and just cover with mild salt solution, using 1/2 cup salt to 1 gallon water. Refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours; longer will do no harm.

    Drain well and in a large stock pot (stainless steel is best) make a syrup of 9 cups sugar and 8 cups water, stirring while heating to dissolve the sugar well. Add 4 medium lemons, thinly sliced and deseeded, and continue to heat. In a spice bag, add cinnamon and cloves and tie bag, adding to water being heated. When water boils, hold boil for 5 minutes. Carefully add watermelon rind using large serving spoon or ladle so as not to splash hot syrup.

    Cook at high simmer to low boil, stirring occasionally so rind does not stick to bottom and scorch, until rind becomes transparent and clear. Some people add red or green food coloring (NOT both) to color their preserves, but I do not. Remove the spice bag and discard contents. Ladle preserves into sterilized canning jars to within 1/2-inch of top. Put on cap and retaining ring and, wearing oven mitts, screw the rings firmly until tight. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes, remove from bath and set on cooling rack. All lid caps should depress as they cool. Any that don't should be re-bathed or refrigerated and consumed within weeks.

    These are great by themselves or spooned over vanilla ice cream.

    July 23th, 2012

    My internet connectivity problems continue, but I am able to use public wireless connections to upload my blog. It makes me very nervous to do so as anyone could piggyback my signal and hack my sites. Therefore, I set everything up, connect to my server, upload as quickly as possible and then log out. Email is out of the question, so please don't send me any as I cannot read it. Sorry to be so blunt, but when I ask gently a lot of people ignore it.

    1961 Ferrari 250GT SWB Berlinetta

    It is with great pleasure that I remember my 1961 Ferrari 250GT short wheel-base Berlinetta. I recently searched for an old 8mm film of my motorcross run at Vail, Colorado where I crossed the finish line doing a 360 spin with a trail of smoke coming from my skidding tires. I did not know it during those frantic swirling seconds, but the entire grandstand stood and gave me a standing ovation when I hit the gas and pulled out of the spin heading straight down the track. What they thought was skill was sheer luck. I saw the track coming around and knew I had to accelerate or spin until I stopped, but I honestly did not know absolutely if I would be heading the right way or wrong way. Someone Upstairs must have been watching over me.

    I failed to find the film, but know I have it somewhere. How to view it when I find it is another matter. I've kept my old 8mm projector just to watch this one film, but whether it will work after 23 years in storage is problematic.

    We should all have fond memories of something special, and my memories of my Ferrari 250GT and my 1966 Maserati 3500 GTI are among my fondest. Now, if I can just find that reel of film....

    We've had a few days of rain, spread out over perhaps two weeks. In total, it was only about 1 3/4 inches at my house as measured in my rain gauge, but I know some surrounding areas received 4-5 times that much. Flash flooding in San Antonio made the national news. But we are in a drought, so every drop is appreciated. The rains on my property were especially nice because they occurred in the afternoon and evenings and were light and slow, with no run-off. Every drop soaked into the thirsty earth. They also cooled things down a lot, only to raise the humidity the next morning.

    I just pray our heartland farmers receive some badly needed rain before they lose everything. When it comes to nature we take the good with the bad, but the milk of goodness is so much sweeter than when it sours. Please join me and pray for those who grow our food....

    Blue-Eyed Flower Wine

    One of the many benefits of the rains we've been having were the blooming of many plants. My Texas Silver Sage bushes were covered in purple blooms, and white rain flowers popped up all over portions of my yard. And, while taking a back-road to the north of here, I spotted a patch of bluish-purple ground cover and stopped to investigate. There was a large stand of Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium sp. Iridaceae). Every time I see this flower Willie Nelson pops into my head singing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." But my thoughts still turned to wine.

    I returned to my truck and retrieved a plastic grocery bag, squatted next to the edge of the flowers, and started picking. It seemed best to just pull on the thin stem so as not to damage the flowers. I filled the bag in about an hour, my back and knees screaming in protest. Age is showing its influence on my body. Back home, I took two Aleve and a Parafon Forte for my back, sat in a comfortable chair with bag, a large bowl for the flowers and a small one for the stems, and cut the flowers from the stems with scissors while listening to oldies. In all, I had just over two quarts of loosely packed flowers. I needed more, so drove back to the site and picked another quart.

    I have never made this wine before, so I cannot tell you the final result. I'll just tell you what I did and intend to do in the future. I have great confidence it will be a nice wine.

    • 3 qts Blue-Eyed Grass flowers, destemmed
    • 12-oz can Old Orchard 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate, thawed
    • 7 pts water
    • 1 3/4 lb fine granulated sugar
    • 2 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/4 tsp grape tannin powder
    • general purpose wine yeast, activated in starter solution

    Put water on to boil. Place flowers in a nylon straining bag and tie bag closed in primary container. When water boils, stir sugar in water and continue stirring until completely dissolved. Pour boiling water over flowers, cover primary and set aside to cool. When cooled to around 90 degrees F. or less, stir in thawed grape concentrate, acid blend, yeast nutrient and powdered tannin. Add activated yeast as a starter solution and cover primary. Punch bag down several times daily for 5 days. Remove bag, squeeze to extract liquid and discard flowers. Transfer liquid to secondary fermentation vessel and affix an airlock. Rack, top up and reattach airlock after 30 days, adding one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. When wine is clear, rack again, stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and set aside for 3 months. If wine is too dry, rack and sweeten to taste, wait 30 days to be sure refermentation does not begin and then bottle if safe. If the dry wine is pleasing, carefully rack into bottles. Wine should rest 3-6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    Until my own connectivity is restored, my WineBlogentries will be brief as I must upload them at public WiFi stations and I need to minimize my risk by minimizing my server exposure. I hope you will understand and indulge me.

    July 28th, 2012

    The Internet America service guy came yesterday and I am back online. Due to problems I need not go into here, I was dropped from Gold service to Bronze, which means my service is slower than before but working and secure. After seven weeks of spotty to trickling to non-existent service, I am elated to be connected again.

    When I finally got online, Outlook downloaded 329 new emails and Gmail showed 214 new messages. If yours is among them, please do not expect an answer soon, if at all. I'm sorry to have to say that, but I could barely keep up with what was coming in daily. This massive dump is imposing, to say the least. I promise I will read them all eventually, but will probably answer very few. If you wrote me six weeks ago that you have a stuck fermentation, I will assume you have read more of my site and found the solution or worked it out by other means..

    To all of you out there who keep the electrons and bytes moving, I salute you. We take so much for granted that is miraculous to those of us not making it happen that I shudder to think how we would fare if a catastrophic EMP wiped out our electronic infrastructure. Go camping one weekend with just a pocket knife and a piece of flint and steel and you will appreciate what you have a whole lot more. By the way, I've done the primitive camping thing more than once. It takes quite a long time to construct a container that will hold water and heating it to boiling with hot stones takes forever....

    London's Olympic Stadium errupts in fireworks during oprning ceremonies

    I hope you are watching the London Olympics. The opening ceremony was the very best I've seen yet, although that is a matter of individual appreciation, so your mileage may vary. It certainly was impressive. But today is about the competitions and you certainly have to admire the athletes. I have known two people who trained for past Olympics and the dedication they had to reach their goal was inspiring. Neither actually made their teams to represent our nation, but their efforts impressed me to no end.

    The pre-game controversy centered on the Greek beauty who was disqualified by her country's officiating body for an unfortunate tweet. I think their decision was the wrong one, but it does serve to impress the point that what you tweet is public. I have read a lot of tweets that were in terrible taste and hope the tweeters are judged accordingly by their recipients. Civility always wins out over hateful, venomous expressions. By the way, hiding behind a fictitious name does not protect one from discovery. I was able to track and confirm the identity of the only two I was curious about, and I have no detective tools at my disposal.

    I hope you tune into the Olympics at least once. They are rare events and worthy of our appreciation.

    Dealing With Citrus Pulp

    Pink Lemonade Wine before racking

    My pink lemonade wine is still bubbling away in secondary. Quite a bit of pulp has settled to the bottom and I do not expect it to compact, so it could cause a bit of a problem when racking if I am not careful. If you have (or have had) a similar problem, read on.

    To keep the pulp out of the next secondary, I will rack very carefully, keeping the racking cane just below the surface to keep it away from the loose layer of pulp. Experience has shown that if I drop it initially to a midway point the siphon will create enough of a current to start the lighter pulp to unsettle and rise.

    I intend to do the following to prevent the pulp from transferring to the next secondary when I rack. There are several strategies I could follow, but this is the one that has worked best for me in the past. As I said, I will keep the racking cane as far away from the gross lees (pulp) as I can be keeping its tip just below the surface. When I get about 2/3 of the way down, or when I see any disturbance in the lees. I will crimp the racking tube and clamp it to stop the flow. At the same time, I will use another clamp to hold the racking cane it its relative position below the surface. There are clamps designed to hold the tube or cane. What I do NOT want to do is allow the cane to sink into the lees and disturb them or allow the tip of the racking cane to lift out of the wine and break the siphon, as the wine in the cane will flow back into the wine and agitate the lees.

    When to cane is secured and the flow crimped off, I will then place a large funnel in the new secondary and line the funnel with a triple layer of sanitized, tightly woven muslin -- between 100 and 200 count (weaves per inch). I will then release the flow into the funnel and allow the muslin to filter out the pulp. Dead yeast cells will pass right through the cloth, so I will try my best not to draw too many into the siphon.

    For those who have never done this before, I can assure you that after a short while the pulp will coat the cloth and slow down the passage of wine into the secondary through the funnel. It becomes necessary to maintain a partial crimp on the racking tube so it can be closed off with just a tightening of fingers and thumb. This allows the flow through the pulp-coated muslin time to catch up. It requires some careful timing and watchful eyes. A third hand -- to hold the racking cane -- is helpful, but I do it alone most of the time.

    This technique works with most gross lees situations -- strawberries, kiwis, plums, all citrus, etc. -- as long as the lees are not more than 2 inches thick, Thick layers will bring the flow through the funnel to a drip, causing the most tranquil of us to lose our patience. For thicker layers of gross lees, please refer to my entry, Excessive Gross Lees, of September 9th, 2011.

    Of course, you can always fine with gelatin or Bentonite, following the manufacture's instructions, and allow 5-7 days for it to compact the lees. This works relatively well most of the time, but usually does not compact them enough for my satisfaction. I prefer the muslin filtering method best for lees not more than 2 inches thick and the pantyhose filter (see the referenced entry) for thicker gross lees. The pantyhose method allows some of the finer lees to slip through, and these can be dealt with adequately by fining.

    Under no circumstances should one attempt to deal with these gross lees using a MiniJet filter. Even the coarser filter will clog very quickly and could easily cause the MiniJet's motor to burn up.

    Buying Bulk Grapes

    Concord grapes ready for harvest

    Going through my emails, I see several offers for bulk grapes. These are all you-pick-'em offers and the prices are very reasonable ($0.50 a pound), and some offer to destem and crush them for a nominal fee ($0.10 a pound). I'm not going to list them because they are all regional to my locale, but there are many growers out there who have grapes for sale. All you have to do is search for them.

    You can try Google -- search your region and "bulk grapes." An easier way is to join a regional winemaking online or email group. I belong to several such groups in Texas and that is where the bulk of my offers have originated. These are Yahoo! groups where all communications are delivered to your inbox. Go to Yahoo! Groups and search for groups you think are adequate for your needs.

    If you join winepress.us there is a whole sub-forum on Grape Wine Making - Fresh Grapes and Frozen Pails (link follows this entry) where threads are often current on this subject, or you can start one by just asking for bulk grape suppliers. Just jump in and read or post, but you do have to join (register for free) to post messages.

    Possibly the best source of quality bulk grapes in manageable quantities is Brehm Vineyards. Peter Brehm sells frozen pails of extremely good quality grapes. They can be pricey with air shipping, but the grapes are supreme and I have never received a bad report on the grapes themselves. The pails are filled with frozen crushed grapes in their own juice. However, Brehm is not the only supplier of this type of product. Google "Frozen Grape Pails" for many suppliers.

    Some (alas, not enough) local homebrew shops have walk-in freezers and maintain a supply of frozen grape pails. These are usually Italian or South American grapes but they are from reputable vineyards. It's worth a few phone calls to see if there are any near you. You can check my site for shops near you (link follows this entry), and if you discover any dead links please email me with "Dead Link" as the subject line. I would greatly appreciate it.

    If this is your thing, please go for it with gusto. Making wine from grapes is much more rewarding than simply following instructions and making a kit wine. It's where you learn real winemaking skills.

    August 7th, 2012

    My high school class is planning our 50th reunion next year. There will be the obligatory dinner and dance, then three optional "events" attendees can take or leave. A buffet breakfast the next morning at the hosting hotel is one of them, then some of us are heading to Long Beach to take a short (4-day) cruise on Carnival's Inspiration. The first stop is Catalina Island and there a large number of graduates, both cruisers and non-cruisers, will enjoy a catered picnic lunch on the beach. The ship goes on to Ensenada.

    Carnival allows passengers to bring one bottle of wine aboard on their person (purse, backpack). I commented on a group email that my wife and I would each be carrying aboard a bottle of my wine. Suddenly, a slew of volunteers said they would carry a bottle for me too. Very quickly, there were more volunteers than I could accommodate.

    Someone (who did not offer to pay the shipping costs) suggested I ship a case of wine out to California and hold a wine tasting aboard the ship. Hmmmm, if some of my outstanding financial battles are won in my favor I might just do that. We shall see....

    For future cruisers, just remember that Carnival allows you to carry a 750 mL bottle of wine aboard at boarding. If you tour a winery at a port of call and buy a bottle or two, it will be confiscated when you reboard and given back to you when your cruise is over.

    Girl and tulips on my Facebook Timeline

    Those of you on Facebook may have noticed my Timeline photo and recognized it from this WineBlog. I featured it before back on July 15th, 2011, along with other photos my nephew Patrick took. As I write, that entry is still on the current page but will be retired to my archives soon. If you want to see the original photo (the one on the right is a crop), just scroll down to that entry.

    Patrick's photo (on the original post), was taken at the 2011 Tulip Festival at RoozenGaarde, Skagit Valley, Washington. It was later selected by The Seattle Times as the "Reader's Pix From My Weekend" selection of the week back on May 11th, 2011. I really like it, as you can probably tell.

    I haven't decided yet, but I might rotate my Timeline photo with other of Patrick's photos. He is a very good photographer and I have a huge selection to choose from.

    The late Master Sergeant Roy P. Benavidez

    It is almost 14 years since Master Sergeant Roy P. Benevidez passed away at the young age of 63 at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas. But those 63 years were legendary.

    During his first tour in Vietnam in 1965, while advisor to an ARVN infantry regiment, he stepped on a land mine and doctors said he would never walk again. In mid-1966 he walked out of the hospital and returned to Special Forces duty and later to Vietnam.

    On May 2, 1968 a 12-man Special Forces team was surrounded by an NVA battalion. Benavidez heard the radio appeal for help and boarded a helicopter to respond. Armed only with a knife, he jumped from the helicopter carrying a medical bag and rushed to join -- and save -- the trapped team. Benavidez suffered a total of 37 separate bayonet, bullet and shrapnel wounds (and a broken jaw) throughout the course of the six hour fight that ensued. Those six hours are legendary in Special Forces. He was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor, but this was later upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor when the full story of his valor and determination was told.

    For those of you who do not know the story of this MACVSOG's incredible day of destiny and heroism, please take six and a half minutes out from your busy schedule to watch this video in honor of him. For those of us who once wore the green beret, there is no need; we all know the story -- but it is worth watching anyway. If this video doesn't leave you in awe of the human spirit, I don't know what will.

    My dog, a black lab and collie mix (she looks like a black lab with narrower snout and russet coloring on her lower legs, under-tail and rear end), contracted tick fever and nearly died on me. She wasn't eating much for perhaps three days and on Friday night week before last she didn't eat at all. I didn't discover this until late Saturday morning and spent several hours trying to coax her into eating by offering her things she loves. By the time I became seriously alarmed, the local vets had closed for the weekend.

    I got her to a vet Monday and she was malnourished, dehydrated and very weak. Good work by the vet and his staff pumped her with life-saving meds. They armed me with an assortment of meds, vitamins, prescription food, tick collar, flea control and instructions and I took her home.

    She is a yard dog and has never been in our house except to undergo a bath, which she hates. But I placed a large scrap of carpet between my computer and a sofa and carried her to it. Over the next few hours she drank water, but refused milk and food. Finally, at 10:30 that evening she ate. I stayed up with her until 3:00 a.m. and slept on the sofa next to her.

    She is doing well, but is still weak. Walking to the mailbox with me is taxing for her, but she improves daily. I fear I might not get her to live outside again. She obviously likes the air conditioning and recoils from the heat whenever I take her to the door. Ah, well, whatever happens happens. I'm just glad she is improving.

    Lemon Puff Pancake with Fresh Berries

    Lemon puff pancake with fresh berries, courtesy of King Arthur Flour

    By design, I receive an almost daily stream of emails from King Arthur Flour. Yesterday I received this recipe from them and while reading it I began to salivate. I rushed to the market to buy raspberries. This morning I awoke early and, after tending my recuperating dog, made this for breakfast. I have to say this was one of the tastiest pancakes I have ever eaten, although certainly different. It is part popover, part crepe and part pancake with crispy edges. It deflates slightly while cooling, but that doesn't affect the taste. I think I'll use diced, ripe mangos tomorrow (with apologies to the recipe name), although sliced fresh strawberries would be good, too. With permission from the originator, here is the recipe.

    First, a few words about ancillary things. If you don't have King Arthur Flour, you should consider investing in some and canistering it separately for special recipes. I always almost always buy superior flours, believing you get what you pay for. A few months back I mistakenly bought a bag of store brand flour and will never do that again. I did not make one single good bread with it. I even mixed some King Arthur Flour with it in hopes of improving it, but, as when mixing a quality wine with an inferior one, all you get is a greater quantity of inferiority. If you don't want to pay the extra for King Arthur Flour, at least buy a high quality, sifted product.

    According to the creator of this recipe, it bakes better in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, but an 8-inch round cake pan will work. I used the skillet, which measures 9 inches in diameter at the top; the bottom diameter is slightly less.

    You can double the recipe and use any combination of skillets and/or cake pans you happen to have but size in critical. If too large it will be too thin to puff up. If too small it will not cook well . I followed the recipe to the tee, taking my raspberries out of refrigeration an hour before the first ingredient was measured.


    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1/3 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    • heaping 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 tablespoon melted butter


    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • confectioners' sugar
    • fresh berries

    Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease a 9" cast iron skillet, or 8" round cake pan. The size of the pan matters here, so measure carefully. Too small, it'll overflow. Too large, it won't puff as high.

    Melt the butter in the skillet, or melt the butter and pour it into the cake pan.

    Whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar.

    In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, vanilla, and eggs.

    Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, whisking until fairly smooth; a few small lumps are OK. Stir in the melted butter, and pour the batter into the pan.

    Bake the pancake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it's puffed and golden, with deeper brown patches.

    Remove it from the oven, and sprinkle with the lemon juice, then the confectioners' sugar.

    Serve immediately, garnished with fresh berries.

    The yield is one or two servings, depending on portion control or hunger.

    Apricot Liqueur

    Steeping the Apricot Liqueur must

    Apricot liqueur is a wonderful, aromatic dessert liqueur. It is best served in tall, thin liqueur glasses, as it packs a wallop and you do not want too large a serving (although everyone will want seconds). It is easy to make, only takes about 5 weeks, and, served chilled, will be a hit after any white-meat, fish or fowl dinner.

    Fresh apricots tend to be pricey but you will thank yourself for the investment when you taste the result. Besides, this recipe does not use all that many apricots. The choice of sprit you use is up to you, but either gin or vodka are ideal. I use 100-proof vodka.

    I have seen recipes for a similar liqueur that use the apricot pits, peeled, in the recipe, but I prefer the sliced almonds. You can forget the almonds and use a half-teaspoon of almond extract instead.

    The ginger slices are crosswise from a root section 3/4-inch in diameter. Don't slice too thick or the ginger will mask other influences.

    I make this with apricot wine. Several recipes for this wine are linked following this entry. However, any dry white wine will work fine. It need not be an expensive varietal as its distinctiveness will probably not survive. I have made this using an orange wine I made and did not appreciate the competing flavors as much as I thought I would (but guests loved the resulting liqueur).

    This liqueur should be bottled in smaller bottles with screw caps for convience. I use Starbuck Frappuccino bottles after I drink the contents, carefully peel off the plastic labels and, of course, sanitize the bottles and caps. The caps reseal well for several recycles. I use the 405mL size. Previously, I used the small 187mL bottles that several wineries sell (with wine inside) as individual serving four-packs, but I prefer to use these for monitoring the aging process of wine batches (four of these hold just under 750mL and are very convenient for monitoring aging).

    • 10-12 fresh apricots
    • 2 cups finely granulated sugar
    • 20 allspice berries
    • 3 paper-thin slices of ginger root
    • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
    • 2 750mL bottles dry apricot (or other white) wine
    • 2 cups vodka or gin

    Wash and halve the apricots, discarding stones. Place in large stock pot and add sugar, allspice berries, ginger slices, slivered almonds and 1/2 bottle of wine. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously until sugar is dissolved. When boiling, remove from heat and cover pot. Set aside for 20 minutes and then add remaining wine and the vodka or gin, stirring well. Set aside for one week, stirring twice daily. Strain through a nylon staining bag and squeeze very lightly.

    Empty bag into a bowl and carefully remove the allspice berries, ginger slices and slivered almonds, discarding them. Use apricot pulp to puree as a topping for ice cream or add honey to make a glaze for baked ham or fowl (bottled, it will keep in your refrigerator several weeks).

    Strain liqueur through a coffee filter (line a funnel with the filter) for clarity. The filter will probably clog up after just a cup or so of liquid has passed through it, so change it as needed. Repeat if you think necessary, using a double-layer of filter the second time. Bottle and set in dark place for one month before tasting. Improves with age and will last for years. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    August 13th, 2012

    I have been enjoying the heck out of the Olympics. Yes, there were a few events I was not all that keen about personally, but I certainly appreciated the efforts put into them.

    They say there were 44 world and 114 Olympic records broken during these contests. Those are very impressive statistics and we witnessed many, many very impressive individual and team performances. Even when a rival beat my own favorite, I always cheered for the winner. The performances were that good and questionable judging was at a minimal (but sadly, not nil).

    Call me old fashioned, but I still think the decathlon is the greatest test of an athlete. The winner of these ten events is, in my humble opinion, truly the best all-around athlete of the games. But I salute each and every one of the athletes who competed in the Olympics. Just getting there is a testament to their skills and determination.

    London did a fine job of hosting the games. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular and the contest venues top notch. Thank you, London.

    Paper coffee filters

    I received a phone call about my apricot liqueur recipe in my last posting. The woman thanked me for it and asked if my coffee filters clogged up. I said yes and that I changed them several times during the filtration process. She said because I did not mention this she thought she had done something wrong. I assured her clogged filters are normal as there are tens of thousands of minute pulp particles suspended in the wine and they will settle in the coffee filter and clog it.

    I sometimes omit details I think will be obvious. I did so here. However, I have gone back and added a note to the original posting. The filters do indeed clog, especially since stirring the must causes countless minute particles of pulp to be freed from the apricots. If you squeeze the pulp when it is in the nylon straining bag you will cause a much heavier saturation of particles and the filters will clog even faster.

    Finally, despite the slow filtration process apricot liqueur is easy to make, extremely aromatic, a beautiful golden color, and sips mighty fine. I do encourage you to try it. There is something very special about having your own liqueur to enjoy and to share.

    More on Making Liqueurs

    My apricot liqueur label

    Apricot liqueur is only one of many, many liqueurs you can make at home. The recipe I used for apricot can be used, with the appropriate wine and various steeping methods, for many other fruit such as Bing cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry, cherry, cherry-mint, chokecherry, cranberry, kiwi, lemon-lime, mountain ash, orange, peach, pineapple, plum, quince, red raspberry, strawberry, etc. But this is not the method I use for herb and spice liqueurs.

    Herb and spice liqueurs are steeped directly in vodka or, if you prefer, gin. A few are steeped in Scotch or whiskey. Some of the liqueurs I have made include almond, anise, angelica root, apricot pit, cinnamon-anise, coconut, coffee bean, damiana, ginger, hazelnut, lavender, orange blossom, orris root, peppermint, rose hip-anise, rose petal, sesame seed, star anise, tonka bean, vanilla bean, and various teas, alone or with other herbs. These liqueurs are primarily made by steeping the flavoring ingredient in vodka (I always use 100-proof) or gin for 2-3 weeks, straining, adding sugar as simple syrup, and aging in darkness. I use 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of simple syrup, depending on the sweetness I want. A high grade honey can be substituted for the simple syrup and changes everything.

    Most liqueurs are enhanced by adding small quantities of allspice berries, cinnamon bark, anise or fennel seeds, cracked or chopped coriander, whole cloves, slivered almond, lemon or orange blossoms, marjoram or bay leaves, blackberry or raspberry leaves, mint, shaved nutmeg, etc. Obviously, one must select the herbs or spices to add carefully and not overdo it. You can always add more, but cannot remove the flavor once infused.

    Label from my 'Donna's Delight Liqueur'

    Several times I have made a liqueur for my wife I called Donna's Delight, a combination of tonka and vanilla beans plus two secret ingredients I never intend to divulge. Some things are sacred and this is one of them. It is, however, the very best liqueur I have ever made and I seriously doubt it can be improved upon. I have tried, and tried.

    Some of the herbs and spices I mentioned above may be unfamiliar to you, or you may have heard of them but have no idea where to obtain them. They are where you find them so if you find any keep a note of what and where. And by no means do I mean buying McCormick, Durkee, Spice Islands or Adams brand spices.

    The trick is to find places that sell bulk foods, teas, dried fruit, herbs and spices. By bulk, I mean they have bins or canisters or large jars that you can buy a few grams, ounces or pounds from. Why spend $4 for a small jar of spice when you can buy a couple of tablespoons for $0.40?

    Whole Foods used to be a good, reliable bet for bulk spices and herbs, but many locations have cut down their selections significantly or entirely over the past few years. Sprouts, Henry's, WinCo Foods, World Market, Fred Meyer's, Penzey's, and Wegman's are reliable chains if in your area. Certainly there are many others I am simply unaware of.

    I have had luck at organic and health food stores and co-ops, certain drug stores (CVS, Duane Reade, and Mexican bontanicas), herbalists, ethnic markets (especially Indian, Chinese and other Asian), and online sources such as Penzey's, Spice It Up, San Francisco Herb, Monterey Bay Spice Company, My Spice Sage, etc. And, there are always those countless Dollar Stores and their counterparts where that $4 jar of spice can be as low as $.50 but is usually $1.

    Liqueurs are a natural adjunct to the winemaker's beverage repertoire. No, they do not involve fermentation, but they are easy to make and can be made along side of a batch of wine. By the time a wine is ready for its second racking a typical liqueur will be ready for bottling and a second can be started.

    I will write more about liqueurs and their recipes only if there is an expressed interest in the subject. If you want to read more, send me an email saying so. I do read all email eventually, even if I only answer a very few.

    Raspberry-Chocolate Wine

    Red raspberries and chocolate shavings, from internet, fair use doctrine

    Red raspberries and chocolate make a great combination for a special wine. This wine has serious nose, delightful flavor and packs a punch at 15.5% alcohol. Off-dry approaching sweet, the wine is amply suited for enjoyment by itself, on the table or after a meal.

    Raspberries are loaded with flavor, pack a powerful aroma, and pair well with chocolate. This wine is a natural win-win and will delight -- if not overwhelm -- your organoleptic pleasure. It also should compete well against other berry and novelty wines.

    By reducing the water and blending the finished wine with 80-proof brandy, this could easily be converted into a solid port. I have worked out the numbers in theory, but need to press and measure 2 pounds of red raspberries for volume and specific gravity to confirm them. That looks like a $25-$30 investment I'll have to make one day, but not this one.

    • 2 lbs red raspberries, fresh or frozen
    • 4 oz Dutched cocoa powder
    • 11.5-oz can Welch's 100% Red Grape Juice frozen concentrate
    • 1 3/4 lb finely granulated sugar
    • 1 1/4 tsp acid blend
    • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • 6 1/2 pts water
    • 1 pkt Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B, or Lalvin 71B-1122

    Bring 5 1/2 pints water (11 cups) to boil, remove from heat and set aside. While water comes to a boil, place the raspberries in a fine-mesh nylon straining bag or one knee-high ladies nylon stocking, tie closed and set in primary. Wearing rubber gloves, mash the raspberries fairly well.

    Measure the Dutched cocoa powder (see link following this entry for background on Dutch cocoa powder) in dry ounces and add to one pint of warm water in a blender until thoroughly mixed. Add tannin, acid blend and yeast nutrient and pulse in blender to ensure all are well mixed and then set aside. Pour the sugar over the raspberries and pour the boiling water over the sugar. Stir very well to dissolve sugar. Add the thawed grape concentrate and stir again to integrate. Finally, add the cocoa water while stirring and continue stirring for a full minute. Cover the primary and set aside to cool to room temperature.

    When cooled, add activated yeast in starter solution and cover primary. Punch down the bag of raspberries several times a day, checking their condition after several days. When they start looking thoroughly ravaged by the yeast (about 4-5 days), remove the bag and hang to drip (do NOT squeeze) to extract readily available liquid (I hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet door handle with a bowl underneath for about 20 minutes). Add dripped liquid back to primary and cover primary. Discard raspberry pulp.

    When vigorous fermentation slows, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock. Allow fermentation to finish and rack, adding the finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. If a slow fermentation lingers for 2-3 months rack it anyway and add the Campden as described. Set aside in dark place for 60 days and rack again; top up with distilled water (this will not noticeably affect the flavor or alcohol level). Return to darkness another 60 days and rack again, topping up as before. Set aside in darkness 4-6 months to bulk age. Rack if required, bottle and age an additional 6 months before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    The resulting wine is full-bodied and heavenly tasting. To retain color, this wine is best bottled in dark glass and cellared in darkness or very low light.

    August 20th, 2012

    I received a couple of inquiries about my dog, Reba, after her bout with tick fever. I took her to the vet last week for a two-week checkup and she received a thorough exam and a blood workup. The vet was very pleased with her progress but there were two items in her lab printout that, although much improved, were still low. She will continue her meds and chewable vitamins. She received three vaccinations and will return to the vet later this month to begin treatment for heartworms.

    I let her ride in the cab of the truck because it was 98 degrees outside and not a cloud in the sky. It turned out that this terrified her and she rode all the way there and back with her snout under my arm. It finally occurred to me that she might associate riding inside a vehicle with being taken to a new owner. I soothed her as best I could. I'll have to work on "truck breaking" her in the future.

    One other thing is worth noting. Reba has always been an outdoor dog. She has a cozy doghouse for colder weather and has dealt with the heat like all dogs do -- digging down to cool earth in a shady place and laying her belly against it. She has now spent three weeks inside an air conditioned home. When she goes outside to do her "business" she does it quickly and runs back to the patio door. I'm afraid she will now become a house dog. I guess I'm okay with that.

    Chimpanzee laughing

    I have a pet peeve. With few exceptions, I do not watch comedy shows that employ an obvious canned laugh track. I find it very insulting that some producer takes it upon himself to cue me in on what is supposed to be funny. All too often it isn't. They insert laughter after every smart-aleck, sarcastic or belittling remark, few of which are actually funny. When something really funny is said, the uproarous laugh-track treats it as the funniest thing ever enacted. It's as though we were being regarded as trained chimps, expected to respond on demand without actual comprehension.

    I genuinely miss the shows of yesteryear that were filmed before a live audience. Rarely did I fail to laugh with the audience, because they -- and I -- were responding to very funny stuff. The writers were challenged to write really funny lines or situations or flop. It made for much better comedy.

    The true pioneer in multi-camera set filming before a live audience was Desi Arnaz, which he developed for the filming of I Love Lucy. Outstanding examples of live audience productions, were The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bill Cosby Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Odd Couple.

    Some shows were filmed before a live audience and later "sweetened" post-production with minimal laugh-tracks padding, including Happy Days, Seinfeld, Friends, and Cheers. But in these the insertion of canned laughter is rarely obvious because live audiences were being challenged and the TV audience did not feel insulted. The laugh-track insertion was more obvious in Maude, Rhonda, Laverne and Shirley, Alice, Soap, and Taxi.

    Even with a little "sweetening," I vastly preferred the shows that had enough confidence in their writers to film before a live studio audience. Your mileage may vary.

    English Muffin Toasting Bread

    English Muffin Toasting Bread, recipe and photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour

    My wife makes a wonderful English Muffin Bread, but with her unavailable in California I discovered I could not find her recipe despite having found it before. I assume the fault is mine -- I put it back in the wrong place. So I turned to the experts at King Arthur Flour and found a recipe that made a perfect loaf and share it here with their permission. The best part is it was easy and only took an hour and a half from start to eating.

    First, let me tell you about English muffin bread. It had good stand-up body and yet has an airy texture just like an English muffin. It toasts perfectly and butter and jelly just seep into it. Dusting a toasted, buttered slice with sugar and cinnamon not only fills the kitchen with wonderful aromas from the bread and the spice, but eats fabulously. Untoasted, it makes great sandwiches for the same reason -- mayonnaise and other spreads just love that texture and load the sandwich with their flavors.

    I'll admit I am a lover of hot, brown horseradish mustard spread over my mayo. Regular sandwich bread does not allow enough texture to spread enough of both without creating a gooey layer that wants to squeeze out the edges while eating. Not with this bread! It is perfect for folks like me that love the blended flavors of the spreads. And it is the only bread I know of that will accept both mayo and mustard and still have room for ketchup if that is your liking.

    This recipe is simple and relatively quick. It is a no-knead bread that rises in the pan and then goes straight into the oven.

    English Muffin Bread dough in the bread pan'
    • 3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
    • cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan

    * If you don't have King Arthur Flour, at least use a high quality flour, not a cheap store brand. If you want good bread, you have to use good flour.

    1) Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and instant yeast in a large mixing bowl.

    2) Combine the milk, water, and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat to between 120°F and 130°F. Be sure to stir the liquid well before measuring its temperature; you want an accurate reading. If you don't have a thermometer, the liquid will feel quite hot (hotter than lukewarm), but not so hot that it would be uncomfortable as bath water.

    3) Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl.

    4) Beat at high speed for 1 minute. The dough will be very soft.

    5) Lightly grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with the cornmeal.

    6) Scoop the soft dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible.

    7) Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it's just barely crowned over the rim of the pan. When you look at the rim of the pan from eye level, you should see the dough, but it shouldn't be more than, say, 1/4" over the rim. This will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour if you heated the liquid to the correct temperature and your kitchen isn't very cold.* While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

    8) Remove the cover, and bake the bread for 22 to 27 minutes, until it's golden brown and its interior temperature is 190°F.

    9) Remove the bread from the oven, and after 5 minutes turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.

    *If your kitchen is cold it will retard the rising, but you can do the following and get a perfect rise. Heat a mug of water to boiling in your microwave, remove it and place the covered pan of dough in the microwave to rise.

    If you want a softer crust, brush the top of the loaf with softened butter (or simply rub the end of a stick of refrigerated butter over the crust) as soon as it comes out of the oven.

    A note to the wise: Do not let this dough rise more than indicated. If you allow it to rise an inch above the rim of the bread pan it may very well collapse. This is not a kneaded, risen and then proofed loaf that will stand up to a high rise. Follow the recipe to the tee and it will reward you with a perfect loaf of English Muffin Bread perfect for toasting or untoasted sandwiches.

    A Classic Cocktail, The Manhattan

    The Manhattan cocktail

    I was recently in a nice cocktail lounge in San Antonio and a subdued lime label caught my eye. I asked the bartender what it was and he brought it to me -- Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Aphrodite Bitters. Never heard of it. The label said, "Hand-crafted using the finest chocolate, cocoa nibs, ginger root, red chilli, Arabica coffee and ginseng" I was salivating, so I asked, "What do you pour this in?" Predictably, "The Manhattan." Without hesitation, "Mix me one."

    Leo, the bartender, loaned me a pen so I could write this down while he mixed my drink. I savored the first sip and it was awesome. The Aphrodite Bitters certainly changed the character of the drink, but there was something else in it that was different. We talked when he had time.

    The classic Manhattan is made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, 1-2 dashes of bitters, and a maraschino cherry for garnish. But the drink lends itself to considerable variation, beginning with replacing the rye with bourbon, Canadian whisky or even Scotch. Sweet vermouth can be replaced with dry vermouth or, in the case of "The Perfect Manhattan," equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth are combined to make the 1 part vermouth to 2 parts rye. Leo poured a Perfect Manhattan, but used Aphrodite Bitters instead of Angostura. This was mixed over crushed ice, stirred so as not to create any froth that shaking might produce, and then strained into a cocktail glass. He added the Maraschino cherry garnish and a few drops of Maraschino Liqueur.

    • 2 parts Rye whiskey
    • 1/2 part sweet red vermouth
    • 1/2 part dry white vermouth
    • 1-2 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Aphrodite Bitters
    • mixed over crushed ice, stirred, and strained into a cocktail glass
    • Maraschino cherry garnish
    • 4-6 drops Maraschino Liqueur

    After savoring half of my Perfect Manhattan with Aphrodite Bitters and Maraschino Liqueur, I asked Leo to pour me a regular Manhattan for comparison -- 2 parts rye, 1 part sweet vermouth, 1 dash Angostura bitters, Maraschino cherry garnish. He did. It suffered beside the former, proving that minor variations can convey more than subtle taste differences. I had not realized how unique different bitters could be. And I had forgotten about Maraschino Liqueur. Long ago I ordered a Pernod and the bartender added a little Maraschino Liqueur. It was mighty good.

    Adding Tannin

    Black tea

    Tannins give wine its "bite." It also help wines extend their aging potential. It is one of the taste attributes that instantly identifies wine as wine and not a grape juice or fruit juice with spirits added. Deficiencies are noticeable. Grapes and some fruit naturally carry their tannins into wine, from their skins, seeds and stems. Most grapes and some fruit do not need additional tannin to achieve a balance of constituents perceived in taste. But when tannin is deficient, it must be added or the wine will suffer.

    Both powdered and liquid tannins are available, as well as grape skins and black tea, that integrate easily into wines. The first two are easily measured and usually the first choice. Skins and tea give up their tannins during fermentation, but it is easy to add too much or, rarely, not enough. When a wine is too tannic it can be corrected through fining or naturally through aging.

    When I first started making wine black tea was the go to ingredient for adding tannin to country wines. But powdered grape tannin was available at homebrew shops when you could find one or through catalogs. I quickly transitioned from tea to powdered grape tannin because it was compact, measureable and had a long shelf life. Even then, there were some recipes using black tea that were so established I continued to use it occasionally. I have never regretted it but even now will use black tea to add both tannin, color and a little something in taste that is pleasing. It ages well and contributes, over time, to complexities that otherwise would be missing.

    I almost always add powdered tannin to white wines. If unsure how much to add, I start with 1/8 teaspoon per gallon. After the second racking I decide by taste if I want to add another 1/8 teaspoon. If I do, I am obliged to taste again. Rarely is another addition called for.

    Tannin is essential in wine. Add it when necessary, but let your taste buds be your guide.

    August 23rd, 2012

    Astute observations from the past:

    Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean that politics will not take and interest in you. -- Pericles, 430 B.C.

    He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. -- Benjamin Franklin, 1706 -1790.

    The U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself. -- Benjamin Franklin, 1706 - 1790.

    My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government. -- Thomas Jefferson, 1743 - 1826.

    I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. -- Thomas Jefferson, 1743 - 1826.

    There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live. -- John Adams, 1735 - 1826.

    The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened. -- Norman Thomas, American Socialist Party, 1884 - 1968.

    If you want total security, go to prison. There you'll be fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking...is freedom. -- Dwight David Eisenhower, 1890 - 1969.

    I was young once and quite liberal. I then proceeded to earn a living, answer my country's call to arms, study history, and provide for my spouse with dignity. I became a conservative. If this somehow offends you, I invite you to navigate elsewhere. The internet is vast and has room enough for both of us.

    Jalapeno stuffed olives

    I love olives and I love jalapenos. Olives are a heart friendly food, containing both fiber and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which glide through the bloodstream and are less likely to cause fatty buildup in the arteries and veins.

    For years I have been buying jalapeno stuffed olives, but long ago I grew tired of the amount of salt (expressed on the label as sodium) in the brands I've been buying. I just did nothing about it except read labels and select the product with the lesser amount of sodium.

    Recently, at the supermarket, I again studied the labels and decided none were within the limits I desired. Then I started reading the labels of plain, pitted olives in jars and cans. I discovered a low-salt olive named Homestyle Pearls Green Ripe Medium Pitted Olives. I bought several.

    At home I had a jar of Mt. Olive Diced Jalapeno Peppers. I opened a can of olives and stuffed them individually with a few pieced of diced jalapeno. I packed these in a jar and added the juice from the can.

    I like these better than the prestuffed olives I used to buy. Not only are they significantly lower in salt per serving (I eat 5 per day), they are hotter on the palate. It's a win-win for me.

    The brand of jalapeno stuffed olives I used to buy contain 170mg of sodium in 5 olives. The Pearl olives contain 95mg of sodium in the same serving. The diced jalapenos contain 255mg of sodium per tablespoon. I use just under 1/2 teaspoon of jalapeno in 5 olives, or about 40mg of sodium. Combined, my jalapeno stuffed olives contain about 135mg of sodium per serving. The 35mg less sodium may not sound like much, but it's 12,775mg of sodium per year.

    Better still, the Pearl olives cost significantly less per can than the jar of prestuffed olives I used to buy, and the can contains many more olives than the jar. I know this because I used the old jar for the olives I stuffed and had 15 olives left over that would not fit into the tightly packed jar. I stored these in a small Tupperware container.

    Doing it myself improved my daily intake of salt and my pocketbook. I just wanted to share that.

    I received a request to explain invert sugar. Invert sugar is made by mixing two parts sugar to one part water, adding two teaspoons lemon juice per pound of sugar. This is brought almost to a boil, reduced to a simmer, and held there for 30 minutes (do NOT allow to boil). This is poured into a sealable jar, sealed and cooled in refrigerator. This process hydrolyzes sucrose into glucose and fructose and speeds fermentation. Invert sugar should NOT be used to sweeten finished wine as it will encourage refermentation.

    Again, for one pound of invert sugar:

    • 2 cups finely granulated sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 2 tsp lemon juice

    Using invert sugar is especially useful when a speedy fermentation is desired because the must is subject to fast spoilage, as when making watermelon wine.

    Pear Liqueur

    Comice pear

    Asked to publish a recipe for pear liqueur, I dug through my recipe file and found the following, which is the final version of several attempts at making pear liqueurs. It is sweet, as most liqueurs should be, but not syrupy. It is also delicious.

    First, a discussion. I personally prefer the comice pear, one of the sweetest and juiciest of all pears. The pear appears hard, but inside it has a soft, creamy texture, almost silky in smoothness, that simply exudes juicy sweetness. If you bite into it, you're almost certainly going to have juice running down your chin. I consider it the best eating pear of all pears and my go-to choice for pear wine and liqueur. But it is not available everywhere and where it is available it has a short window of availability. When I see it I buy a bunch.

    The Bartlett is probably the most available second choice. It comes in red and green varieties. The green, if left to ripen to golden yellow at room temperature, is best for wine and liqueurs. It is juicy, sweet, and has a smooth texture.

    This recipe requires a cinnamon stick. It should be fresh and stored in a jar. I throw out cinnamon sticks in opened cellophane packets after 6-8 months because their flavor simply degrades. Those in a sealed jar can be kept for 2-3 years but no longer.

    I also use a slice of orange peel. Select a smooth skinned orange and, with a freshly sharpened paring knife, take a very thin slice of peel about 1/4 inch wide and 6 inches long. There must be no pith or whiteness under the peel -- just more orange. You are really slicing through the orange layer. This may require some practice. The same applies to the 3-inch strip of lemon peel -- it should be yellow on both sides.

    The coriander seeds and whole nutmeg should be fresh as well. Enough said.

    • 3 pears, sliced lengthwise into 8 wedges each
    • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
    • 1 6-inch strip of orange peel
    • 1 3-inch strip of lemon peel
    • 5 coriander seeds
    • 6 shavings from a whole nutmeg
    • 2 750mL bottles vodka (80 or 100 proof, your choice)
    • 3 cups finely granulated sugar

    Place pear wedges and all ingredients except sugar in 1 gallon jar (a pickle jar, well cleaned and sealed with 4 tablespoons baking soda inside for 1 month is perfect). Seal jar and set aside in ambient light for 6-8 weeks, swirling jar or stirring gently daily. The longer maceration will impart greater flavor.

    Carefully remove pear wedges and strain liquor through double layer of muslin or several layers of cheesecloth, returning liquor to jar. Add sugar and stir continuously until totally dissolved. Seal jar and set aside at least 1 month -- 2 months is better -- before bottling and enjoying.

    Strawberry-Chocolate Wine

    Tub of sliced strawberries

    Strawberries and chocolate go together like a hand and glove. The intense aroma and distinctive flavor of strawberries pairs wonderfully with chocolate. This wine is easy to make and one will want to scale the recipe up to at least 3 gallons or regret it when you taste it.

    The strawberries should be ripe and sliced. For this reason, look in the frozen foods for a 32-ounce tub of frozen sliced strawberries (you need two per gallon). These will be processed at the height of ripeness and are perfect for this recipe. Other container shapes and sized can also be used.

    • 4 pounds sliced ripe strawberries frozen sliced have best ripeness)
    • 4 oz Dutched cocoa powder
    • 11.5-oz can Welch's 100% Red Grape frozen concentrate
    • 1 1/2 lb finely granulated sugar
    • 2 oz acid blend
    • 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/8 oz powdered grape tannin
    • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
    • 5 pts water
    • 1 pkt Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B, or Lalvin 71B-1122

    If using frozen strawberries, thaw. In a primary, pour into a fine-meshed nylon straining bag and tie closed. Do not mash.

    Measure the Dutched cocoa powder (see link following this entry for background on Dutch cocoa powder) in dry ounces and add to one pint of warm water in a blender, pulsing until thoroughly mixed. Add tannin, acid blend and yeast nutrient and pulse again to ensure all are well mixed and then set aside.

    Pour the sugar over the strawberries and pour the boiling water over the sugar. Stir very well to dissolve sugar. Add the thawed grape concentrate and stir again to integrate. Finally, add the cocoa water while stirring and continue stirring for a full minute. Cover the primary and set aside to cool to room temperature.

    When cooled, add activated yeast in a starter solution and cover primary. Punch down the bag of strawberries several times a day, checking their condition after several days. When they start looking thoroughly ravaged by the yeast (about 4-5 days), remove the bag and hang to drip (do NOT squeeze) to extract readily available liquid (I hang the bag from a kitchen cabinet door handle with a bowl underneath for about 20-30 minutes). Add dripped liquid back to primary and cover primary. Discard the strawberry pulp.

    When the vigorous fermentation slows, transfer to secondary and attach an airlock. Do not top up. Allow fermentation to finish and rack, adding the finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and then top up. Set aside in dark place for 60 days and rack again; top up with distilled water (this will not noticeably affect the flavor or alcohol level). Return to darkness another 60 days and rack again, topping up as before. Set aside in darkness 4-6 months to bulk age. Rack if required, bottle and age an additional 6 months before tasting. Yes, it is a protracted process, but well worth it. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    The resulting wine is full-bodied and delicious, the marriage of strawberry and chocolate perfect. To retain color, this wine is best bottled in dark glass and cellared in darkness or very low light. It should be consumed within a year -- two years at most.

    August 25th, 2012

    I really, really, really hate to say this, but I am once again receiving more email than I care to answer. I can either spend my day answering them or live my life. I choose life.

    I apologize in advance, but please do not write to me with the expectation of receiving an answer. Yes, I will always answer some, those that ask questions I have not covered fully in my website or that bring something new to the discussion. For those asking advice, I will be very selective.

    I do hope you will understand. I don't wish to be an ass, but I do have a life to live. I'll do what I can, I promise, but cannot possibly answer all the questions put to me and have time enough left over to enjoy what remains of my life.


    Astronaut Neil Armstrong

    On July 20, 1969 I was in transient barracks at Camp Alpha on Tan Son Nhut Air Base on the fringe of Saigon. Everyone in the barracks was heading home but me. I would be changing planes in the United States on my way to a 30-day leave in Europe, with country clearances for 14 nations and six visas in my passport for the countries that required them. I had spent a month arranging the visas from Pleiku and a day bouncing around Saigon in a taxi collecting them from various embassies.

    Although I was anxious to start my journey, history was being made on a monumental scale. A fellow in the barracks had a plugged-in radio and we were all listening to the separation of the Lunar Landing Module from the Apollo 11 Command Module.

    We listened as Astronaut Neil Armstrong reported the landing area was a boulder field and he was going to manually fly the module to an acceptable landing area. Suddenly, an Air Force bus pulled up outside our barrack and a sergeant came in and announced our flight. Everyone grabbed their bags and headed for the bus. I refused to leave the radio. The sergeant called to me and I said I would be right there. About a minute later the bus beeped its horn. Someone at mission control said, "30 seconds," indicating the fuel Armstrong supposedly had left. The horn beeped again. I stayed put. Then Armstrong said, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." I shouted with joy, grabbed my bag and ran to the bus.

    When I walked through the terminal at Frankfurt au Main, I saw a newsstand containing newspapers from dozens of cities and countries all displayed so you could see their masthead and headlines. Every single newspaper had a moon landing photo above the fold -- either of the first footprint on the moon, Armstrong saluting the American flag with the Lunar Lander and Rover in the background, or -- most popularly -- the photo of Buzz Aldrin in his spacesuit with the reflection of Armstrong taking the photo and the Lunar Lander framed on his visor. Upon seeing all those newspapers, I walked a little straighter....

    The passing of Neil Armstrong, today, at age 82, filled me with profound sorrow. He was one of my true heroes. When I hear the word NASA, three images flash through my mind in nanoseconds. The first is the photo above of Neil Armstrong. The second is the scene in the movie The Right Stuff of the seven Mercury astronauts in their orange flight suits walking abreast down a corridor at Cape Canaveral. The third is my own witnessing of the touchdown of Challenger at Edwards Air Force Base in the early '80s.

    I will go out tonight and gaze at the moon and remember Neil Armstrong and all his fellow astronauts, and such legendary flight directors as Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz. Their legacy is enormously huge.

    Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. You are once again in the heavens.

    Raspberry Liqueur

    Red raspberries

    I haven't made raspberry liqueur in much too long. Yesterday I was at the supermarket, saw fresh raspberries, and the urge to make it again consumed me. I bought enough to make the liqueur and still have some to place on top of this morning's whole wheat sourdough pancakes with hot syrup poured over all. The liqueur is easier to make than the pancakes.

    The essential thing you need for this liqueur, besides the ingredients, is a wide-mouth half-gallon jar. I have one -- a pickle jar that was thoroughly cleaned and allowed to sit for several weeks with two tablespoons of baking soda in it to get rid of the pickle smell.

    I almost always call for finely granulated sugar in my recipes. Only one person has ever asked me why, but I assume there are many more who are curious. It takes about half the time to dissolve two parts of finely granulated sugar into one part water as it does to dissolve the same amount of regular sugar into the same amount of water. Simple, eh? What's more, it takes even less time (by more than half) to dissolve ultrafine granulated sugar similarly. But ultrafine is expensive, while fine is not.

    • 12 oz fresh raspberries
    • 3 cups finely granulated sugar
    • 1 cup water
    • 12 fresh mint leaves
    • 750mL vodka (I use 100 proof)

    Bring the water to a boil and then cut off the heat. Immediately add sugar and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until sugar dissolves completely. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

    When sugar-water is cooled, chop the raspberries and mint leaves in a food processor and pour into the half-gallon jar. Add the sugar-water and then the vodka. Seal the jar and set aside, swirling contents daily for 30 days.

    Strain through muslin or several layers of cheesecloth into another container. Strain again through a paper coffee filter in a funnel and transfer into decorative bottles. Let the liqueur rest two weeks and serve chilled. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    Barbecue, America's Favorite

    Barbequed chicken leg quarters

    I received data on a survey pertaining to barbecue conducted by an affiliate of Amazon.com. The survey uncovered some interesting trends about America's obsession with all things barbecue and found opinions on the most "All American Food." I know nothing about the sampling audience or its size, but I thought the results were nonetheless interesting and worth sharing.

    Respondents revealed 84 percent of Americans plan to enjoy sweet and tangy barbecue during the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Chicken (39%) beat pork (30%) as the nation's meat of choice, with beef coming in third with 26% of the vote. Personally, I vote for pork, then beef, then chicken, then lamb, then venison.

    Putting the long-standing debate to rest, America chose Texas as the best barbecue destination with 43% of the vote, beating Memphis (24%), North Carolina (15%) and Kansas City (13%). Nothing about these figures surprise me, as Texans take their barbecue -- like their chili and hamburgers -- very seriously.

    When it comes to what consumers consider the most all-American food, apple pie took the crown with 28% of the vote, followed by hamburgers with 25%, hot dogs at 20% and barbecue at 17%.

    Four in 10 Americans believe slow-smoked is the one true way to cook great barbecue. No argument here.

    An overwhelming number -- 91% of respondents -- said they either "love or like" barbecue. Hmmm, only 91%?

    As long as we are discussing barbeque, I thought I would pass on my favorite barbecue sauce for chicken. I prefer to grill chicken leg quarters, but I use an probing thermometer to ensure the centers are well cooked. If you do not have such a thermometer, separate the drumsticks and thighs to better control the thoroughness of the cook.

    This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe I found long ago in River Road Recipes II. I have tweaked it so many times that it barely resembles the original. This is my final tweaking, with a yield of just over a quart of sauce:

    Barbecue Sauce for Chicken Leg Quarters

    • 1/2 cup ketchup
    • 1/3 cup dry white wine (or white wine vinegar)
    • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
    • 1 cup Texas-style barbecue sauce (any brand)
    • 1 cup water
    • 2 tablespoons Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • 2 tablespoons Bourbon (optional)
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 1/2 cups butter (margarine if preferred)
    • 2 large onions chopped coarsely
    • 1 large bell pepper deseeded and chopped coarsely
    • 1 large rib of celery, cut into 1" pieces
    • 1 whole fire-roasted red pepper (from can or jar)
    • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1/4 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
    • 4 bay leaves

    Combine everything except butter and bay leaves in large blender and puree until onions, bell pepper, red pepper, celery and garlic are reduced and integrated.

    Place butter and bay leaves in 3-quart pan. Pour pureed mixture in pan and bring to a simmer. Hold simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Brush sauce on chicken while cooking on grill of medium heat. I cook 10 minutes per side and then an addition 5 minutes per side, continuing turning and cooking until internal temperature is at least 165 degrees F.

    Leftover sauce can be transferred to sterile jars and refrigerated for up to a month or transferred to plastic containers and frozen 'til hell freezes over.

    September 2nd, 2012

    There will be life after another national political convention. Have faith and be strong.

    I will be out of the loop until I finish another article for WineMaker magazine, although they did not publish the last one they commissioned. It diminishes my faith in mankind.

    But, there is life after the conventions.

    Elvis, from a scene in <i>Blue Hawaii</i>

    About fifteen or so years ago my wife spent a lot of money buying me a replica of a shirt Elvis wore in the movie Blue Hawaii. It's funny how a little thing like that can be so influential in one's life. I've been collecting and wearing Hawaiian shirts ever since. Not all the time, mind you, but when the weather permits. Lately, it has permitted them about 325 days a year.

    When we were last in Kaua'i, we met three different people who claimed, and I have no reason to doubt them, that they served in some capacity during the filming of the Kaua'i portion of Blue Hawaii and met Elvis. One was a driver, another a cleaning lady at his hotel, and another a cook at the same place. All three said the same thing -- Elvis was a real gentleman and very generous. I believe them.

    That wonderful hotel on Kaua'i where Elvis stayed and served as the set for the latter part of the movie, and where Evlis ' wedding ceremony with Joan Blackman was filmed, was the Coco Palms, the oldest resort hotel on Kaua'i.

    The Coco Palms was irreparably damaged on September 11, 1992 by Hurricane Iniki. However, it is still there, rotting, decaying and collapsing in upon itself, a ghost of its former opulence. At the height of its existence, it had 416 guest rooms and cottages. Elvis stayed in Cottage #56, renamed King's Cottage after the King finished Blue Hawaii. Thousands of tourists visit the Coco Palms every year even today. Heck, even we stopped and took pictures of it.

    I do highly recommend a vacation to Kaua'i. It is certainly the most beautiful and personable of the Hawaiian Isles, although Oahu would be a close rival if it weren't so populated and developed. And while on Kaua'i, do stop by and take a few pictures of the Coco Palms...and remember Elvis.

    Blocking Malolactic Fermentation

    Taking a sample with a wine thief, photo from <i>Centsational Girl</i> blog entry of March 8, 2010 (linked below), fair use doctrine

    It is easy to neglect a wine-in-progress for a while, especially if it is stored out of sight and life becomes full. So you finally check on it and discover it has reached perfection -- but you don't know if it has undergone malolactic fermentation (MLF). If you bottle it and it starts MLF, your beautifully balanced wine loses its vibrant fruitiness, becomes carbonated and potentially slightly cloudy from the bacteria. If you stabilize the wine and it undergoes MLF, it is easily ruined. You want to freeze the wine at its current perfection, bottle it and not worry about a post-bottling MLF.

    This dilemma faced a long-time winemaker and artistic contributor to the WineBlog named Mark. He transferred a wine from primary to secondary after a partial carbonic maceration, put it out of the way, and then life took over and he neglected the wine. "Seeing that it has been almost a year, I decided to taste it today. It is extraordinary! Fruit forward, balanced, not too hot, nice nose, not stinky in any way (despite [sitting on the] sediment), clear, a little light colored (but I don't mind) and frankly, it might be the best tasting wine I ever made (if it stays this good!)."

    His concerns are several but can be consolidated. He knows he has to get the wine off the lees, add sulfites and stabilize the wine prior to bottling, but he did not inoculate with a malolactic culture and does not know if a spontaneous MLF has already occurred or might occur in the future. There are numerous potential problems associated with a spontaneous MLF.

    A malolactic fermentation will not occur until the malolactic bacteria culture reaches a certain population density. The density depends on the specific bacteria strains present and their proportion to one another and to the whole. For these reasons, spontaneous MLFs are terribly unreliable because the strains present (if any are present at all) are unknown, may contain undesirable strains and actual MLF might take weeks to many months to begin or may never begin at all. Finally, the wild bacteria that fuel a spontaneous MLF can produce or cause to be produced various unpleasant odors and tastes.

    These potential problems hang over Mark's wine like a sword balanced on a rafter on the San Andreas Fault -- and there are compounding possibilities as well. He would like to stabilize his wine but if MLF has not occurred but remains a possibility the metabolism of potassium sorbate -- a stabilizing agent -- by lactic acid bacteria can progress to the formation of 2-ethoxy-3,5-hexadiene, more commonly referred to as geranium taint -- a serious and irreversible flaw.

    Luckily for Mark, there are clear avenues to addressing his concerns. The very first thing is to determine if the wine can even undergo an MLF. If the wine was sulfited to an aseptic level, it cannot support MLF as the malolactic bacteria is suppressed or killed outright by the sulfite.

    If the wine was not sulfited, or was sulfited but not to an aseptic level, then one must determine if it has undergone whole or partial MLF. This is easily accomplished using paper chromatography, an intimidating name for a simple investigative technique.

    Because the instructions for conducting a paper chromatography test are long (although not difficult), I will forego producing them here and simply refer you to a few sites that cover the procedures amply. If you purchase a test kit, the manufacturer will provide detailed instructions specific to that kit. Remember, the chemicals included in the kit must be stored in a refrigerator and even then are relatively short lived. I have used my kit probably 8-10 times and have had to purchase new chemicals 5-6 times. While not exceedingly expensive, it does add up.

    But the point to be made here is that paper chromatography will allow one to determine if MLF has occurred or is occurring. The absence of a lactic acid spot on two tests conducted three weeks apart would conclusively prove that MLF has not and is not occurring.

    Finally, it should be mentioned (and this is a biggie) that if one wants to absolutely prevent MLF from occurring but does not want to load the wine with 35-50 ppm of sulfur dioxide, one can use Lysozyme, a glucoside hydrolase (a type of enzyme) that damages the cell walls of gram-positive bacteria such as malolactic bacteria. It can be used to prevent MLF altogether, stop a partial MLF, or sanitize a barrel in which MLF has been conducted. Dosages are included in the instructions for use with the product.

    Passion Fruit Wine

    'Purple granadilla passion fruit

    Passion fruit are enticingly aromatic and a mixture of sweetness and tanginess, most closely resembling guava in taste. They are very nutritious, a terrific treat, a delicious addition to yogurt, ice cream, mousse, pastries and sauces, and can be strained to yield a fantastic drink, by itself or mixed with orange juice or rum. They make a fabulous jelly and a flavorful syrup. Best of all, they make a mighty tasty wine.

    Before we continue I should mention what passion fruit are like. Different varieties come in different colors and sizes, but what I consider the most flavorful, the Purple Granadilla, are the size of a jumbo egg to a little larger. They grow to a smooth, ovoid fruit with a leathery skin that shrivels and wrinkles when ripe. Inside are a mass of juice and pulp, more specifically many small, edible but crunchy seeds surrounded by more juice contained in membranes. Granadilla means "little pomegranate," but pomegranate seed segments are much firmer than those of the passion fruit.

    One usually eats passion fruit by cutting them in half over a bowl and scooping out the insides with a spoon, delivered straight to the mouth or the bowl for other preparation. The bowl is the destination for preparing them for wine.

    • 3 1/2 to 4 lbs passion fruit
    • 1 1/2 lbs ripe green grapes, destemmed
    • 1 1/2 lbs finely granulated sugar
    • 1 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
    • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • 1/4 tsp yeast energizer
    • 5 pts water
    • 1 pkt Lalvin 71B-1122 yeast

    Put the water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash the fruit (and grapes), cut in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and place the pulp and grapes in a primary. When water boils, pour over pulp and grapes. When grapes split, crush them with a flat bottomed wine bottle or piece of hardwood. Add the sugar, tannin, nutrient and energizer and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool 3 hours and then stir in pectic enzyme. Cover primary and wait 10-12 hours. Add yeast in a starter solution and cover primary. Stir twice daily until vigorous fermentation subsides slightly. Strain through a nylon straining bag, squeezing to extract juice. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up to shoulder with water and attach an airlock. Rack after 30 days, add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up to within an inch of the mouth and reattach airlock. Rack again after 6 weeks, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside 3 months. If sediment persists, rack again and wait an additional month. Rack into bottles and age at least 3 more months. [Jack Keller's own recipe, inspired by Roy Elkins]

    September 10th, 2012

    I have completed most of my short-term writing projects and can hopefully get to bed at a decent hour. Friday night I was up until 5:28 a.m. (last time I looked at the clock) and Saturday missed a repeat by 85 minutes. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning as I struggled to stay awake and find the exact words I sought, I realized (again) I am not as young as I once was. These were my most productive hours in college but now they are challenging. But I will say this for 5-Hour Energy Drink; it sure does work -- and works a LOT better than No-Doz.

    This morning I was up until 3:35 more out of habit than need. I was searching for a book I bought back in April and then hurriedly "put away" while cleaning the house for some company. Its whereabouts is roughly known -- somewhere in this house -- but the details elusive. The book is Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood, by Michael Walker. I bought it after my youngest brother shared some very interesting anecdotal information about The Byrds he had gleaned from the book. It sounded like a rock and roll trivia junkie's bonanza so I ordered it from Amazon. It sat on the kitchen countertop for a couple of days before I stashed it somewhere. Now, wanting too read it, it remains stashed.

    I suspect it is with a bundle of credit cards, gift cards and business cards I hid before going on a cruise last March. I have two credit cards I frequently use and some I rarely use -- mostly store cards obtained to receive a discount on a large purchase or VISA/Mastercards obtained to receive free checking or a safety deposit box. These, when added to the cards I use regularly, make my wallet thick and uncomfortable so I kept the little-used cards in a stack on my nightstand. However, there had been recent evidence that a burglar had twice attempted to break into my house so, besides other precautions, I decided to hide them.

    I remember securing them with a rubber band and selecting a "really good spot" to hide them, but upon my return from the cruise I could not remember where that "really good spot" is located. Believe me, I have looked. They are probably with some odd socks, my very expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen and an old passport that have gone missing over the years...and the book, Laurel Canyon....

    Losing Belly Fat

    Complete Idiot's Guide to Belly Fat Weight loss, paperback

    Like many an American male, I have stood idly by and watched my belly grow into an imitation of a women in her third trimester. Back in March I hit my highest weight ever at 190 pounds. I also came down with an intestinal bug about the same time and had lost almost 10 pounds before my doctor managed to intervene. During that period I had eaten less -- one major meal a day with smaller than usual portions and 4-5 daily snacks of fruit, fresh vegetables, soup or salad.

    I maintained that eating regimen and hit a plateau at around minus 14 pounds -- I could maintain the weight loss thus far, but not shed additional weight. My wife suggested a book for losing body fat but did not mention a name. I searched Amazon. There are over 270 books that hit on belly fat weight loss. I began reading reviews and after about 45 minutes my head hurt, so I selected one based on the reviews.

    It is called The Complete Idiot's Guide to Belly Fat Weight Loss and it was written for me. The authors are doctors but no need to go back to college and study organic chemistry to understand this one. Yes, it cites science to underscore every assertion or suggested strategy, but it is written to be understood by the layman. Within 3 weeks of receiving it and a couple of trips to the supermarket, I had lost another 8 pounds. It lists the right foods for meals and (most importantly) snacks, tells you why they are right, and includes over 100 recipes for main courses.

    Last Friday I stood butt-naked on the bathroom scales and had lost exactly 30 pounds total since March. I am working on my yoga exercises to firm up what seems to have gone soft and they aren't difficult to do. When I first looked at them, I thought, "I'll do these for warm up and then move on to some more manly sit-ups and scrunches." Boy was I wrong. The yoga is great, combining a good, progressive workout with stress management -- a great combination.

    By the way, the photo on the right links to the book on Amazon. My review of the book follows the description.

    Making Vermouth

    Botanical samples, from Chemical Engineering website

    Vermouths were originally made to salvage wines that were heading south. They are aromatized wines, meaning they are infused with botanicals (herbs, spices, roots, seeds) that add flavor and color. These masked the developing off flavors and resulted in bitter-sweet fortified wines that opened up the appetite and also served various medicinal purposes. While homemade vermouth can be made with the same salvage motive today, most modern vermouths are made using a sound base wine, either dry or sweet, and a mixture of botanicals suited to one's own taste.

    Vermouth had long been a cottage product before the first commercial vermouth was made by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in the 1700s in Turin. Vermuth Carpano was a sweet social and medicinal beverage. Fourteen years later French winemakers in Savoy and Marseilles formulated dry vermouths whose markets were divided between home medicinal usage and the French military. The latter recognized the quinine content in French vermouths made it an effective curative for malaria.

    You need not add quinine to your vermouth, but it has a bitter flavor and is traditionally there. Other botanicals that can be used in vermouth are angelica root, anise seed, basil (sweet), bay leaf, burdock root, cardamom seed, cat's claw bark, chamomile flower, chicory root, chile tepin (red chili berries), cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cranberry fruit and leaf, damiana, dandelion root, echinacea, elder flower, fennel seed, fenugreek seed, feverfew, gentian root, ginger, ginkgo biloba, goldenseal root, hawthorn berry, hops, juniper berry, lavender, lemon peel (dried), marjoram, milk thistle, nutmeg, orange peel (dried), oregano, Pau d'Arco bark, pepper corn, quinine, raspberry fruit and leaf, red clover, rosemary, saffron, sage, skullcap, spearmint, star anise, thyme, turmeric, valerian, vanilla bean, and wormwood are some of the traditional ingredients infused into vermouths.

    • Selected botanical ingredients
    • 2 teaspoons white granulated sugar
    • 750 mL dry white wine
    • 150-250 mL brandy

    Mix botanicals together and place in small sauce pan with a lid. Add just enough white wine to cover the botanicals. Bring the wine to a simmer and hold for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. During last 3 minutes, stir in sugar and continue stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

    When cooled, place a funnel lined with two layers of paper coffee filters in a separate bottle and pour infused botanicals in funnel. Carefully press (squeeze) filter paper to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard botanicals.

    Add brandy to a 750 mL screw capped wine bottle. Add infusion to brandy. Fill wine bottle with white wine. Cap. Refrigerate 24 hours, then pour out a small sample and taste. If not to your satisfaction, analyze what is weak or missing.

    Add missing ingredient to sauce pan and add enough of your vermouth to cover. Bring to a simmer, covered, and hold for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool and again filter out botanicals. Add liquid to vermouth and again refrigerate 24 hours.

    Again evaluate taste. You can adjust as many times as it takes, but the more you adjust the shorter life the vermouth will enjoy.

    Heating the wine will cause that small amount to oxidize, but not the whole volume. Vermouth is slightly oxidized, so this should replicate this quality well. This should be a dry vermouth. Dry vermouths still have 3--5% sugar, which this will approach. Sweet vermouths have up to 15% sugar and are made starting with a sweet wine which is then sweetened even more..

    September 13th, 2012

    My last post, on September 10th, should have been postponed a day so I could pay homage to the victims of 9-11. My mistake. Please permit me to do so now, with an updated repeat of something I wrote some time ago.

    Airport Arrival/Departure display on 9-11-2001

    It is hard to believe it has been eleven years since the guy on the radio said, "Wow, this is weird. A plane has just crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. No other details are known but we'll keep you posted as we learn them." I assumed some guy in a Cessna had become mesmerized by flying among the skyscrapers and had accidently flown into the very broad side of a very tall barn. I returned to my email and focused on serious thoughts.

    About eight minutes later I went to the restroom and returned during the lead story on the radio news as the announcer said the unthinkable. The plane that struck the World Trade Center North Tower was a commercial airliner. The upper floors were burning furiously. Two minutes into reading wire service feeds he stopped in mid-sentence, then announced that another plane had just flown into the South Tower. Every thinking person with an adult sense of reality had to know immediately, as did I, that this was deliberate and an attack upon our nation.

    Sweet Jesus, what a horrible day that turned into.

    My friends, we have to remember it. And I mean remember it as it really unfolded, not the way Michael Moore and all the latter-day, Bush-hating revisionists want you to believe it was. Remember the reality, not their propaganda. It was real, a day of disbelief, of dawning realization, of fear and terror -- totally surreal as each and every private and commercial aircraft over and inbound to the United States and Canada was landed and parked somewhere ill-prepared to receive it, the passengers and crew accommodated somehow, and nothing, absolutely nothing flew overhead but emergency and combat aircraft.

    On a dime, the world changed. Remember it. Remember the 3,000 victims. Remember the 403 first responders who went bravely into the twin towers and climbed those endless stairs into the arms of the Lord. Remember it vividly and emotionally so that in 50 or 60 years when some hate-mongerer in Tehran or some other backwater of civilization says it didn't happen you can look your great-grandkids in the eye and say with certainty, "Oh yes it did, and I remember it well!"

    Keep it with you, securely preserved, as life goes on, as we turn to other, more ordinary things.

    And don't forget to pray....

    Reilly - Ace of Spies

    Reilly --  Ace of Spies

    I watched this 12-episode mini-series on my San Francisco PBS station back in 1983. I even recorded it on VHS tape, but the recording was not very good. I was delighted to find the series on DVD and ordered it.* It is not only the best spy series I have ever seen, it is based on the real life episodes of an illegitimate Russian Jew named Sigmund Rosenblum, aka Agent ST-1, aka Sidney Reilly. One of the minor characters in it is a British Naval officer named Fleming, Ian Fleming's father. Ian modeled his James Bond character after Reilly, but later lamented, "Sadly, Bond is no Sidney Reilly."

    Reilly was, by all accounts, a loose canon. Given a mission, he formulated his own operation and modified his plan on the fly. He was an opportunist and frequently seemed to find a way to increase his own fortunes in the process. He had nerves of steel and would use anyone or anything to complete his assignment. Single-handedly, he did more to advanced the craft of spying than any other single person. Indeed, he demonstrated what was possible when you severed the gentleman's chains of tradition. "Ace of Spies" is, in my opinion, an understatement. He was the master of spies. If you like this genre, you will love this box-set.

    After viewing the series again I wrote a glowing, 5-star review for Amazon. Amazon likes to select a line in each review as a characterizing quote. In my review I noted that the opening episodes were packaged as a movie by the same title which necessarily omitted Reilly's best exploits. I said of this movie, "Steer clear of it." Those four words are the ones Amazon chose to characterize my review, leaving the distinct impression I was NOT recommending the box-set. I wrote to Amazon complaining of the quote they used and they promised to change it. Thus far, they have not.

    Reilly, played by Sam Neil in perhaps his best and most compelling role, is a complex character. Just when you think you are beginning to know him, he reveals another side of himself that takes getting used to.. Always the hero, he is at times a somewhat dark hero requiring our forgiveness for acceptance. He is suave, cultured, educated, yielding, determined, cunning, brutal, calculating, headstrong, and much more.

    His understanding of political and economic realities lead him into some truly amazing situations. In time, one really has to wonder who Reilly truly is working for. Yes, he is a British agent, but also he is looking out for himself. He becomes involved in the Russian Revolution and at times you have to wonder if he is really a double-agent. These questions are never really resolved because the real Reilly never set the record straight. Nor would one expect him to.

    I could write for an hour about this mini-series, but either it interests you or no further words can peak your interest. If you would like to read more, or order the box-set, click on the image at the upper right. You can order it right from there, and you will not be disappointed.

    * Actually, I ordered the uncut version of this mini-series, but it is out of stock and Amazon says they don't know when or even if they will obtain it again. This version is the next best thing.

    Working With Gravity and Specific Gravity

    Hydrometer in cylinder with wiine

    Sometimes things just come together in one big coincidence. I was writing a piece for WineMaker magazine requiring subtractions of specific gravity readings. Two days later I received a letter (not an email) asking how to do this very thing. The problem is when you subtract, for eaample, 1.015 from 1.090 you come up with a negative number because of the leading 1's. The writer knew the answer to the math problem, but had a problem intellectualizing the negative value. The answer is very simple.

    Since each leading 1 in front of the decimal point represents the specific gravity of distilled water, one can drop the 1's and the decimal points and simply do the math using the gravity -- the three-digit numbers following the decimal points. A specific gravity of 1.090 represents the same as a gravity of 090, or simply 90. This allows a simple solution to the math: 90 - 15 = 75 gravity, or 1.075 specific gravity.

    The normal way in which these numbers are used are when you measure the original gravity of a must before pitching the yeast and at some point you measure again and want to know simple progress or exactly how much alcohol is in the fermented must or wine.

    If you began with 1.090, the potential alcohol is 12%. But the potential is only realized when the must ferments to dryness. If it stops fermenting at 1.015, it has not reached its full potential. To determine the actual alcohol content, you do the math using gravity, convert the answer back to specific gravity, and look that up in a specific gravity table. In this case a specific gravity of 1.075 represents 10.2% alcohol by volume. It is no longer potential alcohol because it measures potential that was actually realized through fermentation. It therefore represents the actual alcohol present in the wine.

    Determining the alcohol present in a stuck fermentation, as in the example above, is important. If the alcohol is high enough and the remaining sugar acceptable, it may be better to go ahead and stabilize the wine as is than to attempt to restart the fermentation with a new yeast. Knowing the numbers helps make that determination.

    In my article for WineMaker my need for working with gravity is quite different. I present a recipe for making a port-style wine from mustang grapes. The must is chaptalized (sweetened by adding sugar) to a higher potential alcohol value than the yeast being used would be expected to achieve. One could either allow the yeast to ferment to dryness and then fortify and sweeten the wine or stop the fermentation before it finished and thereby eliminate the need to sweeten the wine after being fortified. I chose the latter route for reasons I'll not discuss here.

    Part of the exercise was establishing a specific gravity target at which to arrest fermentation. Since hitting the target would require constant monitoring as that number was approached, the option of stopping it through fortification at a convenient point is offered. Whatever point is selected, it is essential that the actual alcohol content be established so the correct amount of brandy or other spirit to be added can be calculated. The simple math explained above yields the answer. The fortification calculations are a different matter and will be covered in the next WineBlog entry.

    Moroccan Lamb Stew

    Moroccan Lamb Stew

    I made this two days ago and had enough left over for another five servings. If I said it was delicious it would be an understatement. It is fabulous. It is sweetish yet mildly spicy. It is light yet also filling. The lamb melts in your mouth and is tasty. The various flavors meld but can still be distinguished. It is one of the best stews I have ever made and it will be made again and again and again.

    This stew was inspired by a dish we enjoyed in Morocco. I have searched long and hard for an approximation of what we had and recently discovered a recipe that served as my starting off point. But mine is quite different than the one I found. You can, of course, modify my recipe, but I would recommend you not stray too far afield.

    The ingredients list looks imposing, but really isn't. I had to buy the lamb, dried apricots, eggplant, tomatoes, and mushrooms, but everything else was on hand. I suspect your pantry and refrigerator are stocked differently, but just print out the ingredients, check off what you have on hand and head for the supermarket for the rest. You will be glad you did.

    Preparation time is about a half-hour. Cooking time in a 3-quart cast iron Dutch oven (large pot will do) was about 2 hours. Be sure to have storage containers for the leftovers or serve to a gathering of 6-8 people. Again, you (and they) will be glad you did.

    • 1 1.2 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 1/2 pounds boneless lamb, trimmed of fat and cubed to 1-inch
    • 8 ounces (weight) dried apricot halves
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1 1/2 green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
    • 2 sticks of celery, chopped
    • 1 eggplant, peeled and quartered lengthwise then sliced thin
    • 6 Roma tomatoes, quartered and chopped
    • 4 fire-roasted red peppers (canned), chopped
    • 1 cup portabella mushrooms, diced
    • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
    • 2 chipotle peppers (canned), diced (you can substitute jalapenos)
    • 2 cups vegetable broth (stock)
    • 1 cup orange juice
    • 1 tablespoon orange zest
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 2 cloves garlic, diced
    • 8 pieces crystallized ginger, sliced thin, or 1-inch fresh ginger peeled and diced small
    • 1 4-inch cinnamon stick
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1/2 cup brown rice

    Place Dutch oven over medium heat, adding oil. Add chopped onions, bell peppers and lamb and turn often for about 10 minutes.

    Add broth, garlic, orange juice, honey, zest, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and ginger. Bring to a low-to-medium simmer and cover. Cook 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Add rice, sweet potatoes and celery and stir. Simmer covered additional 20 minutes.

    Add all remaining ingredients, stir, and cook covered another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    No salt or pepper was added. The broth seemed to have enough salt to not need any and the chipotles, fire-roasted red peppers, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and ginger provided just enough spiciness. If you have a rosemary plant, a tablespoon of fresh leaves, bruised, might be the only thing missing. If you like a thicker stew, 2 tablespoons of corn meal sprinkled and stirred in for the final 45 minutes should do the trick. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    I will make this again, and again, and again. It's that good.

    September 17th, 2012

    Special Forces and Airborne shoulder tabs

    Thursday night we received 3.5 inches of very needed rain. I would have preferred it had been spread out over a greater period of time so it had more time to soak in, but I'll accept whatever nature offers in this time of drought.

    It rained so hard I did not dare venture out to turn off my automatic sprinklers. In hindsight, I should have put on my old Army uniform. My green beret and Special Forces and Airborne tabs work well to shed a downpour. I might have gotten wet, but it does not actually rain on those mystical symbols.

    The amazing thing is I could have actually fit into the uniform once again. I have lost 30 pounds since March and my waist has shrunk two inches. My bulging belly is once again almost flat -- not quite, but almost. In case you missed it, my secret was revealed in my September 10th WineBlog posting.

    Yesterday we received another 1.12 inches of rain, this time a soft, gentle rain that took most of the day to deliver. That's how we like it. I saw no runoff, although I spent most of the day nursing a fever, nausea and bit of vertigo, so I was not a reliable witness. We lost power twice. My illness kept me in bed off and on throughout much of the day looking at a blinking bedside clock-radio display, too sick to reset it, and caused me to miss the judging of the Medina County Fair Home Wine Competition in Hondo, Texas. My apologies to Charlie Suehs and the other judges.

    An issue arose very soon after our clandestine Special Operations Forces raided Osama bin Laden's compound and killed him. A prudent man would have waited a few days or even weeks to announce the raid, allowing our analysts time to glean actionable intelligence from the maps, documents and computers seized and exploit that intelligence, thereby multiplying the benefits of the raid many times over. That did not happen. A wreckless man stepped up to the mike and, using the word "I" more times than "we" or "our," claimed credit for the raid and revealed far too much about the who and how of the operation.

    The immediate effect was that all or most of the intelligence gathered that night became unactionable as all the minions associated with bin Laden scurried into new hiding places, adopted new means of communications and new avenues of finance. In the weeks and months that followed, a veritable deluge of leaks of highly sensitive classified information flowed from the White House with what could only be political motives.

    The damage caused by these leaks is incalculable. The Pakistani doctor who verified that bin Laden was in the compound was arrested and quickly sentenced to 33 years in prison for assisting the United States. Assets in Yemen were compromised. Who knows how many others? The unit conducting the raid was identified with specificity and the members -- and their families -- placed in jeopardy of inevitable "payback."

    The film below, titled Dishonorable Disclosures - How Leaks and Politics Threaten National Security, is a must-see for anyone wishing the success of this nation in the war on terror. It makes no difference if you are liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Libertarian, Independent or Green, if you desire a secure future you need to watch the film. Runtime is 22 minutes, a small investment to make for the gift of understanding.

    Let's hope our leaders and their associates get it right next time and resist the temptation to glorify themselves and spike the football immediately after saying they would not do that. Let's hope they put the nation before the "I."

    Back to the Basics: Yeast, Sulfites and Sorbate

    Lalvin EC-1118 wine yeast

    I am amazed at how many emails I get that are underpinned by a complete lack of understanding of the interactions between yeast, sulfites and potassium sorbate. I will not go into examples because I don't want to embarrass anyone, but no one should be making wine without a cursory knowledge of the basics. Sadly, this isn't always the case.

    As I have said many times, yeast make the wine. Our job is to prepare their banquet, clean up after them, put away the leftovers, and do the dishes after they have left.

    There are two yeast we should be concerned with. The first are the yeast that piggy-back in on the grapes, berries or fruit we make wine from and the second is cultured yeast selected for their winemaking attributes. While it is quaint to make "natural" wine using the wild yeast, it is risky. There are many more bad strains of yeast in the wild than good. While it is true many of them are not attracted to grapes or berries or fruit, quite a few are. One might make several batches of wine without incident -- even dozens -- but eventually a bad one is going to gain dominance and ruin your wine. Why even risk it?

    Taking care of the bad yeast is very easy. You hit the must with an aseptic dose of potassium metabisulfite (Campden tablets if you don't have the pure stuff) and it does several things, only two of which are important here. It kills all the bacteria and molds that also piggy-back in on the base ingredients, and it stuns the wild yeast present. It does not kill the wild yeast, a misconception I read all too often on winemaking forums.

    Yeast are very sensitive to their environment. When that environment appears hostile to them, they shut down and go dormant. Sulfites encourage them to do that. At the same time, you introduce a proven winemaking strain of yeast. Some are more tolerant of sulfites than others, but they all are more tolerant than the wild yeast strains. Thus, while the wild strains are sleeping, so to speak, the cultured yeast are propagating, dominating the must and overwhelming the wild yeast. If the wild yeast ever awaken, they find themselves crowded out and quietly recede back into dormancy. Additionally, there are cultured strains that are actually killer yeast. They kill off all competitors and are masters of the fermentation.

    Eventually, all good things come to an end. The yeast either eat all available food and die of mass starvation or they create more alcohol than they can tolerate and poison themselves. If it were actually that simple winemaking would be a much easier task. In truth, there are always some yeast that survive starvation or alcohol toxicity. In the first case the starving yeast hibernate until new food is introduced or death eventually claims them. In the second case, the yeast become intoxicated and go to sleep as all drunks do until the grim reaper calls. But if you screw up, in both cases they can come roaring back.

    There are essentially two ways to screw up. The first is to bottle a wine containing intoxicated yeast too early and the second is to feed them.

    If you bottle a wine with intoxicated yeast too early, the surviving yeast can decide the high alcohol environment isn't so bad after all, awaken from their stupor, and go about reproducing and consuming any residual sugar present in the wine. Since wine yeast strains reproduce by budding, all offspring are clones of the parent and equally tolerant of the high alcohol. The result is popped corks or fizzy wine with lots of dead yeast in it (they do eventually die).

    If you sweeten a dry wine without regard to any surviving yeast, the yeast that barely survived starvation revive and have a feast. The result is the same as for the intoxicated yeast.

    In both cases you can simply wait them out. We call that bulk aging. After a year they will all be lees. But what if you don't want to wait that long? In that case you have a friend named potassium sorbate. A dose of 1/2 teaspoon per gallon will render the yeast incapable of reproducing, so even if they awaken and find food they cannot live long enough to consume it all by themselves. They die of old age without further prodigy.

    When adding potassium sorbate, it is prudent to also add potassium metabisulfite. It not only retards oxidation, it also retards browning (the two are not the same thing). But more importantly, it kills bacteria.

    You may or may not know if your wine has undergone MLF (malolactic fermentation), but if you don't know you should assume it hasn't. Since MLF is caused by bacteria, adding the sulfite ensures MLF will not occur later down the road. It is important that it doesn't because if it did occur in the presence of sorbic acid (the product of adding potassium sorbate) the result would be a tainted wine, smelling of geranium and tasting worse.

    When we say we stabilized a wine, we mean we added both potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite (Campden, if that's all you have). A dry wine, properly aged, does not need the sorbate, but it should be sulfited prior to bottling. Until one becomes an experienced winemaker it is best to add both and be safe.

    Filtering Liqueurs and other Infused Spirits or Beverages

    Paper coffee filters

    Three emails have questioned my recommendations of filtering liqueurs with paper coffee filters. All three noted the inordinate amount of time it takes for the liquid to pass through one filter, let alone two -- hours and hours. Using paper filters, it can take up to three days to filter one batch. This calls for some discussion and suggestions.

    Except for liqueurs infused by extracts or non-pulpy solids like vanilla beans, whole cloves, cinnamon sticks or other barks, fennel or other seeds, etc., all infusions become populated with very small particles of pulp. Berries and mashed fruit are especially bad. A half-cup of the raw liqueur will clog a paper coffee filter within seconds, soon reducing the flow to a drop every 5-10 minutes. Obviously, this is unacceptable.

    I recommend using a funnel with a detachable, fine-mesh insert for the first pass. This will stop most of the pulp but will still take an hour or two, with several cleanings of the mesh insert, to remove the bulk of the solids. There are still a lot of solids left in there. If they don't bother you the liqueur could be bottled as is. But over time a layer of very fine lees will form in the bottles. Personally, this is not acceptable to me.

    I use a 14 x 28-inch piece of very tightly woven muslin cloth, folded in half to a 14 x 14-inch square, to line my large funnel for the second pass. The flow is fairly fast at first, but it too gets clogged. I squeeze it very gently over a bowl, wash it by hand, and return it to the funnel. The squeezed liqueur is returned to the bulk awaiting the second pass and I again fill the funnel. It normally takes me three cleanings and about as many hours to get all the liqueur through the cloth. At this stage the liqueur looks clear but is not "polished" or "brilliant." This is fine for liqueur I am going to drink myself, but not for liqueur I am going to give away as gifts.

    Cone-type paper coffee filters

    I have a Buon Vino MiniJet Wine Filter and could use it to polish the liqueur, but would lose a cup to a pint in the process. This stuff is precious to me and that is too much loss, so I now turn to paper coffee filters. There are basically two kinds, both illustrated here, with variations of each. I have no preference but find the cone-type easier to work with, although they are more expensive than the pleated type.

    Even now, after two previous filterings, the paper filters clog. That is a testament to the amount of microscopic pulp still suspended in the liqueur. I fill a filter with liqueur and discard it after one pass. However, the coffee-filtered liqueur is now brilliantly clear and quite acceptable as gifts.

    One might complain that this is all too time consuming. That is a matter of relevancy. The whole process of filtering takes several days, but the actual amount of time one spends attending to the filtering process is only a matter of perhaps two hours -- three at the most. The remainder of the time is left to gravity to do it's work while the liqueur-maker does other things.

    This might be too much for you, but it is not too much for me or I would not do it. To me it is all about the finished product, which is well worth the effort in my book. Your mileage may vary.

    September 22nd, 2012

    Marlene Nebgen

    On September 16th, Texas lost a wonderful lady. Marlene Nebgen, wife of Marvin Nebgen for 53 years and 10 months, passed away in her husband's arms in the Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg, Texas. Marvin and Marlene shared the honor of the longest continuous members of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild and were made Members Emeritus in December 2008.

    Marlene was a wonderful "country lady." She said what she thought, meant what she said, and had a loving and generous heart. I don't ever recall her meeting a stranger without becoming friends within five minutes.

    She had many skills and knowledge that only comes from living. She was a hell of a good cook and made damned good wine. Her peach and apricot wines were especially memorable. Like her husband, Marvin, she was a mentor to many and shared her winemaking "secrets" freely.

    She always struck me as a complete person rather than a work in progress as many of us are.

    Marlene was a technician at the Texas Pierce's Disease Research and Extension Program Center in Fredericksburg. For the past 16 months she fought a brave but often painful battle against neuroendoctrine carcinoma, the same cancer that claimed Steve Jobs of Apple Computer. Even during her struggle she opened her home to the wine guild and attended competitions and meetings when her strength allowed it. Her spirit was always up and her infectious laughter lifted us all.

    To say we will miss her is an understatement. Heaven is much enriched to have her.

    Aroma in Moscato Wine

    Moscato grapes, photo from Louis/Dressner

    This subject came to my attention from a complaint on a forum of noting a nail-polish remover aroma from an initial fermentation of Moscato grapes, also known as Muscat Blanc. When I say initial fermentation, I mean a fermentation just begun. The described smell is normally associated with ethyl acetate, produced by the esterfication of ethanol in the presence of acetic acid. Ethyl acetate cannot be produced during initial fermentation, so where can the odor originate?

    I don't know exactly how many aroma contributors ther are in grapes and their wines, but well over 600 volatile compounds have been identified and many of these contribute to their aroma.

    Thanks to advances in gas, mass and thin-layer chromatography, as well as mass spectrometry, we now know more about the aroma constituents of Moscato grapes than we might want to. It is a complex and ever-evolving affair, as the must and wine is ever-changing due to dynamic chemical reactions.

    These aroma components have four general origins:

    • The grapes themselves
    • The crush due to certain enzymatic actions
    • The fermentation of the must
    • The maturation (aging) of the wine

    The unique, characteristic aroma of Moscato grapes is largely attributed to a family of compounds called terpenes -- both monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. There are approximately 50 terpenes identified with grape aroma, almost all of which are in Moscato grapes and about 30 of which are carried over into their wines. The remainder (present in the grapes but not the wine) disappear in chemical reactions during crush and fermentation.

    The principal terpenes in Moscato grapes are linalool, geraniol, nerol, citronellol, and alpha-terpeniol. Together, these compounds produce the unique floral aromas associated with Moscato grapes and wine. These compounds are fairly stable, but some percentage of each can react with other compounds and each other to create new compounds with different aromas or none at all. The possible reactions are not endless, but far exceed my pedestrian knowledge of organic chemistry.

    But I have traced the most common and expected reactions. In none of them was I able to attribute the nail-polish remover aroma the forum writer noted. This, however does not eliminate the possibility of some reaction that may have occurred and is responsible for the noted off-odor.

    I did, however, find an induced reaction that produced wines with higher ethyl acetate esters. The Greek researchers produced a biocatalyst of immobilized Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells on grape skins. They then conducted repeated batch fermentations at various temperatures after introducing the biocatalyst. The resulting wines had higher than normal amounts of ethyl acetate esters. Fermentations conducted at higher temperatures produced more esters and the amount produced decreased at low fermentation temperatures. I found this research interesting, but the biocatalyst they introduced is unlikely to be naturally present in most fermentations, regardless of temperature. While I note it as a remotely possible explanation, I dismiss it as a likely occurance.

    A more likely possibility, and one offered in the forum thread, is that a wild, non-Saccharomyces yeast such as Kloeckera, Hansenula, Candida or one of many others, hitched a ride on the grapes and is responsible for the off-odor. Since these strains are not tolerant of table wine levels of alcohol, if any of these were responsible then the off-odor can be expected to disappear as the cultured strain of Saccharomyces yeast pitched by the winemaker gains dominance.

    I don't believe I absolutely know why the winemaker experienced the problem he reported. I do, however, think the nail-polish remover odor reported is probably a transient occurrence, either a transitory chemical evolution or a wild yeast responsibility, and will disappear shortly.

    This conundrum reminds us that as much as we know about winemaking, there is still much we do not know. Acknowledging that, I hope none of my readers experience a similar problem. If you do, please allow the fermentation to complete and then let me know if the odor was short-lived or persistent.

    September 26th, 2012

    Rosalie and Jack Sr. wedding photo, September 26, 1942

    The picture at the right won't mean anything to you but it means everything to me. It is the wedding picture of my parents, Rosalie and Jack Sr., taken September 26th, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. They met while working in a bakery in Lake Charles, Louisiana -- my mother as a clerk and my father as a baker. They fell in love, but their courtship was interrupted by Pearl Harbor. My father-to-be enlisted in the Navy.

    I think I was home on leave after being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army when I finally became curious enough to ask my father why he selected the Navy. His answer had a simple logic to it that went something like this:

    "I had never learned how to swim and always wanted to. I figured since the Navy operated in the water they would teach me how to swim."

    "Did they?"

    "No. When I finally asked one of the Chiefs when they were going to teach us to swim he said they didn't bother with that. If we ended up in the water where we were going there more than likely wouldn't be anywhere to swim to. The best we could do is float until someone picked us up, so they would teach us to float and use our trousers to make improvised flotation wings so we could stay afloat for hours -- days if necessary. And they did, but I never learned how to swim."

    I'm gathering with my family in San Bernardino, California to celebrate my parents' 70th wedding anniversary, which is today. We'll have the celebration on Saturday, when everyone is present. I have my laptop with me but don't have much time to be on it. I'll be back at my desk in a few days.

    Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad. Let's do this again next year.

    Many of you know I am on Facebook. I'm not there to socialize, but do so occasionally. Primarily I use it to access the online game, Castle Age. This is my diversion, but it can eat up an awful lot of time.

    Like many Facebook users, I absolutely hate their new "Timeline" format. Like Coca Cola did with their "New Coke," they meddled with success and the result is despised by most users. Way too much is public and they cannot offer enough options to hide it. Yes, you can go through everything you ever posted on Facebook and individually hide each item, but that can be so very time consuming.

    My advice to Facebook is stop fixing what isn't broken and for God's sake start listening to your users.

    My hat is off to Microsoft for striking again when I was least prepared for it. I had been working on a blog entry for a couple of hours the other night when suddenly every program I had open began closing and I was unable to prevent it. When my desktop icons finally disappeared, Microsoft began installing updates to Windows and who knows what else. I was so angry I left the room and killed some really good Scotch. When the updates were done the computer rebooted and most of what had been open was reopened.

    The problem for me is that I had cut many sections out of the entry and pasted them into a "working file" I usually keep open to receive odd thoughts and serve as a composition pad for reworking other works in progress. In this case I was reorganizing the various paragraphs I had written and editing on the fly. My objective was to cut the entire, completed entry from the working file and paste it back into my html editor.

    The working file was restored, but to an earlier saved version. All I had pasted to it that evening was nowhere to be found and it was late, so I posted my September 22nd entry minus the missing second half. Since my references were also lost, I could not then nor now recreate it. Perhaps I'll be able to when I return home, but perhaps its time will have passed. We'll see.

    My advice to Microsoft is: before you push the installation of updates ask the user to allow or postpone this intrusion. It's the courteous thing to do. Is anyone in Redmond reading this? Probably not.

    Tonka Bean Liqueur

    Label for Tonka Bean Liqueur in honor of the 70th anniversary of the author's parents, Jack & Rosalie Keller

    I mentioned in my August 13th WineBlog that I make a special liqueur for my wife that I call "Donna's Delight." The two primary flavor ingredients are tonka bean and vanilla bean. I'm going to tell you how to make a similar but not quite identical liqueur. It will still be damned good.

    The tonka bean is an almond-sized, black, shriveled bean from the only tree in the Amazon rain forest to live over 1,000 years. It is found mostly in Guyana but also Brazil. The fragrance of the bean resembles a mix of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves. The flavor is a bit bitter, but in a liqueur the bitterness is lost in the traditional sweetness most liqueurs possess. It marries well with the vanilla bean and two other ingredients (actually, two major and two minor ingredients) I add to my liqueur that are "secret."

    However, I can guide anyone to making a reasonably good (you will think it terrific) liqueur from tonka and vanilla beans. It will not be as good as mine, but you can play with it if you want to improve it.

    The biggest challenge will be obtaining tonka beans. Back in the pre-internet days, I looked for them for many months before finding them in a botanica, a Mexican herbal boutique. Actually, the one I first found them in looked more like a place you might visit looking for ingredients for mixing voodoo potions. But since then I have found them at many shops that specialize in bulk herbs and spices. And they are easily found on the internet.

    The key thing to me is that they be fresh. Generally speaking, the shinier they are the fresher they are. Beans that are dull, often covered with what looks like a grayish powder or coating, have aged and the shiny surface has oxidized. You cannot judge this when buying on the internet until the beans have arrived and by then it is too late. However, if the on-line merchant has a phone number posted you can call them and try to establish their freshness. I would be suspicious if they claim they were delivered within the past month, but within the past 6-9 months would be "fresh" in my book.

    The second ingredient is vanilla beans and the same rules apply. Fresh vanilla beans are shiny, slightly plump and give somewhat when squeezed. Old beans are dull, thinned from drying out and hard to brittle when squeezed. For beams sealed in jars or cylinders, look for a packing or "use by" date. Beans over a year old are not fresh.

    To make a "batch," you will need:

    • 2 tonka beans
    • 2 8-10-inch vanilla beans
    • 1.5 liters vodka (I use 100-proof)
    • 3 cups very fine granulated sugar
    • 1.5 cups boiling water

    Split the vanilla beans and drop into a glass gallon jug. You should cut them in half if they are longer than 10 inches so they will be submerged when the vodka is added. Add the tonka beans to the jug. Carefully pour the vodka into the jug and cap it or cover with plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Set aside for 3 weeks, but swirl the liquid every day or two.

    Taste the liquor, which is only flavored vodka at this point. It will be slightly bitter but should taste of vanilla and the tonka flavor. If the vanilla is not distinct, strain the liquor into another jug, remove the tonka beans and transfer the vanilla beans into the vodka for another week or two. Remove the vanilla beans and filter the vodka if there are black specks from the vanilla bean (there probably will be).

    Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat. Add the sugar a half cup at a time and stir continuously until completely dissolved and the water clear. Cover and allow to cool. A film will probably form over the syrup and can be skimmed off or stirred back into the syrup. Add the syrup to the vodka, swirl to mix and recap the jug. You'll need two 750mL bottles, screwcap preferred, and one split (375mL). Bottle it and set it in a dark place for a month to allow the flavors to age with the sugars. Enjoy, a sip at a time. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    White Peach Delight

    I was shopping for snacks to eat on the airplane flight to California when I saw the white flesh peaches. I bought two. Elsewhere in the market I saw a tub of mascarpone cheese and my mind began to churn. It all came together. I placed the tub in my basket and headed for the dairy section where I picked up a half-pint of heavy whipping cream. My cardiologist might not approve, but I knew my taste buds and stomach would. I was about to create a masterpiece.

    Long ago I discovered the sweet deliciousness of Belle of Georgia white flesh peaches, purchased locally outside Fort Bragg. Later, white stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, I found Strawberry Free white flesh peaches in a produce market on Clement Street. There are many wonderful things to eat in this world, but these two peaches varieties stand out in my mind for the purity of their flavors.

    The best tasting peach on earth is reportedly the honey peach, grown in Yangshan, China, a 90-minute train ride west of Shanghai. These are said to be the juiciest, best tasting peaches on earth. Individual peaches are wrapped in newspaper while ripening on the tree to protect them from insects. The peaches are picked in the morning, carefully crated in straw to separate and cushion them, trucked to Shanghai or flown to Beijing in the afternoon, and are being sold in markets by evening for as much as $3 each. They are so fragile that picking one up too firmly will bruise it. One must eat this peach over a bowl to catch the flood of juice released from biting into it. I would love to eat this peach, but I did not know of it when I was in Shanghai. It is doubtful I will return.

    The peaches I bought were incredibly delicious. I don't know their variety because the produce manager wasn't available and the assistant didn't have access to the records that might say. At home, I made a parfait of sorts from memory and a sense of what flavors might meld together without overshadowing the flavor of the peaches.

    • 2 white flesh peaches, peeled and diced
    • 2/3 cup mascorpone creamed cheese
    • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
    • 1 tablespoon golden honey
    • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

    Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a 3-quart or similar pot tall enough so a peach can be held with tongs completely under water. Hold a peach in tongs and submerge in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Immediately place it under running cold water and twist the peeling off with your hands. Set the peach in a bowl, eat the peeling and submerge the other peach. Repeat the peeling routine. Dice the peaches.

    In a mixing bowl, combine all other ingredients and beat until it forms soft peaks. Fold in the peaches and gently mix together thoroughly. For the trip, I filled a 2-cup, ZipLoc plastic container with screw-on top and placed it in the refrigerator until just before I left for the airport, then put it in my backpack with other snacks, 2 napkins and a spoon. As for the rest of the mascarpone-peach mixture, I ate it then and there and savored every bite. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

    October 2nd, 2012

    I'm back from California and my parents' 70th anniversary celebration. It is somewhat amazing to realize that they have been married far longer than either one was expected to live when they were born.

    Several life expectancy tables exist that give slightly different numbers for the years of their births, but the highest number I found for my father, for instance, was 59 years and the lowest 55.5 years. In either case my father has been married longer than he was expected to live when he was born. While the numbers in all cases are higher for women, my mother, too has been married more than 10-12 years more than she was expected to live when she was born.

    The greatest increase in the expectancy tables occurred during the first half of the 20th century, primarily due to the acceptance of the germ theory of disease. Once it was shown that diseases occurred from germs, a generic term for all manner of organisms, medical researchers set about identifying and either eradicating, controlling or vaccinating against germ-causing diseases. But some remain rogues -- the common cold, for instance.

    The second half of the 20th century saw a continuation of this work, but also marked advances in medical technologies that treated individual organs at risk of failure.

    We live in an amazing era from a purely medical point of view. All the other technologies we enjoy merely serve the extended lives the medical sciences have provided. It's something to think about.

    Damiana flower and leaves, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

    Several months ago I dug through a cabinet partially blocked by another piece of furniture and pulled out 375mL bottles of liqueurs I had made many years ago. I had not forgotten them, but assumed they had been consumed because I had not seen them in so many years. I sampled each of them over several nights and each was still sound. After all, the base in each is vodka. One in particular was just heavenly, so much so that I had forgotten how good it really is. It is my Damiana Liqueur.

    Damiana is a shrub that grows in southwestern Texas and south through Mexico, Central America, South America, and several Caribbean Islands. The leaves and flowers are very aromatic. A small fruit, which tastes similar to figs, is enjoyable to eat. I make my liqueur by boiling the leaves which are traditionally used to make a tea or dried and burned as an incense. Both the tea and the incense are said to have a relaxing effect, but the tea is also said to be an aphrodisiac. I cannot say the liqueur had that affect on me, but it is a great substitute for Triple Sec in margaritas and often used in margaritas in Mexico. But I simple like the flavor. No, in truth I love the flavor.

    I have a quantity of damiana leaves I purchased in April or May and have made tea with, so I will probably be making some more of this liqueur soon. I just have to find my liqueur notebook and get the quantity right.

    Bell Pepper and Other Aromas in Wine

    Label for Jack Keller's 2007 Green Pepper Cooking Wine

    Five years ago I made a cooking wine out of jalapenos, Hatch green chiles and green bell peppers. I wish I had saved a bottle to demonstrate to my Wine Guild the distinct smell of 3-Isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine in wine. While just a faint hint of it is not considered a flaw, the distinct scent of it most certainly is -- unless you've made a cooking wine, as I did, from green bell peppers and other chiles. Some red grapes naturally possess this smell faintly, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere and in neither is considered a flaw, but in a Marechal Foch, Couderc Noir, Grenache or Mourvedre it is neither expected nor welcome.

    I seem to remember seeing more than a few producer or distributor taste profiles of wines they were offering for sale that mentioned "bell pepper" as an aroma expression -- always in conjunction with many other aroma nuances such as tobacco, chocolate, liquorice, currant, black cherry and other fruit references. My point here is that bell pepper seems to be offered as a good thing when it should only naturally be identified with very few grapes. Beyond that small circle it should be considered a vineyard flaw.

    The scent seems more frequent in colder climate grapes than Southern or Mediterranean crops. We now know that the scent is associated with three specific methoxypyrazines that develop when grapes do not receive enough direct sunlight while developing toward veraision. Leaf or shoot thinning normally corrects this fault, which truly is a fault from the vineyard. In theory, any grape shaded too thoroughly can develop the scent, but in reality I can find no universality of the problem so the theory itself is flawed. For instance, outside of a very few varieties, grapes grown in warmer climates seem to avoid the problem no matter how shaded the grapes are.

    The three major methoxypyrazines are:


    The first two smell unmistakably like green bell peppers. The third, while suggestive of green bell peppers, can also give an earthy smell, or the smell of a freshly cut potato or other vegetable aroma. In other words, it is more complex, but green bell pepper is usually integrated in it and thus it belongs in this group both chemically and aromatically. This is important because there are other related compounds that lack the green bell pepper characteristic.

    I call this group the nutty pyrazines, for each has a nutty smell either as a primary or secondary aroma. When secondary, another scent is more prominent but with a nutty undertone. These are:

    2-Ethylpyrazine (nutty, walnut, woody, musty, buttery, peanut butter)
    2,3-Diethylpyrazine (nutty, hazelnut, earthy, fugi, cereal, potato)
    3-Ethyl-2-methoxypyrazine (roasted nut, hazelnut, earthy)
    5,6,7,8-Tetrahydroquinoxaline (coffee, cheesy, sweet roasted nut)
    3-Ethyl-2-acetylpyrazine (potato chip, popcorn, nutty)

    The aromas associated with this second group are considered to be less offensive, even when distinct, as they tend to blend in more with the aromas of the grape and suggest complexity. However, some wine judges can and will zero in on them and fault the wine, even though it is not certain they are caused by the same vineyard conditions as the first group. It is not the nutty aspects that offend them, but the earthiness, the mustiness, the woodiness, the fungi. Personally, I have never inhaled a wine and noted potato chip or popcorn, but I did once smell peanut butter and wonder how that got in there. My judging partner, however, thought the notes I picked up were that of butter melting in a skillet and neither of us was sure enough to fault the wine.

    I'm a little wiser now than then, but still not sure I would fault a similar wine even now. The wine simply did not elicit an objectionable response in me.

    Traditional Senegalese Soup

    Traditional Senegalese Soup '21' Club, photo cropped from Dr. Soup Rx

    On the return flight from California I sat next to a man who happened to be a chef. During the course of a lively discussion I mentioned my Moroccan Lamb Stew and, when queried, ran through the ingredients and process. The use of the apricots to make a sweet stew fascinated him and he immediately suggested I try the Traditional Senegalese Soup made with, among other things, apples and raisins. He said there are two ways to make this soup -- the "21" Club way or the less refined Senegalese way. Both, he said, start out the exact same way but the finished products are very different and both are terrific. He started jotting down something and I thought he was going to write the recipe. Instead, he wrote "Google Traditional Senegalese Soup from Epicurious." Then he explained how to make the two different soups from the same recipe.

    I have to admit I have not yet made this, but after finding the recipe he suggested I have no doubt whatsoever I will make it very soon. I'm just not yet sure which version I will make first. I intend to make them both.

    The recipe uses 3 tart Granny Smith apples and a quarter-cup of golden raisins to offer a balance between sweet and tart, but heavy cream tends to accentuate the sweetness just enough to get by with the small amount of raisins. The soup is garnished with mango chutney, which again adds sweetness.

    I will list the ingredients and walk you through the common method, then emphasize the two ways to finish the soup so as to produce two distinct types. This afternoon I picked up everything I need except the chutney, so will run back to the supermarket in the morning to complete the preparations.

    • 3 tart apples (Granny Smith)
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2 medium carrots chopped
    • 1 white onion diced
    • 1/4 cup golden raisins
    • 1 clove garlic chopped
    • 3 tablespoons curry powder
    • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 8 cups chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon tomato purée (canned)
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • mango chutney ((in jar)

    Peel, core and chop the apples. In a heavy pan heat the butter over moderate heat until the foam subsides and cook apples, carrots, onion, raisins and garlic, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 10-12 minutes. Add curry powder and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in broth tomato purée and simmer, covered, 1 hour 20 minutes. Stir in cream and salt to taste and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes.

    The "21" Club way is to cool the soup and in a food processor or blender purée in batches until smooth. Strain soup through a sieve into a large bowl and chill until cold, 2-3 hours. Garnish each serving with about 1/2 teaspoon chutney (the chef on the plane said that isn't enough -- use a full teaspoon).

    The traditional Senegalese way is to cool the soup in the pan and use two slotted spoons, one filled with solids and the other fitted into it and pressed together, to break up chunks of carrot, apple and plumped-up raisin. A perforated flat disc potato masher would work just as well and may actually be easier. The soup can be chilled or served just slightly warm. The chutney garnish is not really traditional, but the chef thought it adds something to it.

    You had better believe I'll make this tomorrow evening.

    October 15th, 2012

    Last night I forgot to take my medication for my peripheral neuropathy until I was ready to turn in at 1 in the morning. It was an agonizing night until the capsule I took finally took effect and subdued the pain enough for me to fall asleep. I slept about 3 hours -- until 7:15. Neuropathy is one condition I hope some bright minds are working on.

    Mine is not the type associated with diabetes, although I know it too is agonizingly painful and has no cure. According to what I've read, peripheral neuropathy is not a disease, but a symptom of something else. Just what that something else might be is the big mystery.

    My wife also has peripheral neuopathy -- has had it far longer than I have. They believe her condition is caused by systemic heavy metal poisoning, the causes of which are too involved to recite here.

    Mine could be caused by a small piece of a spinal disc that was pinched off during a disc ruptured circa 1977. The small piece of the disc is definitely in the channel that houses my spinal cord. I have seen it on costly images. If I strain my back too much and cause my back muscles to inflame, like when I lift a 6-gallon carboy, they press against the vertebrae where the piece currently resides and this causes the piece to directly press against the spinal cord. I then get sciatica every bit as painful as the peripheral neuropathy. Whether the two are related remains speculation that serves no purpose, as the foreign piece cannot be removed until it migrates downward between the vertebrae, which looks like never. This cause, however, is just a guess.

    But I think I will sleep well tonight. I feel it coming on as I type.

    Thomas Sowell

    Thomas Sowell, an American economist, social theorist, political philosopher, and author of more than 30 books, protégé of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, is famous for his cogent and insightful quotes. Here are a few I like.

    "I have never understood why it is 'greed' to want to keep the money you've earned, but not greed to want to take someone else's money."

    "Weighing benefits against costs is the way most people make decisions - and the way most businesses make decisions if they want to stay in business. Only in government is any benefit, however small, considered to be worth any cost, however large."

    "It is hard to imagine a more stupid way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

    "No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems - of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind."

    "Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what has worked with what sounded good."

    "Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it."

    "It is amazing that people who think we cannot afford to pay for doctors, hospitals and medication somehow think we can afford to pay for doctors, hospitals, medication and a government bureaucracy to administer it."

    "Life in general has never been even close to fair, so the pretense that the government can make it fair is a valuable and inexhaustible asset to politicians who want to expand government."

    "If you have been voting for politicians who promise you goodies at someone else's expense, then you have no right to complain when they take your money and give it to someone else, including themselves."

    "If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today."

    "The word 'racism' is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything -- and demanding evidence makes you a 'racist.'"

    "The people made worse off by slavery were those who were enslaved. Their descendants would have been worse off today if born in Africa instead of America. Put differently, the terrible fate of their ancestors benefitted them."

    "Since this is an era when many people are concerned about 'fairness' and 'social justice,' what is your 'fair share' of what someone else has worked for?"

    "Elections should be held on April 16th -- the day after we pay our income taxes. That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders."

    "There are few talents more richly rewarded with both wealth and power, in countries around the world, than the ability to convince backward people that their problems are caused by other people who are more advanced."

    "I think the man [Obama] really does believe he can change the world, and people like that are infinitely more dangerous than mere crooked politicians."

    The other day I ran across this video. It is one of the best live performances I have run across of "Mr. Tambourine Man." It is a reunion of Byrds members Roger McQuinn, Chris Hillman and David Crosby in a 1990 Showtime tribute to Roy Orbison where they are joined during the performance by none other than the song's writer, Bob Dylan. Except for one small missed beat where Dylan is handed the lead and hesitated, it is a stellar performance.

    On a personal note, when I first saw The Byrds perform this song live at Ciro's Le Disc on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in April 1965, I thought it was the greatest blending of guitar I had ever witnessed. I had never seen anyone pick a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar and McQuinn made it look easy. They are arguably one of the most influential American bands of the 1960s -- inventors of the folk-rock genre -- and I count them among my top 25 favorite bands of all time.

    Dried Elderberry Mead

    Dried elderberries

    A friend in West Virginia sent me a couple of bottles of his elderberry wines. One was a mead and so damned good that I started a batch while drinking my second glass. Yesterday it won a Best of Show for Non-Grape Wines and I decided on the way home to share the recipe today.

    Last year I saw jars of many different honeys at a county fair and bought several 3-pound jars. One was "Elderflower Honey" and quite expensive I assumed at the time that the honey was made from bees pollinating elderberry flowers. Since I had never, ever seen elderflower honey before, I bought it. Only when inspecting the label at home did I see that the honey was infused with elderflowers and later separated. I was disappointed at first, but when I thought about the citrusy flavor elderflowers impart I decided this would be a good honey to dribble over sourdough pancakes.

    As I began planning my elderberry mead I remembered the still-unopened jar of elderflower honey and decided to use it in the mead. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't. While I am sure it added a little je ne sais quoi to the mead, there is no discernable flavor one can isolate as having derived from the expensive honey. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more over pancakes. But then again, perhaps the mead would not have won Best of Show had I used another honey. One never knows about these things.

    Dried Elderberry Mead Recipe

    My friend who sent me the original mead claims that honey is sweeter than sugar and you therefore use less honey than you would sugar, but this contradicts the conventional wisdom that a pound of honey only contains 79.6% sugar -- the rest is water. Using the Mead Batch Calculator at GotMead (link follows today's entry) and shooting for a 13% alcohol by volumn mead, my 3 pounds of honey perfectly equaled what was calculated as the requirement. If my friend used less honey than he would have used for sugar, I had no expectation that our two meads would taste the same. Nonetheless, I still used the 3 pounds for my 1 gallon of mead.

    • 6 oz dried elderberries
    • 3 lbs honey (I used Elderflower Honey)
    • 3 1/2 tsp acid blend
    • 1 tsp powdered pectic enzyme
    • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
    • Water to 1 gallon
    • Red Star Pasteur Red or Lalvin EC-1118 wine yeast
      Elderberry Mead bottle lable

      Put 3 quarts of water on to boil in a stainless steel or enameled pot. Wash dried elderberries and place them in a nylon straining bag with several clean glass marbles for weight and tie closed close to the elderberries. When the water boils, ease the bag into the pot and adjust temperature to an active simmer, holding the simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Slowly stir in honey and continue stirring until dissolved. Using sturdy tongs, grasp the jar the honey was in by the lip and tilt it to submerge it in the slightly cooled water, using the water's heat to soften the honey still clinging to the glass sides. Carefully lift and pour water back into the pot and repeat as many times as required to get all the honey into the pot. Stir again, cover the pot, and allow to cool to less than 90 degrees F. Stir in acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient until dissolved. Allow to sit, covered, for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution, recover the pot, and check every few hours for signs of fermentation. From now until the elderberries are removed, stir the must twice a day.

      When fermentation is evident, note the time and remove the bag of elderberries at that time on the day you select. The longer you leave the bag in, the more tannic the mead will become. A 2-day fermentation/maceration will yield a mead drinkable in about 9 months after bottling. A 5-day fermentation/maceration may not be drinkable for 2 years. A 7-day fermentation/maceration will probably need to cellar for 3 years to mellow out, but will be fabulous.

      When the specific gravity drops to 1.020 or lower, transfer to a secondary and attach an airlock. After 30 days in secondary rack into another sanitized secondary and reattach airlock. After an additional 30 days rack again and stir in 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate. Stir well. Wait 60 days and either rack again and then bottle or carefully rack directly into bottles. If you do the latter, mark the last bottle as it will almost certainly contain some fine lees and you do not want to give it to a friend or enter it in competition. I mark the first bottle for competition. (I mark the corks FB for first bottle and LB for last bottle so I know.) Age bottled mead appropriately. In all cases, longer aging benefits meads -- especially elderberry mead. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      Honey contains several non-fermentable sugars, so it will always be off-dry to a little sweet. Mine has about 3% residual sugar in it, which was not too much for anyone who tasted it. If it was, they were polite and kept it to themselves. But it has great mouthfeel and fullness, which the judges said they totally appreciated.

      I must note that I added 2 teaspoons of homemade oak wood extract to my mead when I transferred it to secondary. The mead is so fruity the oak is not "in your face" noticeable. However, it is discernable if you look for it.

      I discussed making your own oak extract in my April 24, 2012 WineBlog entry. See link following this day's entry.

      Almond Flavor in Wine

      Toasted sliced almonds

      At the competition yesterday a gentleman mentioned that he wished he could have added a slight taste of almond to his Tempranillo and in unison two of us said, "You can." But we each had very different ideas about how to introduce it.

      My colleague said, "You can add almond extract." This is a very legitimate approach, but not the first approach I thought of. I am a raw materials first kind of winemaker, so my first thought was to add toasted sliced almonds to the must.

      Adding almond extract is an iffy thing. It would be soooo easy to add too much and just as easy to add too little and not get the effect you hoped for. The only sensible thing would be to draw off a manageable sample, say 100 or 125 mL and add extract a drop at a time with an eye dropper until you achieved the taste you wanted -- then scale up.

      The same problem applies to adding toasted sliced almonds to the must. How many should one add and how long should one keep them in? When you think of the two choices, you might conclude the extract way is the better one. After all, all you do is count the drops coming out of an eye dropper and do some simple math. I think not.

      The problem with the extract method is that every time you add a drop you have to stir the mixture and taste it. When you taste it you reduce the amount. If you keep adding drops to a lessening amount you get a false outcome because the liquid becomes more concentrated with extract than would a fresh sample with the number of drops added you want to sample. If you add new wine to the sample after every sip, you now dilute the sample with every addition and will never really know how many drops are really needed.

      On the other hand, it doesn't matter whether you add a quarter-cup of toasted sliced almonds or 2 cups. You taste often and remove the almonds when the taste is right. The only real problem is that one has to sleep or go to work and that magical point of perfection could come and go during those absences.

      I think I have a solution. It centers on the fact that the wine is a Tempranillo, not a Tempranillo-Almond wine. Thus, it isn't going to take much to add a slight hint of almond. I would therefore add a small amount of sliced almonds, perhaps a tablespoon, and taste after a couple of days. After that I'd taste twice a day. Finally, the moment I think I might be able to taste almond, I'd pull them out. If you go beyond that you risk the perception that you doctored the wine.

      Finally, I would search for toasted sliced almond to purchase and only if not available then buy untoasted sliced almonds and toast them using the iron skillet method. Slices are scattered over the bottom of a clean, untreated iron skillet on medium heat and tossed every minute until a golden brown. You don't want to leave them in so long that they turn dark brown. As soon as they are golden brown they should be dumped onto a paper towel and covered with a second paper towel. Then, using a folded towel or oven mitt, gently press the top towel against the almonds and hold the slight pressure for perhaps 5-8 seconds. This should remove any oil that seeps from the slices.

      The reason for the golden brown vs. dark brown is taste. Lightly toasted almonds impart more flavor than untoasted ones and much better flavor than darkly toasted ones. You have to toast a few batches of sliced almonds to know this empirically, but take my word for it.

      Last word on the subject -- since the person who person raised the almond in Tempranillo issue entered a Tempranillo that beat my Tempranillo to come in 1st in category, the absence was not a real issue at that competition. Still, it is an interesting topic to consider for future wines.

      October 20th, 2012

      For those who received the rss feed for my last WineBlog entry and jumped right to it, I apologize for the problem you encountered. Because I do not use a blog template like BlogSpot and do my own coding, I occasionally leave a typo in the wrong place -- the coding rather than the content. That's what I did last time and it caused the blog to load correctly but display incorrectly.

      The result was an incomplete instruction in my entry of October 15th was completed by a similar instruction in my September 17th entry and so what was displayed was a union of the two entries. It made no sense and everything between the two coding instructions disappeared. They weren't really gone, but they were skipped because of my typo. It took me a half hour to find the typo, correct it, and then upload the correct instruction set to my server.

      It taught me a valuable lesson. Do not write my blog when I am dead tired. And I sure was on the night of October 15th.

      Again, my sincere apologies.

      Original line-up, The Byrds (David Crosby, Gener Clark, Michael Clarke, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn)

      Wow! I had no idea I would get a response from posting the link to the Byrds-Dylan performance of "Mr. Tambourine Man," but I surely did. It seems there are a number of "old winemakers" out there who, like me, prefer the music of our past to most of what is being played today. An exception seems to reside in the world of country music, but even here there are followers of the "oldies.".

      From St. Louis, "I'll be damned if you don't continue to find some of the best music videos out there, at least music I like to listen to. I agree that The Byrds are one of the best bands ever, so thank you."

      From Los Angeles, "I agree with you that's a great performance. Too bad no one is making music like that any more. Why don't you share your list of 25 favorite bands?" Thank you, Diane, but no thank you. That could only get me in trouble.

      From Provo, Utah, "Jack, that's a fantastic gig. It's hard to imagine anything following it that night that was better. I never forgot how good the Byrds were, but a little reminding doesn't hurt. Thanks for finding that one."

      From Newington (Edinburgh), Scotland, "I think Bob Dylan is the best American lyricist ever and The Byrds were the absolute best at presenting Dylan's music. I had seen this video before but lost it. Thank you for bringing it back to me."

      One more, from Tennessee, "Mr. Keller, it don't get better than them Byrds and Dylan. That video took me back a long, long way and I liked being there."

      Thank you all. Long live the music.

      A reader in Arkansas wrote me asking how my WineBlog could only be rated number 34 on Google. I had no idea what he was talking about so I wrote him back. He sent me a link to Heinz Schmitz's NCBartender site that lists "Google's Top 100 Wine Blogs" and there I was, number 34. I don't think that's a bad number at all, considering I don't advertise or promote my blog.

      I did notice that the list was published in late November, 2008. I then searched Google and discovered Heinz's list originated on Enobytes on October 31, 2008. I also found a 2010 list, "Top 100 Wine Blogs in a Google Search," on which I am number 30.

      An undated list from 2010 of wine sites -- not wine blogs -- on The Cellarer, based on monthly Google traffic, lists my site at number 84, but in reality I could be number 70 because all 29 sites beginning at 70 and ending at 98 are statistically tied with the same traffic and valuation.

      I should add here that whatever listing criteria is used ignores the fact that if you search Google for "winemaking" my website is the first unpaid listing of a site dedicated to that subject. I used to be first outright, but then Google allowed people to pay for top listing. Also, Wikipedia's article on "Winemaking" recently passed my site on the list.

      I am not terribly concerned about making it on lists. I do enjoy being the first dedicated winemaking site on the search engines, as winemakers are my audience. Most people who search wine blogs are wine drinkers and want to know which good wine is out there for a price they can afford. If they only knew how affordable it is to make your own good wine....

      Another musical interlude.... When it comes to the Star Spangled Banner," I don't like it messed with. While I appreciated the artistic innovation Jimi Hendrix and Ted Nugent employed in their versions, I sincerely wished they had chosen another song to re-compose. But I do respect their right to play it as they see fit.

      I especially did not like what Rosanne Barr did to it many years ago. Hey, it's America's national anthem, for crying out loud. Be respectful. And she's running for President? [Yes she is.]

      Having said that, I was sent a link to an alternative version of the "Star Spangled Banner." I clicked on it with trepidation, for I was prepared to get angry. Indeed, I only clicked on it because the person sending it has been a friend for over four decades and also happens to be my first wife and a patriot; I knew she wouldn't send me anything she thought might be offensive to me.

      I like what I saw and heard very much, so much so that I bought the group's album. You could dance to this if you wanted to. The performers are a group called Madison Rising, group formed to deliver a pro-American, conservative message.

      To be honest, they did "mess with it" a bit. They inserted lines that are not in the actual "Star Spangled Banner." I didn't mind at all. Their lyrics follow the video link. See if you don't like it too.

      Oh, say can you see
      By the dawn's early light
      What so proudly we hailed
      At the twilight's last gleaming
      Whose broad stripes and bright stars
      Thru the perilous fight,
      O'er the ramparts we watched
      Were so gallantly streaming
      And the rocket's red glare,
      The bombs bursting in air
      Gave proof through the night
      That our flag was still there

      Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
      O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave

      Because we are the brave
      Yes we are the brave
      We'll fight tyranny
      In the name of the free
      We are the U.S. of A.

      For those unaware
      That flag is still there
      It's our future to save
      This land of the brave
      The U.S. of A.

      Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave
      O'er the land, land of the free and the home of the brave

      I sincerely hope it offends no one. If it does, please go read the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

      Almond Wine

      Toasted sliced almonds

      My mention of adding almond flavor to a wine in my last entry drew a request for an almond wine recipe "not using almond extract." I would never post a recipe reliant on an extract for flavor. With that said, here is the recipe for the last almond wine I made, and I must admit it was pretty good.

      This recipe uses sliced (or slivered) toasted bitter almonds. Raw bitter almonds contain prussic acid, a toxic substance, which is destroyed by heat. Thus, toasted sliced bitter almonds are quite safe but nonetheless illegal in the United States due to overly protective regulations that disregard science. I was still able to purchase them from an out-of-country supplier at a cost about double that of U.S. produced sliced toasted sweet almonds. I do not expect anyone to jump through the hoops I did to obtain bitter almonds, so it is perfectly fine to use sliced toasted sweet almonds, the only king you can legally buy in the U.S.

      If you cannot find sliced toasted almonds, buy the blanched or raw sliced almonds and toast them. See my last blog entry for toasting directions. Do not toast them to a dark color as that will profoundly diminish their flavor. A light golden brown is what you want.

      Bitter Almond Wine bottle label'

      I used Demerara sugar for that little something it contributes to some wines, especially subtle flavored ones. You can use white cane sugar. I also used Montrachet yeast because I hoped for (and obtained) a little residual sweetness to balance the acid, alcohol and flavor. This worked very well.

      • 2 1/2 oz sliced bitter almonds, toasted
      • 11 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
      • 2 lbs Demerara sugar
      • 7 1/4 pints water 2 tsp acid blend
      • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 sachet Red Star Montrachet wine yeast

      Boil the almonds in 1 pint of the water for and hour. Strain off the almonds and set aside. In a primary, stir the sugar into the boiled and unboiled water until completely dissolved. Add acid blend, tannin and nutrient and stir some more. Add th grape concentrate, thawed, and stir yet some more. Tie almonds in a nylon straining bag with a few sanitized glass marbles and ease into the primary. Introduce activated yeast in a starter solution and cover primary. Stir daily for 10 days. Remove bag and drip drain until liquid stops dripping. Transfer liquid into secondary and attach an airlock. After 30 days in secondary, rack into another sanitized secondary into which you have deposited a finely crushed Campden tablet. Stir if necessary to dissolve Campden. Top up, reattach airlock and set aside two months. Rack again, stirring in 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate., top up and reattach airlock. After 30 days rack, taste and make any required adjustments to sugar and acid. If sweetened, wait additional 30 days and bottle. If not sweetened, bottle at any time. Taste after 1 year. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      The slight semi-sweetness (about s.g. 1.002) at the end of fermentation was not quite enough to balance the alcohol, so I increased it to 1.004. This may all work out differently for sweet almonds, so by all means taste and adjust accordingly.

      This is a very nice wine, served chilled, on a hot summer afternoon. It goes very well with mixed, green or fruit salads and also a light lunch of fish, seafood or roasted chicken. I served it to luncheon guests with braised salmon basted with lime and butter, asparagus spears basted similarly and broiled peaches with brown sugar and cinnamon and it was perfect. Privately, it washed down a chicken salad and sunflower seed sandwich as if made to order. In summation, it is a very nice social or luncheon wine.

      An In-Line Pump for Transferring Homemade Wine

      Mag 2 Drive Pump 250 GPH

      A fellow in the Philippines asked me if I could recommend an in-line pump for transferring wine between 70-gallon stainless steel tanks. At the time I could only think of small pond pumps and recommended he visit a farm supply store. Privately, I had thought about larger aquarium pumps but did not mention them because I had no idea what was available in the Philippines. He wrote back and told me what he did. I would be remiss if I did not share it.

      A local friend in the Philippines suggested to him an external aquarium pump. Rob checked with a dealer and confirmed the plastic tubing, fittings and internal parts exposed to the throughput were all food grade plastic or nylon. He purchased one and ran a 10-gallon test and confirmed there was no plastic taste, which was his biggest worry.

      I talked to folks at Fish Tanks Direct in North Venice, Florida bout this application and zeroed in on two separate lines of external pumps that would handle any home winemaker's needs at an affordable price. One line appeared better to me because the internal impeller is nylon and magnetically driven, eliminating any possibility that brass or other metal bearings or bushings might acidically leech into the wine over long use.

      Pictured above is the Mag 2 Drive Pump, which delivers 250 GPH throughput, has low power consumption and uses 1/2-inch tubing. It costs only $59.99 but one would also have to purchase a treaded fitting for the outflow (top) connection. The input (side) connection is slip-on and easily secured with a band-clamp. The Mag Drive line upscales the throughput rather cheaply, with twice the flow costing about $10 more.

      The second line I looked at was the Deep Blue family of external water pumps, available from the same dealer. These actually cost less and have a much greater throughput than the Mag Drive line, with the Deep Blue Triton 3 pumping 850 GPH and costing only $50.14. However, I thought this high rate might agitate the wine unnecessarily and the internal bushings are made of rubber, not the most durable material available. The fact that the Deep Blue line also sports replacement impellers sort of speaks volumes to the durability of rubber bushings. However, to be fair, I seriously doubt that any pump bought for this purpose (winemaking) is going to be run enough to wear out the bushings. Still, I favor the slightly more expensive Mag Drive line. Your mileage might vary.

      These are not the only two possibilities. Fish Tanks Direct specializes in salt water aquariums, tidal ponds similar applications dealing with larger volumes. They sell many external/submersible pumps. Look and see.

      One can buy a small electric aquarium pump at any aquarium shop for less than $20 if you are not concerned about durability, throughput, tubing size and potential leeching problems. Unlike salt water and wine, fresh water aquariums deal with pH neutral water And for the record, each pump I have mentioned (and a lot I did not) can be used externally and submersibly, not all submersible pumps can be run externally.

      One might be able to pick up one of these or a similar pump cheaper, but I like Fish Tanks Direct warranty policy, their friendliness on the phone and their willingness to discuss my needs knowing there was no immediate sale in it for them. You should shop around if this seems like something you might need or check out Fish Tanks Direct's website (link follows this entry).

      October 24th, 2012

      I leave tomorrow for a visit with my wife to the Pacific Northwest to spend some time with my brother and part of his family. He recently had three vertebra fused with some attached hardware assisting. He initially had two bad nights -- one from overdoing it in physical therapy and the other due to negligence that resulted in him not receiving any pain medication in a recovery facility. He is on the road to recovery, but prayers do not hurt. If you pray for "Jack's brother Larry," God will know who you mean.

      My wife, two nephews (one with a new family) and I will also go up to Vancouver Island for a week's retreat in a timeshare. I have not been up that way in far too long and am excited to return no matter how the weather turns out.

      I'll return late on November 4th. I'll write to all of you shortly after I return but probably not until after the General Election. Until then, I hope each of you are able to spend time with loved ones and get out and see some countryside. Wherever you live you live on a beautiful Earth. Enjoy some small part of it and bring alone some wine.

      I have said more than a few times I do not wish to express political opinions in my WineBlog but still I have done so. That is not what this space is about but sometimes I feel compelled. Because this nation faces a clear choice in our approaching election, just two days after I return from my trip, I have decided to express an opinion once again by hosting someone else's opinion.

      The short video below is from a citizen of Mexico. What he expresses so poignantly in so few words are sentiments I wholeheartedly agree with and have been expressing privately for some time.

      If you do not agree with them, I am fine with that. I hope you are fine with my sentiments too. Regardless of political views, we have to live together. The alternative is the course followed by our forefathers in 1861, a course unthinkable to all men and women of consequential intellect. Regardless of your persuasion, I do hope each of you will watch the short video.

      If you skipped the video, please reconsider. As the old ditty goes, stick and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you, unless you voted early and are afraid you might regret your vote....

      Yeast Recommendations for Non-Grape Wines

      Red Star Cote des Bancs wine yeast

      I still receive a lot of requests for recommendations of yeast for various non-grape wines. This is a subject I covered in detail in an article for the April/May 2010 issue of WineMaker magazine entitled "Yeast Selection for Country Wines". Not only did I make specific recommendations, but detailed the criteria for selecting them. Unfortunately, this is not an article selected for on-line publication, so if you were not a subscriber you missed it. I will cover the yeasts here. if you want to know the many criteria for selecting them, you'll have to order a back-issue, which is possible.

      Some of the selection criteria I used (but are only covered in the article) are fixing color, alcohol tolerance, acid reduction and enhancement, vigor, sulfur dioxide tolerance, cold tolerance, glycerol production, ester production, polysaccharide production, stoppable fermentation, and other. While you really should understand these things, such knowledge is not necessary to make wine.

      If you don't yet subscribe to WineMaker you are missing out on a great publication. Each issue is a keeper as it regularly addresses topics of interest to the makers of grape wine, kit wines and country (non-grape) wines. In addition, I periodically write for it, specializing in country wines but also covering indigenous American (native) grapes. I'm honored to write for this fine publication, and I read every issue cover to cover and constantly learn a lot.

      If you are not yet a subscriber, kindly move your mouse to the link below and subscribe. I dare say you'll be gad you did....

      WineMaker Magazine

      Below are a list of seven Lalvin and six Vintner's Harvest active dry yeasts and the base ingredients they best pair with. Obviously, **** indicates a recommended pairing. Not all of these yeasts are available at your local homebrew shop, but most are available from MoreWine!, linked following this day's entry. It is my go-to source for wine yeast (and they didn't pay me to say that).










































































































































































































































































































































































































      Passion Fruit






























































































































      Rose Petal

























































      The second table, below, lists Red Star active dry yeasts and four liquid culture activators by White Labs and Wyeast. The liquid strains are Champagne (715), Sweet Mead and Wine (720) and English Cider (775) from White Labs, and Sweet Mead (4184) from Wyeast. For liquid strains, be sure to look at the "use by" date and don't buy them if they are not refrigerated. If you buy liquid yeast strains by mail (or dry strains for that matter), we are approaching the right time of year to do so --when the outside temperatures are low and the danger of them baking in a delivery truck are negated.

      Cote d Blancs


      Cote d Blancs

      Pasteur Red

      Prem Curvee






      Wyeast 4184















































































































































































































































































      Passion Fruit


























































































      Rose Petal









































      I hope that by reprinting these tables here they will serve you and reduce the number of emails I receive requesting recommendations. I especially want to thank Brad Ring of for generously permitting me to republish these two tables. Battenkill Communications (DBA WineMaker) does, after all, now own the copyrights to this material.

      Calamondin/Calamansi Wine

       Calamondins, showing size, from site listed below this entry

      Another pen pal in the Philippines -- not the one who asked about a pump for his wines (see entry of Oct 20th) -- wrote me about an unusual wine he is making. Since it is a work in progress and the results still unknown I won't identify the type wine, but in his discussion of it he mentioned adding about 8 ounces of calamansi juice. Calamansi is the same fruit we grown in California, south Texas, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii and call calamondin. It makes a great wine by itself, as I reported back in August 2000.

      Called calamansi in Tagalog and calamondin in English, it is also known as golden lime, Panama orange, Chinese orange, acid orange, calamonding, and calamandarin. Botanically, it is Citrus citrofortunella, a name that tells of its origins. It is thought to have originated in China and is almost certainly a cross between Citrus reticulata (Mandarin orange) and Fortunella japonica (Kumquat).

      The fruit is ripe when still green but showing a trace of color, but if left to ripen fully it will turn orange (much as a lime will turn yellow if left to ripen fully). Americans usually remove the peel but it is both edible and sweet, in contrast to the pulp and juice which are sour. When eaten whole, the sweet and sour contrast is rather unique and refreshing.

      The fruit contains numerous seeds which, like watermelon seeds, can be annoying to remove or simply ignored (but not chewed) and swallowed. Unlike many citrus cultivars whose seeds produce an ancient ancestor, the calamondin seed grows true into a calamondin tree.

      Rum and mixer drink with Calamondin added and garnished, from an entry in <i>Le Kitchen & Everyday Things</i> blog'

      The fruit are quite small, typically between 1 and 2 inches in diameter, but I have seen a tree in a patio container covered with fully ripe, marble-sized calamondins. I have also seen nearly 3-inch fruit in a roadside stand which were labeled calamondins but I thought were Clementines. I would have bought one to test my hypothesis but they were crated in the same manner as Clementines and I did not want that many at the time no matter what they were. To test the difference, I would have peeled and eaten one, then eaten the peel. Clementines are easier to peel, have a much sweeter pulp and juice than their peeling, and are very often seedless. Calamondins are not difficult to peel, but in very other aspect are the opposite of Clementines.

      Calamondins make wonderful marmalade, pie, mixed drink ingredient or garnish, and a lemonade-like drink. Did I mention marmalade? -- especially good when mixed with sliced and quartered Mandarin oranges or Clementines. Calamondin can be substituted in any recipe calling for lemon or lime. The effect is quite tasty when calamondin is squeezed over fish, fowl or pork. And, most importantly, they make a great wine.

      This wine recipe differs from my 2000 recipe in that I use far more fruit here and ferment them with peeling intact. No need for zest when the whole fruit is used, minus seeds. This is a much better recipe.

      • 2 lbs ripe Calamondin, sliced
      • 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
      • 11.5 oz can Welch's 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate, thawed
      • 6 pts water
      • 1/4 tsp pectic enzyme
      • 1/8 tsp powdered grape tannin
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 Red Star Montrachet wine yeast

      Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, slice the calamondins so as to collect the juice and discard seeds as you slice. Place the sliced fruit in a nylon straining bag in a secondary and tie closed. Cover bag with sugar and pour the calamondin juice over the sugar. Pour boiling water over sugar and stir until dissolved. Cover primary and set aside for water to cool. When cool, add concentrate, pectic enzyme, tannin and yeast nutrient, stir well and allow to sit covered for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution and re-cover primary.

      Stir twice a day until specific gravity drops to approximately 1.030 or below, then remove nylon bag, squeeze to extract juice, discard fruit pulp. When s. g. drops to 1.020, transfer to secondary, do not top up, but do attach airlock. Rack after 3 weeks, add finely crushed Campden tablet, stir, top up and reattach airlock.

      Rack again after 45 days and again 45 days later topping up each time. Stir in another finely crushed Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate. Rack again after 30 days and bottle after two additional weeks. May drink after 6 months but improves to 18 months or a little longer. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      This is a very nice wine, but in my opinion all citrus wines are nice if not too acidic to balance. This wine will improve to 18-24 months, but beyond that is pushing it. Drink it before it peaks and enjoy it. If you have access to calamondins, you can always make more.

      I will see you all again in approximately two weeks. Until then, keep those yeast working. And to my fellow Americans I say please vote on November 6th. The future of your country depends on your participation. The choice is clear -- a return to fiscally responsible government and the traditional principles that made America great or a continuing slide into socialist dogma, a course that has failed every country that has embraced it.

      Please remember my favorite quote: "The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened." -- Norman Thomas, American Socialist Party. We are almost there.

      November 5th, 2012

      I flew in last night from my week on Vancouver Island, British Columbia and too few days with my brother Larry and his wife Bonnie in Everett, Washington. It was a very satisfying visit. My brother was up and active after his back surgery, well ahead of his doctor's predicted recovery time. We had some great meals together, went antiquing in Snohomish, and he helped me set up my laptop for transfer to my wife.

      I thank all of you who prayed for him, for without you his recovery probably would have progressed much more slowly. For those of you who do not believe in the power of prayer, I will pray for you -- not that you believe, but that you do not need the power of prayer to overcome some adversity.

      It is good to be home with my dog Reba.

      A pair of Bald Eagles frequented this tree between fishing flights. Photo by Patrick Keller from our balcony.
      Pair of Bald Eagles resting between fishing flights.
      Photo by Patrick Keller

      Our stay on Vancouver Island was at Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina about 40 minutes southwest of Victoria. Our party consisted of my wife and I, my nephews Patrick and Jeffrey, and Jeffrey's wife Kelly and son Jackson.

      Our three-bedroom unit was well furnished and contained all the amenities we expected and many we did not. The kitchen was amply appointed and we cooked daily but also ate half our meals while out and about. An added bonus were a pair of Bald Eagles that frequented a tree next to the water, easily sighted from our balcony, between fishing flights in the protected harbor off San Juan de Fuca Strait.

      The weather was mostly inclement, with daily rain but enough breaks to allow us to go sightseeing, hiking and shopping. We carried umbrellas but never opened them. We all packed for cold weather but it never got cold enough for anything heavier than a medium-weight wind breaker. Indeed, some of us wore shorts and short sleeves in mid-60's temperatures.

      Among the pleasures we enjoyed while in Canada were Cuban cigars, excellent wild salmon, sweet potato fries with chipotle-mayo-barbecue sauce dip, and meals usually so large we easily shared portions. We found great wines, Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum, and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky to warm us at night.

      A Fabulous Meritage

      Church and State Wines 2008 Coyote Bowl Meritage

      One of the wineries we visited was the Brentwood Bay Winery, Vancouver Island, BC, of Church and State Wines. We tasted several really super wines, including a 2011 Island Estate Viognier, a 2009 Island Estate Pinot Noir, a 2009 Coyote Bowl Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2008 Coyote Bowl Meritage. The latter was an exceptional wine, winner of two prestigious silver medals and the 2012 gold medal in the New World International Wine Competition and 2012 All-Canadian Wine Championship. At $35 a bottle, this is the only wine I purchased although I loved the Pinot Noir as well.

      The Meritage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, all grown in different vineyards in Oliver and Osoyoos in British Columbia's long Okanagan Valley. The grapes were picked in late October 2008, fermented in stainless steel tanks and transferred to French Oak Barrels where the varieties matured for 12 months before barrels were selected for blending, then matured another 19 months in French Oak before being bottled in May 2010.

      This wine is a deep garnet, soft, smooth, richly flavored in black cherry, plum and spice. It is full bodied, rich in tannins, long in finish. It expands mid-palate with layered complexities despite a youthful fruitiness. It could be cellared for another two years without worry of peaking but is a great wine right now. Because I was limited to two bottles duty free, this wine did not hurt my pocketbook as greatly as it might have.

      Canadians can order this wine online Unfortunately, the winery cannot ship it to the United States. But if visiting Canada, consider picking up two bottles for duty free carry back across the border. It is available at the winery and at most fine wine shops across the country.

      The Curious World of Wine

      The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore About the Drink We Love So Much, by Richard Vine, Ph.D, Professor of Enology Emeritus at Purdue University

      Before I left for Vancouver Island I was asked to provide a pre-publication review of The Curious World of Wine: Facts, Legends, and Lore About the Drink We Love So Much by Dr. Richard Vine, Professor of Enology Emeritus at Purdue University. I read the book on the plane to Seattle and wrote the review on the plane home. This is that review. It was an enjoyable, informative and entertaining read, a book that will enrich the knowledge of every reader of this WineBlog.

      Divided into ten topical sections -- they simply do not seem like chapters to me -- the book chronicles some of the history, appellations, vineyards, moving characters, and both chance and orchestrated events that define the drink we all enjoy today. True, you can still enjoy wine without knowing what Dr. Vine has so lovingly compiled, but that glass of vino is forever enriched after having read this book. Whether a winemaker or simply an enjoyer of an occasional glass, this book was written for you.

      Some of the sections include Legends and Lore, Founders and Fathers, Movers and Shakers, Fascinating Legacies, California Chronicles, and Charming Wine Characters. I offer these headings as examples of the breadth of topics covered, but I assure you the book covers the global expansion of vineyards, wineries and the visions for creating fine wines from them. Theses and other sections are fleshed out in broad and fine brush strokes that inform and entertain while weaving a fabric of a culture that both focuses on local detail and chronicles the march of winemaking across Europe and America and in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and wherever fine wines are crafted.

      Examples of detail and expansion are as varied as the story of the elephant in the courtyard of Cos d'Estournel in Saint Estèphe to the modern marriage of Robert Mondavi Winery and Château Mouton-Rothschild to create Opus One, the most successful modern winemaking venture in terms of bottle price in history. And yet Dr. Vine gives equal respect to the rise of the Gallo empire on the back of Thunderbird, sold for 60 cents a bottle, and Fred Franzia's Two Buck Chuck, which won the 2002 Best of Show at the 28th Annual International Eastern Wine Competition. The stories are large and small, bitter and sweet, loaded with trivia and legend.

      There were a couple of vignettes that differed from what I had read elsewhere, but these only whetted my curiosity and created foci for independent research to resolve the differences at some future date. Histories are, after all, continuously unfolding. Why should the history of wine be any different?

      The Curious World of Wine is not a book of quotes but does contain more than a few and is itself quotable. Indeed, I have compiled a few of each type for future use and only await the opportunity to inject them into conversation or enrich a story or enliven an argument. Dr. Vine has provided me good material for future use.

      One of my favorite quotes involves Sir Winston Churchill, often criticized for his frequent excesses with Champagne, a practice that riled London socialite Lady Astor. At one particular encounter Lady Astor addressed the Prime Minister, "If you were my husband I would poison your coffee!" Churchill shot back, "If you were my wife I would drink it!" Another favorite, from Ernest Hemingway, "Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

      If you are at all interested in this book, which you should be, please click HERE and order it through my Amazon portal. It goes on sale tomorrow and can be pre-ordered today, in hardcover, for less than $14. This is a great price for a wonderful 212 pages of pure enjoyment.

      November 7th, 2012

      The U.S. Presidential election is over. With all my heart I hope I am wrong in thinking the United States I believe in is forever gone -- or soon will be. The past four years revealed what candidate Obama meant in 2008 when he said he wanted to "fundamentally transform America."

      The biggest change thus far is in the humongous bill the Democrats passed, without a single Republican vote in the House or Senate, which we refer to as Obamacare. It is now a law with the only path to revision closed with the reelection of President Obama. As a senior with a considerable history of heart, respiration, vision, ulcer, and PTSD problems, I now look forward to reduced care, more expensive drugs, and more costly life-saving procedures being refused by government regulators.

      Administration spokesmen have insisted this will not happen, but simply reading the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) reveals they were not being truthful. Several key aspects of the law, which Nancy Pelosi rushed to a vote without giving anyone time to read it, reveal the truth.

      Section 1311 of the law provides that government regulators will dictate how doctors, even those secured under private insurance policies, can treat patients. If you don't believe this, read the law (see link following this day's entry)

      Seniors can expect less care than before because over half of the law deals with ways to cut costs and does so at the expense of Medicare patients. Hospitals, for example, will receive $247 billion less in this decade to treat an ever-growing number of senior patients. They will pay for these cuts by reducing nursing and other healthcare staff. These cuts have already begun, which is why there is a nurses strike in California.

      If you are one of the 165 million people currently receiving health insurance through your employer, in 2014 you are likely to see your employer stop offering health insurance. They will either opt to pay the fine for not insuring you, which is considerably less than they would pay to insure you, or they will reduce your hours so that you are technically a part-time employee to whom they are not required to provide a health plan. If this happens, you will have to turn to the mandated insurance exchange and purchase your own insurance or, if unable to afford it, drop down to Medicaid coverage, which is only as good as your state can afford.

      For women, nothing in the huge law requires that contraception be covered by insurance. That is totally up to the President's appointed regulators who will decide what is covered and what is not. Contraception coverage could change with each new president.

      In 2008 then-candidate Obama promised that "no family making less than $250,000 per year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes." This statement was a huge "misstatement", as only persons making less than $9,500 a year will pay no new tax (but then, they don't pay any taxes anyway).

      There are 20 new taxes in the PPACA. Most are unknown by the electorate because they purposely were designed to begin after the 2012 election, starting as early as January 1, 2013. Some specifically affect your payroll and capital gains taxes, which Candidate Obama said would never happen. There is a new tax on selling your home and one requiring some employees to pay a 40% tax on the portion of their heath insurance paid by their employer regardless of the employee's tax bracket. Presidential candidate Obama clearly lied to you and me.

      To read the law itself or more about the hidden taxes you will soon be hit with, see the references at the end of this date's entry. But first ask yourself why the mainstream media didn't inform you of these issues during the past two years. Fox, talk radio, the Wall Street Journal and a few other newspaers did, but by and large the media didn't.

      As I said in my opening paragraph, I sincerely hope with all my heart I am wrong in thinking the United States I believe in is forever gone. By using health care as only one of many measures of "fundamentally transform America" President Obama sought and obtained, I fear I might be right.

      Forest trail to French Beach, Vancouver Island, BC.  Photo by Patrick Keller.
      Forest trail to French Beach, Vancouver Island. Photo by Patrick Keller

      Our trip to Vancouver Island would have been idyllic had we not had to plan our outings when the rains let up. Admittedly, they were very light drizzles and we weathered them fine when caught in one, but we did get a few late starts while waiting for them to stop. My nephew's son Jackson is only a few months old and we were concerned that he not get wet or catch a cold.

      Several of us took photos when we remembered to take a camera with us, but my nephew Patrick always had a camera with him, has a better camera and is a better photographer than the rest of us, so I was happy he posted a few photos on Facebook where I could grab them.

      The one above is a well tended trail through a new growth forest to French Beach, just a few miles west of Sooke Harbour. This is what it looked like as the sun broke through the clouds. Enlarged to full screen, the ferns and ground moss paint the forest floor and really create an enchanted atmosphere.

      Large driftwood on stone-covered French Beach, Vancouver Island, BC.  Photo by Patrick Keller.
      Driftwood on French Beach, Vancouver Island. Photo by Patrick Keller

      While beachcombing along stone-covered French Beach, the clouds moved back in and shut off the sun's warmth, but Patrick still managed to snap a great shot of a driftwood tree's roots reaching skyward. The point of land in the background illustrates a possible source of the driftwood, with trees growing right up to the usually vertical coastline. Beaches like this are small and infrequent but fun to explore.

      The surf-tumbled stones were varied and some quite beautiful. My wife collected quite a few and reluctantly left some behind, but we teased her about the extra weight she carried in her suitcase when we packed to leave. Displayed in a bowl of water, their varied colors are quite apppealing.

      The water here is the San Juan de Fuca Strait. It isrelatively narrow here and Washington State is just a few miles off camera to the right. On clear days the snow-covered mountains of the Olympic Range offered a picturesque horizon. The temperature on this day was probably around 62-64 degrees F., felt warmer when the sun broke through, and only dropped about 10-12 degrees at night while we were there.

      Sooke Harbour Marina at sunrise, Vancouver Island, BC.  Photo by Patrick Keller.
      Sooke Harbour Marina sunrise, Vancouver Island. Photo by Patrick Keller

      Patrick shot this photo of Sooke Harbour Marina at sunrise. The landmass in the far distance (left to center) is the Olympic Peninsula. Port Angeles (birthplace of football Hall of Famer John Elway) is just off-camera to the left. The Olympic mountains are not visible in this photo, hidden by the tree-covered spit of land to the right.

      This photo is spectacular at full screen. The colors are richer than revealed here. Patrick took several great photos that morning but I like this one best. My only regret is that I have to display it too small to do it justice.

      We stayed at Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina. Our 3-bedroom unit was nicely furnished and appointed and I would stay there again. This is a portion of the Marina of the establishment, which is far more extensive (off-camera to the left) than revealed here. Had our visit occurred earlier in the season we might have gone salmon fishing on a charter out of the Marina.

      There are many other photos I'd like share but do not want to bore you unnecessarily.

      For the wine lover, Vancouver Island is a great place to visit. There are 47 wineries (including 3 meaderies and 2 cideries) on the Island. A week is not long enough....


      Tannat Grape, from Wikipedia Commons, public domain due to copyright expiration

      I recently read an article in The Wine Roads of Texas about three Texas wineries producing wines from the Tannat grape. These include Westcave Cellars at Round Mountain, Brushy Creek Winery at Alvord and Bending Branch Winery at Comfort, Texas.

      The Tannat grape originated in the Madiran AOC in Southwestern France's Basque country and is called Harriague in Uruguay where it enjoys great popularity. The grape packs powerful tannins that can overwhelm other characteristics of the grape. According to the article, it was to round out and soften Tannat's tannins that micro-oxygenation was invented. Even so, the varietal is often blended with Cabernet Franc or other wines to soften it's finish.

      But in Texas, the sun and heat naturally soften the grape tannins and allow flexibility in fermentation methods to produce vastly different wines. According to the article, "...this phenomenon enables Texas winemakers to play with Tannat's more delicate qualities, its undertones of raspberry, chocolate and subtle red floral notes." Based on the tasting notes of the writer, the results are tremendously exciting deep, heavy reds with rich color and a variety of flavor profiles and complexities.

      Westcave blends Tannat with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon for a weighty wine with "marvelous complexity." Brushy Creek blends the unoaked Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, but is experimenting with French Oak for a stand-alone varietal. Bending Branch produces two lines using different fermentation methods. One is a "regular fermentation" in which the wine sits on the skins until fermentation is complete, then transfers the wine to barrels for aging. The other is "extended maceration," where the wine is kept on the skins and pips for 30 days past fermentation completion and is then barrel aged. The author described the first as "a very masculine wine -- rich, deep, tannic, heavy in the mouth," and the second as more feminine, with "floral notes, soft vanilla and hints of raspberry."

      While I had heard of Tannat before, I did not consider it a "local" grape and have only tasted it once and loved it as I love deep, tannic wines that are heavy on the palate -- thus my preference for Cabernet Sauvignon. I simply did not know it was being produced in Texas. Now I am looking for an excuse to drive up to the Hill Country and make a side trip or two.

      Prickly Pear Cactus Flower Wine

      Prickly pear cactus (<i>Opuntia robusta</i>) flowers, from Wikipedia Commons, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

      I recently talked to a gentleman who was considering making prickly pear cactus wine. During our conversation I mentioned making wine from the flowers of the prickly pear cactus. The flowers are easier to gather and prepare for fermentation, no one is allergic to them and I believe the wine actually tastes better than that made from the fruit.

      Prickly pear cacti belong to the Opuntia genus with about 200 species. They are native only to the Western Hemisphere, including the Galapagos Islands, but they were long ago introduced to arid regions all over the world where they became invasively established. I once talked to a fellow from Malta who did not believe they weren't native to the island, so pervasive are they there. Their flowers are usually between 2-4 inches in diameter and are colored yellow, orange or red including all hues in between. All colors make a white wine as the pigments precipitate after fermentation. I did make one batch solely from red flowers that retained a very slight pinkishness.

      I first published my basic recipe (the one below is improved) as Cactus Flower Wine because I believed then, and still believe now, that this wine could be made from almost any cactus flower of sufficient quantity. I renamed it here because the prickly pear is far more common than any other cactus I know of and I want one to recognize instantly that its flowers make a good wine. But first you have to harvest a bunch of prickly pear cactus flowers.

      Look inside the flowers before harvesting them. I found a bee in almost every one of them, but they left when I disturbed them or if very deep in the flower were left behind when I cut the flower off above them. With one hand gather the petals together and with the other hand cut the petals off their base with a long, sharp knife. The length of the blade depends on how far you want your hand from the spines that cover the pad the flowers are on. I was very careful and used an 11-inch filet knife but still got stuck several times. The petals are quite thick, so use a sharp knife. They make a delicious white wine, best served chilled.

      • 2 1/2 quarts firmly-packed cactus flowers
      • 2 lbs granulated sugar
      • 11-oz can of 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
      • 2 1/2 tsp acid blend
      • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
      • 6 1/4 pints water
      • 1 finely crushed Campden tablet
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 pkt Champagne wine yeast

      Wash the flowers and put them in a nylon straining bag with a dozen marbles for weight, tie the bag closed, and place it in a primary. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil, remove from heat and dissolve the sugar in it. Cool the water with the frozen grape juice concentrate and the remaining water. Add this to the primary. Add the remaining ingredients except yeast and stir well. Cover the primary and wait 10-12 hours before adding activated yeast in a starter solution. Recover the primary and stir daily.

      When specific gravity drops to 1.020, drip-drain the nylon straining bag and transfer the wine to a secondary. Affix airlock and set aside. When fermentation has finished the wine should be clear or will begin to clear, although pollen will continue to settle for another 1-2 months. Rack after 45 days and again after another 45 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. Rack again 60 days later, adding another crushed Campden tablet, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside another 90-120 days to bulk age.

      Stabilize with 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and another finely crushed Campden tablet, sweeten to taste and wait 30 days before bottling. May taste after 6 months in the bottle. Drink within 2 years of bottling. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      This wine is much better than it placed the two times I entered it in competition (2nd and 3rd place). It just happened to compete with better wines each time. I've served this wine socially without announcing what it is and it was very well received. I also served it with artichoke hearts and a spiced ranch dip and a chilled cucumber soup (don't make faces -- it is a delicious soup) and we killed two bottles.

      Consider making it next spring if you live in prickly pear cactus country.

      November 11th, 2012

      Happy Veterans' Day! Remember, this is not a day to mourn the fallen, although we will certainly do that. Rather, this is a day to remember those among us who served and are serving their country in arms. The day to mourn the fallen is Memorial Day, in May, but they served and we include them in our remembrances this day.

      To all who served, who are serving, and who will serve in the future, I salute you. Stand tall, walk proudly and persevere in all you do.

      As I expected, I received mixed reactions on my post-election comments in my last blog entry. All but two were positive and supportive. However you felt about them, thank you for coming back to my WineBlog.

      I believe President Obama' reelection team chose the only path to victory they had. Unable to run on a dismal economic record, they chose to divide the country into demographic segments and then launched negative ads against the character of a very decent and successful man in order to appeal to each segment. True, they had a superior ground network that got out the vote where it counted, but the one thing they never did was allow his record of economic failure to dominate the larger debate. Whenever his record was exposed by Romney/Ryan, they responded with character attacks that the media writ large echoed.

      I am reminded of the genius of Alexis de Tocqueville: "I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America."

      Just as pertinent, also from de Tocqueville: "I have always thought it rather interesting to follow the involuntary movements of fear in clever people. Fools coarsely display their cowardice in all its nakedness, but the others are able to cover it with a veil so delicate, so daintily woven with small plausible lies, that there is some pleasure to be found in contemplating this ingenious work of the human intelligence."

      The electorate has spoken. Thy will be done. Do not be surprised by the future.

      Looking southeast from the pier at Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo by Patrick Keller
      Looking southeast from the pier at Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island,
      BC. Photo by Patrick Keller

      Just a couple more photos from the Vancouver Island trip. Just skip this section if you aren't interested.

      This one is looking south from the Pier at Port Renfrew, the farthest west we traveled along the west shore of the island. There is no beach here that we could discern -- mostly a surf-worn rock shelf -- although Botanical Beach, considered a jewel of a beach, is located nearby.

      The distant haziness is caused by a light rain in the San Juan de Fuca Strait and possibly on far land itself. A light drizzle was falling when we arrived here. We retreated into the Port Renfrew Hotel/Pub and had some great beer and fantastic burgers with sweet potato fries. After our feed the rain had let up and we explored the pier.

      The water here is San Juan Bay and beyond it is the transition from the Pacific Ocean to the San Juan de Fuca Strait. The bay is usually calm but the Strait can becalm one hour and stormy the next.

      The forests around Port Renfrew contain some of the largest trees in North America outside California's redwood and sequoia giants. The endangered Avatar Grove is pristine old growth, the Red Creek fir is the world's largest Douglas Fir, and the San Juan Spruce is Canada's largest Sitka spruce.

      China Beach, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo by Jack Keller
      China Beach, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo by Jack Keller

      Looking east on log-strewn China Beach. Portions of this beach were so thick with driftwood we had to climb over the logs to continue onward. Accessible by a trail approximately 2/10 mile long that winds down a nice decline before dropping down a steep slope to a pile of driftwood you have to climb over to gain access to the beach. The brochures say it is a sandy beach, but we arrived at high tide and along most of the beach little sand was visible.

      The Olympic Peninsula lies across the San Juan de Fuca Strait off-camera to the right. It was barely visible through a slow drizzle that thankfully missed us.

      A stream outlet lies perhaps 300 meters ahead in this photo although not really visible here. There are two such stream outlets slicing this beach into segments. The other is near the west end of the beach, behind me as I took this photo.

      There were some really interesting shaped driftwoods on this beach suitable for craftwork, but most were too large to haul up the trail to the parking area (which I doubt is even allowed).

      Seashell with seaweed attached, China Beach, Vancouver Island, BC. Photo by Jack Keller
      Seashell with seaweed attached, China Beach, Vancouver Island, BC.
      Photo by Jack Keller

      I found this shell with seaweed rooted to it along China Beach. I left it because I knew it was doubtful it would have survived the climb back up the trail intact. I'm glad I did, as I have since learned that removing shells and rocks from the Provincial beaches is prohibited. I wonder if my wife will become a wanted person in Canada for removing a dozen or so rocks from French Beach....

      The waterway to the right is the migratory route for an estimated 17,000 whales annually. The orcas were migrating while we were there, but we never saw any -- from land or our two ferry crossings.

      China Beach is the eastern trailhead for the 47-kilometer Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. The trail ends at Port Renfrew. Port Renfrew is also the southern end of the West Coast Trail, a world famous hiking trail built in 1907 along the west coast of Vancouver Island to save shipwrecked sailors. Between 1830-1925, 137 major shipping tragedies occurred along Vancouver Island's west coast. The waters off Port Renfrew were known as the Graveyard of the Pacific in the days of sailing ships.

      China Beach is located 37 km west of Sooke and 4 km west of the Jordan River.

      Brushy Creek Tannat wine label

      A woman new to winemaking wrote and asked what was the purpose of my piece in my last entry on Tannat. I guess I didn't elucidate enough. My purpose was to point out that here is a grape notorious for its astringent tannins which, when grown in Texas' heat, has softer, smother tannins that allow the winemaker to use a range of fermentation and aging methods to coax other distinguishing characteristics from this grape that usually takes years of aging to even begin to emerge. Whew! That was a long sentence, but necessary.

      I have ordered some Texas Tannat. I figured the shipping costs were at least equal to the gasoline costs of driving up to the nearest winery that makes it -- possibly less. I anxiously await it's arrival so I can taste it once again.

      While shopping for the right wine to order, I discovered that one winery I mentioned a few days ago makes their Tannat wine from grapes grown in the Bella Collina Vineyards of Paso Robles, California. In my last entry I simply echoed what a previous article espoused, leaving the impression the grape was grown in Texas. Bella Collina is a well respected vineyard and I have no doubt their grapes are excellent, but the article I cited specifically spoke of the natural softening of tannins due to the heat of the Texas sun. I did not feel this wine would present a fair tasting of what I was seeking to validate so I called Les Constable at Bushy Creek Winery and ordered each of his Tannats (see label above for his unoaked Tannat).

      In all fairness, the winery I declined to order from is growing Tannat and probably has its own grapes in barrels as I write this, but I want it now and so I called Les.

      I have no doubt I did the right thing. Les brought Tanat to Texas and is a fussy individual with a methodical approach to grape growing and winemaking. He believes in experimenting to feel his way through a grape's nuances, so ordering my wine from him was very comforting. His winemaker, Rachel Cook, is also a highly respected artisan who knows how to accomplish what Les envisions. I excitedly await the arrival of my wines. I'll grill a rib eye steak (small one) and see how they go together. You can believe I'll let you know.

      My good fishing buddy John, a 101st Airborne Division veteran, sent me the video below. The song is "Airborne Ranger Infantry" by easy-on-the-eyes Kristy Lee Cook. John said, "This brings back (some good, some bad) memories." Amen, brother. I think every war vet, Vietnam era or not, will say the same thing.

      It's a nice song, nice video, and sure to touch you if you ever served in harm's way. I hope it touches you as much as it touched me. Oh, and just click to skip the ad....

      The lyrics to this song are:

      My daddy was a soldier in a foreign war
      But he doesn't like to talk about it any more
      He kept a picture of my mama right by his heart
      He'd give it one last look before the fighting would start
      He said all I ask is that you don't forget
      Cause the wars not over when the fighting ends

      There's a part of me that will always be
      Just a boy in a hole with an M-16
      Airborne ranger infantry

      I left my best friend lying in a pool of blood
      While I crawled away through the brush and mud
      If I could choose to go back again
      I'd die lying there next to him
      I still see his face when I close my eyes
      As I won't forget his sacrifice

      There's a part of me that will always be
      Just a boy in a hole with an M-16
      Airborne ranger infantry


      I didn't do it for the money didn't do it for fame
      I didn't do it so the world would remember my name
      I did it for my family and my country,
      and my brothers who died right next to me.

      And all we ask is that you don't forget
      Cause the wars not over when the fighting ends
      There's a part of us that will always be
      Just boys in a hole with our M-16s

      Honoring souls and memories
      Airborne ranger infantry

      To all the veterans out there, I hope you have a blessed Veterans' Day.

      I want to thank the many eating, retail and recreation establishments who are offering free meals or special discounts to veterans on Veteran' Day. I also want to thank the National Parks Service for opening over 100 National Parks to veterans, for free, today. For a list of discounts and freebies for vets on Veterans' Day, Click Here and may God bless each and every one of you.

      Maceration: How Much Is Enough?

      Punching down the cap during fermentation

      In my previous entry on Tannat I mentioned that one winery was producing two wines. One used a "regular fermentation" while the other used an "extended maceration" to produce a wine with an entirely different tasting experience. But "extended maceration" has two meanings. One is what I prefer to call a "cold soak" before introducing yeast and the other involves keeping the wine on the skins after fermentation has ceased.

      Cold soaking is used to extract tannins, fruit, flavor and aroma constituents from grapes in the absence of alcohol. It works well on some grapes but is totally unnecessary for others. Cold soaking has a danger -- oxygen. The normal methods to prevent the onset of serious oxidation before you even start making wine is to either blanket the grapes with CO2, ozone (in commercial wineries), argon or some other inert gas, drop a floating lid on the grapes, or blanket the grapes with a layer of plastic wrap, directly on the grapes themselves, tucked in at the edges to seal out the atmosphere that gives us our oxygen to breathe. It is a preferred method with Pinot Noir. But that is a whole other topic I will not cover here.

      Extended maceration in the second sense is used to soften tannins readily available and easily extracted during fermentation. There is no need to cold soak Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Merlot, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Malbec, or the wild mustang grape -- at least not here in Texas. But a little or a lot of post-fermentation maceration on the skins relaxes and softens their tannins and allows for an easier drinking wine at a younger age. So the questions this raises are, which grapes are best suited to extended maceration and how long on the skins and pips is long enough?

      When I make wine from my Cynthiana, Merlot, wild mustangs or other red grapes I used to follow a traditional formula of keeping the wine on the skins until the cap collapses and falls to the bottom of the primary. This indicates the end of fermentation, as it is the CO2 produced during fermentation that keeps the cap of skins afloat. My thinking and methods changed slightly when a respected winemaker told me that mustangs give up about as much color and good phenolics as they are going to surrender after the third day of fermentation.

      I made my next batch of mustang using this claim as a guide. I pressed the grapes on the fourth day and my wine was as deeply red as it ever was in the past with one exception I'll mention later. It tasted well and aged well. This method also worked beautifully with some Merlot grapes I was allowed to pick but failed with Cynthiana. It had lighter color and lacked the nice tannins it is capable of yielding. Furthermore, it didn't taste right. It lacked fullness on the mid-palate and structure in general. It didn't even place in competition. And it didn't improve with age.

      My next batch of Cynthiana -- actually a field blend of Cynthiana, Ives Noir and Dog Ridge -- stayed on the skins about a week beyond cap collapse because I wanted to draw everything out of the Ives and Dog Ridge they were capable of giving. I blanked the wine with CO2 twice a day and covered the primary with a sheet of plastic. This was a much better wine -- possibly because it was a mix of three grapes but also because of the longer maceration. It had good structure and balance and drank well, competed well but was gone before it had time to age in the bottle.

      My Ives Noir declined and died, probably from Pierce's Disease, before I could attempt an extended maceration, but I think it was a good grape to attempt this. The extra week I left the three-grape field mix on the skins was a slight extended maceration, but I would have liked to have extended this to two weeks one year and three weeks the next.

      Primary after the cap has collapsed

      Many years ago I left a batch of mustang on the skins for 2-3 weeks past cap collapse because I was out of town. The wine was only covered with a piece of finely woven muslin and not blanketed with CO2. The previously black skins were a dull pinkish-purple when I finally pressed them. The wine was very mustang in flavor, but the color was lighter than I expected it would be and the fullness of the wine was weak. I have searched the literature for years looking for a reason for this but never really found a solid scientific explanation. But I never left a mustang wine on the skins that long again. We live and learn but don't always understand.

      All I know is that a short (3-day) skin exposure works for mustang and Merlot but not Cynthiana. It also did not work for a grape I was allowed to pick but unknown as to variety. The wine I bottled as "Unknown Grape" was decent and placed in competition, but it was not a great wine, lacking natural structure. I helped it along with the addition of tannin and glycerin during bulk aging.

      For more astringent (tannic) grapes, an extended maceration may be your salvation. If you have 150-200 pounds of good grapes (no shrivels, mold or grape berry moth mummies), you might want to do an experiment. Divide the grapes into two groups of equal weight and start two fermentations. Press one after cap collapse and the other after a two-week extended maceration. You'll want to blanket the extended batch twice a day with CO2, but it isn't expensive. You'll also want to stir the wine every five days or so to prevent hydrogen sulfide formation. Also, if you don't sulfite this batch you can induce malolactic fermentation near the end of yeast fermentation and it should be finished by the end of extended maceration or a week after pressing.

      To determine if extended maceration works for your grape variety, Google "[variety name] + extended maceration".

      String Bean Wine

      Harvested string beans

      A friend in a neighboring town invited me over to finish harvesting their garden. All that was left were a few eggplants, butternut squash, two cauliflowers, and about four pounds of string beans. I left the cauliflowers, which were badly infested with aphids or some other minute bug but took the rest. I had planned on canning the beans but time slipped by and suddenly they were no longer plump and fresh. So I made wine out of them.

      Pea pod wine is made from the pods only. This wine too can be made from just the pods, but because they are typically harvested green and the pods do not open easily to release the beans contained therein, the whole thing (pod and beans) is usually used in the winemaking process. This wine is not to everyone's liking, but it is wine and some folks have a natural affinity for it. I can drink it with just enough sugar to bring it off dry.

      • 4 lbs string beans
      • 11 oz can of 100% pure white grape juice frozen concentrate
      • 1-2/3 lbs granulated sugar
      • 3 tsp acid blend
      • 1/4 tsp powdered tannin
      • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
      • 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
      • 6 1/2 pts water
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 pkt Champagne or Hock wine yeast

      Wash the beans. No need to remove the stems. Cut beans diagonally into 2-inch pieces, so as to expose more of the interior of the fleshy pod. Put in pot, just cover with water, and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put 6 1/2 pints water in separate pot and bring to boil. Stir sugar into water until dissolved and set aside. Pour beans into a nylon straining bag (discarding their water) and tie bag closed. Place bag in primary and pour sugar water over it. Add thawed grape juice concentrate, yeast nutrient, acid blend and tannin, stir and cover primary. Set aside to cool. Add pectic enzyme, stir and set aside (covered) for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution.

      Stir daily but do not squeeze bag of beans. When specific gravity drops below 1.020 drip drain bag, save drippings and discard the beans. Gently Transfer to a secondary (do not top up) and attach airlock. Rack after 30 days, adding a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet top up and reattach the airlock. Rack again twice, 30 days apart, topping up and reattaching airlock each time. Wine should clear, but if it doesn't, then treat with Amylase or starch enzyme. Stabilize with another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate when clear and no longer depositing sediments. Sweeten slightly if desired, wait 30 days and bottle. Age one year before tasting. [Jack Keller's own recipe.]

      As I said earlier, this wine is not to everyone's liking. It can be improved by substituting 2 pints of pulpless orange juice for two pints of the water. I have thought of substituting apple juice as well but have not done it and therefore cannot say it will work. If you want to try it with apple juice, let me know how it turns out.

      November 15th, 2012

      You folks are too kind. I received a couple of donations to help offset the expense of maintaining the WineBlog and Winemaking Home Page. I received numerous emails thanking me for my military service, commenting on the quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville, and commenting on my photos from our Vancouver Island trip. I received two regarding Tannat and Brushy Creek Tannat in particular and a few comments on the Kristy Lee Cook song I linked to. Interestingly, my entry on extended maceration drew no comments and I had three emails mentioning my string bean wine recipe.

      Thank you all for your emails and continued support and understanding about email -- I answer very few so that I have some time for my own affairs, and I don't mean the General Petraeus or President Clinton kind of affairs.

      I have much to write about today, so will dispense with my usual opening ramblings and jump right in. I hope you find something of interest here.

      Postscript: It has taken me all day to get this written. Numerous interruptions were partly to blame, but the biggest setback was a power flicker and -- wouldn't you think I'd have learned by now? -- I hadn't saved it once since writing my short intro. I don't think my rewrite is as good as the original, but we'll never really know.

      Sagrantino Indigenous Grape Receives Incredible Honors

      Sagrantino grapes from Montefalco, Umbria, Italy.  Photo from Wikipedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

      It is not often that an indigenous grape garners any recognition, so when one is responsible for a winery winning Wine Enthusiast magazine's Wine Star Award for "European Winery of the Year," you just have to stop and take notice. The grape is Sagrantino, claimed to be the most tannic grape in the world and an indigenous varietal of Umbria, central Italy. The winery is Arnaldo Caprai. The wine is inky purple with a bouquet of dark red fruit and aged a minimum of 30 months before release, but only if then ready.

      Sagrantino is an indigenous varietal of unknown origins grown in and around the village of Montefalco. Sagrantino di Montefalco was granted DOCG status in 1991, must be 100% Sagrantino, aged 30 months -- 12 in oak barrels -- before release. The wine was historically made in a dessert style or used in blending until 1976, when winemakers started making it in a dry style as well.

      The Arnaldo Caprai winery wonWine Enthusiast magazine's Wine Star Award for "European Winery of the Year" with a dry wine that ages extremely well. Arnaldo Caprai purchased the winery in 1971. Then at 12.5 acres, today it is 370 acres with 336 acres in production in Montefalco, Gualdo Cattaneo and Bevagna, as well as the DOC Montefalco, DOC Colli Martani and DOCG Sagrantino di Montefalco production zones. It's quite a nice success story.

      Arnaldo Caprai is represented by Folio Fine Wine Partners -- an importer, fine wine agency and producer of quality wines from the world's premiere and emerging wine regions.

      Apple Wine, Applejack

      A display of various apple cultivars of a variety of colors. Photo from inquisitr.com, with permission

      As late autumn sets in the fruit selection in the produce department seems to sport only apples and a few fruit from the southern hemisphere. With so many apples, it is natural that a lot of people are making apple wine and a few are making applejack. You have to make apple wine before you can make applejack. Neither is very difficult.

      In my humble opinion, cider apples generally make the best apple wine. Cider apples were selected based on sugar content, acidity and tannins. The English have been growing cider apples and making cider since before there were colonies in North America, so it would be prudent to look to them for cultivars best suited to cider making first.

      Cider apples are usually divided into four categories: sweet (low acid, low tannin, good for blending), bittersweet (low acid, high tannin), sharp (high acid, low tannin), and bittersharp (high acid, high tannin). There are many nuances and styles of cider, which is outside the scope of this entry.

      The best apple wine I have ever tasted was made from crabapples from a single tree, although the maker did not know the name of the crabapple cultivar. Having said that, my own experience has been different, mainly because I do not have an apple or crabapple tree and have to buy my base.

      In my early days of winemaking I made a lot of apple wine from juice because it came in 1-gallon glass jugs and I needed 1-gallon secondary fermentation jugs. After I had collected 26 or so jugs it seemed silly to keep making apple wine from juice when there were so many other things to make wine from. After that, whenever I wanted to make apple wine I bought apples or found myself the recipient of a bunch of apples from someone with a tree.

      If you rely on a farmers market or supermarket for your apples, you would do well to mix several cultivars for your wine. I usually buy a pound of any four of the following, using a ratio of 3 tart to 1 sweet. Among the tart are: 'Braeburn', 'Empire', 'Granny Smith', 'Gravenstein', 'Jonathon', 'McIntosh', 'Rome', 'Sierra Beauty', 'Winesap'. Among the sweet are: 'Fuji', 'Gala', 'Golden Delicious', 'Honey Crisp' (slightly tart), 'Jonagold', 'Pink Lady' (slightly tart), 'Sonya'. But this list is not inclusive. There are many, many cultivars out there and most fall into the tart or sweet side, although some straddle the line (like 'Honey Crisp' and 'Pink Lady').

      The recipe for the apple wine required for the applejack is contained in the recipe for applejack itself. Read on!

      A new and old bottle of Laird's Applejack, photo from their website

      Applejack, or Apple Jack if you prefer, is a beverage with old roots in the United States, dating back to colonial times. Laird & Company claims to be the oldest continuously operating maker of applejack in the States, starting production in 1780. According to their website, George Washington asked for their recipe and was the only outsider who ever got it.

      Laird makes their applejack by distilling. Most of us would run into trouble with the feds if we distilled apple wine into applejack. In fact, the method I will discuss here will get you into trouble with the feds, for any method of increasing alcoholic content outside of fermentation or fortification is illegal in the United States.

      Thus, this entry is strictly for those living in countries which do not have such a law. I know of no such country, but I don't know everything.

      So what exactly is applejack? Quite simply, it is fermented apple juice (or cider or wine) that has been distilled by whatever means to reduce the water content while retaining the apple flavor, thereby concentrating (increasing) the alcoholic content. The reason I said "fermented apple juice" and enclosed "or cider or wine" in parentheses is because both cider and wine imply a certain amount of craftsmanship has been applied to balance the drink while fermented apple juice implies no such thing. In other words, one can make terrible apple wine and still make good applejack from it. However, I am a firm believer that good apple wine makes a much better applejack.

      The method espoused here will run counter to my last statement of belief as it makes no effort to produce a balanced wine from which to make applejack. The reason is simply to show how easy it is to make applejack. If you desire to add acid blend and tannin, o for it. There is no need, however, to add sulfites or pectic enzyme.

      It is essential, before anyone begins this process, that they have two one-gallon plastic milk or juice containers or four half-gallon plastic milk or juice containers AND enough room in their freezer to store them. It is desirable, although not essential, that the freezer have an adjustable thermostat.

      In addition, one should have several wide-mouth plastic containers capable of holding a combined total of two gallons volume. These can be plastic water or juice pitchers, plastic jars or any containers you have on hand. The key is that they be wide-mouthed. Lids are optional, as the containers can be "closed" with plastic wrap secured with rubber bands.

      Other equipment one will need is a colander or large wire mesh flour sifter and a large funnel. Also, one will need normal winemaking equipment.

      Ingredients needed are:

      • 1 gal apple juice (see *NOTE below)
      • 1/2 gal water
      • 4 lbs brown sugar
      • 2 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 pkt general purpose wine yeast (Champagne, Montrachet, etc.)

      *NOTE: Check the label carefully and do not use juice that contains preservatives. Use only juice that has been pasteurized or irradiated to kill yeast, mold and bacteria (irradiated juices are completely safe to drink).

      Bring water to boil. Remove from heat and add sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved completely.

      Pour apple juice into a primary container at least 2 gallons in volume. Pour sugar-water and yeast nutrient into apple juice and stir enough to dissolve the nutrient. Cover and set aside to cool.

      Add yeast to juice. I would make a starter solution just to make sure the yeast is alive and active, but if you like living with uncertainty just sprinkle the yeast on top of the juice. Do not stir.

      When juice shows distinct signs of fermentation, pour it into equal amounts through the funnel into the milk or juice containers. Two one-gallon containers or four half-gallon containers each will be filled to slightly over 3/4 full. Attach airlocks and set aside to ferment to dryness (3-4 weeks).

      Transfer the wine (yep, it's wine) to the wider-mouth containers, filling only 3/4 full. Seal these (with lids or plastic wrap secured with rubber bands and set these in the freezer. Leave it for a day or two, until they form a body of ice or ice slush. If ice, it will be quite solid around the sides and on top -- less so on the bottom. Solid ice can be carefully removed and discarded, as it is just frozen water. The alcohol will not freeze and most of the flavor will concentrate in the alcohol. If the ice does in fact form a slush, pour the slush, a little at a time, through a colander or sifter into a bowl or other container. Allow the shush to drain freely and thoroughly and then discard the slush. Return the liquid to the wide-mouth containers, seal them and return them to the freezer.

      Check the containers after 4-6 hours and, if ice has reformed, again follow the procedures above. Repeat this as often as necessary until no further ice forms.

      If your freezer is set to 0 degrees ice will form until the liquid reaches 14% alcohol, only slightly more than apple wine. At -10 degrees, ice will form until 20% alcohol. At -20 degrees, ice will form until 27% alcohol. At -30 degrees, ice will form until 33% alcohol. Most home freezers are quite capable of reaching -20 degrees F. -- some even lower. For energy saving reasons, many are set to a higher temperature but normally have a thermostat to allow you to reset them to a lower temperature.

      Apple Mallow Sweet Potato Bake

      Apple Mallow Sweet Potato Bake, right from the oven

      Just the name sounds delicious! An apple and sweet potato casserole covered with miniature marshmallows. Its good anytime, but should really be a crowd pleaser at the Thanksgiving table. And I think it will pair well with any off-dry white wine.

      I made this just for me and managed to stretch it out to accompany six meals, thanks to my portion control diet.

      The recipe is simplicity itself.

      • 1/2 cup Brown sugar, packed (I used dark)
      • 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
      • 2 Apples (tart preferred), peeled, cored and sliced
      • 1/3 cup Pecans, chopped (I used 1/2 cup)
      • 2 15 oz cans Princella or Sugary Sam Cut Sweet Potatoes, drained
      • 1/4 cup Margarine
      • 2 cups Miniature marshmallows or enough to cover

      Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix brown sugar and cinnamon. Toss apples and nuts with combined brown sugar and cinnamon. Alternate layers of apples and sweet potatoes in 1 1/2-quart casserole. Dot with margarine. Cover and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle marshmallows over sweet potatoes and apples. Broil until lightly browned. Serves 4 to 6, depending on portions.

      I think next time I'll add maybe 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom in with the cinnamon. I can almost taste it....

      November 20th, 2012

      This week greeted me with a lot of wine. I received the two bottles of Tannat I purchased from Brushy Creek Vineyards and Winery, two bottles from a winemaker in Florida who asked for an evaluation of each, and eight bottles from a winemaking couple in Tennessee who also asked for evaluations. It will take awhile to work my way through them, but I'll do my best.

      I have already started evaluating the wines -- beginning with the Tannat. I received two bottles, the unoaked and Rachel's Reserve, a reputedly oaked wonder by Rachael Cook, Brushy Creek's esteemed winemaker. I wanted to try one -- I didn't know which -- with a nice rib eye steak.

      The steak I selected at the market was thick, well marbled but not too large. I pricked it on both sides with a fork (you do it your way, I'll do it mine) and placed it in a Zip-Loc bag containing Dale's Seasoning for an hour, flipping it at half-time.

      I grilled it over hot charcoal. Just before centering the steak I spread a handful of soaking wet hickory chips on the charcoal to create a thick smoke, placed the steak, and set the domed cover on the grill to lock in the smoke. After 8 minutes I basted the steak with Dale's and turned it over, then replaced the cover. After 6 1/2 minutes I moved the steak to a dinner plate and sided it with a generous helping of steamed and buttered asparagus. Simplicity itself.

      I tasted the steak and only then decided to open the unoaked bottle. I did not want to mix hickory and oak. The wine was deep red -- not quite garnet -- and smelled of something as I poured it. Truffles? Some unknown woodlands herb? Not sure, but in the glass it had an earthiness to it that promised depth (and it certainly had that).

      I cut another bite of steak and kept smelling the wine while I chewed. I swear I smelled saddle leather in there somewhere, and I am not one who has ever used leather to describe a wine before. But this wasn't any leather. This was the smell of a saddle after you've been in it 3-4 hours. Only this leather had herbal undertones...and something else. Dark chocolate? Not possible.

      I took a very large sip. It was very full bodied and sank in my mouth. Great gripping tannins. Dear Lord, Les Constable has put blackcurrants and black raspberries in it. Absolutely wonderful. I started jotting down notes as I swallowed -- long finish, very satisfying residual flavors all throughout the mouth. Another bite of steak. Fantastic blending of wine and rib eye as I chewed. Have to remember to eat the asparagus....

      Well done Brushy Creek, well done.

      Regina Brett, photo from Regina with gratitude'
      Regina Brett, on Doug Miles' podcast on

      Regina Brett is a columnist for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer. She once wrote a column entitled "45 Lessons Life Taught Me." In 2006, as she turned 50 years old, she updated it to "50 Life Lessons." Each of the two versions have become the most requested and distributed columns she has written to date.

      In her 2010 book, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life's Little Detours, each of her life lessons are a chapter. They appear again in her second book, published this year, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible. Regina's "50 Life Lessons" have been published on other blogs and Facebook, as well as linked to on Twitter. Her first book is distributed in 20 countries.

      Her lessons are so common sensical and yet insightful I am posting them here for any who have not seen them, with deep appreciation to Regina Brett for sharing them with us.

      1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
      2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
      3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
      4. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
      5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
      6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
      7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
      8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
      9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
      10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
      11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
      12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
      13. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
      14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
      15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
      16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
      17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.
      18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.
      19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
      20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
      21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
      22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
      23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
      24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
      25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
      26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: "In five years, will this matter?"
      27. Always choose life.
      28. Forgive everyone everything.
      29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
      30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
      31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
      32. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
      33. Believe in miracles.
      34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
      35. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
      36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
      37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.
      38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.
      39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
      40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
      41. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
      42. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
      43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
      44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
      45. The best is yet to come.
      46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
      47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
      48. If you don't ask, you don't get.
      49. Yield.
      50. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

      If you weren't awed, read them again...slowly.

      One more "rambling" entry and we'll get on to winemaking.

      Powerline, a conservative blog, held a competition earlier this year with a cash prize for whoever could most effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis. Any creative product was eligible: videos, songs, paintings, screenplays, Power Point presentations, essays, performance art, or anything else. Several entries have gotten a lot of attention and a lot of views or listens. But unquestionably, the hands down winner in People's Choice voting (62%) was "The Doorbell."

      You may have seen this elsewhere as it has had well over 1,000,000 views on Power Line Channel, YouTube, Big Hollywood, and other venues. Enjoy reality....

      The bottom line will increase greatly by 2016, so remember who you voted for.

      Pumpkin Pie Wine for the Holidays

      The author's Pumpkin Pie Wine label, 2008

      A woman wrote me today and asked if I could give her a recipe for a pumpkin pie wine she could make for the holidays. I told her pumpkin pie wine takes two years to age, but I explained how to infuse a white wine with pumpkin pie spices for this year and also provided her a recipe for a wine she could start now for the 2014 holidays.

      To infuse a wine take a shot glass (tall one if you have it) and add to it 1 1/2 teaspoons of prepared pumpkin pie spices (we use McCormick brand) and then very gently pour vodka over it until the liquid reaches the line for a shot of liquor. If you want to stir the spices in you can, but they will soak into the vodka soon enough. Carefully cover it with a piece of trimmed paper napkin, paper coffee filter or paper towel and secure it with a rubber band. Set aside in a cool place (even a corner of the refrigerator will do) undisturbed for a month.

      The day before serving, open a bottle of sweet Moscato or other wine of choice and pour some into another shot glass up to the shot line. Drink this. Place a funnel into the bottle and line it with a paper coffee filter. Very carefully remove the paper covering from the shot of spices and vodka. Very slowly pour the vodka into the funnel, trying NOT to disturb the spices on the bottom of the glass. I would stop pouring as the spices start to flow into the funnel, but if you have lots of patience go ahead and pour them in. They will clog the coffee filter and it could take hours to drain completely unless you are very fortunate.

      When the vodka has all drained into the wine lift the coffee filter and gather it. Gently squeeze it with your fingertips to get the last drop out and discard the filter. Place the cork (or a stopper) into the wine bottle, chill and serve it the next day.

      Pumpkin Pie Wine Recipe

      Blue Hubard Squash, photo from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

      You have a choice here. You can use sweet pie pumpkins (those small ones, labeled as Sweet Pumpkins or Pie Pumpkins) or Hubbard squash. Most people don't know this, but 90% (or higher) of all commercial pumpkin pies are made from Hubbard squash. They are far cheaper per pound than pie pumpkins, are immensely larger, have much thicker meat to work with, and when baked with pumpkin pie spices are indistinguishable from pumpkin.

      Other squash that could be used, with lesser "pumpkin" flavor but still good, are acorn squash, butternut squash or turban squash.

      Hubbard squash are huge, grayish-blue in color (although crosses with pumpkin come out pumpkin-orange or variated), and sort of football shaped or pumpkin shaped. They are near impossible to cut into with an ordinary knife. You'll need a meat cleaver, a hatchet or a large butcher knife and a hammer to start the cut. Once cut in half and deseeded, you can cut long strips of squash (2-3 inches wide) and then cut these into pieces and separate the flesh easily enough from the peeling. But one Hubbard will produce a LOT of flesh -- consider making wine, a couple of pumpkin pies and a casserole (use your favorite sweet potato casserole recipe) or two.

      This recipe uses Hubbard squash and makes one gallon. To scale up, do the math.

      • 5 lbs ripe Hubbard squash flesh, grated
      • 2 lbs Demerara (or Turbnado) sugar (light brown sugar is a poor substitute)
      • 11-oz can of Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
      • zest and juice of 3 Valencia oranges
      • zest and juice of 1 lemon
      • 1 tsp finely diced ginger root
      • 3 3-inch sticks cinnamon
      • 6-8 whole cloves
      • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
      • 6 1/2 pts water
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • Champagne wine yeast

      Put water on stove to boil. Cut and remove seeds from squash. Peel and grate squash and place in nylon straining bag with zest, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Tie closed and set in primary. Remove water from heat and stir sugar and Welch's concentrate into water until sugar is dissolved and pour over nylon bag. Cover and set aside to cool. When cooled to room temperature, add citrus juice, tannin and yeast nutrient. Stir and add yeast in a starter solution. Re-cover and stir daily, punching down the bag each time, until specific gravity drops to 1.010 or below.

      Remove and drip drain bag (do not squeeze). Discard bag contents. Transfer to secondary, add one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, stir gently and fit airlock. Rack every two months for six months. Stabilize with one finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate and let sit 10 days -- 30 days if you sweten it -- then rack into bottles. Cellar two years at least before drinking. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      Honestly, you should make at least 3 gallons. One large Hubbard will certainly support that.

      Do NOT be tempted to taste this wine early. You will be disappointed. It should be ready for the 2014 holidays but if still rough save it for later. If you freeze the grated squash in gallon Zip-Locs with most of the air pressed out and start it next July, it will be perfect for the 2015 holidays.

      With wines planned for holiday consumption, you have to plan well ahead. Hubbards, pie pumpkins and other substitutes are winter squash and will not be available in July, so buy now, start ther wine no or prepare the squash and freeze for future use.

      Sluggish Fermentations

      Chart 1, showing sluggish fermentation rate in three musts in Iceland

      A winemaker in Iceland wrote to me about sluggish fermentations in three wines -- bilberry, crowberry (fresh) and crowberry (cooked). He sent along a chart he had prepared showing the rate of fermentation. There was no doubt the fermentation rate was slower than expected but only one must appeared in actual trouble. I replied with an educated guess and eight days later he sent me another chart showing great improvement. The thing is, he worked out the solution all on his own.

      I focused on two things. First, the data he sent me. In addition to the first chart shown here, he also plotted the temperature of the bilberry wine using an in-the-wine probe that recorded the temperature every three minutes. All three wines are in a fermentation chamber (a converted freezer) kept at 21 degrees C (69.8 degrees F.) with a 0.5 C swing in either direction at very regular intervals. This is very close to the lower tolerance of the yeast he is using (RC212).

      Secondly, I pointed him to a piece I wrote in my April 24th, 2007 WineBlog entry on "Undisclosed Ingredient." This concerns the propensity of certain berries, bilberries being one of them, that naturally contain benzoic acid in increasing amounts the farther north the berries are grown. In the entry I propose a strategy to overcome this acid, which renders yeast incapable of reproduction and thus sticks a fermentation. My implication was that he may have to resort to using this strategy, which is time and resource intensive.

      To be fair, he actually included data that I somewhat ignored. For example, he informed me of his feeding of the yeast with both DAP and Fermaid-K and his plans to add more Fermaid-K; he asked if I thought he should add more DAP as well but I neglected to answer that question. He also said that all three musts were below pH 3.0 -- one at 2.8 and the other two at 2.5 He asked if the yeast were capable of sustaining fermentation in that acidic an environment. Again, I was focused on the northern latitude and actually thought his problem was with the bilberry, as the other two seemed to me to be fermenting fine, albeit slowly, and so I did not answer that inquiry either. My bad!

      Chart 2, showing increased fermentation rate for three musts in Iceland

      Exactly how he came up with his own "fix" is not clear to me, but it was excellent deduction. He examined the chemistry of his wines and decided to raise the pH of his cooked crowberry wine (identified as "krækiber cooked" on the charts) just to see what would happen. He raised it to 3.0 using potassium carbonate and after 24 hours saw a doubling of s.g. decrease. He then did that to the raw crowberry and the bilberry (albláber on the charts). All three wines increased their fermentation rate as a result, as seen on the second chart.

      I should also report that he added 6.67g of DAP to the bilberry and saw an increase in fermentation rate after both DAP and pH corrections of three times the previous rate. After another 24 hours the rate doubled again.

      As much as I would like to, I can take no credit for these improvements. I was so narrowly focused on the potential benzoic acid problem that I put on blinders and did not look at all the data with as much attention as I should have. I congratulate the winemaker for an excellent job of self-analysis.

      Lessons to be taken away from this case study are that very low pH can indeed affect the fermentation rate of some musts, especially using RC212 yeast. Additionally, increased feeding during sluggish fermentation can also increase the rate of fermentation.

      Actually, I should have done much better on this one than I did. All too often people send me problems with almost no data on their wine or how they are making it and expect me to pull a miracle out of the air. What is more amazing is that I very often pull it off. But here was a well presented case with lots of data and case history and I fluffed it. I am embarrassed, but I highlighted the case here because I am really proud of this winemaker. Way to go Manuel (a nice Icelandic name)!

      November 28th, 2012

      I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving with loved ones. It is a day for being thankful for abundancy -- in harvest, in blessings, in love, fellowship and caring, and in life's rewards. Rewards are not merely material or financial in nature, and in fact life's greatest rewards are neither.

      Thanksgiving in America is usually a huge meal centered around a turkey. I am not a great turkey fan, so I prepared a boneless leg of lamb roast.

      My method was simple. I prepared a moist rub of minced garlic, fresh rosemary (chopped), coarsely ground white pepper, lemon juice, warmed coconut oil, and two teaspoons of a dry white wine I had open, rubbed the roast well, seared it in a hot oven (450 degrees F.), and then reduced the heat to 325 and cooked it until the internal temperature was 126 F.

      I removed it from the oven, poured the drippings into a saucepan and tented the lamb with aluminum foil. After 20 minutes the internal temperature read 132 F. and I carved it. Meanwhile I prepared the drippings into a sauce with two tablespoons of Geaux Ragin Cajun's Louisiana Sweet Blueberry Pepper Jam. I served it with roasted carrots and parsnips and whole leaf spinach cooked in butter alone.

      I was going to pair it with Brushy Creek 2009 Rachel's Reserve Tannat, but at the last minute decided to open my final bottle of my own 2009 Blueberry Mead to pair with the sauce. I'm glad I did. It was absolutely perfect, although I was surprised it had aged so well.

      I will get many meals out of the leftover lamb, and leftovers are my favorite part of Thanksgiving meals.

      Patti Page, circa 1950, photo in public domain

      I don't know where these things come from. I woke up this morning with the 1950 Patti Page hit "The Tennessee Waltz" stuck in my head. I have no idea when I last heard that song, but I would guess over 40 years ago. So why was it in my head when I woke up and what part of memory could it have escaped from? Since I wake up with a song in my head every 2-3 days, I'd sure like to know the answers. There's a file in my head I need to keep closed when I sleep.

      "The Tennessee Waltz," lyrics by Redd Stewart and music by Pee Wee King, was Patti Page's career signature song, hitting number 1 on Billboard in December 1950, staying there for 13 weeks and charting for a total of 30 weeks. It was her second number 1 song -- the first was "All My Love (Bolero)", which hit number 1 in mid-1950 -- and her third million-record seller (her first was "With My Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming", also released in 1950). "Tennessee Waltz" sold over 7 million copies in the early 1950s and has sold nearly 15 million copies to date. It holds the distinction of being the last song to sell a million sheet music copies. Up until 1974, it was the all-time best selling song in Japan. Who'd have guessed that?

      Patti Page had a career 110 chart hits, recorded 40 studio and 2 live albums, and was the first artist to over-dub her own songs with harmonies. Her 1947 "Confess" was the first over-dubbed song.

      Patti Page was born Clara Ann Fowler in Oklahoma, where she was raised, and her roots were country. Mitch Miller, who controlled Mercury Recordsduring the 1950s when Page was recording there, liked the simple-structured melodies and storylines in country music and adapted them to pop music. Patti Page was keen to this idea and many of her songs charted both on the pop and country charts. In 1973 she decisively switched to country music as a career path. As a result, she is one of very few vocalists to make the country charts in five separate decades. "The Tennessee Waltz" is one of her crossover songs.

      I was dancin' with my darlin'
      To the Tennessee Waltz
      When an old friend I happened to see
      I introduced her to my loved one
      And while they were dancin'
      My friend stole my sweetheart from me

      I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
      Now I know just how much I have lost
      Yes, I lost my little darlin'
      The night they were playing
      The beautiful Tennessee Waltz

      Too Full Flor Dessert

      Too Full Flor Dessert cocktail, made with Flor De Caña 7-year Grand Reserve Rum, Licor 43, chocolate ice cream and vanilla syrup

      I was recently introduced to a wonderful cocktail I want to share with you. I was going to serve this at Thanksgiving but lacked an essential ingredient. Instead I served vanilla ice cream with a sweet Maraschino Cherry-Chocolate Wine sent to me from Tennessee. Now, having assembled the necessary ingredients, I made myself a "Too Full Flor Dessert" cocktail and have to say it is incredible.

      First, a word about the "essential" ingredients. I cannot imagine any substitutions. Each is so unique that I consider them essential. You will need Flor De Caña 7-year Grand Reserve Rum, Diego Zamora Licor 43, chocolate ice cream and vanilla syrup; four mint leaves as garnish are less essential but add a little je ne sais quoi to the overall that should be included if at all possible, especially if you are making it for guests. The ingredients are:

      2 oz Flor De Caña 7-year Grand Reserve Rum
      4 mint leaves
      1 scoop chocolate ice cream
      ½ oz vanilla syrup
      ½ oz Diego Zamora Licor 43

      Pour all ingredients except the mint leaves in a mixing glass. Shake for 20 seconds. Serve in a chilled martini glass with the mint leaves as garnish.

      Alternative recipe. Bruise four mint leaves. Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass. Shake for 20 seconds. Serve in a chilled martini glass with the mint leaves incorporated. This version allows the mint to impart a very slight flavor to the cocktail but is not as pretty a presentation.

      Flor De Caña 7-year Grand Reserve Rum is an exceptional rum and can be used in any classic rum cocktail with excellent results. Here's another recipe that requires fewer ingredients and is very flavorful.

      Eternal Bliss

      Pour the following into a chilled mixing glass:

      1 oz Flor De Caña 7-year Grand Reserve Rum
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      2 oz white cranberry juice

      Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with two maraschino cherries on a skewer.

      Vanilla Margarita 43

      Don't buy a bottle of Licor 43 just for the Too Full Flor Dessert cocktail. Buy it because it is a great liqueur that is delicious all by itself on the rocks and centers in many other cocktails as well. Its taste is a blend of Mediterranean flavors with hints of vanilla and citrus. The Vanilla Margarita 43 is my favorite:

      3/4 oz Licor 43
      3/4 oz tequila (I use Patron Silver)
      1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
      1/2 oz simple syrup

      Shake and strain over crushed ice in a margarita glass (rim salted or not, according to taste ad diet). Garnish with a slice or wedge of lime and enjoy!

      Pawpaw Wine

      Pawpaw flesh and seeds, photo from HoCo Connect under fair use doctrine, not for commercial use or gain

      I received an inquiry concerning making wine with frozen pawpaws. The writer noted that his pawpaws had turned brown in the freezer and asked if they could still be used for wine. He also asked if I knew of a way to keep pawpaws from turning brown in the freezer. I have answers.

      Pawpaws, botanically known as Asimina triloba, are truly an American fruit. Related to the cherimoya, atamoya, guanabana, and soursop, pawpaws are the only member of the Annonaceae family adapted to temperate zones. They grow in 28 eastern states and portions of Ontario.

      Pawpaw fruit have a custard-like texture, a unique, tropical flavor and a fruity, floral aroma. Native Americans prized them so dearly they are one of the few trees they cultivated. George Washington savored them chilled as a dessert. Lewis and Clark subsisted on them for a period. In short, it is a superb fruit completely overlooked by the majority of Americans today. But, I digress.

      Let's handle the second and third questions first.

      Yes, you can still use the brown pawpaw flesh for wine. The brown color is oxidation and the pigment will precipitate out after fermentation. The oxidation will not be transferred to the wine.

      Preventing the browning is relatively easy. I'm sure there are several methods that will work, but I will only report the method I know personally.

      You must begin before you cut the fruit. Fill a large bowl or stock pot about a third full with cold water. Add to it 2 tablespoons of Fruit Fresh, an anti-browning agent, and stir to dissolve. Now cut the fruit in half lengthwise and deseed them. There is no need to remove the sac around each seed but you may if you wish. It is both edible and fermentable. The seeds, however, are neither and must be removed.

      Once the seeds are removed, use a large spoon and begin separating the pulp from the inner peel. Drop each spoonful into the water. Continue until all the pawpaws are finished.

      One usually freezes pawpaws in the amount to be used at some future date in a recipe. They bake well and can be used in any bread, cake, pie or pastry recipe calling for bananas or applesauce. They are excellent in puddings and ice cream. They can be frozen in freezer containers or freezer-weight ZipLoc bags. Simply remove them from the water and pack them in the container or bag, pressing out all the air between pieces. If placed in a plastic container, plastic wrap can be pressed against the pulp to seal any air from the fruit and then closed with a lid and frozen. In a bag, once the air is pressed out the bag is sealed and frozen.

      Pawpaw Wine

      Frozen in 3-pound lots, each flavoring a gallon of wine, the pulp can be thawed and used without further preparation. The wine is best dry and served chilled. It should not exceed 12.5% alcohol.

      • 3 lbs ripe pawpaw pulp, thawed if previously frozen
      • 1 lb 13 oz finely granulated sugar
      • 7 pts water
      • 1 1/2 tsp citric acid
      • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
      • 1/4 tsp powdered grape tannin
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • Champagne wine yeast

      Put the water on to boil. Put the thawed fruit pulp in a nylon straining bag, tie closed, and place the bag in your primary. Mash the pulp in the bag, pour the sugar over the fruit and, when boiling, pour the water over that. Cove the primary and set aside to cool. When at room temperature, add all ingredients except the yeast. Recover the primary and set aside 12 hours. Add activated yeast as a starter solution. When the must is fermenting vigorously, stir twice daily for 7 days.

      Drain the bag and squeeze very gently to extract most of the juice and flavor, then discard the pulp and transfer the liquid to a secondary. Attach an airlock and set aside for 2 months. Rack into a sanitized secondary, add a finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, top up and refit airlock. Rack and check wine for clarity after 2 months, then again if necessary after an additional 2 months. If wine has not cleared by then, fine with gelatin, wait two weeks, and rack carefully into bottles. Age an additional 6-12 months in the bottles. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      December 5th, 2012

      Wow. It's December 5th already! Only 20 days until Christmas. I have to get my packages in the mail soon.

      Sometime in the past couple of days I must have heard a commercial that played the song "Happy Holidays" because I woke up with it in my head this morning, complete with full orchestration. It took several hours for it to play out and allow my head to be music free.

      Then I ran to Wal-Mart for some mouthwash and laundry detergent and they were playing Christmas music. Yes, just as I dug out my wallet to pay they played "Happy Holidays."

      After I post this blog entry I'm going to put on a CD of nature sounds and do some meditation....

      Victoria, unnumbered artist proof, by Christine Rosamond, 1976, image copyrighted by Rosamond Publishing, used under Fair Use Doctrine of 1984, no commercial value derived from this publication
      Victoria, artist proof, by Christine Rosamond,
      1976, image copyrighted by Rosamond Publishing,
      used under fair use doctrine of 1984

      I was talking recently to a friend in Virginia I have not seen in over 20 years. Somehow the conversation turned to things we collect and after a bit he asked what I considered my most prized possession. Without hesitation I said my artist proof of Christine Rosamond's "Victoria," pictured here. It hangs in my living room above a love seat. I purchased it and the majority of my Rosamonds from the late Garver Johnson at his Royce Galleries, in Denver.

      Christine Rosamond (1947-1994) was an exceptional, self-taught artist. She exhibited her first work in Los Angeles in 1972 and within six months would achieve national acclaim. By the time I discovered her in 1976, she had become the most published artist in the world, surpassing even Norman Rockwell and Salvadore Dali. And yet, even today her name is not well-known.

      On March 26, 1994 the world lost this very talented and treasured artist on the Pacific's rocky coast. My friend and former wife, Michele, called from half-way across the country the next morning to tell me Christine had drowned while swimming near Big Sur with her daughter. She was caught by a rouge wave and swept away. Her daughter survived.

      The artistic legacy of Christine Rosamond is a body of work which eloquently expresses the essence of femininity with a simple charm and beauty that can only originate in the heart of the artist. She was a master of using negative space to complete her compositions. This can clearly be seen in "Victoria."

      I own 19 Rosamonds. I collect many things but value these above all else. But I value "Victoria" foremost.

      As an aside, I am amused by how many websites have plagiarized entire sections of my tribute page to Christine Rosamond, omitting only the personal perspectives I included. I suppose if you can't write (or rewrite), you plagiarize. Attribution would have been nice (and proper), but we live in a society growing less respectful every day. I'd better leave it at that....

      Oh, and some of what I wrote above was cut and pasted from my own tribute page. In other words, I plagiarized myself.

      Nannyberry Wine

      Nannyberries with autumn leaves, photo from Miller Nursery, with permission

      A reader asked me if I had a recipe for nannyberry wine. My response was sincere and accurate as far as I knew, but upon reflection I realized it was only a partial answer. So let me try to do a better job here.

      Nannyberry is a name assigned to the berries of several plants in the large bush to small tree category but two dominate. In the South the names nannyberry, southern nannyberry and rusty nannyberry refer to Viburnum refidulum, also known as the bluehaw, blackhaw, southern blackhaw and rusty blackhaw. It can reach a height of 30 feet, produces large clusters of white flowers in the spring that give way to dark blue to blue-black fruit in the autumn. They sport a central disc that contains the seed. The pulp is thin but very tasty, a cross in flavor between raisins, prunes and dates with the sweetness of the latter.

      From Kentucky and Virginia north into Canada and west into Colorado and Wyoming the names nannyberry, sheepberry, wild raisin, blackhaw, and sweet virburnum refer to Virburnum lentago. It is a slow growing shrub that reaches small tree heights of up to 28 feet. Their taste has been described as "hints of banana, prunes, raisins and even a slight 'holiday spice,' all with the distinctive and unique Nannyberry flavor."

      "The fruit is dramatically different from others in the fact that it is only ripe when it looks slightly overripe. That is, when it is just beginning to wrinkle like a raisin. Also, the texture is unique in that it is not really juicy, but more fig-like...." [See link below for source of quotes.]

      For eating, the fruit to seed ratio presents a problem. A large central seed is best removed in bulk by gently simmering them in a little water for 30-60 minutes and then running them through a food mill while still hot. The seeds are separated and the harvest becomes "the distinctive puree of Nannyberry: a thick, black creamy pudding." This need not be done to make nannyberry wine, but it would certainly make the yeast's job a lot easier.

      Nannyberry wine in secondary

      The recipe for the southern nannyberry or southern blackhaw is posted elsewhere on my site (see link following this day's entry). I had assumed the recipe for the northern nannyberry, the Virburnum lentago, was the same, but it is not. I offer here a different recipe, with apologies to the reader who wrote me requesting it.

      A note of warning here: this wine should be fermented with a wrapping around the carboy or in a dark closet. The photo at the right shows that fermenting and aging in ambient room light degrades the color from deep reddish-purple to a dull red, but the flavor was not affected as far as I could determine. I live and learn and report it here so you can avoid my mistakes.

      • 3 1/2 lbs ripe nannyberries, destemmed
      • 1 lb 12 oz finely granulated sugar
      • 7 pts water
      • 1 1/2 tsp acid blend
      • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
      • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
      • 1 pkt Red Star Pasteur Red or Lalvin RC212 wine yeast

      Destem and wash the berries, then place them in a pot with 1 quart water, bring to a simmer and maintain for 45 minutes. Place a ricer or metal colander over a large bowl and mash the fruit, working the cooking water and pulp through the ricer/colander. Discard seeds. Retain water and pulp and, while still hot, stir sugar into it until completely dissolved. Transfer to primary, add remaining water, acid blend, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. Stir briefly, cover with sanitized cloth and set aside for 12 hours. Add activated yeast in a starter solution, re-cover the primary and stir daily for 7 days. Strain through muslin into secondary, squeezing muslin to extract all juice. Do not top up. Attach airlock and ferment 30 days in a dark place.

      Rack into clean secondary, stir in a finely crushed Campden tablet , top up, reattach airlock and set aside in dark place. Rack again in 45 days and again after an additional 45 days, stirring in another finely crushed Campden tablet and 1/2 teaspoon potassium sorbate during this racking. Wait 30 days and carefully rack into bottles. Cellar at least 3 months in darkness before tasting, but should improve greatly at 12 months. [Jack Keller's own recipe]

      Chicken Recipe With A Spicy Tang

      Boneless, skinless, mustard chicken thighs

      One of my father's favorite dishes is mustard chicken. I've made it many times, many ways, having adopted my father's love for it after making it just once. There are scores of ways to prepare a dish that fits the name, but I like to create my own. This one would win a prize if I knew where to enter it.

      First a word about mustard. There are mustards and there are culinary mustards. In America mustard is that bright yellow stuff most people use to adorn a hot dog or sandwich but is just not well suited for incorporating into a cooked dish. Mustard is also that brownish stuff that tastes more refined -- i>Grey Poupon is one of the better known brown mustards that cooks well. For sandwiches and burgers I have always preferred a brown honey mustard, but for cooking I preferred brown mustards with some fire in them -- mustard with chipotle is nice, but mustard with horseradish is better. But for a spicy mustard, the mustard I used here is now my standard.

      Based on a recommendation, I tried Colman's Original English Prepared Mustard for this dish with a certain skepticism. It isn't bright yellow, but still more yellow than brown. My recipe below changed my impression, for this is a true, spicy culinary mustard and this dish is the proof.

      Colman has been making their Original English Prepared Mustard for nearly 200 years. It is made from a blend of brown (Brassica Juncea) and white (Sinapis Alba) mustard seeds grown locally near the Carrow factory at Norwich, England. Don't make this dish with any other mustard! Trust me on that.

      Jack Keller's Mustard Chicken Thighs

      • 8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
      • 2/3 cup Colman's Original English Prepared Mustard (no substitution)
      • 3/4 cup Panko style bread crumbs (any brand, but no substitution)
      • 5 tablespoons butter, melted
      • 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
      • 2 1/2 tablespoons water
      • 2 teaspoons onion powder
      • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
      • hot paprika to taste (or mild, if you prefer)

      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a non-stick oil in a 1 1/2 or 2-quart baking dish.

      Brush the chicken thighs on all sides with the Colman's mustard. Place the Panko bread crumbs in a shallow dish and press the chicken thighs into the crumbs and turn to evenly coat all sides. Arrange the chicken thighs in the sprayed baking dish, smooth side (where the skin was removed) up. The chicken will exude a lot of water, chicken juices and some fat while cooking -- from the cut (deboned) side.

      In a bowl, mix the remainder of the mustard, melted butted, lemon juice, water, onion powder and garlic powder. Dribble about one tablespoon of this mixture over each chicken thigh and pour the remainder around and between the thighs.

      Cover the baking dish and bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven. Uncover, sprinkle the paprika over each thigh and continue baking, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

      In the South, mustard chicken is traditionally served with rice. After the chicken thighs are placed on serving plates and a side of rice added, quickly stir the drippings and residual mustard mixture, pour into a gravy boat and use to lightly dribble over the rice. Any vegetable side will complete the meal but green beans, buttered broccoli, okra, or cooked (but not overcooked) carrots are good choices. I paired this with a Kumquat Wine my friends in Tennessee sent me. It was the right choice.

      December 24th, 2012

      I started this entry over a week ago, but suffered a lower back injury that, while minor, nonetheless was painful and prohibited me from sitting or standing for more than a few minutes. A constant diet of muscle relaxers and pain suppressors -- and time -- finally did the trick. It's great to be able to finish it in time to say Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah (a bit late) to all.

      It was nice to survive the end of the Mayan calendar. As I said to my wife last week, I think the whole great Mayan calendar of cycles simply starts over again. Why a simple alignment of only some of the planets with the center of our galaxy should somehow create a doomsday scenario has defied logic ever since I first became aware of it. Just a cursory knowledge of the calendar made it obvious to me that it would simply start over. It is, after all, a calendar of cycles, so why should it not also be cyclic. But that conclusion wouldn't sell any books, so it wasn't very popular among the spooky set who seem obsessed with finding doom and gloom everywhere, no matter how improbable. Every single day I find reason to wish logic were a required course in high school and college, regardless of one's major.

      So here (lifts glass) is to the recycling of the Mayan calendar, the celebration of the rededication of the second temple of Jerusalem, the celebration of the birth of Christ, the ending of 2012, and the ushering in of the year of financial uncertainty and more political bickering. We can always depend on politicians to avoid making the tough decisions they were elected to make while spending ever more money they don't have. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage ought to be required annual reading for every member of both houses of Congress and the President. What a collective bunch of spineless wimps! Cheers...!

      The Orion Nebula in Orion's Sword, photo courtesy of NASA/ESA

      A couple of weeks ago I was setting up my telescope in the back yard for a little winter sky star gazing when a very bright, steady light traversed the sky at a heady speed. I knew instantly it was the International Space Station as I had observed it many times when its passage was foretold on the news.

      In due course I set my sights on my second favorite celestial sight, the spectacular Orion Nebula. Visible with the naked eye for those with normal far vision and with even the cheapest pair of binoculars for anyone willing to seek it out, it is a delight to see through the telescope. Certainly not as spectacular as the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image on the right, it is nevertheless colorful and alluring. Estimated to be approximately 24 light years across, it is the closest region of massive star formation to earth, about 1,600 light years distant.

      Over 150 protoplanetary disks have been discovered thus far in the Orion Nebula. These are clouds of hydrogen and other elements broadcast by former stars that long ago exploded that remains in gravitational orbit around newly formed stars and possess the potential of condensing into planets. These are too far away to be resolved by earth-based telescopes but are visible to the HST.

      While we amateurs are drawn to the Orion Nebula in Orion's sword, it is but one of several observable nebula in the Orion Molecular Cloud, a massive nebula of which the nebula in the sword is but a bright portion. Other distinctive portions generally considered by the uninformed to be separate nebula are Barnard's Loop, the Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, and M78, the latter a huge reflection nebula illuminated by two stars of 10th magnitude brightness.

      My favorite celestial object to view in my telescope is the Andromeda Galaxy, also visible with the naked eye and any pair of binoculars. Visible in the Autumn sky opposite the Big Dipper on the other side of the North Star, Andromeda lies below and to the right of Cassiopeia when viewed as a "W". While only visible to the naked eye as a small smudge, that smudge is actually the central cluster of the massive galaxy. The entire galaxy, if it could be discerned with the naked eye, is 6 x the diameter of our moon when full! It is 100,000 light years across, contains about 400 billion stars, and is 2 million light years away from us. However, our two galaxies are moving toward each other and will collide in about 4 1/2 billion years.

      The beauty of the Andromeda Galaxy is that you can clearly see its spiral disk with even a modest telescope such as I own.

      A Different Kind of Fermentation

      Commercial kombucha, three with flavors

      Although I have long heard of kombucha as a healthy drink, I had no working knowledge of its production. Two months ago a fellow mentioned he made kombucha and drank it daily, so I tapped him for knowledge. I quickly realized it is easy to produce. All one needs is a mother culture and a cup or so of the fermented drink, just as all one needs to begin making sourdough products is a little starter culture.

      Kombucha, the drink, is produced by fermenting a sweet tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The yeast transform the sugar in the tea into alcohol and the bacteria convert the alcohol into acetic acid. The bacteria can contain several species, but will always contain Gluconacetobacter xylinus (formerly known as Acetobacter xylinum). The culture grows a cap on top of the batch called a mushroom, mother or SCOBY (stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It can grow from 1/4 to 3/4 inch in thickness, depending on diameter and time it took to grow it. The greater the time, the greater the thickness. You can see the mushroom in the photo below.

      The drink of often made effervescent by bottling it before fermentation is complete and forcing the carbon dioxide byproduct into the liquid. I choose not to make it that way, preferring it noncarbonated. But the drink itself contains "... a sea of health giving organic acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and nutrients. It also contains healthy bacteria in the form of Lactobacillus Acidophilus, as well as a dozen other probiotic strains.

      Based on the above, there are several health claims assigned to the drink. One source claims, "Some of the benefits to drinking kombucha are that it improves digestion, boosts energy, improves circulation, prevents acid reflux, improves sleep, and it boosts the immune system." Such claims (and more) are common, but the principle benefits seem to me to be that it detoxifies the body and promotes more thorough digestion. I have done substantial reading on the subject and have found little peer-reviewed scientific evidence for these claims, although it does seem to do both, but especially assists in detoxifying the body.

      The evidence for the latter is complex and I shall not attempt to do more than generally summarize it here. It appears that glucaric acid in the drink acts upon certain extreants from the liver to break these down into nondigestible constituents that are then expelled from the body. In this way it appears to improve the efficiency of the liver. While this is beneficial for all of us, there are potential side effects from kombucha itself for very small segments of the population. These are varied and rare, but that is no comfort if one is affected. To read more about both the benefits and side effects, read the Wikipedia article linked at the end of this day's entry and then refer to the references it cites.

      While I can find no absolute evidence that kombucha aids digestion, I must admit it seems to help my own digestive functions. This could be completely coincidental with a period of better than normal digestion or there could be a placebo effect at play, but for now I am content to think there may be some benefit from the kombucha itself.

      Brewing Kombucha

      Two batches of kombucha, one gallon and 1/2 gallon
      Photo at right: Two batches of kombucha in 1-gallon and 1/2-gallon fermentation jars, cover removed to show mushroom. Both vessels are on rubberized heating pad designed for kombucha production.

      Making a batch requires four things:

      A mushroom from a previous batch
      1/2 to 1 up of kombucha from a previous batch
      A quantity of freshly brewed tea, usually black tea but green is okay
      Approximately 1 cup of sugar per gallon of tea

      To begin making kombucha you need to obtain the first two items from another kombucha maker or from a vendor. The cultures (mushrooms) usually are about 51/2 to 6 inches in diameter because most gallon jars reduce to that diameter above their shoulder, but they can be any size. I use a gallon-size glass canister with a 7-inch inner diameter for my kombucha fermentation and began my first batch with a 5 3/4-inch culture, but a new mushroom formed over it and was 7 inches in diameter.

      First you brew a strong tea. As I said before, black or green teas are preferred, but not blends containing substances with natural oils in them -- Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey are two to avoid. Tea bags make the process easier to manage (6-8 bags per gallon) but you can use loose tea (2 tablespoons per gallon) and strain the leaves out afterwards. After the bags/leaves have been removed, add sugar at the ratio of 1 cup per gallon and stir it until dissolved. Cover the pot of tea and allow it to cool to room temperature.

      In a fermentation jar, which should be glass, ceramic or inner-glazed earthenware, place a fresh culture (mushroom) and 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh kombucha. When the tea is fully cooled, pour the sweetened tea over the mushroom. The mushroom may sink or float; it makes no difference. Cover the mouth of the jar with a closely woven cloth held by a rubber band and place the jar in a warm place.

      In 2-3 days the new mushroom will have covered the surface as a thin layer, but it will grow fairly quickly. Smell the covering cloth after about a week. You should smell acetic acid as vinegar. Remove the cover and slip a straw past the edge of the new mushroom to a depth of 2 inches and take a sip. If it is sweet, replace the cover and wait. Taste it daily. It will become more acidic each day and at some point will taste "right" to you. This assumes you have tasted kombucha before. If you haven't, call your local Whole Foods or other such market and ask if they have it. I've found it in four large markets in San Antonio. Buy a bottle and drink it. It will be acidic. It will probably be effervescent. It may be flavored. But it at the vey least it will taste like kombucha.

      Mine tend to taste right to me around the 10th or 11th day. At that point I slip a short racking cane (with tubing attached to the outer end) between the mushroom and the glass and siphon the new kombucha into glass bottles with screwcaps. I leave behind about a cup or two of liquid with the mother culture. When bottling is done, I lift the mushroom and remove the old one used to start this batch. It usually is stuck to the bottom of the new one, so I peel them apart and remove the old one.

      The divided cultures can each be used to start a new batch of kombucha or the old culture can be given to a friend with some of the tea as a starter for his or her kombucha. I have heard that the old culture can be cut up into strips or cubes and cooked into soups, stews or other dishes like tofu and consumed. I have never tried this, but have placed them in a blender with some water and made it into a slush which I pour over my compost pile. The new kombucha culture is retained in the tea until a new batch needs to be started in a few days.

      The bottled kombucha can be kept at room temperature or refrigerated. If left out, you can expect it to continue fermenting in the bottle and will become effervescent. If you do this, just be sure the bottles can withstand a little internal pressure without exploding. I refrigerate mine and drink it cold. Refrigerating it prevents it from continuing to ferment.

      Plain kombucha tastes like acidic tea. The taste is easily acquired and not at all unpleasant, but with my second batch I began experimenting with adding other flavors to it. A couple of thin slices of ginger root added to the brewing tea and removed when the tea bags are removed produced a pleasant gingery flavor. Similarly, a cinnamon stick takes the flavor in another direction. I have not tried vanilla beans but could. But I have crushed and strained some store-bought blackberries and added the juice to the kombucha as it is bottled. This sweetens the kombucha slightly while flavoring the drink.

      As with winemaking, the making of kombucha should be done in a clean, sanitize environment using sanitized equipment, fermentation vessels and bottles. If bottles are left at room temperature or a batch is fermented at too cold, it is possible for mold to grow on its surface and spoil it. However, once it starts becoming acidic it is usually protected against spoilage by the acetic acid. I have never experienced spoilage yet. To ensure a warm fermentation environment I place my working batch on a rubberized heating pad designed for kombucha production.

      Kombucha can be consumed at any time, but I drink mine with or just after a meal. If there are in fact digestive benefits to kombucha, this seems the most reasonable way of obtaining them.

      There are dozens of sources online for obtaining kombucha mushrooms and enough fresh kombucha to start a batch. I obtained the heating pad from one of the sources when I purchased my starter culture.

      Bread Pudding with Frangelico Sauce

      Bread pudding with bourbon sauce

      Back in April 2010 my wife, son and granddaughter vacationed on Galveston Island after my retirement and ate shrimp platters and other repasts at Bistro LaCroy on the Strand. After the meal, owner Tommie LaCroy served us a bread pudding which he claimed would be the best bread pudding we had ever eaten or it would be on him. Well, it was indeed the best bread pudding any of us had ever eaten and I gladly paid the bill. I have been trying ever since, without success, to make a bread pudding that held a candle to it. Well, I have come close.

      Any bread pudding aficionado will tell you that it is the sauce that makes it or breaks it. This belief is only 75% true. Tommie's bread budding, which is made from a secret family recipe, is fantastic in itself. The sauce simply makes it exceptionally decadent.

      I have given up trying to duplicate the LaCroy bread pudding, even though Tommie's cousin and Bistro LaCroy co-proprietor Barbara Davis shared a few secrets about it with us. I am convinced minor details were left out that make a difference -- the particular brands of key ingredients perhaps, or the particular bread used. And she simply clued us in on certain ingredients, not their proportions. Since I now realize I cannot duplicate LaCroy's fabulous bread pudding, I am instead trying to make a bread pudding that makes a statement in its own right.

      My latest attempt took liberties Tommie LaCroy did not, adding Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur to both the bread pudding and the sauce. It gives it a complex flavor my previous attempts lacked. I also used a different sugar that, I am convinced, also adds a little je ne sais quoi to the result. Finally, and this is very important, I used golden raisins soaked overnight at room temperature in enough Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum to cover the raisins with another 1/2 inch of the rum above them. Take a look....


      • 6 cups Italian bread cut into 1/2-inch cubes, crust on
      • 1/2 cup golden raisins soaked overnight in Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum (divided) (any spiced rum will do, but Sailor Jerry's is exceptional)
      • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
      • 3 tablespoons Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur
      • 2/3 cup Zulka brand Morena Pure Cane Sugar
      • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
      • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
      • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace
      • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
      • 3 jumbo or 4 large eggs, beaten lightly and strained through wire mesh


      • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed (crumble finely before using)
      • 1/4 cup pecan pieces, chopped small
      • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

      Frangelico Sauce:

      • 2/3 cup Zulka brand Morena Pure Cane Sugar
      • 1/3 cup light Karo Corn Syrup
      • 5 tablespoons butter
      • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
      • 1/3 cup Frangelico Original Hazelnut Liqueur

      Optional (see Note):

      • Hershey's Caranmel Syrup

      On the night before making the pudding, measure the raisins, place in a lidded container, and cover with Sailor Jerry's Spiced Rum to 1/2 inch above raisins. Place lid on container and set aside unrefrigerated until needed the next day. Before using, drain the raisins over a bowl to retain the rum. Transfer rum to a glass and set aside.

      In a bowl large enough to hold all of the pudding ingredients (2-quart is minimal, 2 1/2-quart about right), combine the milk, Frangelico, Zulka Morena sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, sea salt, and beaten eggs and stir well with a whisk. Add the bread in stages, tossing to coat as you go. When the bread is all in, add half the raisins and continue tossing to mix in. Spoon the mixture into a greased (I use butter-flavored Crisco) 11-inch x 7-inch baking dish. Distribute remaining raisins evenly over mixture, pressing each one between pieces of the bread. Cover the baking dish with foil and refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

      Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the pudding, foil covered, for 20 minutes. Remove, uncover and sprinkle pecan pieces and brown sugar evenly over the top. Lightly dust the top with cinnamon (using a clean salt shaker to distribute the cinnamon works very well). Return to oven uncovered and bake an additional 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside on cooling rack.

      While baking the final 12-15 minutes, prepare the sauce. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla in a small saucepan and set on medium heat. Stir constantly while bringing to a simmer, holding simmer for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the Frangelico Liqueur. Transfer to a serving bowl equipped with a gravy ladle. Ladle sauce generously over each serving of warm bread pudding.

      If you want a stiffer sauce, you can add 1 small egg, beaten, into the corn syrup before combining for the simmer.

      Note: For a truly decadent bread pudding, very lightly dribble Hershey's Caramel Syrup over the bead pudding before ladling the Frangelico sauce over each serving piece. By lightly, I mean a thin dribble making an "S" pattern over a square or double "S" over a rectangular serving. The caramel need not be heated as the pudding and sauce will both transfer their heat.

      I swear, short of visiting Bistro LaCroy on the Strand in Galveston, bread pudding doesn't get much better than this.

      For earlier entries, see archives (left column)

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