Blog entries are generally presented in reverse chronological order, with earlier entries at the bottom and recent ones at the top so the newer can be read first. An archive is more useful if the entries are presented chronologically. I have thus rearranged them as such.
January 21st, 2006
A belated Happy New Year and Hello to all. The holidays were very good to us and we
hope they were to you, too.
I recently decided to make a banana wine from a recipe sent to me by Jason Killingsworth,
using dried banana chips. Here is the recipe:
- 10 oz. Dried bananas
- 1 can concentrated Niagara grape juice (orange is not a substitute in this case)
- 1 gallon warm water (warm enough to bring concentrate to room temp)
- 2 lbs sugar (this will vary, SG should be 1.093-1.095)
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1/2 level teaspoon yeast nutrient
- 3 level teaspoons acid blend
- 1 packet Montrachet yeast
Put banana chips into a straining bag and mix all ingredients except yeast into primary.
When must is room temperature sprinkle yeast gently over the must. After a "cap" forms, stir
must daily for 5-7 days. If possible, strain must into secondary and wait 3 weeks, Siphon,
top up and fit airlock and repeat and in another 3 months siphon into another secondary or
bottling bucket. The FG should be 0.995 or lower and no stabilizer required. Bottle and age
at least 10 months. Aged, this is a wonderful table wine that will go well with any non-spicy
chicken, fish or even bar-b-q. [Recipe from Jason Killingsworth]
How Things Go Wrong
I bought a bag of banana chips at a local supermarket. I checked the label and it said
they were 100% dehydrated banana chips "atomized in sulfur dioxide as a preservative." I
brought them home but neglected to tell my wife they were for wine, so she opened the bag and
ate a few. I decided it would be easy enough to buy more, so let her have the first bag.
It was perhaps a week before I returned to the market and bought another bag. The chips
were in the same location in the store as the previous bag, but the package's label was just
a little different in shape. Still, the chips looked the same. I brought them home and
started the wine. Because I was out of Montrachet yeast, I used Gervin's No. 2 (French Strain)
and made a starter solution, which I added to the must after it was at 72 degrees F. The next
morning I noticed small globules the color of butter floating on the surface of the must.
Indeed, they felt like butter when rubbed between thumb and fingers. I dug through the trash
and dug out the bag the bananas had come in. The label indicated two additional ingredients --
honey and soy oil.
For five days, twice a day, I skimmed a teaspoon or so of soy oil off the surface of the must.
It congealed on and inside the nylon straining bag, stuck to the sides of the primary, and in
general looked unsightly, but it really caused no harm to the must. I strained it through a
0.075 (millimeter) mesh screen and continued fermenting the must. It has been two weeks and
I think it is doing fine.
The lesson, for those who have not inferred it, is to always read the ingredients on the label.
As much as I preach this, it is embarrassing to admit that this time I failed to do so. I assumed
the ingredients were the same as the first package. That was a mistake, but not a fatal one.
Mint Jelly and Wine
When Oscar Gonzalez asked for a recipe for mint jelly wine, I posted the recipe I had worked
out some years earlier. But Brian Ryan wrote from Australia asking for a recipe for mint jelly,
- 4 cups apple juice
- 1 (2 1/2 oz.) pkg. powdered fruit pectin
- 2 tbsp. dry mint leaves, crushed
- 8 drops green food color
- 5 cups sugar
In large saucepan or kettle, combine apple juice, fruit pectin, crushed dry mint and green food
color (leave the food coloring out if making this for wine). Cook and stir over high heat until
mixture comes to full rolling boil. Stir in sugar immediately. Bring to full rolling boil again;
boil hard for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim foam and strain out mint
leaves. Pour into hot scalded jars. Seal. Makes 7 half pints.
Mint Jelly Wine
- 3 lbs mint jelly
- 6 pts water
- 12 oz sugar
- 10.5 oz can Welch's 100% White Grape Juice frozen concentrate
- 2 tsp acid blend
- 2-1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
- 1/8 tsp tannin
- 1 tsp nutrient
- 1 crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- 1 pkg Montrachet yeast
Dissolve jelly in room temperature water with pectic enzyme and thawed grape concentrate in primary.
Cover and set aside 12 hours. Stir in all remaining ingredients except yeast, recover primary, and set
aside another 12 hours. Use hydrometer to ensure specific gravity is at or around 1.090. Add activated
yeast starter and recover primary. When vigorous fermentation subsides, rack to secondary, top up if
required, and attach airlock. Rack again after 6 weeks and again after 4 weeks. This is a dry wine. If
you desire it sweet, stabilize at second racking and sweeten at third racking. Whether sweet or dry,
age 8 additional weeks and bottle. [Author's own recipe.]
I have made jelly using the recipe above, and I have made wine from commercial mint jelly, but I
have not made wine from the jelly produced by the jelly recipe above. Still, it should work.
February 5th, 2006
This morning I made my wife a simple omelette of eggs, finely minced onions, cheese, and
Herbs de Provence. It was the last ingredient(s) that led to this WineBlog entry.
"Herbs de Provence" is a blend of anywhere from 5 to 14 herbs. About a year ago, I
found a wonderfully inviting lamb chops recipe calling for this blend. I spent something
like $15 for an ounce of the blend. The lamb chops used about 1/4 teaspoon. I've been
trying my best to use them ever since. Ergo, I thought I'd try them in her omelette.
When my wife asked what I put in the omelette, I told her. This led to the inevitable,
"What's Herbs de Provence?" I went and got the container from the spice shelf and read her
the contents, then handed her the jar. She read the label and noticed the jar was almost
empty. "What have you been using them in?"
I smiled. "Mead."
Last August I decided I was never going to use all of these herbs. We just don't eat
that much lamb, and although the herbs go well in various fish, seafood and fowl dishes, and
on salads, pizza, broiled tomatoes, grilled zucchinis and peppers, ratatouille, pasta with
mushrooms, and even basted with butter on porterhouse steak just before coming off the grill,
I simply forget to use them on the rare occasions I do the cooking. So, I decided to use
them in a Metheglin.
True Metheglin is a spiced sack mead, meaning it is on the sweetish side. When I decided
to make one using Herbs de Provence, I reduced the honey from 4 pounds per gallon to 3 1/2
pounds. I did this because that is the amount of honey I had on hand. After tasting the
final product at bottling time, I think this was the right move. I don't think it would have
been as enjoyable if much sweeter.
Herbs de Provence Metheglin
Makes 1 Gallon
- 3 1/2 lbs Orange Blossom Honey
- 3/4 oz. Herbs de Provence
- warm water to one gallon
- 1 level teaspoon mead yeast nutrient or wine yeast nutrient
- 2 level teaspoons acid blend
- 1/8 tsp grape tannin
- White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead or Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast
Tie herbs in piece of nylon with sanitized glass marble and toss into primary. Add honey
to warm water and stir until dissolved. Add nutrient and acid blend and stir some more.
Sprinkle grape tannin on bottom of primary and pour honey/water in primary. Cover primary
and allow water to cool to room temperature. Add yeast in an activated starter solution and
cover primary with sanitized cloth. Stir twice daily until specific gravity drops to 1.030.
Remove bag of herbs and transfer to one-gallon secondary. Top up if needed and affix airlock.
Wait until fermentation stops, rack, top up, and fit airlock. Repeat and two months. Mead
should be clear, but if not wait another two months and rack again. Stabilize with potassium
sorbate and finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wait 30 days and bottle. Age at
least six months. Longer is probably better. Flavor is complex. [Author's own recipe]
New and Old Blends
The other day I discovered 1.5 liters of a Muscadine wine I had made back in 1999. While
it still tasted fine, its color had deteriorated and its nose was nondescript. I was about to
set it aside for making into wine jelly when I remembered two opened bottles -- Mustang grape
and Elderberry. Both are strongly flavored wines, so I decided to try a little blending. I
was prepared to make up 5-10 blended samples, but as luck would have it my very first blend
was so good I doubted I could improve upon it. The final blend was 75% Muscadine, 15% Mustang,
and 10% Elderberry. The two blending wines resurrected the color to a nice red and also
dominate the wine's nose. The yield was only two full 750 mL and one 375 mL bottles (with a
glass left over for the blender), but the self-reward of saving the Muscadine as a drink rather
than a jelly was enormous.
The experience also reinforced what I've said so many times in the past -- blended wines are
very often much better than the individual wines that contribute to the blend.
Lord Corwin of Darkwater reminds us, "When Henry of Anjou married Eleanor of Aquitaine in
1152, he also acquired Gascony (Bordeaux). Two years later, when he became King of England,
England acquired Gascony, and with it, all of the vineyards of Bordeaux for the next 300 years.
The palates of the English would never be the same." The light red wine of Bordeaux, what the
French called clairet, was shipped to England by the tonne (today, we say "ton," but a
tonne was a 252-gallon cask with 250 gallons of wine in it, the wine weighing exactly 2,000
pounds). The English simplified the spelling of this wine to "Claret," which is a blend of
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with small amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot, St.
Macaire, Gros Verdot, or Carmenere. Actually, any two of the first three wines blended with any
one of the last five is considered to be Claret, although some folks believe you need all of the
first three to call it Claret. Regardless, there must be more English blood in me than my parents
admit because I love this stuff. I was most happy a dozen years ago to see American wineries
start blending Claret, but I wasn't happy with their prices. I can buy very decent French claret
for $8-$10 a bottle, so there is no reason to pay $35-$100 a bottle for California claret.
Blended red wines similar to those of Bordeaux are also known in America as "Meritage," a made-
up name contracting "merit" and "heritage" -- the name is "owned" by the Meritage Association. In
rules established by the Association, "A red Meritage is made from a blend of two or more of the
following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, St. Macaire,
Gros Verdot, and Carmenere. No single variety may make up more than 90 percent of the blend."
While this does not really make a Claret, it's close.
February 18th, 2006
I was recently asked how to "rescue" a wine that had oxidized. My WineBlog entry of October
19th, 2005 gave one solution to this problem -- make a sherry, Madeira or Marsala type wine with
it. Of course, there are other possibilities.
Wines oxidize for any of several reasons. The juice or concentrate used to make the wine may
have been oxidized before the wine was made (the first kit wine I ever bought contained an oxidized
Chardonnay concentrate). This, of course, is completely beyond the winemaker's control. Then
there are juices that simply oxidize quickly, such as apple juice. But here, the winemaker can act
to slow the process down.
Simply adding sulfites (SO2) to the must is not enough to combat oxidation. The dosage is
determined by the pH of the must. The higher the pH, the more SO2 is required to protect the wine.
The classic discussion of this is at the first link at the end of this entry. The winemaker is
entirely responsible for sulfite additions, calculations and measurements.
Finally, the must can be oxidized by accidental, careless or negligent means. I have had airlocks
knocked loose of their carboys by carried articles, by my pet dog, and by visitors. These are
accidents. I have also had bungs lose their seal -- especially the so-called "universal" bungs
which the manufacturers claim will seal almost any jug, carboy or demijohn. While their failure is
blameless the first time it occurs, using one after one failed is just plain carelessness on the part
of the winemaker. Similarly, failing to wipe the inside of the mouth of a secondary after adding dry
additives directly is also carelessness. A single gain if yeast nutrient, acid blend or potassium
sorbate will prevent the bung from sealing. And it can only be considered negligence when the
winemaker allows the water seal in an airlock to go dry, allowing air to pass uninhibited into the
But when a wine oxidizes, you can remove some -- but not all -- of the oxidase from the wine. An
oxidase is any of the enzymes that catalyze biological oxidation either directly or indirectly. These
enzymes may be an oxidoreductase, oxygenase or peroxidase. Whichever, you can remove some of the
enzyme responsible for the oxidation.
First, correct the wine's SO2 level commensurate with its pH. Then measure 1/2 gram of non-fat
powdered milk per liter of wine and dissolve this in 5 mL of cold water per liter. In other words,
to treat 5 U.S. gallons of wine (approximately 19 liters), you would dissolve 9.5 grams of powdered
skim-milk in 95 mL of cold water. This would be added to the wine while stirring the wine vigorously.
The wine may foam, but will soon stop doing so. The reconstituted skim-milk solution must be thoroughly
integrated into the wine or it will accomplish nothing. After it is added and integrated, small brown
curds will develop in the wine but will eventually settle as lees.
In a previous entry here (June 25, 2003) I noted that Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP) can
remove some of the taste (but not the odor) of oxidation. Similarly, Polyclar Ultra K-100 and
Polylact are products that combines casein with PVPP for tackling browning problems.
About three days after adding the reconstituted skim-milk solution, rack the wine carefully off the
oxidase-laden curds into a clean secondary. You may want to tie a piece of fine, sanitized nylon over
the intake end of the racking hose (or racking cane, if you use one) to prevent the small curds from
being siphoned into the clean secondary. While racking the wine, add the required amount of PVPP,
Polyclar Ultra K-100, Polylact, or another fining agent of choice such as Bentonite
to the transferred wine (the clean secondary), Allow this to settle under airlock for about 10 days,
then rack again. The wine will be greatly improved, but not as good as if it had not oxidized at all.
February 25th, 2006
The WineBlog has changed. It was previously located on the server of Homebrew Adventures of
Charlotte, North Carolina. That business was sold sometime between February 5th and 18th. After
my entry for February 18th was submitted, I received no response from the new management. I
waited a week, then decided to take the blog to my own site to guarantee it's survival.
The WineBlog may remain at Homebrew Adventures. I have not yet decided what to do with it.
But since I have poured a lot of time into it, I want to at least preserve what has been written.
I retained the copyright when I originally agreed to do the Blog, so I have many options.
To speed up the loading of the more current entries, I have archived some of the older postings
to the WineBlog. The archived entries are linked in the navigation section to the left, beginning
with the oldest ones first.
March 9th, 2006
First things first. When I make a mistake or say something wrong, I want to correct it as
soon as possible. According to Peter F. May, author of "Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape:
Odd Wines from Around the World," I erred in my posting of February 5th, 2006, in my definition
According to Peter,
As an Englishman may I say that the definition of Claret is slightly different to
what you quote. Claret is a red wine from Bordeaux. Now French Appellation laws limit the grapes
that can grow in Bordeaux, but if it is red and comes from Bordeaux then it is Claret. Although
most clarets are blends, they can be single variety wines, such as Ch Petrus which is Merlot and
We--the British--had to fight hard with the European Union to continue to use the
name, but since we could produce evidence of 300 years of usage it is now a protected name in
the EU. In the past 300 years various grapes were grown in Bordeaux--although nowdays varieties
are limited by the Appellation laws -- they were Clarets. The important thing about the definition
of Claret is it is a red wine from Bordeaux. It doesn't matter which, how many or how few varieties
are in a blend. A blend of Cabernet/Merlot etc from anywhere else isn't Claret. Of course the name
is being mis-used by some wineries in the US, which is a shame as I think Meritage is a great name.
I thank Peter for his input and stand corrected.
Grape Juice Not Fermenting
A reader named Steve wrote me that he and his father bought some grape juice and added sugar,
wine yeast, and sealed it with an airlock. Nothing happened. After three days, they added more
yeast, but the only thing that happened is that mold grew on top of the juice. I wrote him back
essentially as follows:
Winemaking is a bit more involved than you thought, although normally what you did will work
to some degree of satisfaction. But why it didn't is the crux of it.
In truth, I don't know enough to say. You didn't say what kind of juice you used or how it was
packaged. If it was bottled or canned grape juice, it probably had a preservative such as sorbic acid
in it to keep it from fermenting and blowing up the bottle or can. In that case, you would NEVER
have gotten it started. With commercial products, you have to read the label.
But suppose it was fresh grape juice a friend pressed for you. In that case, it probably was
the yeast you used.
You can run down to the local homebrew shop and buy a packet of yeast today that is completely dead.
It might have been in that shop since 1997, or when he ordered it last year he didn't pay extra to have
it shipped in a refrigerated truck and so it burned up in a 120-degree cargo trailer on a hot August
day before it even got to him. We can't know for sure by looking at the yeast.
The way to know for sure if the yeast is viable is to make a yeast starter. You dissolve a teaspoon
of sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrients in a cup of lukewarm (90-95 degrees F.) water and sprinkle the
yeast on top. Then you wrap a paper towel over the top and put a rubber band on it to hold it in place
and keep dust and stuff out. You'll know within an hour if the yeast is any good. If it is, add a cup
of the grape juice to it and leave it overnight. The yeast population will double every two hours, so
when you add it to the juice it is like adding 4-6 packets of yeast. Just make sure the juice is the
same temperature as the starter. To do this, keep both in the kitchen overnight.
Had the juice been okay (no preservatives in it) and the yeast bad, the juice would easily have
survived three days without mold growing on it had Steve simply added sulfites (potassium metabisulfite
or Campden tablets) to the must.
While elemental sulfur and sulfites have been used since ancient times
to prepare vessels for storing wine, the practice was not widely used because their effect was simply not
understood until Anton van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria in the 17th century. Since then, the use of
sulfites in winemaking has been the greatest single advancement in winemaking. More on this another day.
March 12th, 2006
A reader from Louisiana discussed using my jalapeno wine recipe twice. He then notes, "When
the wine was done fermenting, clear and had been racked about 3 times it appeared to be done. I
tasted it... sweetened a little of course, and it was fantastic. I noticed when I sweetened it
though it fizzed somewhat. When I sweetened the gallons in quantity it was almost like a volcano."
This is not the first time I've discussed gas in wine. I suspect it won't be the last.
Toward the end of fermentation, when the time between bubbles in the airlock slows down to several
minutes, the wine tends to absorb some of the pressurized CO2 awaiting discharge through the airlock.
It can absorb a lot of CO2.
When yeast cells expell CO2 as waste, the gas is just a molecule or two. While it is buoyant and
wants to rises, it is easily trapped in the wine between the much larger molecules of wine constituents.
The large and small molecules are not bonded together. The gas molecules just sit there while the wine
is relatively still. It does not take much to dislodge them, but it usually takes something. If CO2
is being produced fast enough, other rising molecules will bump into the parked ones and their combined
buoyancy will knock them loose and they will rise. When you add crystallized sugar to the wine, it
falls through the matrix of molecules and knocks the CO2 molecules loose. As they begin floating upward,
they bump into each other and grow larger, rising faster and growing larger all the way up. One grain
of sugar can knock several hundred tiny bubbles loose. Several thousand grains of sugar causes a volcano
as millions of molecules are knocked loose all at once.
He needs to degas the wine. Stir it vigorously with a wooden dowel for several minutes. Then add
either crushed and dissolved Campden tablets (one per gallon) or potassium metabisulfite (one-quarter
teaspoon per five gallons). Wait an hour and degas again. Do this several times (until the CO2 stops
coming out of the wine). The sulfites added will create SO2 gas molecules which will park in the locations
formerly occupied by the CO2. Failure to add the sulfite will result in O2 (oxygen) molecules being
absorbed, and they will occupy the same spaces.
Wine Does Not Taste Like Fruit
Another reader named David wrote me that his pineapple wine, made from canned pineapple juice, did
not really taste like pineapple juice and this bothered him.
First, you have to understand that fermentation changes taste. Beer doesn't taste one bit like
malted grain and hops. Cabernet sauvignon wine doesn't taste anything like the grape juice it is made
from. Muscadines (of which Scuppernong is a variety) and Labruscas (such as Concord and Catawba) are
exceptions because they have very different organic chemicals in them. But in general, wines do not
taste like the juice from which they are made.
My advice for making pineapple wine includes three recipes, with the first method producing a wine
with the very best flavor. I know people who use artificial flavors in their wines. You can taste them.
The wine tastes like fruit juice, not wine. I do not recommend adding artificial flavorings to wine.
However, the principle of de gustibus non est disputandum still applies -- roughly, about taste
there can be no dispute. In other words, taste is a personal thing. If you like it (or don't), there
can be no dispute.
Another method of flavoring, called adding a "sweet reserve", is more involved but produces a naturally
flavorful wine. Some of the juice of the main ingredient (pineapple, in this case) is added to the
finished wine to both sweeten and flavor it. The added juice has to be crystal clear or it will simply
cloud up the wine. Pineapple juice is not clear, but if you put some in a bottle in the refrigerator and
leave it a while it will partially separate -- rack the clear stuff off and use it as a sweet reserve.
That which did not clear can be consumed as fruit juice.
The wine must be absolutely stable before adding a sweet reserve. If not, the wine will referment
and the corks or bottles will blow. Stability means time -- you can't rush it.
March 26th, 2006
A winemaker from Illinois made 5 gallons of wine from Langers All-Natural Pomegranate Juice. He
used 10 half-gallon bottles of Langers and one and a half quarts of Chablis juice. He added sugar,
pectic enzyme, Campden, yeast nutrient, etc., but the resulting wine tasted tart to him and he
questioned using 10 teaspoons of acid blend and 4 teaspoons of tannin. My reply follows.
For a 5-gallon batch, I think 10 teaspoons of acid blend and 4 teaspoons of tannin were just
too much. Both the pomegranate juice and the Chablis were probably close to being acid-balanced, and
pomegranate juice is fairly tannic to begin with (depending upon how it was extracted). But let's
discuss this a little.
I have not tasted Langers juice, but I have tasted several other commercial pomegranate juices and my
own juice heat-extracted from homegrown fruit. They all contain a fair amount of both malic and ellagic
acids and hydrolyzable tannins (especially punicalagin, at 1500-1900 mg/L), which combine to make
pomegranate juice a strong antioxidant drink. This has long been recognized in the health food industry.
I doubt much acid is actually needed to bring the juice up to wine standards.
In the absence of acid testing equipment (which is not expensive), the winemaker needs to develop the
ability to judge acidity by taste alone. If you cannot do the latter, then you really need to spend the
$7 to $10 on a test kit. This would, I think, have indicated that only a little acid was needed.
Tannin is the other component I think you over-added and the one most responsible for the "tart" taste
(acid is generally a "sour" taste). Rarely does any wine need more than 1/4 teaspoon of powdered grape
tannin per gallon -- often less. This wine received about 3 times what I would have added if the must
was really tannin deficient -- which it probably wasn't.
But we've all done something as bad or worse, but may not have had anyone to help us through it. In
this day and age, with forums, email and web sites to consult, that changes altogether. So what can you
do now to correct the problem(s)?
Removing tannin is fairly easy. Just use a positively charged fining agent such as gelatin, albumin,
casein, Isinglass, chitin (Chitosan), or Sparkolloid. But don't over-do it. Read the product's instructions
and adhere to them. Or, read on for another option.
Removing acid will be the problem. First of all, except for certain volatile acids, you don't really
remove it -- you simply buffer it or dilute it. Buffering can occur naturally (through aging) or quickly
(by treating the wine with a buffering agent).
If my thoughts on this are correct, it might take 30 years for aging alone to buffer this wine to an
acceptable level of acidity, which leaves adding a buffering agent or dilution. I don't really like
buffering a finished wine unless absolutely necessary, and with the amount you added it would take a lot
of buffer to correct the wine. I'd much rather dilute it.
If you can afford it, make an additional 5-gallon batch of this wine, but add no acid or tannin to the
must. When the wine is finished, blend the two wines. This does not mean mixing the two 5-gallon batches
together to create a 10-gallon batch. Rather, it means the old (first) batch will be blended into the new
(second) batch until the new wine balances (either by taste or measurement). I can't tell you how much of
the old might get folded into the new wine, but I doubt it will be more than half (if that much). You might
have to make another batch at a later date to use up what is left of the older batch -- or, you can blend
it with another fruit (or grape) wine.
Blending is done in small test quantities until a desired result is obtained, and then that ratio is
used to blend the larger amounts. See my article in WineMaker Magazine, Grape/Non-Grape Blending
for a more thorough discussion of the whys and hows of blending.
April 15th, 2006
A reader asked about gas in wine, noting he tried to degas with a drill but that didn't work. He also
pointed out that he followed the directions in my "Extended Instructions for Making Wines from Kits," which
has you remove a gallon of must from the batch when using a carboy for the primary. Later, when he poured
the reserved gallon into the carboy he got an eruption of foam that overflowed the carboy. Here is my
Understanding Gas in Wine
On a molecular level, wine contains a lot of empty space located between the molecules. Imagine you
could fill a room wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling with basketballs, which I will use as analogous to wine
molecules . Between the balls would be pockets of air. Suppose we then introduced a bunch of tennis
balls filled with helium into the room through vents in the floor, which I will use as analogous to CO2
molecules. The tennis balls, being lighter than the basketballs, would tend to rise, and in doing so many
of them would slowly lift and stir the basketballs. Although the tennis balls could rise, they could only
do so by slipping upwards from one air pocket to the next.
When lots and lots of tennis balls are being released into the room, the basketballs would churn around
quite actively and the tennis balls would rise quickly. As fewer and fewer tennis balls were introduced,
the basketballs would have less and less lift exerted against them and would move less and less. At some
point in time, the basketballs would barely be moving at all and any given tennis ball would find it more
and more difficult to rise from one air space to the next. And, if the air pocket immediately above a
tennis ball were occupied with another tennis ball, the lower one could not move upward until the one above
it did too. It would get stuck where it was and tennis balls below it could not rise past it. In time,
most of the tennis balls would find themselves trapped in the pockets between the still basketballs.
Now suppose you could pick up this room full of basketballs and dump it into a gymnasium almost filled
with basketballs and also with a lot of trapped tennis balls. Suppose the ceiling of the gym sloped upward
and inward like an upside-down funnel and opened at the top into a chimney, and that this entire space were
filled with basketballs almost up to the chimney itself. The falling basketballs from the room would impact
the basketballs in the gym and momentarily stir them all together. The trapped tennis balls would rise
where the basketballs were stirred. The tennis balls would all move upward and inward toward the chimney.
As more and more of them rose, they would lift the basketballs above them just a bit more, allowing more
room for them to rise through. If the rush of tennis balls were great enough, a few basketballs would get
pushed up the chimney by the increased number of rising tennis balls. Once outside the chimney, the heavy
basketballs would slide down the roof of the gym and land on the ground around it.
This is very much like what goes on in your wine. When adding back the reserve, you stir the wine
molecules and allow any trapped CO2 molecules to rise. The difference between the wine and the gymnasium
is that as the CO2 molecules rise, they bump into one another and combine into larger molecules, which in
turn rise faster and bump into and combine with others. In doing so they become very much larger than the
wine molecules. As the bubbles of CO2 rush upward past the surface of the wine, they can (and do) carry a
few molecules of wine with them on the surface of the bubbles themselves. These molecules are stripped off
by the liquid in the airlock, but so many of them are caught in the turbidity of the moment that the airlock
fills up with them and overflows.
This effect can be reduced by pouring the reserve slowly into the carboy and waiting for any rush of
bubbles to subside before pouring more.
Using the analogy above, once all (or most) of the tennis balls were out of the gym, the spaces between
the basketballs would be empty. But in this gymnasium, air pockets like to be filled. If you lifted the
top off the gym to look inside, handballs (analogous to oxygen molecules) would rush in through the opening
and start filling as many of the empty spaces as they could, and in the process would cause harm to the
basketballs (cause oxidation).
But suppose when you lifted the top you poured a bunch of duffle bags containing helium-filled
racquetballs (analogous to potassium metabisulfite crystals containing SO2 molecules) into the gym. As the
duffle bags sank through the basketballs their contents spilled out. Being lighter than the basketballs,
the racquetballs stop falling and start rising. The rising racquetballs rise the same way the tennis balls
did, from air space to air space. But the basketballs are pretty still now, so the racquetballs largely get
trapped in the air spaces on their way up.
Now when you lift the top to look in, handballs rush in but don't find many spaces not filled with
racquetballs. Because of this, the handballs don't penetrate the wine or cause it nearly as much harm as
they would have if the racquetballs weren't already there.
I hope this helps one to better understand the process.
April 23rd, 2006
A reader from Michigan wrote about having tried some commercial raspberry wines made with 100% raspberry
juice. He asked, "Do you have a recipe for making a raspberry dessert wine? How about one with 100%
raspberry juice? To me it seems like it would be very hard to control the acid." I replied that I had such
a recipe at home and would post it here, but after searching dutifully I realized my "100% raspberry" wine
was really only 65% raspberry.
One can easily get confused when trying to recall a past wine, which is why it is always prudent to keep
a wine log or journal. I stress this on my website and recounted a brief history of this wine in my log
entry for it.
Engineering a Raspberry Dessert Wine
In 2001 my wife and I went to Buffalo, New York for an annual meet of the Pierce-Arrow Society. After the
meet we spent several days touring the area between Buffalo and Pennsylvania and Buffalo and the Finger Lakes.
We visited many wineries and one, in northwestern New York, served us both blueberry and red raspberry wines
that were...well...exceptional. Talking to the winemaker, I was told they are made with "pure juice." I have
had experience with commercial "pure juice" wines (Poteet Country Winery makes "pure juice" strawberry and
blackberry wines, and I know they have to add water to cut the acidity), so I said, "But you ameliorate for
acid." This was not a question and the winemaker realized I was a winemaker. "Yes," he admitted, "as allowed
by law." This, I knew, was a code phrase for "I'm not going to tell you more."
The following year we went to a meet in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Again we toured area wineries and tasted some
"pure juice" cherry and raspberry wines. Again, discussions with the winemakers revealed amelioration, but
not the degree. At a farm near Lake Michigan, I bought 3 liters of "expressed" (pressed) red raspberry juice,
which I was assured was pasteurized and contained no sorbate or preservatives. I took this back to Texas to
use in making wine.
Three liters is 80% of a U.S. gallon. I thought this might work if ameliorated to a gallon, but when I
measured the acidity of the juice I discovered the TA was 19.6 grams per liter and the pH was less than 3.00.
I began adding water -- far more than I had planned. It took 1.6 liters of water to get the numbers down to
a manageable level -- if a TA of 12.7 g/L and pH of 3.19 is considered manageable. I thought it might be,
so I then turned to the sugar, which was at specific gravity 1.034. I brought this up to 1.112 to push the
alcohol in compensation for the acidity.
I wanted to use Lalvin 71B-1122 yeast, which does well in malic musts and retains the fruitiness of
berries, but it predictably tops out at 14% alcohol and that would not be enough for this wine. Instead, I
turned to Lalvin RC212 and used Fermaid Yeast Nutrient for a healthy yeast fermentation and to minimize the
possibility of sulfur reduction (H2S formation). I added 1 1/4 teaspoons of pectic
enzyme to the must and 6 hours later began a starter solution for the yeast. I nursed the starter solution
for 8 hours, during which time I doubled its volume by adding must every hour and a half. I added it to the
must at midnight and went to bed.
I love Fermaid. It's not only a good nutrient, but combats sulfur reduction. For higher PA musts, the
amount of Fermaid needed increases -- by how much is not well documented. Scott Laboratories recommends 0.5 to
1.0 gram per gallon for musts with a PA of 10-12%, but up to 8 grams per gallon for "high alcohol" musts. I
consider a PA of 15% to be higher than normal, but not really "high alcohol." I used 3.4 grams for the batch
and it was bubbling away the next morning.
The wine fermented to s.g. 1.016 in 6 days, at which time I transferred it from primary to secondary. I
filled a 4-liter secondary and had enough left over to just about fill a magnum bottle (1.5 liters). The
4-liter secondary took a #6 bung; the magnum bottle took a #3. All signs of fermentation ceased five days
after the wines entered secondaries. They began falling clear a few days later. During the following two
months I racked them twice, then stabilized and sweetened them to 1.018 to balance the high acidity. Half the
magnum was used topping up the 4-liter jug after rackings. The bottled wine was a 15% alcohol sweet wine that
felt like a dessert wine and was served as if it was. It had super body, excellent raspberry aroma and flavor,
and a bouquet that filled a room when a bottle was uncorked. Indeed, the highly volatile bouquet made me wish
I had used screwcaps, which do not suck the perishable esters from the wine as a pulled cork does.
May 27th, 2006
A number of readers wrote me after my last blog entry, which I'm ashamed to say was over a month ago.
These astute readers wanted me to know that there was something wrong with, "...the pH was less than 3.00.
I began adding water -- far more than I had planned. It took 1.6 liters of water to get the...[pH to]
3.19...." Every one of them told me something I already knew but failed to mention in the blog; water by
itself doesn't raise pH.
If you take 10 grams of tartaric acid and dissolve it in one liter (litre to the non-American readers)
of distilled water, the TA will be 10 g/L or 1% tartaric. The pH will be whatever it works out to be -- say
it is 3.22. If you dilute that solution with another liter of distilled water, there will still be 10 grams
of acid in it, but TA is expressed as a grams per Liter ratio or a percentage of a liter, so the
TA will now be 5 g/L or 0.5% tartaric; the pH, on the other hand, is a measure of the intensity of the
acidity (relative concentration of hydrogen ions) in a solution and that will still be 3.22. So why did the
pH of my raspberry juice lose acidity (rise in pH) when I ameliorated with water? The simple answer is that
I did not use distilled water, and my tap water is quite hard (alkaline). The calcium in my water buffered
(neutralized) an amount of acid in the juice to affect both the TA and pH, but the dilution itself only
affected the TA. If you don't understand this, either accept it on faith or take a night course in
chemistry at your local community college.
Why Stuck Fermentations With Oolong Tea Wine?
One of the readers who wrote to me about the pH change discussed above had a problem with two separate
batches of Oolong Tea Wine -- they stuck. He wrote, "I have been trying to make an Oolong Tea and Mint Wine.
But the fermentation got stock twice now. The first time at 1.030, this time at 1.025. I used the following
recipe for 1 gallon:
- 16 teaspoons of oolong tea leaves
- 1 quart of mint
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/4 tsp grape tannin
- 3 tsp acid blend (final pH about 3.3)
- water to 1 gallon
- sugar to SG: 1.090
"For my first attempt I used a Pasteur Champagne yeast, used a starter and let it go for 4 days in the
primary, then transferred to secondary (SG: was 1.045 when transferred) -- I found out later that I should
have waited until SG [was less than] 1.030. The fermentation got stuck at SG 1.030. I tried adding yeast
nutrient and energizer as you suggest on your website. That did not work. So I tried to get a new starter
using Lalvin K1-V1116.. It first showed signs of starting in the sugar+water+yeast nutrient mix (1/2 cup).
I added 1/4 of a cup of the wine every hour until I had 2 cups of starter and left it overnight. The next
morning I had no fermentation at all. So I gave up and decided to start over with the same recipe but using
a starter of Lalvin K1-V1116 from the start and let it ferment to SG of 1.030 before transferring to
secondary (that took 7 days). The fermentation then stopped at SG 1.025. Do you have any idea what is going
I answered him this way: I think several things are going on, some of which I understand and at least
one of which I don't.
The amount of tea he used, specifically oolong tea, contains approximately 23% (by weight) catechins --
flavonoid phytochemical compounds that appear predominantly in green tea. The more prominent polyphenol
catechins in oolong tea include gallocatechin (GC), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin (EC), epigallocatechin
gallate (EGCG), epicatechin gallate (ECG), caffeine (Cf), and other polyphenols (including polymerized
polyphenols) equal to caffeine in weight. Catechin (C), catechin gallate (CG) and gallocatechin gallate
(GCG) are present in lesser amounts. These are all good for our bodies for several reasons, but what is
important to this discussion is that they all possess a positive charge.
During very vigorous fermentation, yeast are suspended by the turbidity of the liquid -- caused by rising
CO2 and heat generated by fermentation activity. As fermentation vigor (for lack of a better word) starts
to subside, yeast cells begin to yield to gravity and settle to the bottom. Yeast cells possess a negative
charge, so this settlement is hastened if the wine contains large amounts of positively charged catechins
that bond to the yeast (opposite charges attract) and add to its mass.
I sometimes transfer wines from primary to secondary at a specific gravity of 1.030 and have specified
this in some of my recipes. But for an increasing number of years I have rarely done this, and I actually
prefer transfer when the s.g. gets around 1.010. In either case, I have said several times in my writings
that "transfer" does not mean "rack." The purpose of transfer is to move the wine from one environment to
another, while the purpose of racking is to separate the wine from its lees. In the former, it is crucial
that the live yeast be transferred with the wine or fermentation will die down or cease altogether. Racking
should only be performed when fermentation is done and separating the wine from living yeast protects it
from later refermentation if the wine is sweetened. Since you can never be sure all living yeast were left
behind, stabilization is necessary if the wine is sweetened -- but that is another subject.
When I must transfer wine at a higher s.g., I stir the wine to get the yeast off the bottom and into
suspension. I can then either pour it through a funnel into the secondary or siphon it without regard to
avoiding lees. In either case, the still living yeast (and a lot of dead yeast as well) are transferred to
the secondary and fermentation usually continues.
I think these factors combined to contribute to the stuck fermentations after racking. What I cannot
explain is why the starter using K1-V1116 did not persist. This is a "killer" yeast, nearly impossible to
stop until it reaches 20% alcohol.
I know this does not clear up the issue entirely, but it is the best I can do with what I know. Hopefully,
it did provide some insight as to the complexity of problems that sometimes arise when using nontraditional
May 30th, 2006
The American holiday called Memorial Day was celebrated yesterday -- a day to pay respect to those who
have sacrificed life or limb in the service to this country -- but today, May 30th, is actually the date
Congress designated as Memorial Day. So I observed it twice this year. There is nothing wrong with that.
I am still smarting from having gone over a month between my last two blog entries. To "make up" for
that oversight, I've been looking through some past email for items I thought I could incorporate into a
blog entry to help make up for the long absence. I found two such items.
Where Are "Blackberries" Not Blackberries (Rubus sp.)?
Last year a reader (Maynard) from St. Johns, Newfoundland inquired if I knew "...the berry called crow
berry (which Newfoundlanders call blackberry)? It's a singular spherical berry a little smaller than a
blueberry, and crow black in color. I'd love to make a wine out of it." I answered him as follows:
"Years ago there was a woman in Newfoundland who wrote me about cloudberries. They grew all around her
and she made jelly from them. She asked about wine, but I didnít know much about the berry or its taste,
sugar or acidity, so I told her this. A few months later I got a box through the mail containing two quart
jars of heat-packed cloudberries and I made a wine from them and sent her the recipe. She was going to send
me some partridgeberries and crowberries the next year, but she passed away. Before she did, she wrote me
volumes about the edible plants in Newfoundland. Iíve always wanted to visit there and taste some of these
many varied fruit myself.
"Her mention of crowberry is quite long, but colorful. She said it is a very tasteless berry, sort of
mealy and dry inside, but it takes on a whole new flavor when cooked or crushed and steeped in vodka or gin.
She thought they would make excellent wine after being cooked.... My real regret is that she never got to
taste the cloudberry wine I made. That is how I discovered she had passed away -- I sent her a bottle after
it had aged 6 months and it was returned stamped "Recipient Deceased."
the crowberry (Empertrum nigurm)is
called a blackberry and is similar in appearance to a blueberry.
"She also told me the crowberry is often infested with a small black tick, which if cooked with the
berries will render them inedible because of the insect's taste. She said you have to pick the berries, wash
them, lay them out on paper towels or newspaper to dry, and just leave them for 3-5 days -- the ticks will
leave. She also said blanching them in hot water (not quite boiling, but still very hot) for 5 minutes and
then rinsing them in cold water will also get rid of the ticks.
"Her recipe for crowberry liqueur is quite simple. Pick and wash the berries. Leave them on newspaper
to dry for 5 days. Put the berries in a gallon jar, filling it. Then add one cup of sugar to the jar and
fill it with 80-proof vodka or gin. Screw the lid on tight and set it aside. Every day you flip the jar
(stand upright one day, flip it over and stand it on its lid the next, etc.) for 3 months if the berries are
fresh, but only 1 month if they are shriveled from being on the bush over the winter. After that time,
strain the liquid through several layers of cheese cloth or a single layer of muslin to catch pulp particles
and seeds. Put in liquor bottle and enjoy. She said it changes flavor after about 6 months in the bottle,
growing more mellow and less fruity but somehow better.
"You (Maynard) might try making her liqueur or experimenting with wine. I would start by using 3 pounds
of cooked berries to the gallon of wine and adjusting sugar to 1.085. I donít know how acidic they are, so
you would have to test that and adjust to 0.60% or there-about. A teaspoon of pectic enzyme would probably
help (canít hurt), and yeast nutrient should be added (1 teaspoon per gallon).
If you (Maynard) try this, please let me know how it turns out and consider sharing the recipe." He hasn't
done so yet, but I am hopeful.... In one of the last emails I received from him, Maynard said, "I wonder if
the lady you corresponded with was a born-and-bred Newfoundlander, she used mainlander names for the berries.
Here is a short list of some berries we have, but thereís lots more:" [From his list I have compiled the
following table, with the help of another Newfoundlander:]
Kinnikinnick or Common Bearberry
Bunchberry or Creeping Dogwood
Artic or Lowbush Cranberry
Highbush Cranberry or Mooseberry
Creeping Snowberry or Wintergreen
Northern Wild Raisin or Sheepberry
A Question About Poisoning
Another reader wrote, "I have this concern about home wine making -- Methanol poisoning. I am no chemistry
expert so I need to ask... how can we make sure that the wine we are making is producing ethanol instead of
methanol?" This is a good question I have been asked several times, so I had an answer ready:
Wine yeasts are notorious for making ethanol, with only trace amounts of methanol. Methanol in wines
comes from the splitting of pectin molecules, so using pectic enzyme 10-12 hours before introducing yeast is
a preventative. The methanol content of grape wines is generally less than 200 ppm, far, far below toxic
Other alcohols sometimes produced in wines are longer-chain alcohols such as isopropyl alcohol, isobutyl
alcohol, and several amyl alcohols collectively called fusel oils. Their concentration is usually in the
50-200 ppm range and are responsible for some of the complex fragrances in wines. Another alcohol found in
small amounts is 2-phenylethanol, most prevalent in wines made from muscadines.
Some polyols are also produced -- alcohols having more than one hydroxyl group per molecule. Glycerol is
by far the most common of this type, but even it is in trace amounts (0.7% by weight being average). The
addition of SO2 promotes glycerol production. Both 2,3-butanediol and sorbitol are sweet alcohols found in
trace amounts. The former can be as high as 500 ppm, while the latter is produced more in fruit wines than
June 20th, 2006
There is a problem we all have trouble with, I think, and that is removing the labels from recycled
bottles. My procedure is to fill the bottles with hot water, stand them in a deep sink (I can get an
even two dozen bottles in there), and fill the sink with more hot water. I add a half cup of Ultra
Clorox Advantage to the water the bottles are soaking in and then go do something else for an hour or so.
It used to be that this was enough to remove 80-90% of the labels and the remainder came off begrudgingly
with the aid of a razor blade, but not any longer.
For some reason, label manufacturers are in some kind of contest to see who can come up with the most
difficult to remove labels. Labels from Down Under win the prize by several lengths. Why the Australians
find it necessary to apply indestructible labels to their bottles is beyond me, but that seems to be their
aim and I'm sure they take great pride in foiling us frugal home winemakers who would like to put our own
wines in their stylish bottles. For about four years, I didn't even fool with Aussie labels. I just threw
their bottles in the recycle bin and concentrated on more yielding American, European, South African, and
South American bottles -- 90% of which could be de-labeled as described above. But lately, more and more
labels resist removal.
Removing Stubborn Labels
The worst problem is not the labels that won't yield to hot water and Ultra Clorox Advantage, but the
ones that peel off but leave their glue behind, firmly attached to the bottle. Nylon scouring pads might
rearrange a few molecules if you really work at it, but they won't remove it. Then there are those curly
metal pot scrubbers that will scrape the hide off a hog -- that glue just laughs at them. Then along
came a few products for removing glues and goop -- Goo Begone, Goof Off, and others with similar names.
These did indeed dissolve or melt the label glue, but they created their own mess -- a residual coating that
felt slightly tacky or even oily and transferred to anything you touched afterward. These were not the
solution, but could be used in a pinch. I had several cases of bottles sporting that stubborn label glue --
there to be cleaned with Goo Begone if I ever ran out of otherwise useable bottles. Then the esteemed
George Gale came to the rescue in an email:
"A perennial problem we face--and have talked about before--is how to remove the gummy gunk that more and
more wineries are using to glue their labels on with. Quite by accident I found something that really really
does the job.
"I needed to thin some Gorilla Glue, so I called the manufacturer, who recommended zylol (= zylene),
which I found easily available at my local hardware store. I had a bunch of bottles sitting around in
409+water, in a futile attempt to get the gunk off. Just on an off-chance, I put some zylol on a paper
towel and rubbed it on a bottle's gunk. Bingo! As if by magic the gunk came instantly off. Yee-hah!
"Now this stuff is really volatile, and obviously not good for one's lungs, so do it outside.
"But it really works, first stuff I've found that works as if it were designed for the job."
George, before long thousands of home winemakers will be thanking you. Let me be the first. Thanks.
I've had a couple of questions lately about loquats. A fellow in Florida grew loquats, but was
heading to New York and wanted to know if there was a way to take the loquat juice with him to make
wine up there. The second question was from a fellow Texan who had a loquat tree and wanted to know
if one could make wine wine from the fresh fruit.
Several years ago I visited my parents in Southern California when their loquats were ripe. I washed
them, cut them in half, and cooked them over low heat until most of the juice oozed out. I then drained
and lightly pressed them in a colander, let the juice cool, poured it evenly into two 1-gallon plastic
milk jugs (each 3/4 full), froze them, and drove home with 1-1/2 gallons of frozen juice packed in ice in a
cooler in the trunk. In Demming, NM (halfway), I stopped and replaced the ice. No problems....
I recently bottled a loquat wine made from fresh fruit, so you can certainly make wine from them. I made
this batch by deseeding the fruit and bringing them to a simmer on low heat, then straining out the juice
through a nylon straining bag. The fruit yielded 1/2 gallon of not-too-sweet juice, to which I added 1/2
gallon of water with 1-1/2 pounds of sugar dissolved in it, and the juice of two small oranges. When the
mixture was at room temperature, I added 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient, 2/3 teaspoon of pectic enzyme, and
1/4 teaspoon of grape tannin. I put this in a small (2-gallon) crock and covered it with a clean cloth for
12 hours, then added a packet of wine yeast. After 6 days I transferred this to a gallon jug and put an
airlock on it. It fermented for three weeks, then stopped. I racked it into a clean jug, added sulfite
(1/16 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite) and let it sit for 2 months, at which time it was fairly clear
and had another layer of sediment. I racked it again twice, two months apart, and each time it got clearer.
The last time I added sulfite again and then let it age about 7 months. I bottled it dry and like it very
Another method of making loquat wine is posted on my website. It makes a lighter (and less flavorful)
wine, although it can be as flavorful if you double the fruit. Both methods make a gallon.
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