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 13th, 2007
Last October a gentleman wrote to me from Toronto, concerned that I was giving away so much of my knowledge and
time on my website and WineBlog and getting little or nothing back. "Does anyone ever send you his or her recipes?" he asked. The answer, I told him, is yes.
Every year for the past decade I have received anywhere from 8-15 bottles of wine from proud winemakers wanting
to share a particularly good product or from concerned winemakers asking for an evaluation. All of the former
types have indeed been worthy of praise, while most of the latter suffered simple forms of imbalance or, in rare
cases, fatal flaws. Additionally, I receive many original or hand-me-down recipes from readers, far more than I post.
Oh, and for the record, I no longer do free fault evaluations of wine anymore. That stopped several years ago when
we noted how much I was spending on testing supplies to do these evaluations.
Recently, I received five bottles from a couple in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee who, over the past week, have shared
a number of their recipes with me. One was a mead, four were wines. Today I began making a gallon of mead from
one of their wine recipes. Okay, I didn't actually follow their wine recipe or their mead recipe - I was simply
inspired by one of their ingredients and decided to make a mead with it using techniques in their recipes. Since I
only began it today, I can't say much about it except that I have high expectations. Here's what I am doing.
Maraschino-Chocolate Sweet Mead
- 4 lbs honey (it's the size jar I had; 3 ½ lbs should have been enough)
- 2 lb 5 oz jar of Mezzetta's maraschino cherries
- 4 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder
- 2 1/4 tsp acid blend
- 1 1/4 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/8 tsp yeast energizer
- 3/16 tsp grape tannin
- 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
- water to 1 gallon
- 1 pkt Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B (S. cerevisiae) [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]
I began a yeast starter the night before, using one cup of lukewarm water (98 degrees F.) into which I added 1/2
teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of nutrient. I sprinkled the yeast onto the surface, covered the jar with a napkin
and set it aside to culture.
Following the advice in Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker, I mixed the honey with a quart of water in a
large pot and brought it to 140 degrees F. for about 25 minutes to kill any compromising organisms that might have
come with it. I then set it aside to cool.
After about two hours, I opened the large jar of Mezzetta's maraschino cherries and strained out the packing
juice (syrup, if you wish). I added the juice to the honey and chopped the cherries by hand. A blender would
have been faster, but that would have required adding back some of the juice (or water) and I wanted the cherries
dry and separate.
I measured the cocoa powder in dry ounces and added it to one pint of warm water in a blender. I blended it
until it was thoroughly mixed, added the tannin and other dry ingredients (less the yeast) to ensure they were all
well mixed, and then added this to the honey. After stirring to integrate, I poured this through a funnel into a
gallon jug to measure the amount of liquid, topping up with cold water to bring the total to a gallon. I stirred it
with a sanitized wooden dowel and then drew off a cup of the liquid into a hydrometer test jar. A
thermometer told me the liquid was a 78 degrees F., 10 degrees warmer than my hydrometer is calibrated for. So I
stood it in my refrigerator with the thermometer floating in it.
Meanwhile, I transferred the chopped cherries into a nylon straining bag and tied it off. I placed the bag in a
3-gallon glass primary (with glass lid) and poured the liquid must over the cherries. I then checked the liquid I
had placed in the refrigerator. It was 65 degrees when I removed it, so I let it stand on the kitchen counter for
10 minutes and when it was at 68 degrees I removed the thermometer and inserted the hydrometer with a spin. The
starting s.g. was too high to measure with this particular hydrometer, so I measured 100 mL of must and added to it
100 mL of water. In the test jar, the hydrometer floated at 1.075, making the effective starting s.g. 1.152. This
was actually 10 points below what I expected.
Satisfied the must was where I wanted it to be, I placed a large spoon on the surface of the must and slowly
dribbled the yeast starter solution, which was now 15 hours old and very cloudy, onto the spoon. By moving the
spoon around the surface of the must, the starter overflows onto the surface and sort of stays there. Since yeast
need oxygen for healthy propagation, this puts them where they need to be. Tomorrow, if the must is not cloudy from
yeast integration, I will shallowly stir the must. Since the starter solution (after 15 hours) contains approximately
130+ times the number of viable yeast cells as it did when I initiated it, I am confident fermentation will be evident
tomorrow morning and go well.
There is a reason I added the acid blend and tannin to the must. My wife cares less for mead than I do because,
according to her, they lack a little "something" that wines have. That something, I long ago decided, was both
sufficient acid and tannin. When I began adding these ingredients to my meads, she liked them. I may well decide,
after this batch is finished, to add a bit more acid blend to it. I'll judge that by taste when the time comes
My plans are to punch down the bag of chopped cherries several times a day, checking their condition after
several days. When they start looking ravaged by the yeast, I'll remove the bag and gently squeeze it to extract what
liquid I can. I will keep the must in primary until the fermentation seems to die down, regardless of s.g., and then
transfer it to secondary and cap it with an airlock. I'll rack it at least twice, probably more.
I expect this mead to finish sweet (between 1.025 and 1.045, with alcohol at 14-15%), since I used more honey
than required for a normal mead. However, if it goes drier than I want, I'll stabilize it, age it six months, and
sweeten it to taste. I'll then age it at least another six months, as the folks in Tennessee warned me that their
mead (and their wines) took nine months to a year to "get yummy." And they were that!
There is a line in the movie, High Road to China (1983, Tom Selleck, Bes Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilford
Brimley, Robert Morley -- one of my 50 favorite movies of all time), in which Selleck is being told by a Buddhist
holy man named Zura (played by Robert Lee) about Armstrong's father's passage through the area some time earlier.
When he is done, Selleck asks, "Is there anything else you can tell us?" The holy man relies, "The oxen are slow but
the earth is patient." I love that line. When making mead, you must be like the earth. [Author's own recipe]
January 17th, 2007
My Sweet Maraschino-Chocolate Mead, began only four days ago, is fermenting away. The Gervin yeast has turned
the must cloudy pink and created a yeasty foam on top. The foam is cream in color, telling me it is mostly yeast.
I was just getting ready to stir it into the must when I decided to utilize it to transfer the culture to another
must. Because I had all the ingredients on hand, it only took me 20 minutes to prepare the new must. The recipe
is another I received from the folks in Sharps Chapel, Tennessee, and this time I only varied it slightly.
While preparing the must for the recipe below, I realized I made a mistake in the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead
recipe posted on January 12th. I had typed "8 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder", which is what the Tennessee folks used
for two gallons. In fact I only used 4 ounces, so I corrected that immediately. I hope no one started a mead using
the 8-ounce figure. If they did, I sincerely apologize -- their mead will be very chocolatey, but might even be
better than mine. I have no way of knowing because I haven't made it that way.
- 2 59-fl oz jugs of not-from-concentrate orange juice (Simply Orange, from Wal-Mart)
- 2 11-oz cans of Mandarin orange segments in syrup
- 2 lbs finely granulated sugar
- 4 dry oz (1/2 cup) Hershey's Cocoa Powder
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/16 tsp potassium metabisulfite
- 3/16 tsp grape tannin
- Gervin Wine Yeast Varietal B (S. cerevisiae) from active fermentation [alternate: Lalvin 71B-1122]
I have several 1.75 gallon plastic fermenters obtained free from Shipley's Donuts in San Antonio that I use for
1-gallon primaries. They had previously contained a donut filling material of some sort and are perfect primaries.
I sanitized one and into it poured the sugar, tannin, nutrient, and sulfite. Over this I poured the orange juice,
stirred for about two minutes, and then prepared the cocoa powder.
I placed a cup of the must in a blender and turned it on to its lowest setting while slowly pouring the powder
into it. After a minute I added this to the must.
I then sanitized a nylon straining bag for the Mandarin orange segments. I held the bag open over the primary
and dumped the contents of the two cans into the bag. I tied the bag and set it in the primary.
Normally, I would wait 8-12 hours for the potassium metabisulfite to sanitize the must and dissipate somewhat, but
I knew the yeast in the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead was already acclimated to sulfite so I spooned six teaspoons of
the yeasty foam from the mead primary and placed it on top of the new must. I then covered the new primary.
The only thing in the Tennessee recipe I didn't add was pectic enzyme. In a few months, if the wine doesn't
clarify on its own, I'll add it. The one thing I did add that wasn't in the Tennessee recipe was grape tannin.
I plan to age this wine a year, as the folks in Tennessee did theirs. I expect it to taste better than the
Mandarin orange wines I have made in the past, both because of the addition of the cocoa powder and because it was
made using pure orange juice instead of juice and water. It should finish around 14% alcohol and be sweet. Its
starting s.g. was 1.120.
Yesterday I received six more sample bottles from Tennessee - one mead and five wines. I opened one last night
and was very impressed. Thank you, Sharps Chapel.
I also received another wine yesterday - a wild grape wine from Wisconsin. I will open this one tonight with
held breath because it is a Vitis riparia wine. This is a grape not known to make great wines by itself,
but a grape that has been used extensively in the breeding of hybrid grapes. However, the note that came with the
wine promises me I will be amazed. It's a two-year old wine and I look forward to it.
Wild grape wines are always a challenge. If you can make good wines using wild grapes, you can make good wines
using any grapes. By the way, despite the fact that WineMaker Magazine's International Amateur Wine Competition
and many other competitions allow Concord, Catawba, Niagara, and many of the other "American" grapes known to have
Vitis vinifera in their ancestry to be entered as "native American" grape wines, I do not consider them to be true
"natives." We no longer allow them to be entered as such in the competitions of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild,
and I wish other competitions would police their rules a little more closely. "Native grapes" should refer to the
native species, not to derived varietal cultivars with vinifera in their genes. This is just my opinion.
Your mileage may vary.
January 29th, 2007
Using the yeasty foam from the Sweet Maraschino Chocolate Mead as an inoculate for the Mandarin Chocolate Wine,
it wasn't until the fourth day that the fermentation really took off. I would have been better using a fresh yeast
starter, but what is done is done. The new must is now foaming away and I am collapsing the nylon straining bag
three times a day to expel the trapped CO2 and keep the Mandarin segments down in the must.
The couple from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee recommended I not try to sweeten the Sweet Maraschino Chocolate Mead at
six months like I proposed in the WineBlog entry of January 13th, as the taste will still be quite rough at that point.
"I figured you understood the Maraschino-Chocolate Mead would not taste good that young," the wife wrote, "but from
reading the blog, I was concerned that some of your less experienced readers might not realize how important it is
to realize that Chocolate wines will probably NOT taste good until 9 to 12 months, but at a year they should tasted
I greatly appreciate their advice in this matter and promised them I would be prudent, but I really don't think
this mead will need to be sweetened at all. The starting s.g. was so high that I'm almost certain it will finish
sweet. I do intend to stabilize it after six months of bulk aging, no matter what. I do not want even a dozen
hardy yeast cells surviving and reproducing beyond that point, as degassing will be more problematic if they are
The Chocolate Secret
Many people have written me over the years asking for a chocolate wine recipe. Until recently, my answer has
always been that I didn't have one. I have tried making chocolate wines from block chocolate processed through a
grater, chocolate chips ground to crumbs, chocolate syrup, and chocolate powder. And, of course, I tried chocolate
My next experiment would have been using cocoa beans, which I located online, but in 2002 I tried Hershey's
cocoa powder one more time along with some slivered almonds and produced a Chocolate-Almond Mead. I had no real
hopes for it, and in fact let it bulk age for over two years without even tasting it. When I finally did, I was
astounded. I quickly bottled it and in its only competition it won first place. Due to a glitch by a steward, it
was not considered for the best of show taste-off.
So, Hershey's cocoa powder and a year or more of bulk aging is the secret - one I don't mind sharing. Speaking
of sharing, here is another Chocolate Mead recipe - not mine, but another from Sharps Chapel, Tennessee (slightly
(makes 6 gallons)
- 20 lbs honey
- 20 oz Hershey's Cocoa Powder
- 6 teabags infused in 1 cup hot water (original recipe called for 3)
- 7 tsp yeast nutrient
- 3/4 tsp yeast energizer (my addition)
- 3 tblsp acid blend (my addition)
- Water to make 6 gallons total
- 2 sachets Red Star Premier Curvee Wine Yeast
Use 1 pint of warm water containing a teaspoon of dissolved sugar and a pinch of yeast nutrient to make a yeast
starter solution to get the yeast propagating. Pour the honey (unboiled) into the primary. Use some of the water
to get all the remaining honey from the honey bottles and add this to the primary. Add 3 gallons of water and stir
well to dissolve.
Put the teabags into 1 cup of hot water and set aside. Now prepare the cocoa powder.
Place a cup of water in a blender and turn it on to its lowest setting while slowly pouring 4 ounces of cocoa the
powder into it. After a minute, add this to the primary and repeat until all 20 ounces of cocoa powder is dissolved
Check the tea. When water is dark, press teabags and add the tannic water to the primary along with the acid
blend, yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. Stir while adding the remaining water, bringing the total volume to 6
gallons. Check temperature to ensure it is no colder than 65 degrees F. and no warmer than 80. Starting s.g.
should be around 1.130. Slowly and gently add the yeast starter solution to the surface of the must (pour the
solution into a large spoon held horizontally on the surface of the must to avoid pouring deep). Do not stir.
Cover primary and move it to a warm place. After 24 hours stir shallowly. After another 24 hours stir deeply.
Transfer to secondary when vigorous fermentation subsides. Top up with pure honey, stir well with a sanitized
wooden dowel, then affix airlock. Keep a record of how much honey you use for topping up, but do not exceed 5-1/3
cups (4 pounds). After adding that much, start topping up with water. Rack 30 days later, again topping up with
pure honey, and 3 months after that (same drill as before). After additional 3 months, rack if needed and stabilize
with potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite. Set aside for 6 additional months.
The original recipe from Tennessee called for adding 3 lbs of sugar at one point. To keep it a pure mead, I have
used honey as a topping up medium in lieu of adding sugar. Four pounds of honey approximates 3 pounds of sugar, so
the results should be the same. If, during topping up operations, you do not use 5-1/3 cups (4 lbs) of honey, your
mead will probably be okay anyway, but final sweetness may need adjusting. Incidentally, one cup of honey weighs 12
ounces (340 grams).
Remember, there is no reason whatsoever to taste this mead until it is 9 to 12 months old, and even then it may
need more aging to yummy up. But I promise you, it will yummy up. When it does, bottle it and allow 3 additional
months for bouquet to form.
February 3rd, 2007
A reader wrote and asked, "I have a quick question about the layer on top that the yeast produces. Am I
supposed to push it down a couple of inches, mix it up, or leave it alone?" This is a good question, but I'm not
really clear exactly what this foam looks like. My answer, therefore, depends on the details not described. Yes,
it was a quick question, but requires a lengthy answer.
If the layer is actually the initial yeast culture (usually not described as "foam", but foaming could
occur), wait 4-6 hours for it to spread and thicken and if it doesn't collapse into the must of its own weight then
stir it shallowly, so it is integrated into the must but still remains near the surface. During their first 48-72
hours, yeast need oxygen to reproduce sufficient to our needs. So, after stirring shallowly, wait until the next
day (or after at least another 6 hours) and stir the must deeply to more thoroughly distribute the yeast. Stirring
also distributes oxygen throughout the must so it becomes more available to yeast not near the surface
If the layer is fermentation foam, stir well twice daily. Fermentation foam is just that, a whitish but slightly
colored (by the pigments in the must) foam produced by rising CO2 bubbles that fail to break the surface layer
completely and get encapsulated by a thin boundary of juice from the must. This foam forms heaviest early on, when
the specific gravity of the must is still high and increased density resists the CO2 more. As the gravity decreases
through conversion of heavy sugar into light alcohol, the surface offers less resistance to the CO2 and it escapes
the must without being trapped as foam. But fruit proteins also increase the surface tension of the must and
contribute to foam formation. Pretreating a fruit must with an enzyme such as protease can greatly reduce the
amount of foam produced. Also, yeast foam is foam containing yeast cells that adhere to the rising CO2
bubbles. Some yeast strains are more prone to forming yeast foam (such as Montrachet or Pasteur White),
while others are not (such as Prise de Mousse, a.k.a. E.C. 1118).
If the layer is scum (you'll know the difference), spoon it off and discard daily. Scum forms when minute
insoluble solids and impurities are pushed upward by the rising micro-bubbles of CO2 and remain on the surface as
a thin layer of discoloration. Should you stir them back into the must, they most likely will settle into the
lees and can be removed though racking, but some might remain suspended and later settle in the bottle. When
these solids form a scum layer, they can be easily removed with patience and a gentle spooning technique.
If the layer is pulp, skins, berries, etc, punch it down twice a day until the time comes to separate the liquid
from the solids (3-10 days, depending on the base being used). Timing the separation is somewhat an inexact
science. Recipes often suggest a window (such as 5-7 days) when the solids should be removed (and possibly pressed),
but these are only approximations based on the experiences of the person devising the recipe.
To better understand when you should remove these solids (often simply referred to as "pulp"), you must decide
why you are fermenting "on the pulp" in the first place. Basically, there are three reasons - extracting sugar,
extracting flavor and extracting color. I'll discuss these in detail in a later WineBlog entry.
February 7th, 2007
In my last WineBlog entry I mentioned the layer of pulp, skins, berries, etc. - called the cap when floating
high on top of the must and simply "pulp" when referred to generally -- that forms on top of the must during
primary. This cap needs to be punched it down twice a day until the time comes to separate the liquid from the
solids (3-10 days, depending on the base being used).
I said that timing the separation of the liquid from the pulp is somewhat an inexact science. Recipes often
suggest a window (such as 5-7 days) when the solids should be removed (and possibly pressed), but these are only
approximations based on the experiences of the person devising the recipe. To better understand when you should
remove the pulp, you must decide why you are fermenting "on the pulp" in the first place. Basically, there are
three reasons - extracting sugar, extracting flavor and extracting color. I said I'd discuss these in detail in
a later WineBlog entry. This is that entry.
Extracting Sugar from Pulp
There are several ways to extract the natural sugars from the pulp of the base being used. Freezing the fruit or
other base concentrates the natural sugars to a degree, but it also compromises cellular walls to allow juice and
constituent extraction after thawing. Extracting and fermenting just the juice is one way, as most of the sugars
are in solution in the juice. Juice can be extracted by cold press, steam and hot press methods. The sugars that
are left behind are mostly those bonded into the vegetable fibers themselves.
Cold maceration is another method, whereby the fruit is crushed and soaked in its own juice, its own juice and
water, or just water. The addition of pectic enzymes during maceration greatly increases the release of natural
sugars from the fruit. Hot maceration is a variation, whereby hot or boiling water is poured over the crushed
fruit. When the water cools, pectic enzymes are added to further extraction. After maceration, the crushed fruit
can be pressed and the resulting juice can be fermented or the crushed fruit can be inoculated for fermentation
after the must is prepared (acid, nutrients, sugar, etc. are added). If you do the latter, the pulp is removed
after 3-5 days.
Finally, the fruit can be crushed, pectic enzymes added and allowed to work, water and other additives added
(acid, nutrients, sugar, etc.), and the crush inoculated for fermentation. In this case the pectic enzymes, water
and yeast combine to extract the sugars. If you follow this common method, the pulp is removed after 5-7 days, and
for certain bases even later.
Extracting Flavor from Pulp
A great many constituents contribute to flavor. The food industry has spent a great amount of money to
determine what these are and how to artificially synthesize them. The problem in a general discussion is that the
contributors to fruit flavors vary widely according to the type of fruit. Even in grapes, a tremendous amount of
research has focused on what contributes to the unique flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, as opposed to
Zinfandel or Chenin Blanc.
What I can say here is that a great many differing constituents contribute to the flavors we want in our
wines, while an even greater number can adversely affect it. Over the millennia, trial and error methods have been
selected to extract the correct components and avoid extracting the ones that produce off flavors and odors.
During the past 90 years, but especially during the past 40, chemical analysis has allowed us to learn much more
than you might imagine. We know now, for example, that over 1,000 constituents can be identified in many wines,
and who knows what that number will be in another 40 years?
So as not to get bogged down in a dissertation on organic chemistry, I will simply say that the most important
contributors to wine flavor are a combination of sugars, acids, fusil oils, volatiles, lower and higher alcohols,
both hydrolyzable and condensed tannins, anthrocyanins, flavonoids, amino acids, other phenolic compounds, and
decomposed yeast cells. All but alcohol and the latter must be extracted from the base ingredients, and many of
them are locked inside the pulp, skin, stems, and seeds. How, then, are we to get them out?
The best way, it turns out, is to control their quantity in the must and allow both added and natural enzymes
and yeast and its resulting byproduct - alcohol - to extract them. By control, I mean we do not want too many
stems in our must, if any - the latter conditional depends on the base and the components found in the stems of
that particular base. Nor do we want the undesirable bitterness in the pith of citrus to contaminate our wines,
but we do want some of the constituents found in the skins - we add the zest of oranges, lemons, limes, and
grapefruit to obtain them. Further, we do not want most fruit seeds to lay in the must too long or the wine will
When a white wine is to be made of a colored base, we want to limit skin contact or avoid it altogether. But
when we avoid skin contact, we automatically limit the amount of certain flavor constituents from our wine. We can
add some of the back - such as certain tannins - without affecting the color, but others will simply be absent. It
is their absence that causes certain wine consumers to avoid white wines altogether.
With pulp and its components (fruit flesh, skins, stems, and seeds), too much of a good thing can be a bad
thing. That is why we never ferment our wines to dryness on the pulp.
Extracting Color from Pulp
Most red, purple and blue fruit contain their coloring constituents - tannins and anthrocyanins - in their
skins. Yellow and pink-fleshed fruit (pineapples, peaches, some plums, citrus, etc.) contain different kinds of
pigments located in the pulp and juice. Many aggregate berries contain anthrocyanins in their juice and the
membranes of their drupelets (blackberries, raspberries, pomegranates, mulberries, etc.). You can cold press
blackberries and make red wine from the juice, but you'll get a deeper color fermenting the crushed whole berries.
In many epigynous berries, the anthrocyanins are found in the skins, pulp and juice (blueberries, bilberries,
blackcurrants, gooseberries). To get the best color, you need to know where the color is located and ferment that
part(s) in the primary
Both anthrocyanins and tannins are rather complex. Each has many structures and therefore many names. Here,
a little organic chemistry is useful.
There are five anthrocyanidins in grapes - delphinidin, petunidin, malvidin, cyanidin, and peonidin. They are
a type of substance known as aglycones and exist in different forms - either heterosidic or as anthrocyanins
(3-monoglucosides, 3,5-diglucosides, and acylated heterosides) and have different characteristics. Anthrocyanins
react to bisulfite ions and lose some of their color, but as free SO2 dissipates the color returns. They also lose
some color by reduction, but again this is a temporary condition. Some winemakers observe that a some freshly
fermented wines are lightly colored, but as the anthrocyanins are progressively oxidized (as during barrel aging)
the color deepens.
Tannins can be either hydrolyzable or condensed. The former consist of one glucosidic molecule bonded to
different phenols, such as gallic or ellagic acid, while the latter are condensed polymers from 3-flavanols
(catechins) and 3,4-flavandials (leucoanthrocyanidins). Both monomeric and polymerized leucoanthrocyanidins
display the characteristic, which the catechins do not, of transforming into red anthrocyanins when heated in
an acidic media. Under the same conditions, the catechins turn into insoluble brown-black phlobaphenes that
precipitate. However, if unheated, no change occurs.
Tannins and anthrocyanidins react with one another in interesting ways, but it is enough here to say that
extracting maximum color requires that tannins be extracted along with anthrocyanins. Normally, the most desirable
tannins are concentrated in the skins or drupelet membranes. Research has shown that fermenting whole crushed
grapes and aggregate berries for 3-5 days extracts most of the color obtainable. Beyond that, the wine might
actually suffer increasing harshness from seed breakdown. Fermentation at higher temperatures also extracts more
color constituents, but again 3-5 days is the optimum skin contact time.
Naturally, these considerations are only the beginning of the story, but that is the subject for future WineBlog
February 10th, 2007
I learn a lot every day. I make it a point to do so. A day without learning is a day wasted.
I learn a lot from books, research articles, discussions with other winemakers, and discussion groups when I
have the time to visit. And I learn a lot from most of the e-lists I belong to. When I don't learn from a list (or
don't understand what I'm reading), I drop out of it.
Over the past few nights on an e-list of very bright folks, I had one of the tenets I had long held dear to me
shattered. The discussion was about diglucosides, a form of the anthrocyanin compounds found in grapes that I
mentioned in my last WineBlog entry.
I have long held the belief, based on old but authoritative research by one of the world leaders in the field,
that only native American grape species (and a couple of native Asian species) contained the 3,5-diglucosides of
the anthrocyanins -- Vitis vinifera never had them unless obtained through cross pollination with a native that
had them. This was consistently proven using paper chromatography.
So, now I learn that more sensitive and discriminating testing methods (HPLC) have found very minute traces of
3,5-diglucoside of the anthrocyanin malvidin in as many as 10% of the V. vinifera varieties analyzed.
Well, this was confidence-shattering. Now I can no longer sit across from a Bordeaux-sipping Frenchman, take a
swig of my mesquite-aged Mustang, and smugly say, "I'm getting loaded on diglucosides and you're not."
Damn! There are some things I'd rather not learn.
Types of Fruit
In one of the online discussions at WinePress.us, the questions was asked, "I agree cherries are not berries,
but what about grapes? I have heard a lot of vineyard growers refer to their grapes as berries. I think not. I
think to be a berry you must have seeds in individual drupes like blackberries and raspberries. Is a tomato a fruit
or a vegetable?"
As luck would have it, I had researched this before and had a set of notes on the subject, so I dug them out and
replied that in botany, fruit is a term with a specific meaning -- it is the ripened ovary and the seeds of a
flowering plant. But there are many kinds of fruit.
Cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots are drupes, a kind of fruit with a hard, central seed (stone, pit)
that formed from the superior ovary wall of its flower.
Tomatoes, grapes, eggplants, and chile peppers are all true berries, a kind of fruit with one or more
seeds surrounded by a fleshy body formed from the superior ovary wall of its flower.
Citrus produce a type of berry called a hesperidium, which is a berry in every sense but has a tough,
leathery rind and a fleshy interior composed of sections (carpels).
Blackberries, raspberries and similar bramble-fruit are aggregate fruit, which develop from a single
flower with multiple pistils, each pistil contributing to a single sac-like structure which, in aggregate, are
called drupelets. The pomegranate is a variant type of aggregate fruit.
A compound fruit (sometimes called multiple fruit) is one that forms from a large cluster of
flowers, each of which forms a fruit that collectively grow together into a single mass. The breadfruit,
pineapple and mulberry are all compound (multiple) fruit.
Apples, pears, serviceberries, hawthorns, and rose hips are pomes, a kind if fruit in which the seeds are
in seed chambers encased in a leathery lining (the endocarp) within a core (mesocarp) formed from
the floral tube of a flower with an inferior ovary; pomes have other peculiar characteristics, but the ones
mentioned are sufficient to identify them.
Blueberries, cranberries, gooseberries, currants and bananas are all false berries, a fruit that forms
from a flower with an inferior ovary; in these, the basal portions of the stamen, sepals and petals can ripen to
form part of the fruit.
Melons (all muskmellons and watermelons), gourds (pumpkins and squash), and cucumbers are pepoes, a
subset of false berries of the Cucurbitaceae family, bearing flowers with an inferior, unilocular
Strawberries and cashews are examples of accessory fruit, those in which the fleshy part of the fruit is
derived not from the ovary, but from some adjacent part(s) of the flower. In fact, they are technically false
berries, but ones in which their seeds are outside the fruit (think of the strawberry's seeds spaced around its
skin; the cashew nut hangs below and outside the cashew fruit).
The fig is a specialized type of accessory fruit called a syconium -- a bulb-shaped, inversed
flower cluster. The actual fruits are the flowers on the inner surface of the cluster, their ripe petals forming
the part we think if as the flesh, and their seeds at the petal tips (outside the fruits, but at the center of the
There are several others that come to mind, but one reaches a point where it just doesn't matter all that much
to split hairs any further. Besides, the nomenclature of fruit you have rarely determines how you will ferment it
into wine. And in truth, most of us, despite what we may know, will continue to think of tomatoes, cucumbers and
eggplants as vegetables, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries as berries, apples, bananas and oranges as
fruit, and pumpkins and rose hips as something else -- we're not quite sure what.
February 24th, 2007
A kid down the street came and showed me an arrowhead he found in the fallow acreage behind our properties. He
had been looking for horned lizards (we called them "horny toads" when I was a kid) because his dad had told him
there used to be a lot of them around here but they're gone now, victims of encroaching fire ants. He decided to
find one. Instead, he found the arrowhead.
His tale reminded me of something. Like the kid down the street, I really don't like being told something isn't
where it ought to be.
Dr. Barry Comeaux and I are working on an article on the distribution of native grapes in Texas. Our starting
point was the 12,000-plus specimens of pressed grape vines Barry has collected over the past 29 or so years, plus
herbaria specimens scattered around Texas. After we mapped the 15 species naturally located in the Lone Star State
(okay, five are sub-specie varieties), I looked at the map for Vitis mustangensis and saw several counties I
was sure the mustang grape resided in, but two in particular were within an hour and a half to two hours drive.
One weekend I took off to find it in those two counties.
I found it in abundance eight miles inside one county, although the second county proved a real challenge. For
six hours I drove the highways and back roads searching for the grape without success, but I was sure it had to be
there. Late in the day I was crossing a bridge over a deep creek bed and spotted a tree about a half-mile up the
creek that was covered in vine. I knew immediately by the color of the leaves it was mustang grape, but it took
quite a hike to reach it and collect samples for pressing.
There are seven more counties I think provide residence to the mustang. Three of these are within two to two
and a half hours drive. One is about four hours away, and three are about six hours distant. Unfortunately, the
counties are not lined up for a single dash. I figure I can cover them in three day-trips and two over-nighters.
But the vines are dormant right now and I'll have to await new leaf before I can venture out to find them. Since
the article is fairly well finished, even if I find the grape in those counties it likely will be too late to
include them in the distribution map.
But in the article we present the challenge of asking readers who know of a grape's existence in a county we
missed to notify us of the location of the stand so we can go collect specimens. In other words, we want to be
proven wrong so we can better map the various grapes' distributions.
We had two real disappointments in writing the article.
One grape that was widely reported to exist 100 years ago could not be found in the state. Looking especially
where Thomas V. Munson said it was in his seminal Foundations of American Grape Culture (1909), we struck
out. A combination of cattle grazing, three lengthy droughts, and over-zealous state and county highway crews
appear to have eradicated Vitis riparia from Texas, but oh how I hope we are wrong! I would love for
someone to write me and say it's growing in some gulches on their deer lease.
The second disappointment was Vitis rupestris. Munson reported this grape growing "abundantly" in
central to southwestern Texas down to the Rio Grande, with Llano County being at the center of this distribution.
Despite serious looking, we could find it only in Val Verde County, at the southwestern extremity of this prior
distribution. The only confirming herbaria specimens we located were also from this county. This indicates
serious decline even if isolated examples of it still exist in a couple of counties where we missed it.
Pinot Grigio Wine
A fellow wrote me about 10-11 days ago asking for a Pinot Grigio recipe. He didn't say whether he wanted to use
grapes or juice, so I'm posting the recipe for using juice. If he has grapes, he'll have to crush and press them
or adapt. This grape is also called Pinot Gris and Rulander (in Germany). This recipe makes 5 gallons
- 5 gallons Pinot Grigio juice
- 3 ½ tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 sachet Red Star Premier Cuveé yeast
A good 4-6 hours before you think you'll need it, make a yeast starter with a half-cup of juice and a half-cup
of warm water; sprinkle the dry yeast on top, cover with a cloth or napkin, and set aside without stirring. Then
go do some chores. Return at the appropriate hour and measure the specific gravity of the juice. If low in sugar,
add sufficient sweetness to bring the s.g. up to around 1.085 to 1.090. Stir in the yeast nutrient and transfer
the must to a 6-gallon carboy. Add the activated yeast starter. Cover the carboy with cloth or a napkin held in
place with a rubberband. Set aside for 2-3 days, being watchful for signs of vigorous fermentation. When vigor is
confirmed, wait 8 hours and cap carboy with an airlock. Let ferment until vigor subsides (4-9 additional days) and
transfer to a 5-gallon carboy. Attach airlock and set aside 30 days. Rack into sanitized carboy with ¼ tsp
potassium metabisulfite. Rack every 30 days until clear (2-4 additional rackings), sulfiting every other time.
Degas, stabilize with sulfite and potassium sorbate, sweeten to 1.002-1.008 (as preferred), set aside 30 days, and
bottle if no fermentation is evident. Age 4-6 months before tasting. Drink within one year. [Author's own
March 4th, 2007
I've been working in the vineyard, replacing five vines that performed substandard for me. I replaced them with
two vines of President, two of Brilliant and one of Bailey Alicante. I am uncertain of the development of President,
but Brilliant was developed by the late and great Thomas V. Munson of Dennison, Texas over a century ago. The third
is a cross with one of Munson's other vines (Bailey).
President is a seedling of Herbert. My wife and I tasted this grape on the vine at the Munson Memorial Vineyard
in Dennison a few years back. It was delicious, fruiting in a medium compact cluster of large, black berries. The
vine was strong, healthy and prolific, with perfect flowers. Upon tasting this grape, I could only imagine the wine
it would make. I hope to find out in two years.
Brilliant was developed in 1883, the result of a cross between Lindley and Delaware. The vine endures 15 below
zero weather and Munson claimed it endues both heat and drought. Since I know the vine was grown for years slightly
south and west of here, I expect it to do well in Pleasanton. It produces large, cylindrical clusters with large,
red berries that are both delicious and make a good wine. Although I have misplaced my notes, I know this grape was
successfully crossed with muscadine and that every red (not black or purple) muscadine has some Brilliant in its
ancestry. I ordered this vine about 7-8 years ago from the National Clonal Germplasm Repository at Geneva, New York
and received another grape by mistake. That vine grew well and I shared cuttings with several members of the San
Antonio Regional Wine Guild before we identified the actual grape. This time I received my cuttings from Dennison.
Bailey was developed in 1886 by crossing Big Berry and Triumph. Clusters are large to very large, cylindrical or
branching, generally compact. The large, black berries are quite delicious. The cross with Alicante should yield
a more wine-worthy grape and I have high hopes for it. Last year the cuttings rooted well and as winter approached
the leaves turned a brilliant red. If nothing else, they will add color to the vineyard.
You can read about Munson's grapes in his classic Foundations of American Grape Culture (see link at the
end of this post).
Loyal readers will recall that I began a tamarind wine on December 30th, 2004. In my WineBlog entry of May 17th, 2005
I published a recipe for tamarind wine from the About Mead website (Mead Lover's Digest #779), but never
posted my own recipe. I have now received two requests for my recipe and will post it here. Before I do I'd like to
say that this wine turned out very well -- far better than its placement in competition might lead one to believe.
It only placed third, but it was beat by two excellent wines made by Luke Clark of Leesville, Louisiana. I am not at
all disappointed in its placement when I consider the two excellent wines that beat it.
- 12 oz. tamarind pods
- 2 lb. sugar
- 1 gallon plus 1 pint water
- 1 tsp. pectic enzyme
- 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
- 1 sachet Unican Hock wine yeast
Separate the pod from the pulp-encased seeds inside. Pulp is sticky, but manageable. Do not try to separate
pulp from seeds. Simmer pulp in 1 quart of water for 15 minutes. Strain liquid from pulp and discard the latter.
In primary, combine sugar with liquid and stir until dissolved. Add remaining water and set aside to cool. When
room temperature, add the pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Cover primary and set aside 12 hours. Add activated
yeast as a starter solution and recover primary. Set aside until active fermentation starts and subsides (7-10 days)
and transfer to secondary. Top up if required and attach airlock. Rack, top up and reattach airlock every 30 days
until wine clears. Sulfite at first racking and every other one. Stabilize wine, sweeten to taste and set aside
additional 30 days. If fermentation does not restart (it shouldn't), degas and bottle wine. Wait three months
before tasting. [Author's own recipe]
March 10th, 2007
I don't know why hydrometers and specific gravity are difficult for some people to fathom. They are essential
in making good wine and monitoring yeast fermentation. As I think back, I know I struggled with them for a short
time, but I also struggled with learning to drive a stick-shift automobile -- but only for a short while. Once I
started driving, it all fell into place and became automatic. I think the same thing holds for specific gravity.
One has to work with it on a regular basis to gain comfort in using it to tell you what is happening.
When I first started using a hydrometer, the only winemaking book I owned was C. J. J. Berry's First Steps in
Wine Making. It contained a hydrometer table that was okay for predicting potential alcohol, but it was
calibrated for Imperial gallons and so the sugar measures were off for American gallons. Whenever I wanted to know
how much sugar to add to attain a certain s.g., I had to calculate the amount based on the conversion of Imperial
gallons to American ones and use the ratio to convert the sugar weights in Berry's hydrometer table. After doing
this several times by hand, I bought a calculator and converted the whole table one evening. My conversion is
posted on my web site to this day.
One of the difficulties in working with specific gravity is that there are several hydrometer tables out there
that differ. Why this is so escapes me, but it is a fact. For example, Peter Brehm has a hydrometer table on his
website that claims an s.g. of 1.0838 contains 12% potential alcohol. Honeycreek Vineyards has a table that claims
an s.g. of 1,090 contains 12% potential alcohol. My table claims an s.g. of 1.088 contains 12% potential alcohol.
Ben Rotter, on his Improved Winemaking website, has constructed a table that reports the potential alcohol
calculations of 5 different models (formulas), a most impressive and appreciated service to us all. So which one is
correct? According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture document I have, none of them are absolutely correct, but my
table is very close to accurate. The USDA claims that 12% potential alcohol falls somewhere between 1.088 and 1.090,
so take your pick. Despite the differences in tables, if you pick one and use it, you'll at least know what is
happening with your yeast fermentation.
The hydrometer measures specific gravity. Some hydrometers measure other units, such as degrees Brix (or Balling),
degrees Baumé, degrees Twaddle, or degrees Oeschle, but I use specific gravity and that's what I talk about on this
website. Specific gravity (s.g.) is a measure of density of a liquid. Water has an s.g. of 1.000. Note that
specific gravity is always written out to three decimal places. The s.g. of water isn't 1 or 1.0 or even 1.00
-- it's 1.000. If you dissolve anything heavier than water in the water, the density goes up. Dissolve a pound of
sugar into a gallon of water and the specific gravity is 1.045. The magic number in winemaking is usually 1,088 or
1.090, as this will ferment out to 12% alcohol by volume
Suppose you mixed up a gallon of must of fruit juices, took a specific gravity reading, and discovered the gravity
was 1.065. If you look at the specific gravity table below, you'll see that 1.065 contains 1 pound 7 ounces of
dissolved sugar and, if fermented to dryness, will yield a wine with 8.6% alcohol by volume. Now, if you wanted to
increase the specific gravity to yield 12% alcohol, simply look at the chart below at 1.090. This yield 12.2%
alcohol, but that's close enough. The must requires 2 pounds of sugar to reach this level, so you need to add 9
ounces of sugar to go from 1 pound 7 ounces to 2 pounds even.
After adding the sugar and stirring well to dissolve it, you pour some of the must into a hydrometer cylinder
(test jar), ease the hydrometer into the must and give it a twist to spin it. This will knock any bubbles off the
hydrometer and help stabilize the hydrometer away from the edge. Then you look level at the point where the surface
of the must intersects the hydrometer and take a reading. See the drawing below to see how to do this correctly.
The reading should be 1.090.
After you finish preparing the must and inoculate it with yeast, fermentation will start and become quite vigorous.
When the vigorous fermentation subsides, take another reading. It should be below 1.020 -- probably closer to 1.010.
Transfer the wine to a secondary, attach an airlock, and let the fermentation finish. When all signs of fermentation
have ceased and you have racked the wine twice (at 30-day intervals), take another hydrometer reading. It should now
be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.990. The reason it is lower than 1.000 is because alcohol is less
dense than water. Tannins, pigments, pectins, acids, and other soluble solids in the wine raise the density, but
the alcohol thins the wine and the overall result in a finished wine is usually a density less than 1.000. At this
point, you may want to stabilize the wine and sweeten it. Here, too, the hydrometer helps. If you like a wine that
is "just" sweet, sweeten it a little and take a reading. When the wine reads 1.008, it is at the threshold of
March 14th, 2007
While I was writing my last WineBlog entry, I was watching "The Bourne Supremacy" on TV at the same time. I
shouldn't do that, as my divided attention caused me to make a mistake. In my final paragraph, I wrote, "It should
now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 1.090." A reader caught this and notified me of the mistake.
That evening, while talking on the phone to my wife in California, I opened my editor, corrected the mistake,
and sent the correction by FTP to my server. Or so I thought. The next morning I found an email from the same
reader notifying me I had changed it to read, "It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.090."
I know of no liquid with an s.g. all the way down at 0.090. How embarrassing.
The entry is now corrected to read, "It should now be below 1.000 -- somewhere between 1.000 and 0.990," which
is what I intended to write in the first place. But this goes to show you that one has to focus all of his or her
attention to the task at hand when writing about or making wine. Otherwise, mistakes can creep in and spoil the
Too Much Sulfite
I have received many letters over the years from people who mistakenly added a teaspoon of potassium
metabisulfite to a gallon of wine thinking it was pectic enzyme or year nutrient or acid blend. In fact, this is
probably the most common "oops" I'm informed of. So what do you do when this happens?
Wine yeast strains are much more tolerant of sulfites than are wild strains or baker's yeast strains, but they
aren't that tolerant. So, before pitching the yeast, one has to get rid of the massive amount of excess free
(unbound) sulfur in the must as sulfur dioxide (SO2). There are several ways to do this, but they all boil down to
degassing the must.
If you have a small vacuum pump with gauge, you can pour the must into a carboy or jug and affix a piece of
tubing from the pump to a fitting in a bung and run the vacuum pump to achieve a couple of atmospheres of negative
pressure. This will slowly pull the SO2 from the must. A few hours later, start the pump and build the negative
pressure back up. You may have to do this several times. When the negative pressure stops pulling SO2 from the
must, remove the bung and use an SO2 test kit to determine the remaining concentration. When it drops to 100-120
ppm, it is usually safe to pitch the activated yeast in a starter solution.
If you don't have a vacuum pump, you can manually pour the must from one bucket to another to "knock" the SO2
out of the must. This will take a considerable amount of time. Due to inattentiveness, I have made the very same
mistake (once) and I had to stop after pouring the must about 80 times. My arms just got very tired. After a rest,
I continued and poured it back and forth another 30 or so times before a test revealed a reading of about 105 ppm.
After that, I treated the must as though I had done nothing wrong.
Another Look at Specific Gravity Tables
When writing my last WineBlog entry, I used some tables for reference I had printed out and placed in a 3-ring
binder, but I knew had left a second 3-ring binder with more tables in it on my desk at work. Having since looked
at the material in the second binder, I've found examples of even greater disparity than I reported previously.
But I also found a table from the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics that convinces me that the table
posted on my site is pretty darned accurate - with a margin of error of about 1.59%. The CRC places a 12% potential
alcohol level around a specific gravity of 1.08938. The reason we cannot be more definitive is because of the
existence of nonfermentable dissolved solids in must.
I long ago realized there had to be some measure of specific gravity that represented nonfermentable dissolved
solids such as phenols, acids and their salts, pigments, etc. In an experiment, I dissolved exactly two pounds of
sugar in a gallon of water to achieve a specific gravity of 1.088, then I mixed a gallon of grape juice from
concentrate and adjusted TA to .7%, added a teaspoon of yeast nutrient, and added sugar until the grape must also
measured 1.088. I then fermented the two batches.
The grape must fermented fairly quickly, but the sweetened water lagged far behind - no nutrients, no acidity.
In fact, it took nearly 4 months for the sweetened water to finish fermentation. I then tried to measure
the results. I say tried because I was unable to do so. I did not have a hydrometer that measured low
enough to get an accurate reading on the fermented sweet-water.
The specific gravity of alcohol is 0.791, while the s.g. of water is 1.000. If the potential alcohol of the
sweet-water is 12% by volume, it stands to reason that 12% of it will have an s.g. of 0.791 and 88% will have an
s.g. of 1.000. This calculates to a theoretical s.g. of 0.975, but my best hydrometer only went down to 0.985.
My intent was to actually measure the difference between a sweet-water fermentation and a grape juice fermentation
so as to calculate the actual difference in finished specific gravity, which would reveal the specific gravity value
of the nonfermentable dissolved solids in the grape. But, because I could not calculate it, I turned to UC-Davis
for an answer.
Somewhere among the information on their website at the time I found a figure of 1.5-1.7 Brix, which translates
to a specific gravity value of about 0.006 to 0.007. I've played around with these numbers and, quite honestly,
think they are too small. The grape must I fermented for the experiment finished at 0.990, and I've had wines
ferment to as low as 0.988, but no lower. It therefore seems to me that the real number for nonfermentable
dissolved solids ought to be around 3.4 Brix. I just haven't been able to prove it yet. I'll write more when I
March 20th, 2007
The San Antonio Regional Wine Guild met last Sunday at our home. Although my wife is in California, she was very
much present and called during the meeting to see how things were going. They went fine. I served a brisket I had
cooked on low heat from midnight last night until 1 p.m. today and carnitas I smoked over pecan for three hours.
The other members brought the side dishes and desserts. Everyone brought wine.
I was not able to taste all of the wines brought today. I think I tasted 12. Let's count them. These ranged
from homemade blackberry, blueberry, grapefruit, cantaloupe, the best mulberry wine I've ever tasted, Black Spanish
(grape), Carlos (grape), an excellent mustang (grape), and at least three commercial wines -- including an exceptional
Côtes du Rhône. Let's see...that makes 11. But before the guests arrived, I sampled a cranberry wine with Larry
Lothringer, our First Vice President (we have two -- I am the Second V.P.). Last December Larry mentioned to me that
he had 21 pounds of cranberries in his freezer, but has never gotten around to making them into wine. I volunteered
to do the conversion for him. He gave me the cranberries in January and I went right to work.
(makes 5 gallons)
- 21 lb. whole cranberries
- 8 lb. 4 oz. sugar
- 3 3/4 gallons plus 1 pint water
- 4 tsp. pectic enzyme
- 6 tsp. yeast nutrient
- 1/4 tsp. potassium metabisulfite
- 1 sachet Gervin Varietal D wine yeast
I allowed the berries to sit in their cooler overnight and the whole of the next day, thinking this was sufficient
for them to thaw. Not! But I didn't discover this until I began running them through a food processor. That's when
I discovered about two-thirds of them were still frozen. But, the food processor is a Magic Mill DLX and it does have
power, so they eventually were reduced to 3 1/2 gallons of chopped cranberry bits. To these I added 2 3/4 gallons of
hot water and, after an hour, 4 teaspoons of pectic enzyme. This was allowed to macerate in a 10-gallon primary for
two days, at which time I dissolved 8 pounds 4 ounces of sugar and 6 teaspoons of yeast nutrient in a gallon of water
and added this to the primary. I then added a yeast starter I had begun 20 hours earlier with Gervin Varietal D wine
yeast. The must showed signs of vigorous fermentation within about 10 hours.
Vigorous fermentation proceeded for six days, then subsided notably. The sheer bulk of the pulp required an entire
evening to strain, a quart at a time. I used the pulp to make 12 jars of cranberry jam, one gallon of a second wine,
and the rest went into my compost pile. The wine went into a 5-gallon carboy and required about two cups of water
to top up. Pretty good guesswork, I thought. I sulfited it at that time.
Today the wine is exactly three months old and has been racked twice. It is probably the best cranberry wine
I've ever made. The color is exceptional, the gravity is just shy of sweet, the nose is unmistakably cranberry,
and the finish is both smooth and long. I trust Larry will souvenir me a few bottles for my trouble, but even if he
doesn't I still have the gallon of second wine and 10 of the 12 jars of very good jam. [Author's own recipe]
Cranberry Second Wine
(makes 1 gallon)
- 6 lb. previously fermented cranberry pulp
- 2 lb. sugar
- 1 gallon water
- 1 1/4 tsp. yeast nutrient
- 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
The second wine fermented from the yeast still in the pulp. Because the pulp still tasted strongly of cranberry,
I did not initially add the acid and tannin. It took two days to achieve a vigorous fermentation and was done in a
week -- specific gravity at that time was 0.998. After transferring to secondary, it showed no signs of continued
fermentation, but still dropped to 0.994 in 30 days. This means it absorbed the CO2 subsequently
created and so I degassed it at second racking while slowly adding one finely crushed and dissolved Campden
tablet. This wine is not quite as good as the first but is still nice. I will stabilize it in a week or so
and sweeten it to 1.008 or thereabout. It won't beat the first wine I made for Larry, but it will hold its own
against many others. [Author's own recipe]
March 24th, 2007
I don't like to visit the subject of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption too often -- notice I said
"moderate" wine consumption -- because there is an awful lot of hype out there. If you read the popular press and
alternative health blogs, you'll be left with the impression that red wine is a cure-all and preventative for
everything from aging to viral infections. For a more realistic view, you have to read the science. I read science
everyday in my day job, so when I get home I'd rather spend time with my wife and Springer Spaniel, or making wine,
tending my grape vines, and reading about wine. But occasionally, I have to revisit the subject.
Potential Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption
I was recently informed that every single link on my "Potential Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption" page was
dead -- the links no longer worked. This isn't really my fault. Every time I compile a new list for that page, I
know while I am doing it that most, if not all, of the links will cease operating one day. This is because most
websites rotate their content. If they post an article at all, they rarely do so with a URL that can be archived
as-is -- that is to say, without changing the link. So, if they archive the article at all, which few of them
actually do, they move it to a sub-directory that changes the URL. My link (and everyone else's, for that matter)
no longer works. But, since it has been a while since I updated that page, I spent this morning doing so.
To update the page, I did three searches. The first used the title from the first article I had previously
listed just to see if that article was still around. I couldn't find it, but I found many, many others. I listed
but a few of these, then searched again using one word -- resveratrol. That search alone yielded over 1.6 million
hits, so I looked at the first 100 of these and selected a few links to list. In all, from these two searches I
culled 27 titles, which I placed in a table for your use. Then I went to PubMed Central. PMC is a huge database
of articles from hundreds of medical journals and publications. Titles and abstracts are displayed for the public,
but the articles themselves are usually only viewable by subscription or purchase. We subscribe to PMC at work, but
I am not going to abuse that subscription here. Like copying copyrighted songs, movies or books without paying for
the privilege, that would be criminal. You might think otherwise, but my ethics dictate my behavior. So, I searched
PubMed's "free" articles. These can indeed be accessed and copied without payment to anyone as long as the copies
are appropriately cited. I didn't copy them, but simply linked to them so you could read each entire article should
you chose to do so. I listed 14 scientific articles from that source in a separate table.
The scientific articles do not paint nearly as rosy a picture as the more popular articles, press summations or
blog entries. This should be expected. While science can be exciting, scientific papers -- especially medical ones
-- usually are written in a style that is not. And, because these are largely medical research papers, they can only
report what they, or others, have actually found. Speculation, while permitted, is minimumized. It is considered
bad form to do otherwise. Finally, one has to realize that there is a huge body of medical evidence that supports
the view that alcohol, especially in excess, is not good for your body. To suggest that moderate alcohol consumption
might benefit the body flows against this traditional negative medical bias, so benefits are often down-played and/or
cautiously qualified. Still, if you want to know the "real skinny," read the science.
Switching gears, I received an email asking how to make port. I explained that there are essentially two ways.
Making Port (unfortified)
(makes 1 gallon)
- 15 lb. Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes*
- sugar to raise s.g. to 1.090
- 2/3 tsp. pectic enzyme
- 1 tsp. yeast nutrient
- 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- 1 sachet Lalvin K1-V1116 (Montpellier) wine yeast
*You can use any tannic black grape. I chose Black Spanish because it is available to me. If you use a larger
grape (Black Spanish has small berries), you may need only 12 pounds of fruit.
Crush and destem the grapes and place them in primary. Add 1 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet, cover
the primary, and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Make a yeast starter and activate your yeast. Sprinkle pectic enzyme and
yeast nutrient over surface, stir into grapes, recover the primary, and let sit another 10-12 hours. Add activated
yeast starter and recover the primary. Check s.g. after four days and daily until it drops to 1.010. Strain and
press grapes, combining free run and pressed juice in secondary, add 6 oz. sugar, stir well to dissolve, and attach
airlock. Check s.g. daily and when back to 1.010 add 5 oz. sugar, stirring well to dissolve. Check s.g. daily and
when again back to 1.010 add 5 oz. sugar and stir well to dissolve. You can repeat this one or two more times if
fermentation appears strong. K1-V1116 yeast will ferment to 18-22% alcohol. When the fermentation finally stops
and will not restart by adding more sugar, wait two weeks and rack. Stabilize wine and rack after additional 30
days. After additional 30 days, rack again and add another finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet. Wine should
be clear. Sweeten to 1.020 or to your taste and set aside to age. You may oak this wine if desired at any time for
up to 6 months, depending on your oaking method. After aging one year from last racking, bottle wine and set aside
to bottle age another year at least. [Author's own recipe]
Making Port (fortified)
(makes 2 1/2 gallons)
- 30 lb. Black Spanish (Lenoir) grapes*
- sugar to raise s.g. to 1.103
- 1 1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
- 2 tsp. yeast nutrient
- 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden tablet
- 1 sachet Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne) wine yeast
*Again, you can use any tannic black grape.
As before, crush and destem the grapes and place them in primary. Add 2 finely crushed and dissolved Campden
tablets, cover the primary, and allow to sit 10-12 hours. Make a yeast starter and activate your yeast. Sprinkle
pectic enzyme over surface, stir into grapes, recover the primary, and let sit another 10-12 hours. Add activated
yeast starter and recover the primary. After three days strain and press grapes, combine free run and pressed juice,
and put in 2 1/2-gallon carboy. Add 8 oz. of sugar and stir well to dissolve Affix airlock and allow wine to
ferment to dryness. Alcohol should be 14%, as 71B-1122 reliably ferments to 14%. Rack into clean 2 1/2 gallon
carboy and top up with 80-proof brandy. Wine will now have 19" alcohol and almost 3% residual sugar. If you do not
have 2 1/2-gallon carboys, double recipe and make 5 gallons, but you will be adding a gallon of brandy. Rack after
30 days and again 30 days later only if needed. You can oak before adding brandy or use oak essence. I have made
this brandy twice and each time it was delightful after aging one year in bulk and two years in the bottle. [Author's
The thing to remember with either method is to use grapes high in tannin and acid (at least 0.70% in acid).
Otherwise the wine will not age well, and port has to be aged.
March 30th, 2007
How Sweet Are Your Fruit?
I was recently asked about the sweetness of fruit. The writer said he had moved into a home with nine cherry
trees in the yard, both sweet and sour. He wanted to know what is an average to good Brix for their fruit. This
reminded me of another email I've been sitting on that asked essentially the same thing about strawberries. I had
answered this one, but saved it because I thought it would make a good topic for a WineBlog entry. The question about
the cherries spurred me into action. I dug out three 3-ring binders I've filled with information on various fruit and
started leafing through them. I have the averaqe value of the sugars posted on my site already, along with
the averages for dozens of fruit and berries (see the links below), but I wanted to see if I could find a range
of values like the requestors asked for.
Suddenly I found myself staring at a table on the Brix values of several dozen fruit. I vaguely recall seeing it
before, but have no idea when or where I got it. Some days I go searching for information and copy nearly everything
I find and stuff it in these binders. I have ten binders on information on native American grape species alone, plus
another four dozen on wine yeast, the constituents of wine, health effects of wine, and research articles on both
wine and grapes. Additionally, I have three shelves of winemaking books. I have a lot of information collected
already, plus more is being added online every day. If I copied the pages directly from the internet, I have the
web addresses printed across the bottom of each page. But occasionally, a web page or table is too wide to print on
regular paper or is cluttered with extraneous ads, sidebars or otger stuff I don't want to print, so I copy it to
Word and resize it for printing. In doing so, I lose the source information. It looks like that is the case here.
I took a few minutes then to search my own document files to see if I saved the table and I did, so I converted the
Word file into a web file and attached the source code for the table here.
Fruit Brix Range
|Black Currant||1.015-1.079|| 4-19||20-28||29-48||Citric |
|Red Currant||1.011-1.024||3-6||9-16|| 21-31||Citric|
|Fig||1.060||4||6-10||15|| Malic |
I had to delete 5 different entries on this table because the data were incomplete or missing. Still, I see
some surprising numbers. Look at Black Currants, for example. Can you imagine eating a berry with a Brix of 48?
Also, (this was not nearly as surprising to me) look at Raisins. This is the reason that bringing a must to 1.080
specific gravity and then adding a pound of chopped raisins will result in a high alcohol (16+%) wine.
A few months back a lady wrote to me about some winemaking equipment she was given by her late father. Some of
it was simply too old to be useful -- chemicals, corks, racking hose, some of the bungs which have become hard --
but some of it still has utility. Her biggest curiosity, however, as the hydrometer that would not read 1.000 in
water carefully brought to 60 degrees F.
I explained to her that really old hydrometers were calibrated at 4 degrees C. (39 degrees F.). Then the
calibration changed to 15 degrees C. (59 degrees F.) and stayed that way for half a century. Today, most
hydrometers are calibrated to 20 degrees C. (68 degrees F.), at which temperature distilled water should measure a
specific gravity of exactly 1.000. She discovered that indeed the hydrometer calibrated at about 40 degrees F. She
also learned from her mother that the hydrometer was really old -- it had been given to her father by his father.
April 1st, 2007
I don't like posting on April 1st. Some might not take it seriously, and yet the subject chosen is very serious --
wine stability. This is too often a concern of winemakers only after a stability problem has surfaced. There are
different kinds of instability, and for this reason there are different treatments or, with a view to prevention of
instability, pretreatments. Wine may be physically, chemically or biologically unstable.
An example of physical instability is a wine that is clear but not brilliant due to suspended yeast or
microscopic particles of organic base material - pulp - and the associated proteins, peptides, pigments, tannins,
and other compounds in suspension. Wines maintained at warm or tepid temperatures can resist settling for months
or even years.
During my early period of winemaking I was also going through a period of excessive frugality. I maintained my
home at 80-82 degrees F. during the warmest months to reduce the costs associated with air conditionings. I soon
discovered that my wines simply would not fall brilliant. A fine dusting of material would appear on the bottoms
of the secondaries and I would rack them, only to see another fine dusting appear within weeks. I finally
succumbed to the lure of Bentonite fining to remove the proteins and peptides and gelatin fining to remove the
rest. During late fall and winter, my wines did not exhibit these clearing problems. The little light in my head
finally clicked on....
An example of chemical instability is tartrate instability. In mature grapes, the dominate acid is tartaric and
the most prominent cation is potassium. Significant concentrations of potassium tartrate form in the juice and pose
no problem until the juice has been fermented. Then, alcohol content leads to super concentrations which do pose a
potential precipitation problem if the wines is subsequently chilled. Chilling the bulk wine nearly to its
freezing point will cause the potassium tartrate crystals to precipitate under controlled conditions where it can
be separated from the wine before bottling.
On various discussion forums I have seen the advice given to chill the wine for "a few days." This is
inadequate. Even at 20 degrees F., potassium tartrate crystal formation could take a week to commence and could
continue for several weeks. When you suspect crystal formation has ceased, rack the wine while still cold and
reinsert it into the chiller for another two weeks. If no new crystals have formed, it is probably finished. But
if any appear, leave the wine in the chiller another month.
Colloidal compounds can prevent the wine from dropping potassium tartrate crystals even after prolonged chilling.
One might think this stabilizes the wine against this problem, but colloids deteriorate over time, rendering the
wine unstable. In such cases, a portion of the wine is removed and ion exchange treatment removes the potassium
from it. When the treated portion is integrated back into the bulk wine, the whole bulk is rendered tartrate stable.
Such a treatment is usually beyond the means of the home winemaker, but many commercial laboratories can perform the
treatment for you. It may simply be cost prohibitive.
One of the most troubling chemical instabilities is a nebulous term called "protein instability" or "protein
cloudiness." The reason it is so troublesome is that it is difficult to pinpoint without advanced laboratory
Proteins serve as nuclei for other activities in much the same way as silver nitrate molecules serve as "seeds"
in clouds to produce rain. To these protein nuclei form salt, iron, copper, tin and other trace metal deposits,
albeit very small. To the eye, they appear as hazes or cloudiness that will not settle no matter how patient the
Heat, followed by cold stabilization and Bentonite fining and possibly filtration may be required, but in the
case of colloidal metal complexes, called casse, additional treatment(s) may be required.
It has long been known that simple yeast fermentation removes most of the heavy metals originating in the
vineyard - up to 70% of the iron and 90% of the copper. Judicious use of stainless steel or coated metal in all
contacts with the grapes or must will eliminate outside contamination. Such elimination is desirous not only from
an aesthetic point of view from cloudiness or sedimentation, but also due to the strong oxidative and catalytic
properties these metals possess that influence flavor.
The removal of metallic hazes and cloudiness is beyond the scope I am prepared to delve in today. Since these
conditions are almost certainly caused by metal contamination during harvesting, processing, fermentation, or post-
fermentation handling, it is easily eliminated by thorough investigation and action.
Oxidation is the final form of chemical instability. Color changes due to oxidation is known as oxidasic
casse. There is no known way to stabilize a wine against this condition, but certainly its onset can be
dramatically postponed by following good winemaking procedures, foremost of which is the appropriate use of
sulfites. The other procedures are eliminating or minimizing aeration during racking, clarification, filtration,
aging, blending, and bottling operations.
I corresponded with a winemaker from Michigan who boasted that he had tasted his wine every day following the
first week of fermentation and actually recorded its flavor improvement in a rather tedious journal. His concern
was that the wine was starting to turn brown and smell and taste oxidized after only 95 days. Well, duh! He
unnecessarily exposed it to oxygen at least 88 times in order to taste it. Why wouldn't it oxidize quickly?
Biological instability can take many forms - acetobacter contamination, lactic acid bacterial contamination,
spoilage bacterial contamination, and contamination by undesirable yeast. All of these can be prevented by the
appropriate application of sulfites. Correcting the problem and saving the wine after contamination can be
difficult to impossible.
Acetic acid is a normal by-product of yeast fermentation. Almost all young wines contain 0.005 to 0.03 grams of
acetic acid per 100 mL. More than that is considered contamination by acetobacter - acetic acid-producing
bacteria - post-fermentation. Since a septic application of sulfites will kill all known strains of acetobacter,
it is easy enough to prevent. But even if one forgets to maintain a septic level of SO2, the bacteria require a
rather large amount of oxygen to oxidize ethyl alcohol into acetic acid. Keeping tanks, barrels and carboys topped
up denies it the oxygen it requires. Filling bottles to within 1/2 inch of the inserted cork will prevent bottled
wines from becoming overly acetic. Finally, if one decides to purposefully make vinegar, the "mother" culture
should never be opened in the same room where wine will be made or exposed to the air while being made.
It turns out that there are many bacteria which produce lactic acid, but only a small number that convert
malic acid into lactic and also produce carbon dioxide through the decarboxylation of malic to lactic.
Those few can be useful; all others can produce spoilage. In terms of need, only wines made in cooler regions
from grapes with an excessive amount of malic acid are actually improved by MLF, and even that improvement is often
imperceptible. Tasting panels have never consistently been able to discern which wines had undergone MLF, and
UC-Davis researchers long ago concluded that most wines made under California conditions would be adversely
affected by MLF rather than improved. Despite this evidence, MLF is still the rage among home winemakers
influenced by articles and books that fail to tell the whole story. For these reasons (and some others), I rarely
subject my wines to MLF. Indeed, one of the reasons I sulfite my musts early is to prevent it from occurring.
Both spoilage bacteria and undesirable yeasts are easily discouraged by the application of 100-125 ppm of
sulfites at crush and before inoculation with a desirable yeast culture. Early racking will remove many of the
attractants of spoilage bacteria, while a polishing and sterile filtration before bottling will remove both residual
yeast and bacteria, while scrupulous sanitation procedures will prevent new contaminations.
April 10th, 2007
I consider myself very lucky. The Easter weekend freeze that roared down from Canada dipped all the way into
South-Central Texas and stopped at the city limits of San Antonio. Only thirty miles south of the Alamo City, my
thermometer only dipped to 40 degrees F. My grapevines, now flush with leaves and flowers, were spared.
Many friends were not so lucky, and for them I feel very bad. For some it was the second or third year to receive
a post-bud break freeze which, for those of you who do not grow grapes, probably means no grapes this year. The vines
will recover. Beneath every bud lies the seed for a second (and usually a third) bud, which will be triggered into
growth and will push a length of new vine. The problem is that most secondary buds will not push a fruit-bearing vine,
so they will not bear grapes this year.
Nine years ago I planted some vines on my back property behind my yard. Cutter ants discovered them and in one
day cut every leaf from every vine. I nervously waited while the vines' secondary buds swelled and then broke into
leaf, only to be devoured several weeks later by a ravaging population of young grasshoppers. The days were now hot
and I thought the vines would die. Without leaves they could not produce the energy they needed. I watered them
profusely and and fed them liquid plant food, hoping to help them survive. It took perhaps two weeks for the tertiary
buds to swell, break and produce fledgling shoots of new vine growth. Then the grasshoppers returned, all grown up,
and that was the end of that. With no more buds to push, the vines died.
My Texas friends probably will not have much fruit this year. Primary buds that were pushing late might survive
and produce a few fruiting canes, but for the most part they will be growing vine for next year's buds. My friends
much farther north had largely not yet experienced bud break. For them there is hope. I wish them all well.
I was recently asked about bottle sizes and if the various sizes have names. I pointed the person to my "Glossary
of Winemaking Terms" to look up "Bottle." The very next email I opened asked how the bottle called Winston got its
name. It was a special bottle created by Pol Roger especially for Sir Winston Churchill and held 20 fluid ounces,
or 600 mL (an Imperial pint). A bottle of this was served to Sir Winston by his butler at 11 a.m. as he was getting
These two questions convinced me that I ought to at least mention wine bottle sizes here. The most common wine
bottle size worldwide is 750 mL, but it is not standard everywhere. Some German wine bottles are a liter, some are
700 mL, while some from Alsace are 720 mL. Every wine bottle consists of a mouth, neck, ogive or shoulder, body, and
bottom. The bottom may contain a concave indention, the term for which is a punt. Some almost standard names for
different size wine bottles are:
- Sample: 175 mL
- Split (Sparkling): 187 mL
- Picolo: 187 mL
- Chopine: 250 mL
- Half-Bottle, Demi, Split (still wine): 375 mL
- Pot: 500 mL (Beaujolais table bottle)
- Winston: 600 mL
- Clavelin: 620 mL (Jura bottle)
- Bottle, Standard: 750 mL
- Magnum: 1.5 litres
- Tregnum, Marie Jean: 2.25 litres
- Double-Magnum: 3 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
- Jeroboam (Sparkling): 3 litres (Burgundy shaped)
- Jeroboam (Still): 4.5 to 5 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
- Rehoboam: 4.5 litres
- Imperial (Still): 6 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
- Methusalah (Sparkling): 6 litres (Burgundy shaped)
- Salmanazar: 9 litres (Bordeaux shaped)
- Balthazar (Sparkling): 12 litres (Burgundy shaped)
- Nebuchadnezzar (Sparkling): 15 litres (Burgundy shaped)
- Melchior: 18 litres
- Solomon: 20 litres
- Sovereign: 25 liters
- Primat: 27 litres
- Melchizedek: 30 litres
Sweeting Finished Wines
If you want to sweeten a finished and stabilized wine before bottling, there are several different ways to do this.
One way is to use a "sweet reserve," some of the original, unfermented juice that was aside for this purpose --
usually by freezing it. We're talking about juice with a healthy Brix. After the juice is thawed, it is allowed to
settle any organic sediment. Fining helps. Then it is racked and the clear juice added to the finished wine.
Another way is to add honey to the wine. This yields mixed results. If the honey is exceptionally high-grade and
very clear, there usually is no problem. But if not, the pollen in the honey could cloud the wine, requiring additional
clarification. But try the honey with a sample of the wine before sweetening the whole batch. Some wines simply do not
taste right with honey in them -- especially strongly flavored varietal honeys.
The most common way among home winemakers is to add a strong sugar syrup. By strong I mean two parts sugar dissolved
in one part water or wine. A reader recently wrote me expressing concern that the amount of stirring required to
dissolve granulated sugar in wine might introduce too much oxygen to the wine. In my reply, I made two suggestions.
First, if the wine was properly sulfited, oxygen intake will be minimized. Second, if you use bar sugar (a.k.a.
ultrafine or superfine), minimum stirring will be required. This is expensive sugar, I'll admit, when compared to
regular granulated, but it is the quickest dissolving granulated sugar you can buy. Today I bought a 4-pound carton
of ultrafine sugar for about 50 cents more than a 4-pound bag of regular granulated. The product I bought is called
Baker's Sugar and is sold under the brand name "C&H Professional." I have bought this product before and it dissolves
Lastly, a warning. Do not use powdered sugar to sweeten wine. It contains corn starch to keep the sugar
powder from clumping together and corn starch in your wine will cause a problem you don't need.
April 21st, 2007
I was recently asked about a product called Biolees, produced by Laffort. It seems
to me that I wrote about it before, but perhaps it was just on my "Winemaking Additives and
Cleansers" page. I can't seem to find any other reference to it on my site.
The practice of lees aging (sur lie) and stirring (batonage) is very old and
long known to increase the perception sweetness and reduce the perception of acidity and
phenolic bitterness in both white and red wines. The scientific mechanisms behind this process
were not understood until recently.
Extensive research, sponsored by Laffort Oenologie, was undertaken to determine exactly
what was responsible for the positive sensory impact during yeast autolysis. The original
research work was directed by SARCO and the Bordeaux Institute of Enology. It was subsequently
demonstrated that the enhanced mouthfeel character is due to a specific group of peptides
released during autolysis of dead yeast cells. These naturally occurring peptides add a
sweetening effect while improving overall mouthfeel. These characteristics were reported as
significant at threshold levels as low as 16 ppm.
Laffort Oenologie continued this work and further investigated how these peptides could
be isolated and extracted from yeast. This effort resulted in the production of Biolees.
Biolees can be added during primary fermentation or toward the end of malolactic
fermentation. In addition to nutritive benefits, when added at the later stage, it can provide
a similar positive sensory impact to sur lie aging and batonage while greatly
reducing time and labor. In 3-5 weeks Biolees can impart a perception of sweetness and
mouthfeel that would normally take a few months of barrel aging and stirring to achieve. Its
use also improves the balance of wines and eliminates specific harsh phenolics in a manner
similar to sur lie aging.
Lab trials are always recommended to determine the best dosage and the treatment time
needed. Open bags should be used up rapidly but sealed bags have a 3 year shelf-life.
Biolees should be stored in a dry, odorless environment at 32 to 72 degrees F.
Yeast for Fruit Wines and Meads
Another reader wrote asking about some of my yeast recommendations. He noted that I often
recommend yeasts not obtainable in the United States - brands like Gervin, Unican, SB, and
others. So, he asks, are there other yeasts I would recommend?
Fair question, but let me first say a couple of things about the yeasts I use. Every yeast
I use today was obtained via internet order from my home. On my page entitled "Strains of Wine
Yeast" I give links to where these yeasts can be obtained. I can understand that you may not
want to incur the expense of ordering yeast from England, but you must if you want to try some
of these excellent yeasts. Having said that, I'll admit that some of those very strains are
available in the U.S. under different names. I have an ongoing project to cross-reference all
the strains, but some manufacturers are reluctant to identify their strains in such a way as
to make cross-reference possible. So, instead of trying to give you an alternative yeast
strain for one obtainable in England, I'll simply list the strains widely marketed in North
America that I consider best suited for making fruit wines (I'll do the same for meads) and
encourage you to go to my "Strains of Wine Yeast" page and determine for yourself which should
be used for which wines. This is the best way to become knowledgeable about the various
For fruit wines, I like Lalvin's 71B-1122 (Narbonne), DV10, EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse),
K1-V1116 (Montpellier), R2, and W15; Red Star's Côte des Blancs, Montrachet, and Premier
Curvee; and Laffort's Actiflore C (Strain F33) and Zymaflore VL1. These each impart
particular characteristics best suited for certain fruit and not others. For those who
question inclusion of Montrachet, I'll simply say that it is an extremely fast and reliable
yeast, and there are many fruit that spoil quickly if not fermented cold or very quickly.
For meads, I particularly like Lalvin's DV10, EC-1118 (Prise de Mousse), and K1-V1116
(Montpellier); Red Star's Premier Curvee; and Laffort's Actiflore C (Strain F33).
While I have used White Labs' WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast with very good results, I am
simply partial to active dry yeasts because of their longer shelf life and quicker activation
Now you know....
April 24th, 2007
I saw a product at the supermarket - maraschino cherry syrup - and scanned the list of
ingredients. The only preservatives listed were citric acid (yes, citric acid is a
preservative) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). So, I decided to attempt making a wine with it.
I bought two bottles and headed home.
Attempting a hydrometer reading was, well, laughable. The hydrometer floated so high the
bulb bare got wet. I began diluting with water and eventually determined the actual syrup had
a specific gravity between 1.180 and 1.200. In time, I prepared 4 liters of must with a TA of
6.0 g/L, a pH of 3.45, a specific gravity of 1.085, and 50 ppm of SO2. I added yeast nutrient
and a thin pinch of yeast energizer. While I was doing this, I had a yeast starter solution
going and let it continue for about six hours before adding to the must.
The next day a thin foam had appeared on the surface and by that evening was dense enough
that I capped the jug with an airlock. It started pushing bubbles within 6-8 seconds and they
were encouragingly regular. I expected increased frequency the next morning but it looked the
same. I timed them and got 28 bubbles per minute, not exactly vigorous but sufficient. I went
to work. When I got home they looked slower. I timed them again and found they were pushing
at only 22 per minute. Later that evening, they had slowed to 20 per minute. I removed the
airlock and stirred the must to aerate it, then covered it with a paper napkin held by a rubber
band. I ignored it the next morning and went to work. When I got home I reattached the
airlock and waited and waited and waited. When it finally started passing bubbles, they were
at a slow 3 per minute. Uh-oh.
That night I started another yeast starter solution and added it in the morning before
leaving for work. Later that morning, I Googled the syrup's brand name and found a toll-free
customer service number. I called and asked about their cherry syrup, explaining that I
suspected it contained an unlisted ingredient, sorbic acid. After two transfers, I spoke with
a gentleman who said no, there was no sorbic acid in the syrup. I was about to protest that
the syrup resisted fermentation, suggesting sorbic acid, when the man said, "But I see that we
did leave one ingredient off the list - in error, I assume." "And what would that be?" I asked.
He said, "Benzoic acid."
For those not familiar with these chemicals, sorbic acid results from its salt, potassium
sorbate, and renders yeast cells incapable of budding -- reproduction. It has widely replaced
benzoic acid, which results from its salt, sodium benzoate, and has the same effect on yeast.
I had 4 liters of non-fermentable must at home sitting on my kitchen counter.
As I thought about this turn of events, I recalled an article I had found and printed out
some time ago from Finland. When I got home, I airlocked the must and it pushed 22 bubbles
per minute. I noted that and went looking through stacks of scientific papers until I found
"Preparation of Fermentable Lingonberry Juice through Removal of Benzoic Acid by
Saccharomyces cerevisiae Yeast."
Lingonberries are one of six northern wild berries that naturally contain concentrations
of benzoic acid; the others are bilberries, cranberries, cloudberries, red raspberries, and
black crowberries. Five cultivated berries also contain natural concentrations of benzoic
acid -- black currant, white currant, red currant, red gooseberries, and strawberries. Of
these eleven berries, only lingonberries contain enough benzoic acid to resist fermentation.
I sat back and read the article.
Removing Benzoic Acid
The article explains a method of removing benzoic acid by suspending Saccharomyces
cerevisiae yeast in it under low pH conditions. At pH levels below 3.0, the protonated
form of benzoic acid predominates. The lipophilic character of protonated benzoic acid enables
its penetration through the cytoplasmic membrane into the yeast cells, where it is ionized,
releases a proton, and the released proton is excreted from the cell. Benzoate ions are also
driven from the cells by an electrochemical gradient, but once outside the cell they are again
protonated and the cycle started again.
If the cycle can be interrupted when the benzoic acid is inside the yeast cells --
interrupted by removing the cells -- the benzoic acid can be reduced to a level that allows
fermentation. For lingonberries, the benzoic acid has to be reduced to 1/6th its natural
concentration, but I have no way to measure the benzoic acidity of my must and therefore have
no idea how much I would have to reduce it. Also, I have neither the home laboratory nor the
chemicals required to strictly follow the procedures in the article. Still, I understood the
concept and thought I could manage it -- or at least try.
My immediate first step was to increase acidity and lower pH, which I did using tartaric
acid because I can later remove it, but I only lowered the pH to 3.08 due to taste. Next, I
had to refrigerate the restarted must and allow it to again stop fermenting, which it essentially
did in two days at 40 degrees F. After another five days, I racked the must off the growing
layer of yeast lees. I then activated two tablespoons of bakers yeast and after 30 minutes
suspended that into the must. In the procedure in the paper, the must would be centrifuged
after only 10 minutes of suspension. I could not do that, so I simply allowed the yeast to
settle out over seven days and again racked it off the lees. I then filtered the must through
a MiniJet to remove residual bakers yeast. I was now down to 3 liters of must and decided to
test it for fermentability.
Restarting the Must
I used Montrachet yeast and made a starter solution which I allowed to build for 16 hours
to get a huge culture. During the last 8 hours of starter culturing I removed the must from
the refrigerator and allowed it to assume 70 degrees F. room temperature. I then inoculated
the must and prayed.
I did not airlock the jug for 48 hours, but when I did I noted it was pushing 18 bubbles
per minute. Six hours later it was up to 23 bubbles per minute. Twenty-one hours later
fermentation was vigorous at 68 bubbles per minute.
May 2nd, 2007
The WineBlog was down for three days, having crashed while trying to upload this entry. Internet
America apologizes for losing its Pleasanton connection.
This past Sunday was the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild's 2007 Spring Competition. I entered ten
wines and took six places, including Best of Show (Non-Grape) and runner-up (Honorable Mention) to
Best of Show (Grape). But I am not writing this entry to boast my own wines. Rather, I'm writing to
discuss an aspect of judging that came up Sunday.
We encourage the use of both novice and apprentice judges. Novice judges are those who know
something about wine but have not taken any of the tests for certification. Apprentice judges are
those who have passed at least one of the certification tests. We use these folks as competition
judges both to help train them and because we never seem to have enough certified judges. Sunday we
enlisted the services of two novices. I had the pleasure of judging one category with such a novice.
She did well, but had a little trouble judging wine color.
Judging Wine Color
I once wrote a paper on judging color and spent about four pages discussing the way we perceive
color through the 6 million cones in the human eye, each of which perceives either blue, green or red
wavelengths. While I like what I wrote, it really isn't necessary to know that much in order to judge
the appropriateness of a wine's color. But we should like the judge to know something about color.
Sunlight contains all the colors we can perceive. When sunlight passes through a prism, five
clearly discernable hues emerge in a rainbow of red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. These are the
five true colors the eye can discern and recognize. All other hues are mixtures of these five which,
in turn, are mixtures of blue, green and red.
When you look at a wine in sunlight, all the colors we can perceive are present as wavelengths in
that light. Most of these wavelengths (colors) are absorbed by the pigments in the wine, but some are
not. Those wavelengths (colors) that are not absorbed are reflected and the various cones in the eye
undergo near-instantaneous photochemical changes that detect the reflected hues and transmit them to
the brain where they are mixed to a color sensation we perceive.
The color of a wine may be more or less intense - closer to one of the pure hues of the rainbow.
For example, the estate Blanc du Bois I entered that won Honorable Mention is a light straw color with
a hint of yellowish-green - not a very intense color but correct for a still-young white. On the other
hand, a young dandelion wine is usually much more intensely yellow and may or may not show a trace of
greenishness. If either is golden amber tending toward brown, it is approaching its end. But there
are wines that are naturally golden amber in color - even tending toward brown -- such as Botrytized
Sauternes or my own Praline Dessert Wine. One does not want a novice judging such a wine unless
paired with one or more experienced judges.
Four years ago in this WineBlog I commented on the judging in a major competition by inexperienced
enology students who severely faulted my Praline as "brown" and "oxidized." It was certainly brown,
as anyone who has ever eaten a praline would expect, but it definitely was not "oxidized." Judging
such as this makes the competition a mockery, although I have the highest respect for the competition's
sponsor. I have never entered another wine at that competition, but may change my mind in the future.
Cabernet sauvignon is undoubtedly a red wine, but it lacks the intensity of redness that a beet or
cranberry wine contains simply because it is more reddish-purple due to purple tannins. But in truth,
many red wines contain more purple in them when young through the pigmented tannins they contain. As
they age, the purples may mellow to ruby-redness or precipitate out and leave a less intense red.
Truly purple wines, such as some elderberries and blueberries, age to almost garnet redness. However,
any wine that has turned brickish-red is almost always past its prime. As more brown seeps into the
brick, the more definitive the diagnosis.
In addition to intensity, color may also be more or less saturated. To understand saturation,
suppose you had a bottle of claret and poured five samples which you then diluted with water by (1)
none, (2) 10%, (3) 20%, (4) 35%, and (5) 50%. Each of the five samples is the same color, but each
has a different saturation of that color. Given enough volume appropriate to overcome the various
dilutions, each would appear the same.
It is helpful to know what color is typical for a given wine. This is a knowledge gained from
experience, knowledge the novice judge I was paired with did not possess. I therefore helped her as
best I could by critiquing each wine against the standard for it that is stored in my head.
The most difficult wines to judge for color are blush and rosé wines. Their colors may range from
pink to light red to nearly red, or, they may display only the slightest traces of color. Depending
on the ingredients involved, these colors may be acceptable, may be too light or dark, or may be
entirely out of range. For example, a white zinfandel or white merlot that is orange in hue is simply
wrong - out of range for the grape.
In other instances, a wine may be inappropriately categorized if entered as a blush or rosé. For
example, strawberry wine naturally ranges from a light to just-shy of medium strawberry red. Blush
and rosé are styles. One cannot help but make strawberry that looks like a blush or rosé, but that
is its natural color, not a style the winemaker engineered. It should be entered as a fruit wine.
Now, if a pronounced strawberry wine is blended with a kiwi, for example, with the idea being to
produce a blush or rosé, then one might argue it should be entered as such. When I made that wine,
I entered it as a fruit blend but was aware that I could have entered it as a blush.
May 5th, 2007
I am frequently asked all manner of questions about sulfites and using sulfites. In truth, I
think I have addressed this subject adequately, but I still answer the repetitive questions in my
email, snail mail, and phone calls. This WineBlog entry is to answer a phone request. The problem with
repetitive requests, I think, is that people don't bother to read what has already been written before
contacting me with repetitive questions. Take a little honesty test:
- Have you read the WineBlog archives listed in the left column of this page?
- Have you ever used my site's internal search engine to track down topics within the more than
400 pages of The Winemaking Home Page?
- Did you even know this website had an internal search engine?
- Do you know how to find it?
The answer to the last question is to look in the sectional descriptions on my index (home) page.
It is the sixth item listed. Or, on just about any other page, look at the last item (far right) in
the top row of the navigation panel (see below).
The "Search" button will bring up a page with some verbiage. Please read it before typing in a
search topic. Do NOT include the word "wine" in your search term or it will list every page in the
whole website because "wine" is printed on them all. The word "recipe" is also on a lot of pages.
So, if you want to search for a recipe for strawberry wine, first try searching for the single word
Let me get back to sulfites. Because most of my recipes are for 1-gallon batches, they usually
call for the use of Campden tablets. These contain pre-measured amounts of the sulfite-containing
salts that release sulfur dioxide into our wine. Each tablet usually treats one gallon of wine. The
preferred salt is potassium metabisulfite, but some formulations of Campden still use sodium
metabisulfite and others use sodium bisulfite. These are not the same thing and I only recommend the
potassium salt for your wine, but the sulfur dioxide released by each is indistinguishable except in
the quantity released.
When buying Campden tablets, ask what the active ingredient is. If the supplier doesn't know, buy
from someone else. There is no shortage of suppliers if you shop over the internet. Just go to my
listing of winemaking and homebrew shops and start clicking. Almost all shops have an email address
on their contact page and many have toll-free phone numbers so you can call and inquire.
Also remember that Campden tablets degrade over time, so after a year - certainly after two - they
should be discarded and new ones obtained. It is a good idea to write the date on the label when you
open them, then you'll have a better idea of when to order new ones. They aren't expensive, so bite
the bullet and order new ones.
If you are making wine in bulk, or if you can accurately measure the dosage, it is better and
cheaper to buy and use the pure potassium metabisulfite. You will be surprised how little it takes
to deliver an effective, aseptic dose to a gallon of wine - only 1/5 of 1/4 teaspoon. For gallon
batches, I used to measure a level 1/4 teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite, dump that onto a cutting
board, and use a knife to divide it into five equal little piles. I transferred these to small vials
until needed. The amount of the pure salt needed was so small that it seemed unbelievable it could do
the job, but it did. It also made me realize just how much of the Campden tablet was actually inert
'bonding material, the contents of which I have yet to discover. Whatever it is, I really would
prefer it not be in my wine.
You can also buy a small measure that holds 1/16 teaspoon, slightly more than the amount I obtained
by dividing a quarter-teaspoon into fifths. But 1/16 teaspoon will not overload your wine or render
it undrinkable by any stretch of the imagination. A friend gave me one of the measures and I use it
all the time. If you can't find it elsewhere, you can get it at E. C. Kraus Home Wine and Beer Making
Supplies, Independence, MO (you can find them on my list of shops).
A quarter-teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite weighs approximately 1.5 grams and will deliver 45
ppm (parts per million) of SO2 to a 5-gallon carboy or 225 ppm to a gallon of wine, juice or must. To deliver only 30 ppm, one gram will treat a 5-gallon carboy and 0.20 gram will treat a gallon. Thus,
the importance of a gram scale (or the little measure from E. C. Kraus) is actually huge.
Like Campden tablets, potassium metabisulfite has a shelf life. I use so much I rarely have to
discard it, but if you make less wine than I do you probably should write the date you open it on its
label and discard it between its first and second anniversary. Both it and Campben tablets should be
kept in an airtight, humidity-resistant container. A glass vial or jar is perfect. Be sure to
transfer the label or make a new one for the new container.
10% SO2 Solution
Another way to deliver sulfur dioxide to your wine or must is to make and use a 10% solution of
potassium metabisulfite in water. This is what the caller was asking about. You will need a
reasonably accurate gram scale and milliliter measure to do this. When I make a 10% solution, I make
a tenth of a liter, or 100 milliliters. I measure 10 grams of potassium metabisulfite and add that to
a graduated 100 mL tumbler. I then add distilled water to the 100 mL mark and stir with a small whisk
to ensure it is dissolved. I transfer this to a 125 mL bottle labeled "10% SO2" and store it with my winemaking chemicals.
I have numerous ways to measure small amounts of liquid accurately - graduated test tubes, pipettes,
tumblers, and flasks, plus a graduated syringe. The latter is the easiest to use for measuring SO2 for small batches of wine. You can obtain one from any pharmacy or veterinarian. Ask for a 10 mL or 1 cL graduated syringe. One centiliter is the same as 10 mL.
The key thing to remember is that fresh 10% potassium metabisulfite solution contains 5.7% SO2. Over time, especially if stored poorly (in a garage, for example), it will degrade. When it does, I use it to sanitize my wine bottles and equipment.
I constructed the table below for my own use. It works well for musts in the 3.25-3.45 pH range.
Higher pH levels need to be adjusted downward. Lower pH levels require different calculations I am
not prepared to go into here.
||1 US gal
||2.5 US gal
||3 US gal
||5 US gal
||6 US gal
To use the table, scan the top line for the volume of juice, must or wine to treat and the left
column (ppm SO2) for the level of SO2 (in ppm) you desire. The numbers at the intersection correspond with the milliliters of 10% SO2 solution required to achieve that level in that volume. If you wish to treat a volume not found here, multiply the number for the desired ppm for 1 liter or 1 gal by the number of liters or gallons you wish to treat. For example, to add 30 ppm to 6.5 US gallons: 2.00 X 6.5 =13.00 (actually, the multiplier for 1 gal at 30 ppm is 2.006262, yielding 13.04, but 13.00 is
I am sure the first criticism will be that it is nearly impossible to estimate 2.65 mL or 3.33 mL
with a 10 mL syringe. And to that I will say that if you estimate the fractions the best that you can
you'll be doing the same thing I am doing. If you want greater accuracy, spend some money and buy the
If you are a stickler for accuracy, the multipliers to the 6th decimal place in the 1 gal column
for the various ppm levels are: .681372, 1.324890, 2.006262, 2.649780, 3.331152, 3.974670, 4.656042,
5.299560, 5.980932, and 6.624450.
May 10th, 2007
A reader wrote and asked, "What are gross lees? Are these the ones that smell bad, look bad or
what? And what are fine lees? Are there just plain lees?"
I'll admit it. I laughed pretty good. Then I hit "Reply" and began my answer.
Firstly, I pointed out to the inquirer that my website contains perhaps the best glossary of winemaking
terms one will find on the internet. In fact, the glossary is the first page I ever posted on the net.
When I decided to post a second page (of useful links I had found), I needed a name other than "Glossary of
Winemaking Terms" as an umbrella for the pages. I chose, "The Winemaking Home Page" as the umbrella. But
that's a digression. Here's what my glossary says:
Loose sediments containing a large quantity of fine pulp from the fruit or other base materials from which
the wine is made. The pulp does not compact well on its own and therefore is loosely suspended in wine. Gross
lees can be compacted somewhat by adding gelatin to the wine, or they can be coarsely filtered or centrifuged
to recover much of the wine trapped within them.
Contrast this with my entry on lees:
Deposits of yeast and other solids formed during fermentation. This sediment is usually separated from the
wine by racking. Sometimes the wine is left in contact with the lees in an attempt to develop more flavor.
See Autolysis and Sur Lie Aging.
Having written this to the gentleman, I got to thinking about it. While these descriptions do in fact
describe the lees, they don't really say much more than that. And then, I did not describe fine lees. But
hey, what else is there to say? Quite a bit, actually.
Pectin or No Pectin
If the must was treated previously with pectinase (pectic enzyme), the gross lees will settle fairly
rapidly - in 24-72 hours. If not thus treated, the polysaccharides tend to keep things in suspension. It
is therefore necessary to treat the wine with pectic enzyme and allow sufficient time for the hydrolysis of
pectin to occur - about 24 hours.
There are different problems associated with musts containing grapes infected with Botrytis cinerea,
the fungus commonly called bunch rot. Bunch rot can produce two distinctively different conditions.
Consistently wet or humid conditions give rise to grey rot, which results in the loss of the affected grapes.
But, if dry conditions follow wet ones, the result can be noble rot; the grapes begin to become partially
raisined and, if picked at exactly the right time, can result in distinctively sweeter grapes suitable for the
finest dessert wines.
What does this have to do with gross lees? Well, grapes with Botrytis cinerea tend to produce more
complex lees, but the interaction of the fungus with the grapes produces glucanes, another form of
polysaccharides that tends to keep solids in suspension. In this case the wine should be treated with
glucanase, an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of glucanes.
Problems Arising from Gross Lees
Particles of fruit pulp left in the wine too long can produce off odors and herbaceous flavors generally
considered undesirable. For this reason, every attempt should be made to remove gross lees when transferring
wine from primary to secondary. The easiest way to accomplish this is to lay a very fine nylon mesh or coarse
nylon cloth in a large funnel and siphon the wine through the funnel.
Gross lees also tend to attract and combine with free SO2 in the must, thereby removing its benefits from the bulk. This exposes the must (and later the wine) to harmful bacteria it would otherwise be protected
from. If gross lees remain in the must for more than 10 days, the must should be tested for SO2 levels after the lees and wine are separated.
Plain and Fine Lees
Generally speaking, plain lees are dead yeast cells, microscopic vegetative matter, pigments, tannins, and
fining precipitants such as Bentonite, casein and PVPP. Fining material left too long in wine, due to the
action of the ethanol, will release the substances they absorbed, defeating the purpose of their use. The
other components each pose a slight risk to the wine, but cumulatively the risk is greatly increased. These
lees should be separated from the wine through racking within 3-8 weeks of transfer to the secondary.
Additionally, if the wine underwent malo-lactic fermentation, the depleted MLF bacteria will settle on the
lees and eventually begin autolysis. More importantly, the live MLF bacteria can, if left alone, go on to
metabolize with citric acid and different amino acids to produce acetic acid -- not good. When MLF is finished,
the wine should be sulfited to an aseptic level commensurate with the wine's pH to kill off the MLF bacteria
and then racked no later than 10 days thereafter to prevent undesirable results.
After the wine has been racked once and fallen clear, a new layer of very fine yeast lees will form. These
lees can be retained in the wine for sur lie aging, but must be stirred regularly every 3-5 days to prevent
sulfur-derived off odors and flavors from developing.
Finally, it sometimes occurs that during aging, especially in a cool cellar or closet, very fine (and
sometimes coarse) crystals precipitate out and form a layer that looks similar to silica sand (in white wines)
or amethyst (in red wines). These are potassium tartrate crystals. Upon discovery, the wine should be chilled,
if possible, to encourage more, and then racked off the layer while still chilled or cool. If allowed to warm
before racking, some (if not all) of the potassium tartrate will dissolve back into the wine and precipitate
again later, possibly in the bottle.
May 20th, 2007
In my last WineBlog entry (May 10th, 2007) I discussed lees - gross, plain and fine. The gross lees, I noted,
are undesirable for prolonged contact with wine, but the fine lees, which are almost entirely dead yeast cells,
can be held in long contact with wine in a process known as sur lie aging. Why exactly would we want
to do that? In a sentence, to enhance its oenological properties.
When an alcoholic fermentation is finished, there are an incredible amount of yeast cells in the wine -
between 30 and 100 grams per liter of wine. Yeast are an important source of polysaccharides, amino acids,
nucleic acids, and esters. Each of these is well know in the food industry for their strong flavors. To
liberate them from the yeast, the yeast need to be dead, need time to break down, and need to be moved through
the wine (stirred) frequently. Stirring is important because compacted Saccharomyces lees can release
sulfur compounds which, if released, can surely spoil the wine.
Polysaccharides are locked in the cell walls of the yeast. If liberated, they contribute a roundness to the
palate, lengthen the finish and provide stability to the wine. The first is achieved by creating a sensorial
effect of volume and coating, usually interpreted as smoothness. The second is perceived by the late liberation
of certain volatile compounds on the palate. These compounds are rendered unavailable for polymerization and
sedimentation and therefore remain stable in the wine. The third contribution, stability, is achieved by a
colloidal effect that slows down or blocks tartaric crystallization and associates certain tannins, pigments and
Amino Acids and Nucleic Acids
Yeast cells are rich in amino and nucleic acids. These are gradually released when yeast die and their cells
break down. When their concentrations are sufficient, they contribute to amplifying the intensity of complex
sensations at the end of the palate.
Certain esters of fatty acids - ethyl hexanoate, ethyl octanoate, etc. - contribute sweet and spicy aromas to
the wine, while other hydrolyzed esters - isoamyle acetate, hexyle acetate, etc. -- contribute floral aromas.
When these esters are released simultaneously, the senses perceive sweet and spicy grape aromas. In order to
liberate and preserve these esters, along with the beneficial amino and nucleic acids, the sulfur compounds have
to be expunged from the wine or they will ruin it. Thus, batonage, or stirring the lees, is incredibly
important. At the same time, the wine must be protected against oxidation from the frequent stirrings over the
several months of sur lie aging required. As I have said so many times in the past, this protection is
delivered by maintaining an aseptic level of sulfite in the wine.
From Lees to Blackberry
Changing subjects, I was recently asked the following on a thread about blackberry wine: "Tell me, what's
your favorite way to make blackberry wine? What do you do, what % alcohol do you think is best, what yeast? Any
other tips?" I said I would answer these questions here, so consider this that answer.
If, by my favorite way to make blackberry wine means a favorite method, that would be to freeze and later thaw
the berries, mash them in a nylon straining bag, and create a balanced must to produce 13-13.5% alcohol -- primary
fermentation to 1.020, strain the pulp, transfer the liquor to secondary, and ferment to dryness. After
clarification and stabilization, sweetening to about 1.004-1.006 usually produces the wine I like. I might add
a teaspoon of glycerin. It depends on the mouthfeel of the finished wine.
If, by my favorite way to make blackberry wine means a favorite recipe, I am still working on that. I've made
blackberry wine using everything from 4 pounds of fruit per gallon to 16.75 pounds. Only one batch was ever
deemed unsalvageable, but that, I am sure, was because the berries, commercially obtained, were past ripe and
spoiling, plus there was some fungal contamination that I thought would be checked by sulfites. I'm sure it was,
but the damage had already been done. All the other batches were good to great. Some were better blended with
other wines. Most were great straight.
Now, if one asks a different question, I'll give a different answer. The best blackberry wine I ever made was
made with 12 pounds of berries, one cup of Zinfandel concentrate, 1.5 pounds of ripe bananas simmered in 3 cups of
water, and balanced in the must for 13% alcohol. There are three tips in the above.
I like Lalvin RC212 for blackberry. Because blackberry's acidity is mostly malic, I do not allow a whole batch
to undergo MLF. However, half of the above wine separately underwent MLF, was stabilized, and then recombined
with the rest.
May 24th, 2007
I was recently asked about the edibility of Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) and its suitability as a
winemaking flower. The writer was warned that Scotch Broom is toxic and asked my opinion. My reply was
short and simple: Scotch Broom has a very edible flower with medicinal properties known for hundreds (if
not longer) of years. It sometimes gets placed on lists of toxic plants because the seeds are toxic if
crushed, chewed or broken before swallowing. If swallowed whole and intact, they pass right through the
body without affect.
After sending this reply, I got to thinking about it a bit more. My references to its edibility are
confirmed, but one source lists the flower as a "survival food." This usually means that it is edible, but
either not too tasty or not too nutritious. So I had to do a bit more research. I found the answers I was
looking for, but not complete answers.
Brooms are multistalked shrubs growing 1-3 meters high. Their many branchings form dense thickets which,
when in leaf, effectively shades undergrowth. Flowers are pea-like in appearance, normally bright yellow,
large for the type (up to 1-inch high), and typically grow in clusters at or near the tips of the branchlets.
The flowers develop into green pea-like pods which turn dark brown to black and burst to spread the very hard,
dark seeds. Cultivated varieties have been developed with a wide range of colors, from white to yellow to orange
to pink to scarlet.
Scotch Broom flowering and dried branches
In the images above, one can easily see where the name "broom" came from. Gathered dried and tied, the
branches make natural brooms, especially the hand-held whisk brooms known as a "bisom."
Scotch Broom contains small amounts of sparteine and isosparteine, both of which are toxic quinolizidine
alkaloids. These have been used in medicine as heart stimulants. Whether the toxins are found in the flowers
is not known, but if so it is only present in trace amounts or the flower would not be considered edible even as
a "survival food." Survival foods that poison you or make you sick are not assisting your survival. But at
least one species could make you ill, as you'll see below.
So the real question is: would I make wine with these flowers? The answer is: only if I knew what I had
and they yielded a satisfactory flavor. To determine that, I would harvest some of the flowers and make a tea,
allow it to cool, and then taste it. Then I would sweeten it slightly and taste it again. If I found the flavor
enjoyable, I would proceed. But that is me. You have to decide for yourself if you would make wine with them.
There are more than one "broom" plant species. The Common Broom is the plant referred to as Scotch Broom.
There are also several others found in America. All were imported plants that escaped gardens and are now
considered invasive, noxious weeds with little benefit to man or the habitat they quickly transform.
Transformation occurs by aggressively crowding out desirable tree seedlings, especially in areas newly cleared
by fire or timber harvesting. New trees, grasses and native shrubs cannot grow as fast as the Brooms and
eventually die due to lack of sunlight. The result is the formation of monotypic stands of Broom that reduce
wildlife habitat and hinder native revegetation.
Scotch Broom is a perennial evergreen shrub in the legume (Fabaceae) family. It reaches heights up to 12 feet,
is multistalked and many-branched. The branches are stiff, angled, more or less erect, dark green, and broom-
like. Many branches are leafless or have few leaves, but their density effectively shades the ground beneath them.
Upper leaves are simple, but lower leaves are trifoliolate (three-parted).
The bright yellow flowers are about ¾ to 1 inch long, pea-like in shape, and bloom from throughout the spring.
The brown or black pods are flat, like pea-pods, with hairs on the margins only. Each contains several seeds.
Seeds are oval, about 1/8 inch long, dark greenish-brown, and have a hard, shiny surface. Seeds can last for 60-
80 years in the soil.
Portuguese Broom (Cytisus striatus) is easily distinguishable when seed pods form because the pods are more
inflated than the Scotch pods and hairy or fuzzy all over, creating the appearance of being covered with pussy
French Broom (Genista monspessulana) has smaller flowers that appear much earlier than the Scotch flowers, but
it also sports trifoliolate leaves - triple leaves from a single point, as opposed to simple leaves of the other
species. It has been noted that children have developed nausea and vomiting from sucking on the flowers of French
Broom, a development that probably was generalized to all species.
The most drought-resistant of the broom species is Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum). It has flowers similar
in size to Scotch Broom, but they are less numerous and appear on thicker stems with far fewer leaves. Their
flowers are quite fragrant and appear later than those of Scotch Broom.
White Spanish Broom (Cytisus multiflorus), sometimes called White Portugal Broom, is less common. It produces
white flowers, few seeds, and quite different in appearance from true Spanish Broom
May 27th, 2007
A reader asked me about color. In a recent WineBlog entry (May 2nd, 2007) I mentioned judging color and some
of the problems judges have regarding this characteristic of a wine, so the reader asked how long a wine can be
expected to retain its color and what, besides oxidation, causes color changes.
Believe it or not, whole chapters of books have been written on this subject. It is a complicated subject, and
to be honest, most of it would bore the average reader of this WineBlog. So, I will simply hit a few highlights. For
more detail, you really need a good book on wine chemistry. Several are listed at my website (see first two links,
I'm sorry, but one simply cannot discuss color stability without also mentioning oxidation. All grapes contain
a natural enzyne that promotes oxidation -- tyrosinase, a polyphenol oxidase. The amount of this enzyme present
varies among different grapes, but it is there -- trust me on this. Another oxidation-inducing enzyme -- laccase
-- may also be present if the grapes being crushed include moldy ones. Otherwise, tyrosinase is the first worry.
It will begin pulling O2 molecules to polyphenols almost as soon as the grapes are crushed. Now, most grapes don't really contain all that much tyrosinase, but some contain an awful lot. Blanc du Bois, for example, contains so much that for the average winemaker it is impossible to crush and press the grapes without the juice becoming brown within 24-48 hours. So with this grape, the juice is immediately cold-settled for 2-3 days, during which time the brownish phenols settle to the bottom and can be separated by racking prior to sulfiting and yeast inoculation.
Why not sulfite Blanc du Bois juice immediately after crush? First, it is important to remember that sulfiting
will block the activity of the enzyme, but not destroy it. If the enzyme is left in the wine, it will activate as
soon as the sulfite level drops too low. Second, it is important to realize that once the enzyme does its thing,
it is essentially "used up" and no longer a problem. In other words, the wine is now more or less "color stable"
for some time -- until other oxidative forces take over. Third, it is also worth noting that once the tyrosinase
'does its thing" the free O2 in the must is largely depleted, so adding sulfite to the juice as it is being racked following cold-settling will maximize the benefit of the sulfite -- more inter-molecular spaces will be empty of O2 molecules and can be occupied by SO2 molecules. However, because yeast need O2 to reproduce, micro-oxigenation may be desirable for the first 48-72 hours after inoculation.
The Importance of pH
Pigments in wines are mainly anthrocyanins and tannins. The pH of a wine affects the percentage of anthrocyanin
compounds that can be readily oxidized. The lower the pH, the redder a red wine. The higher the pH, the more
brown or purple a red wine will become. But no red wine will remain color-stable indefinitely. Eventually, the
anthrocyanin molecules (and the tannin molecules) will polymerized with themselves and other phenolic compounds
and grow too large to remain in solution. They will settle out as insoluble precipitation.
The Importance of CO2
We all know that once fermentation begins a CO2 blanket forms over the wine and excludes O2 contact. What we forget is that the protective blanket is lost when transferring to secondary, when sampling and testing, when bulk aging, when stirring lees during sur lie aging, and when bottling. We rely on our sulfite level (or the alignment of the planets, or a magnet inside a cow's skull, etc.) to protect our wine. Those who are really serious about their wines will create a new CO2 blanket whenever they remove the airlock from the secondary.
Most of us have consumed a red wine and discovered a "mask" of pigment covering the inner surface of the bottle.
This "mask" is simply oxidized polyphenols that have attached themselves to the glass. Almost any red wine in the
bottle for 5-10 years will form such a coating, but the key word here is "almost." I have had a 30-year old wine
that was once recorked but retained in the same bottle that did not exhibit the slightest masking on the glass. The
wine itself was still vibrantly red and young looking. This was an extremely well-made and well-husbanded wine. It
had been racked several times, but each racking was carried out in a CO2-rich environment to exclude O2 contact with the wine. The receiving secondary was filled with CO2 and the secondary being racked from was filled with CO2 as the racking progressed. During bottling, each bottle was filled with CO2 prior to filling, so as the wine entered the bottle it found no O2 to scavenge.
The Bottom Line
If you retain anything from this entry, retain this. Low pH and maintaining appropriate SO2 levels help stabilize color. Further, a CO2 blanket introduced whenever the airlock is removed is an extra margin of insurance against early oxidation and helps preserve color stability.
CO2 canisters are a luxury many of us cannot afford, but if you can afford it do not create an artificial blanket in the primary immediately before or after yeast inoculation. Yeast need O2 to reproduce. Instead, rely on low pH and SO2 to protect your must.
If you are working with a grape high in tyrosinase, like Blanc du Bois, cold-settle the juice for 2-3 days,
rack it off the brown sediment, and proceed with inoculation.
June 3rd, 2007
Several of us were remarking recently about how different white mustang wine tastes from red mustang. The
mustang grape, known binominally as Vitis mustangensis, is primarily a black to reddish-purple grape. Since
the mustang's flavor is almost exclusively locked up in its skin, one can make a blush or even white wine from the
dark grapes by pressing immediately at crush and avoiding skin contact with the juice. However, a white form
of the mustang grape exists, although it is extremely rare in nature. Based on the number of vines I have observed
in nature, I am guessing the white fruited form occurs in the neighborhood of one in eight to ten thousand vines.
I have never planted seeds from this grape to see if they would carry the genes responsible for the white skins,
but intend to do so one day just to know the answer.
The point is that the dark mustang makes a very strongly flavored wine, albeit one some people don't care for,
while the white form of the grape makes a more neutral flavored wine in comparison. However, if you are not
comparing the white mustang to the red, it too is rather strongly flavored, just not with the same flavors as the
red. Indeed, the difference is like night and day -- as great, really, as the difference between red and white
Zinfandel wines. It is the greatest natural example I can point to of the flavors associated with anthrocyanins
and tannins, for it is these that account for the differences in flavor between these two forms of mustang grape.
There is no great lesson here -- just an observation.
Wine labels are constantly changing, it seems. I remember the uproar years ago when the BATF required the
warning, "Contains Sulfites," on wines sold in America containing over 10 parts sulfites per million. To anyone
who knew anything about winemaking, this was a silly requirement as wine yeasts naturally produce around 20 parts
sulfites per million. Thus, almost all wines contain sulfites after fermentation. It would have been far more
logical to put "Sulfites Added" on the label to let those sensitive to sulfites know that sulfites were added than
to require a label warning that a natural ingredient was present. Oh well, no one ever accused governments of being
Sulfur dioxide ("sulphur dioxide" to my English-spelling friends) affects a small percentage of people who are
sensitive to it, and I do mean small. But, if you are one of those affected by it this is no flippant issue.
Still, I know people who claim a sensitivity to sulfites who don't really have one except in their heads. They
eat raisins and other dried fruit loaded with sulfites, drink fruit juices preserved with sulfites, and eat fast
food chains' French fries that are processed with sulfites prior to freezing, all without any reaction. Yet, as
soon as they see the "Contains Sulfites" warning on a wine label they go into mild hysteria. To these folks I have
only pity. Their unnatural biases have complicated their lives unnecessarily.
Asthma sufferers can find their condition aggravated by too much sulfites, and this seems to be a genuine yet
unpredictable reaction. I myself suffer from asthma but use sulfur dioxide without regard to my condition. This
is because I rarely get an adverse reaction to it, and when I do it is from smelling the raw gas in a strong
concentration, not from the levels used in the wine itself. There was one exception when the nose of a wine sent
me into an asthmatic reaction, but I really think something else might have also been involved because it was but a
single incident among countless episodes of sniffing wines. Still, I recognize that many other asthma sufferers
have a much greater sensitivity to sulfur dioxide than do I. I do not treat the differences in tolerance lightly.
My wife, like many people, sometimes gets headaches from drinking too much red wine, but I am not at all sure
this is from sulfites. Various authorities claim it is not the sulfites in wines that cause headaches, but
histamines derived from grape skins. Since red wines have had prolonged skin contact while most white wines have
not, the red wines will naturally contain histamines and several other components found only in trace amounts in
white wines if at all. Someday, I am sure, we will know with certainty what really causes these reactions and will
stop blaming sulfites for every adverse condition that develops after consuming wine. Until then, we can only
endure the assault upon this extremely important and almost essential food and beverage preservative.
The South African government and the European Union now require a similar sulfite warning on their wine labels.
As far as I can see, their wine industries have not collapsed as a result, but one South African winemaker
protested the new labeling law by putting "Warning: Contains H2O" on his label. He said he actually had people ask
why he felt it necessary to add these "artificial chemicals" to his wine. How can one live to adulthood in this
day and age without knowing that H2O is water?
A new wine label can be obtained in America that reads, "USDA Organic Wine." It is reserved for wines produced
without the use of chemical sprays or fertilizers in the vineyard and without the addition of sulfites to those
naturally produced from the grapes themselves. While I am sure there is a market for such wines, I am not sure such
wines will make a market. If this sounds cryptic, let me make it plain. Stabilizing wines without adding chemicals
is risky business. It would not take too many failures to keep an organic winery's books permanently in the red.
I'll be watching this niche market. I predict a rocky road for a while, but if this segment can develop
successful alternatives to chemical stability then we can all benefit from it. Wouldn't that be cool?
A Little Bit of Elder
At a recent meeting of the San Antonio Regional Wine Guild I placed a Black Cherry-Elderberry wine on the tasting
table. It received good comments and sparked several questions about making it. Naturally, the most common
question asked varied on inquiries about the ratio of black cherry to elderberry, and here I could only guess. In
truth, I added the elderberries without really looking at the measure, but if I had to guess I would guess about a
half-cup per gallon of must. The frozen berries were placed in a 2-cup glass measure to thaw, set aside, and later
dumped into the must without actually noting the exact level of fill. However, the measure was about a quarter full,
so my guess is about a half-cup. Like mustang grapes, elderberry has very powerful flavors and 1/2 cup per gallon
should be sufficient for what I was trying to achieve -- a slightly more tannic finish.
A little elderberry can improve many wines. The risk is overdoing it and masking the flavor of the primary
ingredient(s). It not only is a good source of tannin, but also of color. My black cherry wine turned much darker
as a result of the small amount of elderberry added and this too was a desired effect. Several years ago, a pure
black cherry wine had been marked down because the judges did not know the true color of black cherry juice and
expected a darker wine than presented. The addition of a little elderberry made this wine look the way "black
cherry" sounds, but in truth it is much darker.
Adding elderberry to red wines to enrich their color is perfectly acceptable in home winemaking as long as the
elderberry is listed as an ingredient. Failure to list it, even if only an oversight, constitutes fraudulent
labeling. In competitions, this can (and should) mean disqualification.
Elderberries do more than enrich color and contribute tannin to a wine. They also add complexity that, especially
when only added in trace amounts, defies easy recognition. However, there is a point when it becomes recognizable
and at that point it detracts.
June 12th, 2007
I want to tell everyone who will listen how blessed I am. I have a circle of good, caring and loyal friends, a
not-always-close but ready-to-pull-together family, and a wonderful, loving and lovely wife whom I totally adore.
I have a reliable employer, an absolutely stellar boss who will never read this so I am not sucking up by saying
so, and I love my work. Finally, I get too many emails to answer so at least I know I have readers who look to me
for...well, something. All I am missing is my health, but I am working on that.
I had a heart attack last week -- my second in a decade. The first one left me with a triple-bypass and coronary
artery disease. I went on meds and made some adjustments, but they were not enough. While I did yard work and
made lots of wine, I did not really exercise. My body has paid the price.
This one left me with congestive heart failure. I went through one round of procedures last Friday and am
scheduled for two more as my strength returns enough to permit them. I will be alright. I'm going to be writing
for many more years.
But I have had to wake up. My life will change or it will end prematurely. Because I would not give up fried
chicken and barbecued pork ribs, I'm going to have to give up salt. We don't really appreciate how much we love
salt until we have had nine consecutive meals without it. Yes, there are substitutes, but they don't really taste
But it is the subject of wine I want to focus on here. It does not look like I will have to give up the fruit
of the vine, but I will certainly have to cut back. Only the recovery of my heart will dictate whether I can
continue judging wine events, so there are uncertainties in this area.
The Health Benefits of Red Wine Consumption
It would be reasonable for one to look at my lifestyle and my cardiac history and hold them up in some way
against the claims of health benefits of red wine consumption. Do not go there.
In 1977, The Complete Book of Running by James F. Fixx became the best-selling non-fiction hardcover
book ever and ushered in the age of jogging for health and fitness. Seven years later, Jim Fixx collapsed while
running in Vermont and was found lying beside the road, dead of a heart attack at age 52. Did running kill Jim
Fixx? No. If anything, it probably prolonged his life so he could achieve 52 years. Did red wine consumption
cause my heart disease? Absolutely not. A sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy appetite for rich, southern foods
were probably the major contributors. I am not an alcohol abuser, so have no doubt wine contributed nothing
whatsoever to my own health problems.
Indeed, I think the health benefits of red wine consumption are overwhelming and have written about them several
times. Further, there are 27 current links on my website where you can study the research and draw your own
conclusions. More links can be found with minimal effort.
My reasons for writing this entry are several. First, I wanted to explain the delay between entries and warn
you to expect future delays as additional procedures are undergone. Second, I needed to do my part in encouraging
all to moderate their consumptive passions, whether for fried chicken, barbecued pork ribs or anything else.
Moderation in all things is appropriate. Third, I wanted to dispel any thought that my winemaking / drinking
contributed in any way to my health problems. Finally, I wanted to plug, once again, the probable health
benefits of red wine consumption. I only hope you got something out of it.
June 17th, 2007
I don't want to beat this heart attack thing to death (oh, what a pun!), but I have received dozens of phone
calls from people out there I may or may not have ever met, spoken to, or exchanged emails with, but who wished
me well and asked that I keep them informed. It amazes me that people would pick up the phone and ask the
operator for Pleasanton, Texas. I thank each and every one of them, but will post this update so no one has to
spend his or her money on phone calls on my account.
I am doing very well. I visited my cardiologist Friday and was told my heart sounds and looks much stronger
- so much so that we scheduled my next procedure for June 26th, a week earlier than projected only four days
earlier. I also learned that after I am weaned off of Plavix - in a month or so - I can have a glass of port or
two glasses of wine per day. Folks, that's huge news. The sun will rise tomorrow.
So, with that said, let me move on to more interesting topics.
Easy to Make Wine
A friend sent me a little hardcover book, Easy to Make Wine by Mrs. Gennery-Taylor. The book was
originally published in England in 1957 as Easymade Wine and Country Drinks. I am most appreciative of
my friend for sending me the book. It has a couple of recipes in it I did not have and others that are variations
I haven't tried. So, it has value for me. But it is also 50 years old. A whole lot has changed in home
winemaking. If this were your only guide, you would be making some fairly questionable stuff, but this can be
corrected with minor alterations.
I have a large number of older winemaking books. I enjoy reading them - more to appreciate how far we've come
than to actually learn method or technique. But in truth, I have learned something from every one of them.
Easy to Make Wine is no exception. Should you happen to come upon one of these older books and have room
for it in your library, then by all means obtain it if it is cheap. Such books have no value as antiquities as
far as I can determine, but some people nonetheless think that any book 50 years old must be worth a small
fortune. Leave them to their dreams and shop elsewhere.
Easy to Make Wine has a number of faults. If you recognize them and make allowances and corrections,
the book can be useful. I'm going to run through a few of them simply because I find it a useful exercise.
Hopefully, you'll get something out of it too.
Mrs. Gennery-Taylor used common household kitchen articles in making her wine. I have a number of similar
books that do the same thing. Most tend to employ an enameled stock pot, earthenware bowl or crock, or plastic
bucket or trash bin as both a primary and secondary. You can certainly make wine that way, but it will oxidize
very quickly. This isn't a problem if you drink it as fast as you make it, but if you want to cellar some for
the future you need to retard oxidation as long as possible. There are three things you can do to this end not
featured in Easy to Make Wine.
First, transfer the must from primary to secondary when the initial fermentation loses its vigor. Mrs.
Gennery-Taylor did not use secondaries at all.
Second, use an airlock to keep the atmosphere away from the wine after transferring it to secondary. While
Mrs. Gennery-Taylor mentioned that airlocks were available, she did not use them.
Third, use sulfites. I am not at all sure Mrs. Gennery-Taylor knew about sulfites, for she didn't mention them
and actually allowed - no, encouraged -- mold to grow on certain of her musts. The latter is not all that unusual
in old home winemaking books, but they also used to bleed people when they were sick. We're beyond that.
In Easy to Make Wine, Mrs. Gennery-Taylor ferments her musts for a week to 10 days, strains them, and
bottles them almost right away. She advocates corking the bottles and tying a cage with string over the loosely
corked mouth of the bottle so the cork can rise and allow gas to escape without dislodging the closure completely.
To add insult to injury, she "feeds" the wine with rock candy (marble-size crystals of sugar) when she bottles it
so it will "improve." I have two other books from the same time-period that also bottle their wines with rock
candy in the bottles and simply set beveled corks in the bottles without seating them.
If anyone reading this WineBlog doesn't already know it, the procedures in the previous paragraph are all wrong.
True, one can make wine that way, but Mrs. Gennery-Taylor herself admits that her wines sometimes "blow," losing
corks and wine. No small wonder when you complete fermentation in the bottle without aiming for a sparkling
finish or controlling the prime.
Complete the fermentation in the secondary, under an airlock. You can monitor everything there, and racking
will help clarify the wine way beyond what completing fermentation in the bottle can achieve.
Mrs. Gennery-Taylor has some interesting recipes in her little book, but her methods are hopelessly outdated.
Adapt the recipes to modern winemaking methods and the book has value. Simply adapt them to the Basic Steps of
modern winemaking and rest assured the wine will turn out okay. Finally, remember that her recipes are for
Imperial gallons, not American ones. Adjust the sugar additions downward to achieve starting specific gravities
in the 1.088-1.095 range.
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