Saturday, November 6, 2010

2010 Mead

Well this one is a real experiment.

I went to the beer store with my DW, and she said something to the clerk about mead. The clerk said he had a kit which included a packet of chemicals and that they sell a 1 gallon bucket of honey just for making mead. I though she was going to make mead, but it turned out she decided that I should make mead.

The mead is an experiment because my wife is involved enough to give directions, but not involved enough to do any of the work. She wants to stick slavishly to the recipe in the kit, which has three kinds of mead: dry, sack, and sweet. Dry mead gets 10 lb of honey, sack gets 15 lb, and sweet gets 20 lb of honey per five gallons total. "Sack mead" is a traditional sweet version of mead. "Sweet" is over-the-top in sweetness for our 21st Century tastebuds.

The recipe I am using is:

20 lb honey
3.5 gallons of spring water (Walmart brand)
7 g yeast nutrient from the kit
7 g of pectic enzyme from the kit
5 oranges, not in the original recipe, but to provide acidity, and some flavor. These were cut, and crushed in my grape crusher
Lavlin EC-1118 yeast (a Champagne type)

I did not boil or otherwise pasteurize the mixture.
After the fermentation started I added:

50 g of chopped raisins (10t)
4.5 cinnamon sticks
1/4 t of cloves
1/2 nutmeg
[would have added 1/4t allspice, but I didn't have any.)

Crushing the oranges into the honey-water.
The tricky aspect of this is that the sugar content is wildly high. It has a Brix that is literally offscale at 32.2, and a density of 1.42, which might make a skull-crushing 34% alcohol (by density). A Brix of 20 and an alcohol content of 13% might be more normal. On the there hand, the yeast will die before it gets that intense, and what we will get is a dessert wine. I am worried, what I am going to get is pancake syrup.

I fermented it a week in a open top plastic container, and then transferred it to glass fermenters. The Brix was still 29, where 0-5 would be typical for fruit wine.

I left the orange rinds in the must because I think leaching the limonene out of the rind will give some welcome bitterness.

The plan is to let it ferment until clarity, then hit it with sorbate to kill the yeast with residual sweetness. I may take some and try to make sparkling wine too.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010 Zinfandel

I went to the local grape market, and found some wonderful "old vine" zinfandel grapes. I have taken to wondering around the warehouse looking for grapes that seem good to me. I originally was looking for Merlot grapes, and there were some good ones, but these zinfandel grapes were so more flavorful and sweet.

2010 Zinfandel Recipe

144 lb or 4 cases of "old vine" Zinfandel grapes from F. Colavita's of Stockton CA; crushed to juice;

13 g of ammonium bisulfite
10 g pectic enzyme

Let stand until morning.

10 g yeast energizer
900 ml water
2 packets of yeast - Montrachet

I crushed the grapes in my humble wood crank grape crusher. I pulled out the larger stems, but these grapes had a good number of sugary raisins so I left those stems in. I pulled a lot of stems out though, and I double crushed them by running them through the crusher twice.

Ammonium bisulfite is to kill the wild yeast. The pectic enzyme helps the wine to be clearer.

The density of the juice was 1.122g/ml, and the Brix   refractive index was 27.4. This should give a high alcohol content in the range of 16.7%. These grapes had a large number of raisins so I think the sugar content will probably go up. I added 900 ml of water, which should drop the alcohol to about 14%.

I decided to use two packets of yeast since the cabernet sauvignon fermentation was too slow.
My art photo using the zinfandel grapes. 


I tracked the refractive index over the first week.

Oct 10  7 PM       26.4 Brix  (Yeast added)
Oct  11 7 AM      26.4 Brix  (Its the same!!  :-(
Oct 11  8 PM        24.5
Oct 12  7 AM       19.2
Oct 13   no measurement, but huge volumes of carbon dioxide bubbles I spent time dividing the juice into two containers to avoid overflow
Oct 14  7 AM       9.5  (huge drop in Brix)
Oct 14  7 PM       9.5  (Its the same.)
Oct 15   7 AM      9.5  (Its the same?)
Oct 15  10 AM     9.5  (Strangely the same. Yes it measures water correctly.  The juice seems fermented by flavor.)

I pressed the grapes, which went well. I got 41 liters of juice from the four cases of grapes. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Muscato and Cabaret Sauvignon Update

As described below, I made the grape juice from the Muscato grapes, and fermented it for 7 days in open top primary fermentor before transferring to a demijohn. I got about 18 liters yield from the three cases of grapes. I did not adjust the sugar content.

I tracked the refractive index to monitor the fermentation:

27 Sept   23 (so called Brix units)
28 Sept   15
29 Sept    12
30 Sept     9
1  Oct       8

The book says that the refractive index should go negative before moving to a secondary fermentor, but I did not to that.

It has been a week since then, and the wine is slowly clarifying. The wine is not evolving carbon dioxide quickly though the trap though, so I am a little worried.


The cabaret sauvignon fermentation started more slowly. I monitored the refractive index twice a day since I was worried about it.

27 Sept   pm      24.4 (so called Brix units)
28 Sept  am       24.1
               pm      22.8  
29 Sept  am       21.8
               pm      19.7
30 Sept  am       15.8
              pm       13 
1  Oct    am       11.6
              pm      10.3
2 Oct     am        9.7

Similarly I wish I could have let this go farther. I pressed the grapes, and got about 36 L from the four cases of grapes.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

2010 Muscato

The grapes were juicy, but there were some
past their prime. This may produce a sweeter flavor,
but keep the yield in juice per box down.
I am making a Muscato, also called Muscatel or just Muscat, because my brother Glenn has made some excellent Muscato, and it is useful for blending with other wine. Also my DW likes it, although I'd need to finish it sweet for her to really like it.

2010 Muscato Recipe

72 lb Muscato grapes (Medaglia D-Oro, Stockton CA) 
4 g potassium bisulfite
5 g pectic enzyme
4 g yeast energizer
1 packet of Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast from Red Star (added the next day)

I crushed the grapes in less than an hour --they were very juicy -- and then pressed them. The pressing was hard because they squeezed through all the gaps in the press. They squirted out of the wooden cage and made a mess. Later I pressed the escaped grapes in a nylon bag.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

I started the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon today because the grapes at the market (California Wine Grapes on Fort Street) looked so good. It is actually three cases of Cabernet Sauvinon and one case of Merlot -- all from California. The sugar content is good at 1.12 g/ml for over 13% alcohol content, however the refractive index measured at 23.2 Brix (whatever a Brix is), and that is good for 12%. I added another 550 g of sugar, which on approximately 10 gallons or 38 L of juice, should be good for 13.5 % alcohol or so.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Recipe
108 lb (3 cases) Cabernet Sauvignon (Top Brass from Earlemart CA)
36 lb Merlot (Lodi Gold, Lodi CA)
13 g potassium bisulfite
10 g pectic enzyme
550 g sugar
10 g yeast energizer
1 packet Montrachet yeast from Red Star (added the next morning)

It took me about three hours to make the juice in my hand turned machine, and then I fished most of the stems out by hand.

In the grape crusher
May 13, 2012 Update

I allowed this to ferment for 20 months during which time I added 1 tablespoon of wine tannin to sharpen the flavor and 2 grams per liter for oak chips also for some sharpness. The result was a fairly simple wine that was strong, but not that fruity or that tannin-y. I wonder if more aging with help it. Currently it is inferior to the 2010 Zinfandel by a good bit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pizza From China

A chinese pizza would be a wheat bread dough with chinese vegetables on it, and a sweet spicy sauce -- maybe some soy flavor.

When I was in fifth grade, I told everyone that pizza was invented in China.

In fifth grade, I had heard about the story about Marco Polo bringing spaghetti to Italy from China, I think from watching Jeopardy!  I told my teacher, who did not believe me. Being a good teacher, he told me to look it up. Like most fifth graders, I could not spell "spaghetti", so I looked up "pizza" instead.

Soon I was telling kids and my teacher that pizza came from China --though I never could prove it. Other kids were more sensible than me, and did not believe it.

I wonder how my brain worked in fifth grade!

Spaghetti does not come from China either, primarily because the Chinese did not have seminola or durm flour in ancient times. The Marco Polo story is false, although he did use the Latin word for noodles when describing some of the Chinese food. The point being that there was a Latin word for noodle already, so he did discover them in China first.

Having said all this; I seldom eat spaghetti today because I am too carbophobic.

I do eat pizza because I like it so much.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Champaign Bubbles

An image of the carbon dioxide flowing out of a glass of cold champaign. From GĂ©rard Liger-Belair of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, in France where else?
 (J. Agric. Food Chem., DOI:10.1021/jf101239w).

The carbon dioxide is colder than the room air, and it is heavier than air as well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

2009 Dry Zinfandel

2009 Zinfandel - Nice clarity and beautiful color. It is a light red
as zinfandels usually are. 
In this picture, you can't tell how how big the glass really is. 
I bottled out 3 gallons of the 2009 Zinfandel yesterday. It was strong and clear. It was fruity and not heavily tannined. I had added some oak chips but not many. Its flavor is fine, but not complicated.

The wine is still young, and I am still aging another 6 gallons of it in another carboy.

After 48 hours the flavor has changed considerably due to the oxygenation of the wine on filling. I am constantly amazed at the effect of oxygenation on flavor. Today's flavor is much matured.

Recall, the plan for this wine was to stop the fermentation of part, and make a sweet Zinfandel, but that did not work, and it all turned out dry.

Jan 2011 Update: This wine has matured well, and is quite drinkable now with an alcohol content in the 13% neighborhood. It does not have any off flavors.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

2010 Cherry Wine

One of the best things last winter was discovering how Wonderful my 2009 Cherry Wine was. So this Spring I was excited to get some fresh Michigan Cherries and make more.

Sadly, the Spring was unusually warm and I missed the season. I managed to get some fresh cherries at the store, but I could not find the abundance and price that I hoped for. I settled a mixture of fresh and frozen cherries from GFS Gordon's Food Service. The GFS cherries were whole PITTED sweet cherries without sugar.

Let me say that buying cherries that are PITTED is a million times easier. It took me over an hour to remove the pits from the fresh cherries this year. Last year I gave up after a while, and fermented without removing the pits.

I have a tip on removing pits by hand. Pit removal is easier with a the needle-like prongs from a corncob holder. I could pierce the cherry and push the pit out using the prongs pretty fast. Much easier than last year, when I eventually gave up. This year I had the whole mixture de-pitted, and I could run them through my grape crusher. Ordinarily even one cherry pit would jam the grape crusher. With the grape crusher, I am sure I will get much better extraction of the cherry juice.

I started with the recipe from 2009 with a few changes notably the yeast, the yeast energizer, and the larger 6.5 gallon size.

Cherry must with the yeast broadcast on top.
 After another minute, I stirred it in. 
2010 Cherry Wine Recipe

36lb cherries (30lb frozen + 6 lb fresh)
6 gallons of water
9 bags of Lipton tea
12.5 lb of sugar
1.5 t of metabisulfite
9 g of yeast energizer
6 g of pectin enzyme
1 pack of Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast

Cherries are not very sweet and not very juicy either. One needs to add more water than you'd think. I added 11 lb of sugar to get to 1.088g/ml which would be 10.5% alcohol. I adjusted it in two steps with 50% sugar syrup to 1.102 which should give 13.5% alcohol. There should be a theoretical way to adjust the sugar content, but I don't know how fast the volume changes with each increment of dissolved sugar. One can make assumptions based on no volume change, but that under represents the addition. Once I had an adjustment, I extrapolated.

The idea of the tea is to add flavor. It seems better to use tea rather than oak chips to get a tannin flavor. The metabisulfite was added Saturday night to keep the natural yeast under control while the juice warmed to room temperature. I put the yeast energizer and yeast in on Sunday morning. I used the Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast because I had it leftover from last year's apple wine disaster (see below.)


December 30, 2010 Update

I tasted the wine and was quite disappointed. It did not have the depth of flavor I wanted. It was cherry-like, but not strongly so.

I decided to add more sugar to run the alcohol content up, and to make more of a dessert wine.

I added 2.6% by weight of regular sugar on the 25 liter batch or 660 grams (1.5 lb.)  I'll let you know how it turns out.

This is another recipe that calls for boiling.

2009 Apple Wine / Hard Cider

I never posted on my 2009 Apple Wine adventure because it ended so badly. Now that some time has past, I think I will put something up.

Jenny had been buying Hard Cider at the store lately, and wanted me to try some -- different than wanting us to try some. We went to Downriver landmark Block's Farmstand to buy 1.5 bushels of Michigan apples.

I found a kit at the local beer store, which essentially was a packet of preweighed chemicals. I liked this kit because it had a hard cider recipe, which is:

5 gallons apple juice
3.75 t acid blend
2.5 t pectic enzyme
1.25 t wine tannin
1 pack yeast
2.5 t potassium sorbate

This seems like a lot of chemicals for five gallons, but it is from a wine chemical vendor. Worse, the kit is missing the potassium sorbate.

The problem was getting the juice. I thought I could mash the apples well enough with the food processor, but that was way too slow. I eventually gave up on most of the apples, and ended up buying juice.  (After a while, most of the apples ended up in my garden's compost pit.)

The resulting juice was flavorless, but I fermented it anyway.

By Thanksgiving, I knew I did not have a tastey Hard Cider, which is after all a weak apple wine --rather I had weak flavorless liquid not good for anything.

I thought for a while I could save it by blending it with other wine,; most notably my 2009 Blueberry wine which had a strong tannin flavor, but not enough fruitiness. No way though. The Apple wine wrecks whatever it touches.

I did find something to blend it with. Fortifying it with brandy helps a lot. Fortifying with grain alcohol does not give the right flavor. Either one makes helps the wine to clear. I had given up getting to become clear, but adding the extra alcohol made it all settle to the bottom of the bottle. One can see sediment at the bottom of the bottle in the photo.

Flavoring it with honey also helps. I bottled off some Pseudo-Mead with brandy and honey that is decent.

The lesson I have learned is that only flavorful juice makes flavorful wine. The second lesson is that the main flavor in apple juice is sugar.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

French Colleges May Soon Require Wine Appreciation Classes

The French are seriously debating making wine appreciation are REQUIRED college class.
It looks like a scan from the wine growers to promote wine consumption. This is from Time Magazine

Now the authors of a recent government study have come up with a controversial way to teach young French that famous savoir vivre in sensible drinking: hold wine tasting sessions in college cafeterias.

Commissioned by the French Higher Education Ministry, and co-authored by a pair of respected French gastronomes — former director of Paris Sorbonne University, Jean-Robert Pitte, and television presenter Jean-Pierre Coffe — the report, published in March, includes a range of proposals on how to improve students' diets and consumption habits. Pitte and Coffe believe a university education shouldn't stop at the cafeteria door, and that alcohol should be on the syllabus too, in the form of lunchtime tasting classes. "We thought it was good to begin to instill a sense of responsibility in students, and teach them to how to appreciate good wine in great moderation," Pitte told France INFO radio last month. "And to show them that it is pleasurable and healthy, and part of our national heritage."

Read more:,8599,1984065,00.html#ixzz0m2yQyEVW

In my view this is a case where politicians and commercial interests should keep themselves out of the classroom. It is interesting to consider that French colleges are more subject to this interference because they get so much more government aid.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wine Grape Authentication

It is hard to know whether the grapes we buy are what they claim to be. Beyond looking at the label on the side of the crate there is little anyone can do to be sure. Recently Gallo bought Merlot grapes thinking they were buying Pinot Nior grapes. 

If one is a big vineyard, one could hire a lab to analyze the grapes, although I tend to think it is smarter to visit the farmer. If you are a little guy, what hope do you have?

Chemists at Ege University in Turkey looked at grape authentication, and found a number of solutions that involve heavy instrumentation. The best is restriction length fragment polymorphism RLFP, which involves extracting DNA, and treating it with enzymes to cut it at determined points, and then analyzing the length with an agarose electrophorsis gel. There are more advanced versions of this technique. Most species identification is done this way, as are many paternity tests. It is hard to find a lab that will run samples, but one is Marin Biologics.  There was a technique involving electrophoresis of the grape juice, which I found interesting since one can do it after pressing.

Having said all this, there is no good way to ensure that your grapes are what they say they are. The reputation of the vendor is important, but even the big vintners even buy mislabelled grapes from time-to-time.  Gallo caught the scam. How many other scams go undetected?

My recommendation is to look at the grapes when buying, and pick ones that you like the appearance of. Don't pay too much because you can't ever be sure of what you are buying.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2009 Riesling Not Ready Yet

Being Easter, I wanted to celebrate by trying some of the new wine, and my reds are definitely not ready. I was hoping that my 2009 Riesling would cooperate.

I opened it, and transferred it to a smaller demijohn and some gallons. The wine has a pleasing reddish color because I left the skins with the juice overnight. That is not so unusual, my books says that people sometimes do that, but it made the wine darker than most people's Riesling.

The problem with the wine is that it is still harsh. It is not undrinkable, but it is not smooth yet. The flavor improves with aeration, but not completely.

Last year's white, a pino grigio, has mellowed since last year. I am hoping patience will be the key. I am going to age the wine in the garage while it is still cool to try to get any precipitate to drop out.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2009 Wine Update

It has been a while since I have updated my wines.

2008 Merlot
For the record, I am very pleased with the 2008 Merlot. It turned out very well, and I only wish I had made more. It was made from juice that I bought from California, and it is very lightly oaked. Wonderful.

2008 Pinot Grigio
The 2008 Pinot Grigio is a decent white wine, but I am not overly enthusiastic about it. It does not have the grapy flavor that I was hoping for. My friends like it better than I do. I bottled this one early last year, and there is not that much left.

2009 Cherry
The star of my fruit wines from last year is the 2009 Cherry. It has an intense cherry flavor, that has mellowed from the cough syrup variety to a fragrant and tasty mixture. It is strong though. I know I mis-measured the sugar content, and this wine almost too strong. I probably should blend it off with something. The wine has matured well, and I have been drinking it since Christmas.

2009 Blueberry
The blueberry fruit that this was made from were so inviting that I made this wine without enough research. The wine has a tannin flavor without a lot of fruitiness. Its best attribute is its pleasant fragrance, but there is no flavor to match. I think it could be blended with a red grape wine to give complexity. Not so good on its own.

2009 Apple
The clear loser of the lot. After a failed effort to press apples, I purchased juice. The apple wine is almost flavorless with just the slightest hint of appleness. I had been hoping to blend this with something -- like the cherry, but this wine wrecks whatever it touches. It is probably destined to be poured down the drain. It is slightly better if I sweeten it with honey, but I think it is a waste of good honey.

2009 Merlot/Syrah
I made this from two cases of Merlot grapes and one case of California Syrah grape. I am quite happy with this, and only wish I made more. It is still aging, but it is drinkable already.

2009 Riesling
I made this wine from grapes, and allowed the skins, which are white (of course) to soak overnight with the wine, so it is more amber and more grapey than most Rieslings. The wine has the color of the juice that is picture below. It is a dry Riesling, at least right now. I am not above taking a portion of this and sweetening it.

I tasted it yesterday, and it has a harsh flavor to it that I don't like. I am hoping that is still yeast, and that it will age out. I am not in a hurry to bottle this one. It is possible that I should filter it.

2009 Zinfandel
When I made this wine last fall, I was thinking that I did not get the yield out of the Merlot/Syrah project, and decided to visit the grape store again. At the time, they OLD VINE NAPA VALLEY, and I put one case it. All these grapes were really nice looking.

Now that the wine has aged this far, the wine is drinkable, but far more tannin-y than I'd like. This is despite the fact that I did not add any oak chips It is less fruity than I wanted. It is a good candidate for blending with the Blueberry or the Riesling.

I racked this one yesterday, and it is drinkable, but too harsh.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Does "blintzes" rhymes with "kisses?" -- A Valentine's day blintz recipe

I was working on some bad Valentine's verse, and I was looking for a rhyme for kisses. I did not like "misses" or "hisses"; suggested blintzes. I don't agree that "blintzes" rhymes well with "kisses", but I don't write good poetry.

Anyway, this got me free associating on cheese blintzes. ["Blueberry blintzes" doesn't fit the meter of my poem.]

I liked this blintz video, so much that I wanted to post a link here.

I liked how nicely this was produced. This is a style that I think I might try to copy.  John Mitziwich, the cook, is friendly and likeable.

Having said that I'm not planning to make a blintz. I am going to make a cheese blintz filling and put it in a flakey puff pastry. I will use the easy blueberry sauce though.

What rhymes with pastry?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

All about Chianti

I found a great article on Chianti on Slate. Here is the second paragraph. (I have upgraded my journalistic standards, so I don't just swipe whole articles anymore.)

The constant wrangling over Chianti has been part of a broader debate in Tuscany concerning the role of sangiovese, the region's signature grape. sangiovese, which means "blood of Jove" and is indigenous to Tuscany, was traditionally regarded as too coarse and tannic to stand on its own and was believed to perform well only when blended with other grapes. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the accepted formula for Chianti was to mix sangiovese with a hefty percentage of canaiolo and two white wine grapes, trebbiano and malvasia. This recipe was enshrined in 1967, when the Italian authorities ruled that Chianti had to be an amalgam of these four varieties and that the white grapes had to account for 10 percent to 30 percent of the final blend. But there actually wasn't much synergy between the white grapes and sangiovese, and this unhappy marriage, coupled with excessive crop yields, inferior vines, and poor winemaking, produced a lot of rotgut.

My big thing with Chianti is that you don't know what you are getting. A good Chianti is wonderful, but the bad Chianti's out-number the good ones. As with most wines, the expensive ones are necessarily the good ones. The nice thing about Chianti is their unpretentious ness. They are friendly and accessible.

The other aspect of Chianti is that it is a blend of red wine with white wine at 10-30%. This is something traditional in Italian wine that Italian-American wine makers do. My brother gave me some white-red blend like this over Christmas, and it was pretty good. Soon I was mixing my 2008 Pinot Grigio with Australian Syrah, and pleased with the result. It certainly helps the Syrah.

The other thing about Chianti is the straw covered bottles, that are cute for a while then tacky. They are called fiascos. The nicer Chiantis don't have them. I encounter fiascos all the time. (According to the OED, the two definitions of fiasco are not related.)

I think of the problematically-named Dago Red as a blend of red and white grapes. That is the recipe that they give out at California Wine Grapes, my local grape source.