Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012 Melbec & Cherry

The Melbec & Cherry starts with a disaster, which was the cracking of a 25 liter demijohn of 2012 Merlot, that leaked the vast majority of its wine on the floor. I am still sick about this, as the glass should not have broken when I tapped it so lightly.

Being too late to get more fruit, I thought I'd get juice to replace it with. I bought California Melbec juice because "Why not make a variety that I'd ordinarily never make from fresh grapes?"

After I got home, I measured the sugar content and it was very low. 15.9%! That would make a weak and watery 7.9% alcohol wine. Worse, the juice was watery tasting.  I think the processor, Regina, added water to the juice.

It is easy enough to add sugar to grape juice, but that does not fix the weak flavor. It would need 4.6 kg/11.2 lb of sugar for a hearty 14% wine.  I decided to add dried fruit after rejecting store-bought distilled spirit flavorings.

Raisin are the natural choice, but I don't like the over-oxidized "port" or "sherry" flavor of ordinary raisins. I bought a pound of white raisins. I also happened upon a box of dried tart cherries, which had been sweetened with sugar. Having made cherry wine before, I knew they had a lot of flavor. I also bought 1.5 lb of fresh cranberries.  They should add complexity.

I took the fruit mixed it with Melbec juice and chopped it finely using a kitchen blender. This will allow the sugar and flavor to get out of the fruit.

2012 Melbec and Cherry Wine Recipe

6 gallon --  Melbec Juice (Lodi Gold brand, California 15 deg Brix, 15.9% sugar)
4 lb --  dried sweetened cherries, chopped (Shoreline Fruit, Traverse City, Michigan)
24 oz --  fresh cranberries, chopped
15 oz --  white raisins, chopped (Sunsweet)
6 g -- pectic enzyme
11 g -- yeast energizer
6 bags --  black tea (Lipton)
2.3 kg -- sugar (5.1 lb)
1 pack -- Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast

I tasted the juice, and it has a strong cherry flavor that I describe as "cough syrup," and that my wife describes as "pie filling." It seems the cherry is overwhelming the Melbec. We will see how the flavor evolves. I hope to finish this as a dry wine.

Now that this is going, I will turn my attention to getting the wine stain off the floor.

This wine ultimately got mixed with remainder of the 2012 Merlot, perhaps 2 quarts that were under the leak-point on the demijohn bottle.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TCA Cork Taint and How did Trichloroanisole get in my Wine?

Trichloroanisole is found produced by fungus, often on
Ever bought a bottle of over-price old wine and found that the bottle was spoiled? The fungus growing on the cork produces trichloro-anisole which wine-jocks say smells like wet dog or damp basement.

This brings up several issues: why arn't the corks sterilized? And where does the chlorine come from to make the trichloro-anisole? And most importantly, how poisonous is trichloro-anisole?

Why are natural corks sterilized? I am sure people try but cork is even worse than wood for sterilization. Cork might be quant, but it isn't a very good material, and probably should not regarded as food grade. Old fashion traditionalists need to grow up.

Some say that the source is chlorine-containing air pollutants on the trees that grow the cork. It is more likely that it is due to the wood preservative trichloro-phenol that is used with wood barrels. Another source of chlorine is from the use of bleach and related oxidizers as cleaning agents.

Chlorine bleach reacts with wine residue and living microbes to make chlorinated byproducts -- some of which may be carcinogenic. You need to rinse a lot after using bleach, and dirt that reacts with bleach may be hard to see -- but still could contain chlorinated compounds that are harmful. Trichloro-anisole is not carcinogenic however -- so don't worry.

The alternative to chlorine bleach is sulfite containing materials, and these make a familiar rotten eggs smell if over used. Not as dangerous as trichloro-anisole, but less appetizing too. The best is using ozone but that is not practical at home, or is barely practical. More on that later. Another non-toxic sterilization agent is hydrogen peroxide.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2012 French Colombard

Went to the wine store, and as is my custom, I walked around and looked at the grapes first. I wanted white grapes, and it was picked over as it is late in the season. They had seedless Muscato which I did not want and French Colombard. I tasted the French Colombard grape, and it was delicious. I bought four cases and brought them home.

When I got home I looked up French Colombard, and found it is popular, but not highly regarded. On the other hand it did taste good to me. It seems it is easy to grow but critics don't think it works well as a varietal wine.

I crushed and pressed the grapes. I took the raisins in the crates, and soaked them overnight in water to extract the sugar. I want to stress the citrus and floral notes so I added orange rind and columbine tea.

Sugar content of the juice with the raisin water was 24.3% which was determined from the 1.095 g/ml density and the 22.6 degree Brix refractive index. My target alcohol content for this wine is 12.5% alcohol which corresponds to 24.3% sugar so I added 2.1% cane sugar (710 g = 2.1/100*8gal*3.8L/gal*1.09g/L).

2012 French Colombard Wine Recipe

144 lb French Colombard Grapes (crushed)
9 g potassium sulfite (to kill wild yeast)
710 g cane sugar
10 g Pectic enzyme for clarity
6 g potassium carbonate (to reduce acidity)
Rind from three oranges
8 Celestial Seasonings Columbine tea bags
6 Twinings Echinacea & Raspberry tea bags
16 g yeast energizer
1 Packet Red Star Pasteur Cote des Blanc yeast

After one week of fermentation, I put 32 liters into glass for aging. Fermentation was nearly done, and the gas bubbling was pretty slow at 7 days. 

I have thought a lot about how to make the wine more floral, and herbal tea sees sensible. I am a little concern as I think the Columbine tea really tastes like straw more than flower, so we will see.

========================== 2 week update=================
I waited six days before transferring it to my glass demijohn, but now it is barely bubbling (fermenting.) I am worried that the fermentation has stopped. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012 Old Vine Zinfandel

Two years ago, the old vine Zinfandel was a winner, and decided it was worth 10% extra a case to get the better, or perhaps supposedly better, grapes. The grapes were big and juicy, which is good and bad. Juicy grapes are usually less flavorful and have lower sugar -- think about it raisins make the sweetest juice since they have hardly any liquid. On the other hand, the skins were very flavorful, so I need to count on transferring flavor from the skins to the juicy for this to be successful.

Since the juicy was watery, I needed to add sugar (cane sugar) to make the wine strong enough. 

2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Wine Recipe

144 lb Valley Beauty Old Vine Zinfandel Grapes (crushed)
1100 g cane sugar (approx 2.4 pounds)
9 g potassium sulfite (to kill wild yeast)
16 g yeast energizer
1 Packet Red Star Pasteur Red Yeast and 1 Packet Red Star Montrachet

The juice had a refractive index of 23.4 degrees Brix. On this batch, I gave up on doing the density measurement. The density almost always agrees with the refractive index, and the refractive index is much easier. This would produce 12% alcohol. [My 2010 Old Vine Zin had much higher sugar so this is a little disappointing. ] 

Not everyone knows how to do this calculation, so I'll go over it. You need a sugar-to-alcohol table. 

I want 13.3% (28% sugar), and so I added 1100 g sugar.  I use a table in Pambianchi's Techniques in Home Winemaking, but an online table is here. At 23.4 Brix, I have 25.6% sugar and I want 28% sugar (for 14.5% alcohol). I need to add sugar for (28-25.6)/100*144lb = 3.4 lb = 1570 g.

The juice fermented quickly, and I pressed it. I got 33 liters or 8.7 gallons that is 8.25 L/case or 2.2 gal/case. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 Merlot Wine

Its the first day of fall, rainy, and a good day to make wine. It was crowded at the California Wine Grapes, our local wine grape vendor up in Detroit.

I did a wine tasting on my 2011 batches before I left, and I decided that the Old Vine Zinfandel was best; however I bawked at the price when I got to the store.

2012 Merlot Recipe

106 lb Merlot Grapes (Smiling Baby, Lodi CA)
6 g sodium bisulfite
added immediately then wait for the juice to warm
12 g  yeast nutrient
185 g cane sugar
1 pack Pasteur Red Yeast (Red Star)

I crushed the grapes, and got 1.107 g/ml density and 24.6 degrees Brix (refractive index) which give 13.9-14.1% alcohol.  That was what I got last year. This years grapes seems sweet, so that is promising.   Since I thought hearty is better than weak, I added enough sugar to raise the sugar content by 0.5% or 185 g.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Fuggle & Kent Amber Ale

After a lot of debate, I am plunging into beer-making this Labor Day weekend. Mother-in-law Pat gave me two beer-making books for my birthday. I went to the beer store to get ingredients.

Beer ingredients are simple compared to wine-making, because you don't have to deal with making juice. While some wine is boiled, generally one sterilizes with sulfite. In beer, the boiling is part of extracting the flavor from the hops. Boiling is obviously the biggest hassle.

Beer-making and wine-making have one thing in common, and that is cleaning, washing and sterilizing. The beer guys seem more anal-retentive, but beer is less alcoholic and less acidic so it is more prone to bacteria. Also the home-brew guys don't use sulfite or sorbate which might help.

Beer-making has some of its own nouns like other age-old crafts: two are "wort" and "pitch."

I started out with a recipe, but I get bored with recipes, so I arrived at this.

Fuggle & Kent Amber Ale

2.25 gallon water
200 g Crystal Malt, crushed
Allow to steep 30 minutes at 150-160F, and then remove.
1800 g Dried Amber Malt Extract
Heat to boiling, then add
8 g Fuggles hops
13 g Kent Goldings hops
Boil for 30 minutes
4 g Fuggles hops
13 g Kent Goldings hops
Boil 15 minutes more
8 g Kent Goldings hops
Boil 2 more minutes.
1 gallon water, after cooling further dilute to 15 deg Brix (see below)
Allow to cool to below 100F.
1 packet Safale US Dry Ale Yeast

Allow ten minutes to rest on surface, then stir in. Transfer to carboy. Wait 7 days
90 g corn sugar 

Allow to ferment 7-10 days


I checked the specific gravity, and it was 1.070 after the temp correction. I also checked the refractive index RI, and it was 17 degrees Brix.  This means about 9% alcohol, so I added just over a quart of water. This brought the RI down to 15 deg Brix, and alcohol to a manageable 6.8%.  Still strong.

I tasted the wort, and it did not taste great. I did not like the burnt flavor from the Crystal toasted barley -- why do people use this? The hops give it  distasteful bitterness.  Third, it was barely sweet despite the fact that it was overloaded on malt sugar -- I suppose I was comparing it to my mead or cherry wines which were quite sweet.  Hopefully the fermentation will mellow the burnt and bitter flavors.

Nine hours after pitching the yeast, the wort is fermenting nicely. I hope to rack the wort into a secondary fermenter in four days.

Friday, July 6, 2012

2012 Cherry Wine

Look how artistic!  Last year's wine is
featured in this photo. 
Cherry wine has been consistently one of my favorites, and so was looking forward to making another batch. As always, I have been watching the prices at the store for the lowest prices. There was a bad cherry crop in Michigan due to the warm weather in March followed by the hard freeze in April killing all the blossoms. I bought cherries from elsewhere, probably California.

2012 Cherry Wine Recipe

45 lb of black cherries
8 gal (31L) water (with the pulp I had 10.8 gal, 41L)
18 lb sugar
6 g pectic enzyme
3 g yeast energizer
1 packet of Red Star Premier Curvee

This made approximately 41 L of must with a Brix of 32 and a density of 1.14. I am trying to make a sweet, strong dessert wine. I often blend it with a white wine like my muscato to make a cocktail wine. 

The juice was exceptionally sweet, and the fermentation started immediately. By five days, it was more alcoholic than sweet.

4 July 2013 Update
This wine has a strong off-flavor that I attribute to the cherry pits. Even with blending, I am not sure what I can do with it. It was a bad idea to leave the pits in. Boiling the juice with the pits might have been dumb too.  The 2009 cherry wine from all fresh fruit was the best. 

2012 Strawberry Wine

I made Cherry Wine this year, and I wasn't paying attention, and made up an extra gallon of strong sugar syrup. It sat on the counter for two days because I could not think of what to do with it. Maybe,  I could just ferment it? It'd make sugar wine, but then I thought why not put herbs in it, like basil, mint or even hops. Then I thought why not fruit: like blueberries, but I had tried that before without grand success.

Then I remembered this old song, Summer Wine, which is about wine made from strawberries, cherries and well, angel kisses. Actually the song is not really about wine, it is really about sex. It is a pop song after all. Suitably inspired, I went to the store to get supplies.


Sadly, they did not have any angel kisses at the store, so I used this recipe.

2012 Strawberry Wine

16 pounds of frozen strawberries**
1.25 (4.7 L) gal water
1 large orange (including the peel)****
4000g (8.8 lb) sugar*
1.5 g Camden tablets (potassium bisulfite)
4 g pectic enzyme
1.5 g wine tannin***
5 g yeast energizer
1 packet Cote Des Blances from Red Star

This made 3.6 gallons (13.6 L) of must. 

I melted the strawberries in the water, and then I ground them up in a kitchen blender. That went very quickly.  Strawberries have a lot of water in them, but don't have much sugar.  

My refractometer
Since the pulp was suspended in the juice, I could not measure the density to adjust the sugar level. I used my refractometer to measure the refractive index or the degrees Brix, as called in the wine jargon. As mentioned, I started with syrup, but the juice and not very sweet strawberries reduced the sugar content to 15 degrees Brix, too low: I wanted 24 degrees. 

So I pulled out my reference book, converted the Brix to density, calculated the sugar add to increase the density, added made more sugar syrup, added the syrup, and cleaned up. Then I measured it at 20 degrees Brix -- it moved ONLY half as far as I expected. I thought, I should add the same amount again to get it to where I need it to be. Also I was tired of messing with it. I made more syrup, and added that. Now it was 30 degrees more than the targeted 24 degrees, and likely to make an overly potent wine or probably a sweet dessert wine. Oh well. 

This strawberry juice tasted great.  It would be really good on short-cake.  Hope the wine measures up. 

*If you are trying this for yourself, you may want to use less sugar to get a drier wine. I'd try 3500 g if I were doing this again. 

**I used frozen strawberries because the fresh ones at the store had too many under-ripe ones. The frozen ones were all perfectly ripe, plus I did not have to cut the tops off all the strawberries 

***I checked out several recipes and one had wine tannin. This is a good idea because otherwise it may be too cloying. I think it is a gamble, and that is why I used to little. Upon further reflection, I might have left this out, and tried oak chips during aging.

****The orange is to add acidity. Someday I am going to buy a home acid titration kit and control it exactly, but since I don't have one, I added an orange. I like adding the orange peel since I like getting the limonene in the wine. This works nicely in my mead. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

2011 Cherry Second Wine

Last July after I finished the main cherry wine, I made another seven liters of a Second Wine. (Some say Seconds Wine.) I made 32 liters of the main cherry wine from 45 lb of cherries. When I was done, I had a lot of pulp that was still pretty flavorful. So I decided to make another wine -- just like my very cheap Grandfather used to do with his grapes.

2011 Cherry Second Wine Recipe 

7 L water
1.4 kg = 3.3 lb Sugar (dissolved in the above water)
Pulp from 45 lb cherry wine (already fermented a week and then pressed dry in a grape press)
1.5 g yeast energizer
2 g pectic enzyme
1 pack Champagne yeast

A problem was that the batch was so short that I had to blend it to fill the carboy. I blended it with some blue berry wine and 2010 cherry wine that I had.

After fermentation, it was pretty good, but not as fruity as the first wine.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 Mead

My 2010 Mead in the foreground with the new 2012 
mead in the demijohn in back. See the clementine peels floating 
at the top.
Mead is the easiest kind of wine to make, and this very old and traditional beverage is getting more popular. 

I wish I knew a beekeeper, but I bought my honey at the store. I bought a few different kinds including dark honey and wild flower honey. The clover honey is the cheapest, and least flavorful. 

It feels expensive to make mead since you buy all the honey at once, but it is no more expensive than making wine from fruit. My mead will be about $3/L. 

For some reason people like to flavor their meads; perhaps because the flavor of honey is so mild, and  because the old-time recipes often have spices or fruit. No one flavors grape wine or fruit wine in this way. 

I think it is smart to find a dark, strongly-flavored honey. Having said that I like the flavor of orange in mead, and the acidity is needed in a wine like this. In my 2010 mead I liked the little bit of spice I added. 

2012 Mead Recipe
18 lb honey (6 lb of clover honey, 3 lb of wild flower honey, 9 lb of dark honey)
Water sufficient to make 15 L = 4 gal total
2 t yeast energizer (t = teaspoon)
1.5 t pectic enzyme
Juice of 13 clementine/tangerines /no pulp
Peels from 13 clementines
3/4 t nutmeg
0.5 t allspice
2 T ground vanilla beans
1 packet Red Star Pasteur Champagne Yeast

I did not boil or otherwise pasteurize the mixture as some recipe's say to do. My honey was all pasteurized.  I put it all in a 15 L demijohn, and added the yeast. I also used tap water so there are some minerals for the yeasts to eat. 

You might ask "Why use pectic enzyme since there is no pectin in honey?" There isn't, but there is a lot of pectin in the orange rinds. 

The refractive index of the must was 1.35, which makes for 20% alcohol. [GT 2017 -- not sure what this meant, 1.35 g/ml is way too dense to make sense, and it makes far more than 20%] I expect the fermentation to stop short of 20% leaving me with a strong, but still sweet wine. That is what happened in 2010, and it is really good. My DW especially likes it, but you can't drink too much because of the sweetness and the potency.

The fermentation took hold rapidly, and it is bubbling hard at less than 24 hours. 

May 13, 2012 Update
This is a big winner. The flavor is honey-like, but a little complex. Sweet and potent. It is a real winner.