18 months ago I threw together some pomegranate juice and blueberries to make a wine. It was the first I had done that combined two fruits and also the first that use a juice rather than full fruit flesh in the recipe.
The result is a fresh and zinging medium wine bodied but with a lot of mouth feel from the astringency of the pomegranate that slightly dominates the taste. The aroma is nice and fruity and the wine has kept a surprising amount of colour.
Blueberry wine is one of my favourite fruit wines and if I am honest, this is not as good as it lacks a depth of flavour that the pure blueberry has. The focus could easily be modified with more blueberries added – perhaps another 200g per gallon of wine. Next time I would probably use some actual pomegranates and squeeze them myself to add to the fresh taste.
That being said it is not a bad wine, easy to make and easier to drink – if I were to do this again I would use the same recipe but bottle carbonate for a light summery sparkling red wine to be drunk chilled.
Three years ago I had the chance at making not one but two sloe wines that have lived under the stairs maturing ever since. Partly this was intentional to mellow the sour taste that sloes naturally have, the other reason was fear of what I might have made. Both have remarkably turned out well.
The first wine had raisins to add body but this one instead had some reused elderberry skins from a pure elderberry wine I made a week before the sloes were foraged. Although both wines were similar in recipe with just the differing raisin/elder body they have turned out remarkably different in taste. This is deeper with a cherry or raspberry taste and is slightly bitterer pushing towards more of a red wine. The elderberries are noticeable as a defined taste in conjunction with the sloes rather than the raisin body that add a base that retreats. Although slightly more bitter the mouth feel is not as astringent. The colour is a lovely ruby to match the darker taste but there was less aroma.
Personally, I cannot say that one is better than the other. The lighter sloe wine is surprisingly complex but this is far easier to drink down in a flash so I would happily make both again… if I can get a hundred weight of sloes.
Berry wines are my favourite wines to make as they are relatively easy as a beginner can be easily adapted with sweet or dry and lighter to more full bodied wines that need to be aged. Recipes seem adaptable with different volumes and possibly combinations of fruit used, different acids, tannins or bodies added never mind the processes used to get there.
Elderberry wine has remained the most stubborn compared to the more malleable blackberry, blackcurrant or blueberry wines to move towards a great recipe. It seems to have great potential that has so far refused to be trapped in a wine bottle. The problem is elderberries have a shit load of tannin, so much so that the tannin can totally dominate the wine if unmanaged. Over the years I have added more and more processes to try and either manage or limit tannin.
The first idea was to age the wine far far longer so that tannins could bind over time. I opened the first bottle of my first batch at about a year then the others were opened at six months intervals to see how they had progressed. Although the taste improved and astringency changed it was clear that recipe and processes needed a lot more work.
A cold soak was added so that the colours could bind with the tannin which has now become a staple of all my berry wines. This started at three days in length but often extends to five days for the elderberry wine.
Limiting the time the skins and seeds were left fermenting was adjusted twice with them being removed five days into fermentation one year then the next being reduced to two. As elderberries are so small the tannin rich skins and infinite amount of seeds allow a huge amount of harsh tannin to be extracted. Harsher tannins are generally extracted in alcoholic rather than aqueous maceration. I may one day think about pressing some berries and only their juice is added with the other half added as whole berries or perhaps performing a extra long cold maceration but with lightly crushed berries so that the skins and seeds may never ferment with the yeast relying totally on a gentle aqueous maceration to extract just the gentlest of tannins.
When the berries are pressed currently it is done gently with most juice allowed to drip away naturally. This means the seeds are not cracked keeping the strong tannins held with in. In previous years a huge hulk like squeeze has been used liberating a lot of bitterness that gave a “green” taste.
As I have become more confident in making my wines I have become more confident in trying to make wines towards a particular style rather than just fermenting the fruit. Elderberries are dark rich fruit and I want to make a very full bodied wine with deep tannins that can age for a at least three years and hopefully more. As it ages for so long the fresh fuity flavours retreat and the darker flavours take over.
This year I am using 50% extra fruit with 3kg per UK gallon (4.5L) used to make a full, full bodied wine and trying three extra ideas that revolve not just around bitterness but also sweetness and acidity to try and refine the whole recipe rather than get target fixated on tannin.
The first is simple and easy – making a sweet or more likely semisweet wine that will be back sweetened rather than left totally dry. This will obviously counter the bitterness of the tannins. Ms Gazette made an elderberry jam that was sweet and bursting with a rich deep berry flavour with chocolately cherry like tastes. Hopefully the sugar can push this in my wine which complement the velvety tastes and textures that develop over time.
Secondly acidity has been far more managed with some tartaric acid added to counter the sharpness of the naturally dominant citric acid present in elderberries. Citric acid recedes in flavour as a wine ages but leaves a sharp, fresh and artificial taste even then. The Tartaric and possibly malic acid that could be made with a later malolactic fermentation will have a more natural flavour and together with the sugar should hopefully promote the dark fruit flavours of the elderberries rather than cover it. If acid management proves its worth I may even reduce the citric acid with precipitated chalk before replacing it with tartaric acid in future.
The final idea is to manage tannin tastes in a similar way to the acidity. It is not just about reducing but changing the flavours of the tannins extracted from the berries. Tannins are in a constant state of binding, unbinding and rebinding as the wine ages. Oxygen allows tannins to bind so the wine will have a relaxed first racking with plenty of splash back to allow some oxygen to dissolve and be available to bind the tannins trying to copy ideas of micro-oxidation that commercial wines may have. It may even have an extra stir to allow even more oxygen in but this is a worry as the wine could oxidise ruining it. Tannins bind with each other as well as the anthocyanin colour pigments extracted from skins during a cold maceration and fermentation. Tannins also bind with polysaccharides so a banana body has been added to allow more complex long chain tannins to form allowing more complex flavours to be created rather than the harsher one note bitterness I have had previously. Another idea potentially next year is to use the seeds and skins from a well fermented blackberry wine as these seeds seem milder in taste.
A year long bulk age should allow extra complex tastes to form before the wine is bottled and allowed to age for a minimum two extra years in the bottle.
ELDERBERRY WINE 4.5 Litres
Suitable yeasts – R56, Lalvin R2, D80, D254, Bergundy. Strong full bodied wine suitable for higher ABV of 13% Suitable for oaking and can be left totally dry or sweetened. Takes the longest of any fruit wine to mature at a minimum of 3 years. Skins can be used for a second run elderberry rose or an medium bodied elder & blackberry wine.
2 very ripe bananas
800g-ish sugar to 1.09SG
Tartaric acid (adjusted to 0.6TA)
1tsp pectic enzyme
1tsp yeast nutrient
Pick any elderberries and freeze until enough have been sourced.
Cold soak for five days in a sterile covered pan or container in the fridge in two litres of water and a crushed campden tablet to kill any wild yeasts.
On the penultimate day of cold soak make a bananna base by chopping 2 bananas skin and all into inch long chunks. Boiling for 15 minutes and allowing to cool in the water untill needed.
Boil the rest of the water to sterilize and leave to get to room temperature. Seive the bananas out of the banana base then mash the berries and combine the next day.
Add pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours.
Adjust acid by adding tartaric acid to 0.6TA
Stir in the sugar to 1.09SG then the yeast.
Ferment for two days in primary then press the juice – a good manual squeeze in cleaned hands is easily sufficient. The juice can simply return to the primary fermenter and then continue to ferment. Add yeast now over the next 24 hours
When fermentation stops or radically slows filter into demijohn to remove any rogue seeds or skins that may have stayed and ferment in secondary with an airlock.
Rack after five weeks when fermentation stops with a good splash back from a hight to disolve a little oxygen to promote tannin binding. Rack again at two to three months after that but with no splash back. The wine wants to age at least a year after pitching the yeast.
Stabilise if necessary and back sweeten if desired
Bottle and wait for at least two years before having a little taste test.
Last year I made a blackberry “port” to create a strongly alcoholic but flavour packed wine I could drink as a digestif rather than as a table wine like all my other recipes. Making it was an organic process using observation and hope as a guide as opposed to a strict recipe. As I try to refine my recipes, techniques and understanding the wines I make are becoming more about measurements and planning. Alternatively the blackberry port relied of gut instinct with a whole load of fruit thrown together to get the maximum taste and alcohol and then the ageing, oaking and sometimes ingredients were decided on a whim.
This year I have repeated the port with elderberries which looks to be a winner and also decided to go totally off piste with a “white port” that may well turn out to be a fiery plane crash of stupidity and wasted time and effort.
My good friend Chopper had an abundant drop… crop of greengages from an over hanging tree into his garden. I used as many of them as I could supplemented by shop bought plums. To get the most flavour out the fruit I used VR21 yeast but this introduced a problem as it only ferments to 15% ABV as opposed to the 18/19% I managed last year. To get a full fat high alcohol drink I need to change the style of recipe to more of a a traditional “port” and to fortify it with a brandy – in this case Slivovitz plum brandy to match the taste -though maybe I could have used a plum grappa…
Pushing the VR21 yeast to the maximum alcohol needs stepped feeding of sugar so that the yeast does not get inhibited by an initially high sugar content. The original starting gravity was 1.09 with only 600 or 700 or so grams of sugar needed to be added to the 4.5kg of fruit used. As the fermentation continued a further 400ish grams of sugar was added in 2 additions to gradually feed the yeast until it died due to inebriation.
The blackberry port although high in alcohol was not fortified and used a light malt to ape a port taste. The greengage port is truly fortified with a planned 600ml of a 40% plum brandy added. The first was added to top up after fermentation stopped and it was racked off the lees. The remainder will be added when it is racked off the oak that was added to boost tanin and complexity. If any more is needed it will be just as it gets bottled. The oak has be halved from 20g per UK gallon in the berry port to a still sizable 10g that will be present for three months or more. The overall flavour profile will not be as sweet though certainly sweetened. Both wines use tea to provide tannin but extra body is not provided by a mix of light malt, raisins and grape extract but simply banana water for a neutral rounded taste with their polysaccharides hopefully adding extra mouth feel.
Ageing should take at least two years though I imagine it could continue for longer. I initially had a little snifter of the blackberry port at one year then at 16 months and the taste had matured with tannins receding but a luxuriously rich and dark deep fruit flavour taking its place. If the greengages can come even close to this with hopefully a nutty or caramel depth I will be more than pleased. When racked the taste was full and plummy with really good aroma which was a pleasant surprise for a rough and ready experiment though if this doesn’t strip floor varnish I will pleased and if it mkes a delicous drink I will be extactic!
GREENGAGE PORT – 4.5 litres
3 litres of water
2 over ripe bananas
1kg-ish sugar (Add 700g for a starting gravity of 1.09)
Strong cup of tea
Acid to .6 (the juice of a lemon if you cannot test acidity)
half tsp pectic enzyme
600ml plum brandy or grappa
Rinse, stone and remove and bumps and blemishes from the greengages roughly slice into quarters and drop into your fermentation bucket.
Mash (or squeeze with your hands!) and top up with 2.5 litres of boiled and cooled water. Stir in a campden tablet and pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours.
At the same time use the other litre of water and boil 2 very ripe bananas for 15 minutes then add a tea bag for tannin at the end. Leave it all to cool.
Once the pectic enzyme has had 24 hours to work drain the banana water into the greengages sifting the tea bag and banana flesh out as you do so.
Add sugar to 1.09SG and adjust the acidity or add the juice of a lemon then stir in the yeast.
Allow to ferment stirring 3 or 4 times a day. Add yeast nutrient at about day four to keep the yeast happy. Monitor the taste and as sweetness drops add sugar at about 200g every day or every other day.
Once fermentation stops pour through a sterilised muslin and squeeze out ever drop of juice you can.
Leave for sediment to drop for 5 weeks then rack again and top up with as much brandy as you can with 10g of oak chips too. Repeat this again 8 weeks later and leave to age for 6 to 12 months. Mix the remaining brandy, back sweeten to taste and bottle.
Last year I made a blackberry “port” that turned out to be one of the best wines I have made. Even at one year it was a rich, velvety and sweet and since then the oak has started to mature and age making it even better. I am hoping that the remaining bottles can sit for at least another year and maybe even three for a smoother taste. It was made with a guide rather than a recipe trying to extract as much blackberry flavour with an incremental feed of sugar to maximise the alcohol produced to pump it towards the 19% of a traditional port.
This year I have decided to make an elderberry port as the elderberries have been so bountiful and great tasting while blackberries have withered in the heat. Foraging elders has been easy with dense clusters of sweet fruity berries with virtually no pests due to the hottest summer I can remember. I did manage to get some blackberries so this is technically a mixed berry “port” but skewed towards the fuller tannic elderberries than the sweeter fruitier blackberries with a 3kg to 1.8kg ratio.
Elderberries are less sweet with a heavier slightly bitter and darker cherry fruit flavour than blackberries. This port is dryer but still with some sweetness and less oaked so as not to compete with the darker flavour. Due to the fruits used the recipe seems a lot simpler than last year. I don’t need extra tannin added as elderberries have so much present due to so many seeds and thick skins. Body is already present but a little extra is provided by bananas rather than raisins. I want the banana’s polysaccharides to hopefully bind with the tannins as the port ages to build extra depth and complexity compared to the rather one note bitter tannins of pure elderberry.
The fruits did need to be separated from each other during fermentation as I wanted to remove the elders at about 3 to 4 days of maceration to manage tannin extraction. The blackberries were left to extract flavour from the skins for the duration and required an occasional punch down. After a decent maceration that required a stepped sugar addition the must was drained through a sterile muslin and all the blackberry juice squeezed out.
I will have to add some extra alcohol with a drop of Spyritus ( I will pretend I am fortifying it like a true port) as my chosen yeast was not as tolerant of high alcohol as last year – a slight oversight on my part! Upon the next rack 15g of oak chips and 70g of light malt will also be added. If I am luck I may get a little taste next year as I make a damson port – sadly it has been a terrible year for damsons just like the poor blackberries.
ELDERBERRY PORT – 4.5 Litres
Suitable yeast – red wine yeasts with a higher alcohol tolerance or EC1118.
3kg elderberries (its not an exact science – go with what you have)
2 ripe bananas
Approximately 1.5kg or more of sugar
70g light malt
Place the elderberries into a sterilised bag and give a decent squeeze to extract the juice then place the bag into the fermenter too. Then add the blackberries to the fermenter and crush. Add a campden tablet and pectic enzyme and leave for 24 hours.
Chop the two ripe bananas into centimetre chunks then boil for 15 minutes. Leave to cool then drain into the fermenter and throw the banana flesh away.
Add about 500g of sugar to a Starting Gravity of 1.09. Add yeast and leave to ferment stirring twice a day or more. Give the bag a gentle push to help the elderberries along.
Things now go a little freestyle!
On day three or four remove the elderberries and squeeze out all the juice you can. It will be to personal taste so test every day to monitor how much tannin and fruit flavour is extracted. At this point half a tsp of yeast nutrient and can help the fermentation along and sugar if it is starting to taste dry. Do not be tempted to add a huge amount of sugar in one go but maybe a rough 100g every night and morning tapering it down as fermentation slows. Continue to stir twice a day and add sugar if it needs it until bubbling stops, radically slows or a hint of sweetness persists.
Pour through a sanitised funnel and muslin into a secondary fermentation vessel and squeeze as much blackberry juice as you can. Top up with boiled and cooled water if you need to. Add the air lock and leave in secondary fermentation. I say secondary fermentation but it will in all probability have maxed out and you are now letting yeast and sediment settle.
Rack if sediment gets to 1.3cm deep or after 5 weeks which ever is earlier. Top up with sterile water (or a little vodka or spyritus if using a low alcohol yeast) and malt and add 15g of oak chips if you can.
Rack again after 2 or 3 months and leave to bulk age as long as you can – a full year if possible.
Back sweeten to your own taste then bottle.
Probably needs at least two years to mature maybe even more. Store on its side in a cool area. Once opened a bottle can last for months in a fridge for certain. A campden tablet added a few days before bottling may help but I chose not to use one.
Three years ago there was an unbelievable glut of sloes that I think will never be repeated. The weather seemed perfect and back then I didn’t see any foragers about and the bushes are more severely pruned back now. The bounty was turned into a few bottles of sloe gin and then two different batches of sloe wine with a slightly differing wine, one with a raisin base and the other with a recycled elderberries harvested at the same time.
Just like sloe gin, sloe wine really seems to need to age to get the best out of it. Sloe gin can be drunk two months after making but is exceptional after two years macerating in the bottle. The sloe wine has had an even longer with three years to mellow in the bottle. I opened the raisin based wine with a little hesitation as after a year it was okay but not great… good things come to sloes that wait! The traditional bitter sloe taste has mellowed amazingly especially as this wine is semi-sweet at most. The wine is rounded and mellow with a slight brandy with apple and almond taste and an aroma that has a surprisingly rose scented fruitiness. Sloes always have a gritty astringency in any drink but this has also receded to be come a satisfying dryness rather than mouth puckering punch to the tongue. Best of all is the ruby colour that the pictures just do not do justice to. I opened the bottle at night but wish I could have an image with some natural light through it and this is easily the prettiest wine I have made.
Though I may never forage so many sloes again I may buy some freeze dried from a brew shop and try to get even close to this, Sadly I will have to leave it three years to test, maybe even more!
Chambord is a supposedly French liqueur made with raspberries. It’s an odd one as the bottle looks like Liberace’s ashtray and the price tag is not far off either. It looks so outwardly gaudy that the drink inside cannot match the bottle and it will all be just a bit Umbongo once tasted. But… Chambord is as lovely as it is gaudy. It is French and made from raspberries with a rich but not overly sweet taste from honey rather than sugar and complimented with herbs and spices. Nice on its own but better with a gin or best of all in a Kir Royale!
I have seen no internet recipe that comes close to it with only rather sweet simple looking raspberry liqueurs on show. I wanted to see if I could get at least close with a drink with a little more character and a lot less sugar.
The main fruit seems to be raspberry though the bottle refers to it as black raspberry which I thought was an American variety only. Looking about it might just be plain old raspberries with a smaller volume of blackberries and what seems a small pawful of blackcurrants too. I have all these fruit at my disposal either through foraging or on the allotment but they can be easily bought.
The base alcohol is said to be Brandy but I think this is only a finishing taste and the fruit macerate in a neutral alcohol like vodka. There was brandy added but this is only about a third of the total which provides a definite character.
Clove is certainly one of the spices used though the official version may have a few extras – a hint of allspice, nutmeg or cinnamon or things altogether more exotic than Tesco’s spice rack. I did not want to stray too close to Christmas spices preferring a summery fruity punch with just a hint of bitterness. One single almond did make it in and I added three strips of Seville orange zest I had stored in the freezer. Most recipes suggest a stronger lemon zest but that would be too citrus and over power the raspberry in my view. I did think of experimenting with orange blossom and may do in the future but not now.
The herb component was the most puzzling. Basil, thyme, sage, parsley etc, seemed too herbal and forward facing which left nothing at all. In the end I went a little off key and used three raspberry leaves to add a little hint of freshness and then just the tip of a bay leaf for a hint of woody depth.
After maceration of about two weeks the fruit was pressed to get all the liquid out and then a syrup of water and honey added. The honey adds extra depth than just plain sugar and compliments the brandy.
SHAM-BORD – 2ish litres
750ml vodka (50% ABV preferred)
300ml brandy (does not have to be expensive)
3 strips of orange zest (no white pith)
3 raspberry leaves if you can
just the tip of a bay leaf (about 1cm in total)
250g honey (good quality)
Rinse the fruit and pour over the vodka and brandy. Leave at least a week to macerate.
Add the herbs, spices and zest and leave another week.
Drain the alcohol into a bowl separating the fruit with muslin. Squeeze as much of the juice as possible from the fruit back into the liquor.
Make a syrup with the honey and water and once cool add half and taste. Add more if desired.
Filter through coffee filters into a clean bottle and then you can use after three days once the flavours have fully muddled together.
Add to gin cocktails or even better make a Shambord Kir Royale with five parts dry champagne/prosecco to one part shambord.
Acid is an essential part of wine having three functions. Obviously acidity is an important taste and works in conjunction with the amount and style of tannins, the sweetness and alcohol content. Even when a wine is dry it can still contain some sugar content, unimplementable sugars like poly saccharides and the implied sweetness of alcohol. Acid balances the bitter and sweet tastes present and highlights fruit flavours though too much acid will start to dominate and over shadow the fruit used. Acidity is a fine balancing act and while there are no magic numbers there are generally accepted ideals. Personal taste is still the simplest determining factor for what a home wine maker wants.
As well as the “art” of acidity and taste, Acid acts biologically as a preservative. A red wine with a pH of 3.4 to 3.6 protects against most spoilage bacteria allowing a wine to age over years rather than months and allows it to develop deeper more complex flavours. In white wines there is generally stronger acidity so the pH is between 3.0 to 3.4.
Acidity is a double edged sword and while acidic wine are more protected from bacterial infection and growth they are more prone to oxidation with white wines being particularly at risk. This is because acid reacts chemically in wine. Acids help create more complex tannins and mature wine as they unbind tannins that oxygen binds to make ever more complex tannins that fix colour pigments or alter ancoythanins to create ever increasing taste or more usually mouth feel.
TYPES OF ACID
There are many types of acid in wine but the most important is tartaric acid that is the dominant acid in grapes which are almost unique as a fruit because of this. Tartaric acid has a sharp taste giving wine its unique taste. As grapes are unique in this sense tartaric acid is often added to fruit wines via raisins or a direct tartaric additives to ape the characteristics of grape wine.
Malic acid is dominant in unripe grapes and certain ripe fruit like blackberries, cherries and apples and in a large volume can give a sharp unripe taste to wine. In moderation it is usually in wines but using the ripest fruit you can is important to bring balance. Malic acid will reduce naturally as a product of fermentation and an additional second malolactic fermentation can be done to further reduce it. Malic acid changes into the softer velety tasting Lactic acid during malolactic fermentation where an added bacteria culture ferments the acid just as yeast does with sugar. While lactic acid is a weak tasting acid it moves the wine towards the sourest profile if present in too much quantity creating a sour milk taste.
Tartaric and malic acid make up 90% of pre-fermentation grape wine acidity. Succinic acid is far less present and is created via fermentation and is important in creating esthers and complexity in wine as it reacts throughout the aging process. The taste can add a slight saltiness to a wine as well as bitterness. Levels of sucinic acid can be promoted by certain yeast selections and fermentation temperature and typical levels are 05g/L to 1.5g/L but can be higher, red wine usually has more present than whites.
Citric acid may well be the dominating acid in many fruit wines like blackcurrant, gooseberry or orange wine. It has a dominating “artificial” taste if in excess and especially if added just before bottling when it will not mellow out. Added early citric acid reduces in both taste and strength during fermentation and is seen as a very active biodynamic acid that can promote bacterial growth unlike tartaric acid that is an antioxidant and preservative.
Other acids present vary from Gallic acid added from oak aging and is as litle s 0.0001g/L, Ascorbic, Sorbic, Citramilic and many others can be present in minute amounts. The variety of acids combine to create a unique combination in your wine of sharp, velvety, mellow, sour, fresh, ripe, green or artificial sensations and even rancid or vinegar if Butyric or Acetic Acid is sadly present.
Acetic Acid is the acid present in vinegar and generally thought of as a wine fault ruining wine. A very talented chef friend and fan of the new Biodynamic Wine school likes a little VA (Volatile Acidity created by acetic acid) but anything more than a whiff of VA will make a wine taste like vinegar and probably turn it into vinegar if given enough time.
Wine acidity can be measured in two ways pH and TA. pH can be seen as a technical measurement to determine if a wine will be stable as it ages. TA measures the taste-able acidity on the tongue. The differing acids in your wine behave slightly differently to each other so one acid can affect pH more than TA and vice versa. The relationship between pH and TA is linked but not absolutely uniform.
pH is the measurement of both the total acids and alkalis present in a wine. It is based on a scale of 1 to 14. Water is neutral so sits in the middle at 7. 7 to 14 are alkaline and acids is measured “backwards” from 7 to 0. This means a high pH of say 6 is a low strength acid, while the lower the pH the stronger the acidity. Between each value the acidity increases by a factor of 10 as the scale is logarithmic. A small amount of alkalis and a lot of acid will be present in wine and that total will push it well into the mid ranges of acidity.
Most wine pH’s fall around between 3 to 4. 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while about 3.3 to 3.65 is best for reds. These are the pH readings pre-fermentation. At the start of fermentation acidity will have a low pH to take account of the ageing of the wine as the various acids are used as catalysts in chemical reactions creating the more complex tastes as it ages. Later when a red wine is popped open the pH will have risen to between 3.5 and 3.8. Whites will have a similar pH rise of about 0.1 to 0.3 pH.
Testing pH is easy either with a pH strip that is centred around the levels you need or using a more complex and expensive but more accurate pH meter. Beware these do need to be calibrated with a neutral solution and have a shelf life so can be expensive for an amateur.
TA – “Titratable Acidity” or “Total Acidity,” is another way of measuring acidity, this time discarding the ratio of alkalinity to acidity and measuring the taste-able acidity only by volume of the wine must. This is far more a measurement of the character of the wine being made rather than the more technical preservative pH measurement. It gives an indication of the genuine taste of the acidity and a hint of what the acids can do in terms of chemical reactions while fermenting and then bulk ageing.
Most red wines will have a total acidity of about 0.6 to 0.7% TA that converts nice and easily to 6 to 7g/L – that is 6 to 7 grams of acid per litre of wine. A white wine will have a higher TA between 6.5 to 7.5g/l and often fruit wines are thought to have slightly lower acidity of 5.5 to 6.5 g/l as they will have a more dominant fruit flavour that is intended to show through the acidity and take account of the generally less acidic nature of most non grape fruit – that is open to debate in my view and often many fruit wines are made with too little acid and taste flabby and thin in my view.
Dry White Grape Wines – 6.5 – 7.5g/L
Sweet White Grape Wine – 7 – 8.5g/L
Dry Red Grape Wine – 6 – 7g/L
Sweet Red Grape Wines – 6.5 – 8g/L
Sherry Grape Wines – 5 – 6g/L
Non-Grape White Wines – 5.5 – 6.5g/L
Non-Grape Red Wines – 5 – 6g/L
The character of a wine will be influenced by the acidity level you choose within the desirable limits of both pH and TA. A lower pH/higher TA will have a sharper acidity with more fruit forward tastes while a wine towards a higher pH/lower TA will be smoother but with less fruit evident. There is no right or wrong only personal preference for your palette. As an example Argentinian Malbecs have a lower acidity (higher pH) to a French Malbec that has a higher acidity (lower pH) Both use the same fruit but climate has determined the sugar and acidity level despite the same grapes being used to make the wine.
Testing TA is done an initially intimidating but actually simple to use kit. A sample of wine is taken. If it is at the start of making the wine and fruit will be macerating get a decent sample and use a blender to pulp the fruit then allow it to settle out – this allows the acidity of both the liquid must and the macerating skins to be tested. If an already fermenting wine is being tested the carbon dioxide must be shaken or boiled out to get an accurate result.
A 3mm sample can be diluted with pH neutral distilled water to make colour change more visible and then 3 drops of indicator solution added. After a little shake to disperse it sodium hydroxide is added drop by drop with good notes taken to remember how may millilitres are added. While the acid is active it will neutralise the sodium hydroxide solution to a clear colour, when all the acid is used the colour sticks. White wines are an easy test as the indicator is a purple colour and easily seen. A red wine requires a little more observation to see the original red wine colour turn to more brick red hue rather than a genuine colour change.
The millilitres of the sodium hydroxide indicator solution used is a direct representation of the TA present. As an example 3.5ml of sodium hydroxide added would be equal to 3.5g/L acid present or 3.5%. If you want a wine with a target of 6g/L acidity 2.5g/L would need to be added. My first use of a TA test kit I worked out that my blueberry wine needed 25grams of acid added to the 10 litres of must to get it to my desired 6g/L acidity.
Testing and adjusting acidity should usually be done before fermentation begins to give the yeast the best environment to ferment and multiply in. An unbalanced must can stress yeast and create sulphurous by products in the wine. A balanced wine also gives more time for optimal chemical processes to occur as the wine ferments as all the basic materials are already present to go on to make the more complex taste, aroma and colour elements. While acidity can be adjusted after fermentation or just before bottling this gives less time for it to react chemically and less ability to protect the wine from spoilage.
Tartaric acid is an easy bench mark to use to increase acidity:
1g/L addition will increase the TA by about 1g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.1 pH units.
1g/L of Malic acid will increase TA by 1.12 g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.08 pH units.
1g/L of Citric acid will increase TA by 1.17 g/L and will decrease the pH by 0.08 pH units.
It should be notes that the larger the decrease in pH extra acid will be needed to be added as the pH scale is logarithmic rather than linear. Moving from pH 3.6 to 3.3 may need 4g/l of tartaric acid rather than just 3g/L
Using these measurements pH and TA can be adjusted at different rates if needed in extreme cases – the acids also taste different so careful consideration should be used. Citric acid may well compliment a high malic content in a plum, fig or blackberry wine. Adding tartaric acid may balance out the dominant citric acid in blueberry, strawberry or elderberry wine.
Riper fruit has less acid present so the easiest way to reduce acidity is to check the sugar content before you harvest. A refractometer is an inexpensive though certainly luxurious piece of kit to measure the sugar in fruit. The riper the fruit the more sugar will be shown on the refractometer and in all probability there will be less acid present. Obviously this is at harvest rather than actually making your wine.
If a wine tastes too acidic you may not need to actually adjust the acidity. Back-sweetening may cut through the mouth puckering acidic sensation and making wine is about a balance of flavours rather than numbers on a chart.
Personally I prefer dry wines so adding sweetness is not always an option. Cold stabilisation is a simple system where a wine is placed in a cold environment of only a few degrees or even 0°C so tartaric acid crystallises and precipitates out falling as wine diamonds. These can simply be left behind when the wine is racked. This methodology is not an exact science though and caution should be used to extract only the acid you need. Some wine makers choose to cold stabilisation as standard and if tartaric acid was added it should be increased to 2g/L rather than 1g/L to take into account of the wine diamonds crystallising.
Potassium Bicarbonate or Calcium Carbonate (precipitated chalk) can actually be added to a wine to reduce acidity. Easy to use it is added as a powder and stirred into the must in several stages over an hour or so. The reaction is quick and clearly visible as a gentle fizz as the acid is neutralised and carbon dioxide is produced with calcium tartrate and calcium malate crystals eventually forming and sinking with the lees. Precipitated chalk is most reactive with Oxalic acid that is present in Apricots, figs, kiwi fruit, plums, red currants and most of all rhubarb but this is generally a rare acid in most fruit. Oxalic acid has a harsh lab made like taste and should always be managed to an acceptable level even if acidity is lowered below accepted levels and may have to be raised with tartaric additions! Precipitated chalk will de-acidify oxalic acid by choice then move onto tartaric acid before others. As it moves down this chain it becomes less efficient at de-acidification and could shift the mix of acidities to be “less wine like”
1g/L of Potassium Carbonate will reduce TA by 1.0 g/L
Calcium Carbonate / Precipitated Chalk: varies and between 0.7 and 1.5 g/L will reduce TA by 1g/L. No more than 17.5g (3 and a half tsp) of Calcium Carbonate should be used per British gallon of wine (4.5 Litres) as taste and residue can be left behind
Malolactic fermentation is both a way to reduce acidity and to manage the acids in the wine. Malolactic cultures are bacteria that ferment acid similarly to the way yeast ferment sugar into alcohol. Generally used in all red wines and an increasing number of white wines like Chardonnay it can also be used by home wine makers for both grape and fruit wines. Malolactic fermentation changes harsh malic acid into the softer velvety tasting Lactic acid that is less sharp on the tongue and promotes natural fruit flavours.
The culture can either be in a powder or liquid form and is easily poured into the wine. This fermentation is almost impossible to start below pH 3.2 and should ideally be done between pH3.2 to 3.4 so using Precipitated Chalk may need to be used to hit those figures. It is best to do after initial fermentation has stopped or at least radically slowed down. The wine should be around room temperature at 20°C and no sulphites like campden tablets should be used as the cultures are delicate and temperamental.
Once begun it will produce a slight barnyard/chicken coop odour and a thin brown film or small brownish clumps will probably form on the surface of the wine. This is totally different to the rotten egg smell of spoiled wine with the milky tendril Lactobacillus spoilage bacteria or white film yeast.
Malolactic fermentation can last as long as three months and in that time it should be left to its own devices – do not rack the wine during this time or add any preservatives. Keep the bungs in place and airlocks topped up. Any surface film or colonies will fall to the bottom of the demijohn with the lightest of agitation. If a few malolactic fermentations have been done over the years a culture may not be needed and spontaneous inoculation with ambient spores in the atmosphere will occur. I was lucky with an Elder and Black wine in which it happened and hope that it will occur in all my wines in the future. The fine lees left after racking from “malo” fermentation can be used to further inoculate other wines but this must be done immediately and the culture cannot be kept.
This has been my most indepth and most researched post so far but Im not a pro – any additions or corrections welcome!
The Novocastrian Vintners Gazette is now two years old and it has pushed me to try refine my techniques, ideas and recipes to get the best I can out of the fruit I use. In all that time blueberry wine seems to have eluded a decent write up despite being a personal favourite. So far I have made some very nice medium bodied blueberry wines that age excellently. Anyone who says blueberry is best drunk young has not waited until it undergoes an amazing transformation at about 18 months into a complex fruity wine with an oddly sherbet undertone.
Now with a little more experience and a lot more ambition I am hoping to adapt the recipe and techniques to make a full bodied red wine managing as many variables as I can to make the best wine I can. Using a Malbec as an influence I plan to create a jazzy little Bluebec with full fruit aged on the leas in an extended maceration, with high alcohol and tannin content, strongly oaked and aged for three years.
Before any grape nerds throw bricks through my window… Yes, I know its not made with Malbec grapes. No, I don’t live in France or South America. Yes, I understand these processes are used in many styles of wine. No, I don’t care that you prefer a different wine. Yes, I know I just made up a name for my wine and its totally meaningless…
So recipe, acidity, temperature regulation, maceration time and pressing the skins have all been updated from the traditional recipe I have used earlier. This will be as much a master class I can do and by “master” I mean my usual cack handed flight into the unknown.
The recipe has been overhauled with 200g extra of blueberries taking it to a total of 2kg of fruit per British Gallon of wine. To add extra vinocity the raisin content has similarly increased from 250g to 400g with a stronger tea brewed to add tannin. The raisins and tannin both add body that will play off against the higher fruitiness of the berries. It should be noted that as I am Britain I am using European blueberries that are considered to be less flavourful than US varieties and most blueberry wine recipes I have seen have been American based using less fruit.
Acidity has been monitored more closely and adjusted with tartaric acid used rather than the citric acid from lemons. Acidity seems to be one of the dark arts of wine making that an amateur can hope to adjust but not massively monitor. Traditionally I have used citric acid by squeezing a few lemons into my must. Citric acid is only present in grapes in low quantities with tartaric acid being far more dominant. As grape wine informs the general taste and sensation of fruit wines I have decided to ditch citric acid entirely. Citric acid that can be described as too sour at a basic level and too “fresh” or “artificial” in taste. The tartaric acid will soften the taste of the acidity but still provide enough stability for the wine to age for a decent enough time. Compared to tartaric acid, citric acid is more volatile than other acids and well liked by bacteria that can convert it easily to acetic acid creating a vinegar taste in low quantities or out right vinegar in extreme cases. There are acid blends that have a mix of tartaric, malic and citric acid in a 2:1:1 ratio which I may look into in future but that will need a lot more investigation.
Temperature management was used through out making the wine and will continue to do so as it ages in the coldest part of the house to try and match a cellar at 15°C. Initially the blueberries had a cold maceration for 5 days. The cold soak allows water to penetrate the skins to extract flavour, colour and aroma before the yeast is pitched and it enters fermentation and an alcoholic maceration begins. To do this have a sterile pot for the fruit, cover it with as much water you can and add a campden tablet as insurance against wild yeasts and bacteria. Cover the surface of the water with cling film to stop new bacteria entering and minimise the chance of oxidation. Sitting at 7° C for five days will allow a head start for certain compounds like anthocyanins and phenolics can be extracted just like grapes in a traditional wine.
After the cold maceration the berries were mashed and the remaining water, minced raisins and pectic enzyme added. As the pectin broke down over 24 hours the must was allowed to naturally rise to room temperature of 21° C. Sugar is added to achieve a Starting Gravity of 1.08 and then the R56 yeast added. I did one additional dose of sugar and nutrient four days into the fermentation to further raise the ABV to a potential of 14% as it fermented. The natural rise in temperatures, stepped sugar addition and yeast nutrient addition when the yeast could possibly need it were all intended for a easy fermentation with no peaks to shock the yeast in their environment.
Red wines are generally fermented “hot” between 25 to 30° C but lacking a Mediterranean climate I cannot usually hope to get to those temperatures naturally. I have invested in an immersion heater to raise it gently towards this point but in the current summer weather I was lucky enough to be getting 26° C shown on the adhesive thermometer and the partying yeast will probably have added a degree inside too. Stray too close or over 30° and you can “cook” the fruit for off tastes or stress the yeast creating sulphur dioxide. In the colder months when I make an elderberry wine I may well need the heaters though.
Thrice a day the must was gently stirred to mimic a pump over in a commercial winery. Just enough to agitate the fruit and re-submerge to keep it moist. As fermentation started to radically slow I needed nerves of steel to add another new process with an Extended Maceration. The idea is simple with an extra three days sit the crushed fruit gets an even longer window for more flavour to be extracted. There is also possibly the chance of a little micro oxygenation to aid tannin binding as the carbon dioxide given off lessens and there can be a small amount of contact with oxygen. During this time I chose not to stir the fruit or open the primary fermenter as less carbon dioxide is available to protect the wine – more agitation means potential oxygen dissolved. The extended maceration has its pros and cons as it not only allows extra fruit flavour to be extracted from skins but also more tannin with even harsher tannins extracted from the seeds. The micro oxygenation is risky as it is done totally on faith with out any way to monitor it as an amateur. The idea is that small levels of oxygen allow a greater level of flavour complexity to build and tannins to bind with richer colour extracted and fixed. Leave it too long and micro turns to macro. Full on oxygenation will simply ruin the wine turning it to sour vinegar. Luck and the more stable tartaric acid should aid it though.
Pressing the fruit allowed me to extract every last drop from the blueberries to get a rich thick juice as it entered secondary fermentation and bulk ageing with the 10g of oak chips. The colour is richer than I have ever managed to get with blueberry with a lovely thick red hue. The wine will sit for one possibly two months as I wait for the lees sediment to settle with another rack and possibly a malolactic culture added if it does not happen spontaneously.
BLUBEC BLUEBERRY WINE RECIPE – 4.5litres
Full bodied tannic red wine at 14%ABV. Red wine yeast needed (I used R56) Aged with oak chips and open two or three years after making. Suitable for malolactic fermentation.
2kg of blueberries
400g of raisins
1kg-ish sugar – aiming for max 1.10 SG through a stepped addition.
Tartaric acid to 0.6g/l
1/2 tsp. pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient
Cold soak the blueberries for 5 days in fridge with as much of the water as you can with a campden tablet to kill any possible infections. Stir once a day and keep the surface covered to stop infection and oxidation
On the fourth day mince the raisins to the 3.5 litres of water as it boils. Leave covered to cool
Pour the blueberries into primary fermenter and crush with a sanitised potato masher. Add the water and raisins then the pectic enzyme. Leave for 12 to 24 hours to get to room temperature.
Add the tea and sugar aiming for 1.08 SG using a hydrometer to measure.
Adjust acidity to 6% then add the yeast according to the sachets instructions.
Cover and leave to start fermenting. Stir three times a day with a gentle punch down to resubmerge the fruit.
On day 4 add additional sugar to raise gravity by 0.2 and add half a tsp of yeast nutrient to aid the yeast.
Monitor fermentation and leave for three days once gravity reaches 1.01 or lower. Do not open or stir the wine after this for an extended maceration.
Squeeze or press the pulp getting as much into an airlocked demijohn for bulk ageing.
After five weeks to two month rack away from the lees and add 10g of medium oak chips and leave a further three months to age. If wanting a malolactic fermentation add the culture at this point.
Rack again if needed and bulk age. A year after starting all carbon dioxide should be expelled and no manual degassing needed.
Bottle. Keep in a cellar like environment and open the first bottle at two years of age.
I started the blackberry port as bit of a joke and not really expecting anything of real quality but sadly its turned out a real treat and will only continue to get better. It has surpassed my expectations and Ms Gazette happily sipped through the last drips I could not squeeze into a bottle. I am thinking of it aging for another year but she may sneak a bottle earlier. Two bottles are intended as gifts and I may try to limit myself to just one bottle a year to see it really mature. As the alcohol is 20% ABV so it should last until it is five years old. Once opened it may need to live in the fridge though.
As it is almost pure juice the blackberry gives a rich fruity kick with a lot of oak tannins from the 20g of chips it sat on for about 6 months. Colour is rich and deep and the texture matches a true grape port feeling syrupy and velvety as you drink. Light malt usually used for beers was added which bumped the sweetness to an almost destructive level when first added at the end of fermentation. The tannins now compliment the sweetness bringing it into balance. I will certainly keep a closer eye on the incremental sugar additions next time… and there will be a next time making this! Possibly another blackberry though I may be able to forage a small fortune of damsons or try a white greengage port form a friends plum tree. Actually I think I might do at least two this year.