So spring has sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the foragables is… sorry…
Spring is finally here. Elder flowers are starting to bloom and other more esoteric ingredients like oak leaves, gorse or dandelions are starting to become available for wine making. In a few days the elder flowers will be picked, plucked and starting to ferment, a few weeks after that I hope to make a walnut leaf wine for the first time. This means there is pressure on the demijohns to free up ready for new brews, not that space should determine if a wine is bottled.
My quince wine has had six months since it was started and I have decided to bottle it. The taste is good, no starch or pectin haze is visible and colour is a lovely amber hue… Ms Gazette described it as a, “rose gold” as she wandered off planning her drunken quince debauchery. I say, “bottle” but it was only half of it as I am playing about with the remainder. Quince wine takes two years to mature and currently there are 12 bottles unopened in the “cellar under the stairs” and this will be joined by 7 more of the most recent batch. The remainder is becoming quince and rose petal wine inspired by Spanish membrillo.
Quince is a good wine bone dry but I want to quince and rose petal to be totally different with a sweeter taste to compliment the floral rose petals. Adding the rose petals is easy – making a tea out of dried petals to add to the remaining British gallon (4.5 litres) of quince. I used 5 grams of petals boiled in about a mugful of water and it made a heady perfumed brew with a fair amount of tannin present, there is plenty of time for this to mature out over 18 months. Boiling not only extracted the flavour and aroma but also sterilised the brew too. Once cooled it was dropped in to the target demijohn that I racked the quince into.
Adding this flavour is easy but adding sweetness is more arduous. If sugar is added to wine it can start a secondary fermentation due to dormant yeast having a nice new sugar banquet to dine on. Yeast can happily live for 18 months in a dry wine ready to rise from the grave. If a sweet wine (sweet in any form rather than just dessert wines sweet!) is wanted you have to inhibit the yeast. There are a few ways to do this and even more myths about how to do it. The important thing to remember is that a two stage attack is needed. Campden with its sodium metabisulfite will be a chemical cosh to knock any tired yeast back and then a stabiliser with potassium sorbate will be a chemical condom stopping them reproducing. Other processes could help like cold stabilisation making the yeast temporarily dormant but these are all moot compared to the chemicals. Some prefer to “max out” the yeast so that alcohol kills the yeast stone dead but this means the yeast determines your flavour and recipe rather than you – why be a slave to the properties of the yeast rather than your taste buds?
Now we have the wine violence and prophylactics out of the way you need a little time and effort stirring these chemicals through once a day for four days to make sure it is dispersed and active to be effective. It should be noted that the yeast can still ferment during this time, probably intangibly to the home wine maker though. A hydrometer test with three days unchanging readings is a definitive test but generally after four days it is safe to add sugar as there will be no more fermentation and risk of exploding bottles at worst or an unintended balance of sugars to acids and tannins otherwise.