Blending Your Home Made Wines
When you're not pleased with the finished home made wine, you may want to blend a wine with another. Of course any wine which is tainted, or infected, or has a peculiar taste or smell should be thrown away. But wines which are basically sound may be blended to improve them. The principle is very, very simple: you aim to blend two faulty wines so that their faults cancel each other out. Thus, for example, an over-acid wine can be blended with a dull, insipid one; an over-astringent wine can be blended with one that lacks bite; one with too much body can be blended with a "thin" one; one that is too sweet can be blended with a dry wine; and so on. The procedure must be carefully controlled: start by blending small samples, and when you have achieved a satisfactory combination, use the same proportions in bulk.
The difficulty is that having adjusted one quality, say acidity, by mixing two wines, then another quality, say flavor or sweetness, may no longer be acceptable. You may therefore blend two wines to correct a particular defect, and then mix the blend with another wine (or even a second blend) to conceal or rectify another fault. However, as you might expect, the best blends are those which consist of two similar wines, each with a single opposing fault. Once you have blended, the mixture may throw a precipitate or re-ferment.
Thus the new wine should be kept in bulk for at least three months before you decide if it's good enough to keep. The flavor at this point may have changed considerably. If it is acceptable, bottle it; if not, cut your losses and throw it away. Perhaps it is worth emphasizing that you cannot blend wines with any hope of success unless you can identify the different characteristics and defects of wine in the first place.
STORAGE, MATURATION AND BOTTLING OF WINE
Although hard-and-fast rules about the storage of home-made wine are simply too generalized to be helpful, there is no doubt that almost all wines benefit from at least some storage. (The exceptions include those wines deliberately made to be consumed while they are still young.)
So, rather than lay down a set of rules, I offer some guidelines for storage:
The purpose of storage is to allow the wine to mature, i.e. to allow: the complete merging of different elements in the wine and the round-off of any acidic or sharp edges in the flavor; the development of a good bouquet by the reaction of acid and alcohol so as to produce esters; the precipitation of excess tannin and acid (especially in red wines), so that a well balanced, fruity, smooth drink is produced.
All wines benefit from a period of storage in bulk before they are bottled, even if this is only the time between the end of fermentation and the second racking.
All storage must be done in containers with the minimum air-space. See the note on oxidation below.
Red or rose wines should be stored in dark or shaded jars and green bottles or they will discolor.
Generally white wines need less storage than red. Many white wines can be drunk soon after the fermentation is over and nearly all will be ready at six months, although dessert wines may need up to two years in storage. Light red wines will probably be ready anywhere between two and six months after fermentation, but those fermented on the pulp contain more tannin and may need longer storage - up to eighteen months. Dessert wines may need two years or even longer storage before they are at their best.
After bottling, a wine needs at least four weeks' storage before it is served, to re-adjust to the introduction of oxygen during bottling and its new environment.
OXIDATION OF WINE
Oxidation is a chemical change that takes place in a wine in the presence of air. It involves the conversion of alcohol to acetaldehyde. This compound is a vital element of a sherry, but its taste and smell are out of place in a normal wine. Sulphite (aka sulfite) displaces oxygen from a wine and prevents the conversion; it can also reverse a slight oxidation by reacting with acetaldehyde to produce a colorless, odourless compound.
Thus the addition of one Campden tablet per gallon (4.5 litres) at the first racking acts as a safeguard against oxidation; and another tablet may be added for the same reason when the wine is bottled. But whether or you have added sulfite, storing wine in a cask or demijohn with an air-space will ruin it. Keep the vessels topped up!
Incidentally, the presence of an air-space over the liquid of a fermenting wine in a container scaled with an air-lock will not be detrimental. This is because the oxygen is displaced by the inert carbon dioxide gas formed during fermentation.
DARKENING OF WINE
Slight darkening of a wine may be a sign of oxidation or a natural light-induced color change. It may be reversed by the addition of a little ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
WINE STORAGE IN CASKS
Do not be deluded into thinking that fermenting or maturing your wine in a cask will effect a miraculous improvement in quality! To start with, casks less than 6 gallons (30 litres) in capacity are to be avoided as storage vessels since their high surface-area to volume ratio exposes the wine to the danger of oxidation.
Some smaller new wood casks are lined with wax, which renders the wood impermeable; but surely one might as well then use glass? A second problem is that second-hand casks are often stripped and scorched before being sold. This renders the wood hard and impermeable. And thirdly, a cask always leaks if it has a tap fitted.
Despite this, casks of over 6 gallons (30 litres) can be useful, particularly for the maturing and mellowing of red wine. If you wish to try using one you should:
PLASTIC CONTAINERS AND WINE
These are not recommended as the alcohol may evaporate away through the plastic and the wine may in any case be tainted.
STORAGE TEMPERATURES OF HOME MADE WINE
For the average home winemaker, with wine stored in any available space, rules about cellarcraft are irrelevant. In fact storage conditions are not really critical, so long as the storage vessels are sterilized before use and sealed with sterilized rubber bungs. (If you use corks in demijohns, the corks must be waxed, since they are otherwise quite porous.) If possible, keep all your storage vessels, including bottles, at an even temperature of between 10 and 15 degrees C (50 - 60 degrees F).
All fermentation, blending, sweetening and fortification should have been done before a wine is bottled. The wine will be clear and bright, and the bottles sterilized and rinsed before use. If you have previously added only one Campden tablet per gallon (4.5 litres), another may be added as a safeguard against oxidation before bottling.
The wine is siphoned into (sterile) bottles through a (sterile) siphon tube. A tap on the end of the tube is very useful at this stage since it allows precise control of the flow and prevents spillage when you move from one bottle to another.
Wines are best kept in wine bottles - if only for the impressive presentation which is then possible. However, it would be ridiculous to say that homemade wine cannot or should not be stored in screw-topped bottles. The important points are these:
1 Second-hand or re-used bottles should be washed with a little detergent and a nylon or plastic bottle brush until they are spotless.
2 They must then be rinsed with water until clean.
3 They must then be sterilized in one of the normal ways.
4 Red wines should be stored in green or dark bottles to exclude the light, or they will lose their color. It is a nice touch to use, if you can, wine bottles of color and shape which suit the type of wine you are making.
Since winemaking shops usually sell only green and colorless glass bottles with straight sides and sharp shoulders, you may have to re-use commercial wine bottles. This is perfectly acceptable, provided they are washed and sterilized before use.
... AND STOPPERS
Screw caps are made of metal and plastic. They should be sterilized with boiling water or sulfite. During storage, screw-topped bottles must be stored upright with a one- or two-inch (three-four cm) air-space so that the wine is not in contact with the metal of the cap.
Wine bottles require corks, of course. Flanged or plastic topped corks and plastic stoppers are suitable only as temporary stoppers, since they do not form a really tight seal. (The only exception is with sparkling wine bottles.)
Much the best stoppers are cylindrical wine corks driven home using a simple hand-corking machine. The corks should be soaked in a bowl of weak sulfite solution overnight to soften them before use. Never boil corks or reuse second-hand ones, and make sure that they are of fine quality, with no cracks, cavities or blemishes in them. There is nothing more irritating than to have a carefully bottled wine seeping through the cork!
As anyone who has tried to get corks into wine bottles will know, a simple corking machine is essential, even for a few bottles of wine! The wooden hand-corker shown on the left is simple, cheap and very effective. The moistened corks are placed in a central tube and the body of the corker is located over the wine bottle. The plunger is hammered home, thus compressing the cork and driving it into the neck of the bottle. It is a machine I recommend highly.
Rather more expensive and sophisticated, but perhaps a little easier to use, the metal corking gun uses a mechanical piston to compress the cork and drive it home. Unlike screw-topped bottles, corked wine bottles must be stored on their sides to keep the corks moist and swollen. A wine rack of some sort is obviously helpful in storage; suitable designs can be purchased quite cheaply.
PRESENTATION OF WINE
The confusion that can arise if a bottle is not labeled clearly is almost unbelievable! And since labeling is necessary, why not add to the attractiveness of the finished bottle by sticking on a proper wine label? A wide selection is now available, printed in several colors with a variety of designs and printing to suit almost any type of wine.
A large label on the body of the bottle is best positioned between the seams, not across them. Ready gummed labels tend to dry and fall off with age, so use a little rubber solution glue on each edge and smooth the label out before the glue dries. In addition, a smaller neck label may be useful to provide a space for recording the date of production. You can fill in the details on blank labels according to the ingredients or your imagination, whichever seems most appropriate!
If you really wish to emulate the commercial product, you can fit colored plastic capsules in colors to match the wine (red, white or gold) over the cork. One type of capsule has a stretch fit and is applied using a small hand-held capsuler. Another type slips loosely over the cork and then shrinks to form a tight seal when the neck of the bottle is held briefly in a stream of warm air or a jet of steam.
You will be impatient to try your wine, once it has been bottled. But do keep at least some to mature; the improvement with time will probably surprise you. A useful scheme is to balance your rate of production and consumption, so that as each batch of mature wine from your storage area is consumed, another batch of new wine is ready to begin its maturation. In this way, you can select those wines which seem most promising and reserve them for longer maturing and use on special occasions; the other wines can be used for everyday drinking.
But whatever the occasion, try to suit your wine to the occasion and to those who are drinking it with you - not everyone likes dry wines, for example. Equally, conventions about the matching of food and wine are not merely foibles of the wine-snob, but have a sound basis. A sweet wine is quite acceptable with dessert, but hardly appropriate for meat or fish; equally, red wine spoils the taste of fish (or vice versa). Light meats such as poultry are best accompanied by medium-dry or dry white wines, although a light red can be equally acceptable. The "heavier" meats and game need more robust and drier reds of the Burgundy and Bordeaux types.
A dryish champagne is often served throughout a meal, and almost any wine seems suitable with cheese.
Once you have selected a wine, your enjoyment can be increased by following the guidelines for the journey from cellar to table.
White and rose wines are usually free of deposit and can be served from the bottle, but are all the better if they are chilled to about 10 degrees C before being served.
Red wines, on the other hand, often throw a deposit during storage. This sediment would be disturbed if the wine were to be served from the bottle, so it is best to decant the wine before use. This also enables the wine to "breathe": the exposure to air allows any odours formed during bottle storage to disperse and lifts the bouquet. All reds should be served at room temperature.
Incidentally, the best way of removing a cork is to use a double lever or wooden-handled double-screw corkscrew. These remove a cork by steady leverage which does not disturb any sediment.
Serve the wine in a glass which shows it off to best advantage: classic red wine glasses are almost spherical, and usually filled only half-full so that the bouquet can be enjoyed before the wine is tasted.
In theory white wines should be served from long-stemmed glasses so that the heat of the hand does not remove the chill from the wine, but this is hardly a matter of overriding importance.
Sparkling wines can be chilled arid served from fluted glasses (rather than the traditional saucer-shaped ones) to preserve the bubbles and stop the wine quickly going flat.
THE APPRECIATION OF WINE
Too much has already been written by others on this subject. My view is simple - if a wine pleases you, then you have succeeded in what you set out to do. And this applies no matter how inexperienced or critical you may be.
Greater discrimination of faults and preferences comes quickly, and your first few batches of wine should provide all the experience you need to make a drink which fulfils all your requirements - whatever they may be. If you want to assess your own wine by the standards of commercial wine, buy a few bottles from a reputable supplier and spend some time comparing and contrasting the "real thing" with your vintages. If, on the other hand, you wish to assess your wine in its own right, here are the points to observe:
1. CLARITY AND COLOUR
Is the wine free of even the slightest haze or sediment? If it has been sweetened, has all the sugar dissolved? Is the color pleasing to the eye?
Inhale the bouquet and evaluate its quality: Is it free from all off-putting smells? Is it pronounced or barely noticeable? Does the bouquet hint of the fruitiness of the wine? Does it smell acidic or sweet?
And now the most important test of all: Is the balance of the wine correct, i.e. does the level of acidity match the sweetness? Do the flavors of the ingredients blend together well? Is the astringency too pronounced or completely lacking? Is the wine free of all off-flavors? What is the sensation after swallowing (the "farewell")? Is the alcoholic strength correct?
In a word, therefore: enjoy your wine to the full, but always strive to improve your standards. In doing so, it may be helpful to refer occasionally to a table of ...
Original posting date
01 January 2018