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Wine and Beer Vacation

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What's a wine and beer vacation? Well for me, it is taking the next 3 weeks off from blogging to slow down, drink some wine and beer and enjoy the Holiday season. After 14 months of writing articles, I'm pretty well spent. It also doesn't help that I'm working 60 -70 hours a week and my wife is going through chemotherapy.

I do plan on working on some new articles and such, but won't post them until the new year. So, I'll see you next year.

Enjoy your holidays.

Give generously to those less fortunate.

P.S. - Here are some links to some interesting articles.

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Beer and Wine in Colonial Times

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

With the holidays fast approaching and everyone in a hurry to get things done, I thought that it would be nice to take you back to a less hectic time. When everyone had a time to stop and grab a pint of beer or glass of wine and enjoy the company of friends and family. To try out each families homemade recipes and just enjoy life. To actually relax and not be stressed out.

I orginally printed this article last December and it reminded me of lot of what spirit of the holidays. The article at the Colonial Williamsburg site is really facinating and you should give it a read.

Original Post

When I visited Monticello several years ago, I was fascinated by Jefferson's farming techniques. I was also fascinated how that just about every family during that time period made their own beer and wine. Just think how cool it would be if everyone now made their own wine and beer. Millions of varieties to taste and enjoy. Well if you want a little background about that period, check this out from Colonial Williamsburg.

This is an old time wine recipe. I'm not sure if the powder sugar means regular sugar or powdered sugar since terms were a wee bit different than.

WINE-RAISIN or STEPHONY, may be thus made: Take two pounds of Raisins of the Sun dried, a pound of good Powder-sugar, the Juice of two Lemmons, and 1 whole Peel: Let these boil half an hour in 2 Gallons of Spring-water; and then taking the Liquor off from the Fire, pour it into an earthen Pot, which is to be cover’d close for 3 or 4 days, stirring it twice a day, and adding a little Sugar.

For you beer drinkers, here is a recipe for spruce beer.

Spruce Beer Recipe from Pioneer Thinking.
5 gallons of water
1/8 pound of hops
1/2 cup of dried, bruised ginger root
1 pound of the outer twigs of spruce fir
3 quarts of molasses
1/2 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water or 1/2 cup
of liquid homemade yeast

In a large kettle combine the water, hops, ginger root and
spruce fir twigs. Boil together until all the hops sink to the
bottom of the kettle. Strain into a large crock and stir in the
molasses. After this has cooled add the yeast. Cover and leave
to set for 48 hours. Then bottle, cap and leave in a warm place
(70-75 degrees F) for 5 days. It will now be ready to drink.
Store upright in a cool place.

Lastly, if you want to know what kind of beer George Washington drank, check out this recipe



Paw Paw Wine Recipe

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I don't know what inspired me to post a recipe on Paw Paw wine.  Maybe it was because I had one about a year ago and enjoyed the flavor?  Or, maybe it was because I wanted to post something a little different?  Who knows.  Well the recipe is listed below and right after that is a little description from Kentucky State University about paw paws.


  • 2-3 lbs ripe pawpaws
  • 2 lbs granulated sugar
  • 7 pts water
  • 1-1/2 tsp citric acid
  • 1 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 1/2 tsp grape tannin
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient
  • wine yeast

Put water on to boil. Meanwhile, peel the fruit and cut into pieces. Put fruit in nylon straining bag, tie closed, and place bag in primary. Mash fruit in bag, pour sugar over fruit and, when boiling, pour water over that. Cover primary and set aside to cool. When room temperature, add all ingredients except yeast. Recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast. When the must is fermenting vigorously, stir twice daily for 7 days. Drain bag and squeeze gently to extract most juice and flavor, then transfer juice to secondary. Fit airlock and set aside for 2 months. Rack into sterilized secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack again after 3 months, top up and refit airlock. Check wine for clarity after additional 3 months. If wine has not cleared, fine with gelatin, wait two weeks, and rack into bottles. Age additional 6-12 months.

From Kentucky State University

The pawpaw is the largest edible fruit that is native to the United States. Pawpaws are indigenous to 26 states in the U.S., in a range extending from northern Florida to southern Ontario and as far west as eastern Nebraska. They have provided delicious and nutritious food for Native Americans, European explorers and settlers, and wild animals. They are still being enjoyed in modern America, chiefly in rural areas. There are 27 varieties (Table 1) currently available from more than 50 commercial nurseries in the U.S.

Most enthusiasts agree that the best way to enjoy pawpaws is to eat them raw, outdoors, picked from the tree when they are perfectly ripe. But there are also numerous ways to use them in the kitchen and extend the enjoyment of their tropical flavor beyond the end of the harvest season.

The unique flavor of the fruit resembles a blend of various tropical flavors, including banana, pineapple, and mango. The flavor and custard-like texture make pawpaws a good substitute for bananas in almost any recipe. The common names, 'poor man's banana,' 'American custard apple,' and 'Kentucky banana' reflect these qualities.

Pawpaw's beautiful, maroon colored flowers appear in the spring, and the clusters of fruit ripen in the fall. The Kentucky harvest season is from late August to mid-October. Ripe pawpaw fruits are easily picked, yielding to a gentle tug. Shaking the tree will make them fall off. (If you try this, don't stand under the fruit clusters, and don't say we didn't warn you.) Ripeness can also be gauged by squeezing gently, as you would judge a peach. The flesh should be soft, and the fruit should have a strong, pleasant aroma. The skin color of ripe fruit on the tree ranges from green to yellow, and dark flecks may appear, as on bananas. The skin of picked or fallen fruit may darken to brown or black.

Fully ripe pawpaws last only a few days at room temperature, but may be kept for a week in the refrigerator. If fruit is refrigerated before it is fully ripe, it can be kept for up to three weeks, and can then be allowed to finish ripening at room temperature. Ripe pawpaw flesh, with skin and seeds removed, can be pureed and frozen for later use. Some people even freeze whole fruits.

Pawpaws are very nutritious fruits. They are high in vitamin C, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They are a good source of potassium and several essential amino acids, and they also contain significant amounts of riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. Pawpaws contain these nutrients in amounts that are generally about the same as or greater than those found in bananas, apples, or oranges.

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Troeg's Mad Elf

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

With Christmas just around the corner, many breweries bring out their seasonal beer.  One of the tastiest that I have consumed is Troeg's Mad Elf.  With an alcohol content around 11% it is not a beer that you pound down, but is more of a sipping beer.  I came up with a recipe that I think would make a Mad Elf Clone but I haven't tried it.  Just one for everyone to experiment with and should make a 5 gallon batch.
4 pounds Pilsner Malt
4 pounds Munich Malt
1/2 pound Chocolate Malt
1 pound Honey
3.5 pounds Amber Liquid Malt Extract
2 pounds Amber Dry Malt Extract
4 ounces Cherry Juice concentrate
3/4 ounce Hallertau Hops for 50 minutes
1/4 ounce Saaz Hops for 20 minutes
Do a partial mash with the grains.  Add the honey and malt extracts and bring to a boil.  Add the hops and continue boiling.  Chill and transfer to primary fermenter.  Add the yeast.  I'm not sure what type Troeg's uses, but a Belgian style triple yeast would be real close.  Or, you can experiment and try different types by splitting up the batch.  After primary fermentation is complete, rack to secondary and add the cherry juice.  I would let this in the secondary for about 4 - 6 weeks before bottling.  
From Troegs website
The Mad Elf Holiday Ale

Alcohol by Volume: 11% alcohol by volume
Hop Bitterness (IBU's) : 15
Color (SRM) : Ruby Red
Availability: Seasonal, 12 oz. bottles, 1/2 and 1/6 kegs (contact your local retailer to pre-order)
Malts: Pilsner, Munich, Chocolate
Hops: Saaz, Hallertau
Yeast: Spicy Yeast
Pennsylvania Honey West Coast Cherries

The Mad Elf, a cheerful creation to warm your heart and enlighten your tongue. The combination of Cherries, Honey, and Chocolate Malts delivers gentle fruits and subtle spices. Fermented and aged with a unique yeast, this ruby red beer has significant warming strength that underlies the pleasant character of this intriguing yet delicious Ale. The Mad Elf, a jolly and delicious beer for the Holidays.

Philly Daily News article
Click here to read about the Mad Elf!
Nov. 28, 2003
Nov. 5, 2004

2006 Elf
First Batch Brewed: Wed., Aug. 16
Cases Go on Sale: Monday, Oct. 30
Tasting Room Keg Tapped: November 4
Kegs Go on Sale: Nov. 20th


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Acid & pH Adjustments

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I found this excellent article on the British Columbia Amateur Winemaker's Association website.  It's packed with a ton of information and is quite lengthy.  Since, I'm undecided about posting on Thanksgiving,  I'm publishing the entire article.  Please check out the BCAWA's website, it is one of the most useful and easy to navigate sites on the web.

Every winemaker, at one time or another, has had to deal with grapes having less than ideal pH and acid balances.  Whether the grapes come from California, a warm climate, or Oregon, Washington and the Okanagan, cool climates, the winemaker is faced with the problem: how to adjust the acid and pH.

It may be necessary to adjust the grape acid level for different reasons:

  1. The pH is too high and the acid too low;

  2. The pH is too low and the acid is too high; or

  3.   Both the pH and the acid are too high, usually the result of excessive amounts of malic acid and potassium.

Both 2 and 3 are phenomena common in cool climate grapes; although 3 occurs in warm climate grapes also.

Before continuing, it must be pointed out that when Total Acidity (TA) is referred to it will be in grams per litre.  Some books refer to acid as a percentage: ie - 0.7 percent.  To make the transition to grams per litre, move the decimal one space to the right; thus 0.7 becomes 7 grams per litre.

All white and rosé musts should be adjusted to a maximum of pH 3.3 and all reds should be adjusted to a maximum of pH 3.4 in order to achieve optimum flavour extraction and to minimize bacterial infection.  These adjustments should be made with tartaric acid.  Even if this procedure increases the TA above desired levels, the tartrates can be precipitated with cold stabilization.  The rule-of-thumb for tartaric acid addition is 1 g/l to reduce the pH by 0.1.  However, there are some cautions:

1)       Different grapes have different buffering capacities;

2)       High pH drops, say from 3.6 to 3.3 may require about 4 g/l of tartaric acid instead of therule-of-thumb 3g/l;

3)      Adding acid can result in some precipitation of potassium hydrogen tartrate (KHT) which    may affect both pH and TA values.  Therefore, lab tests should be performed. 

The most convenient way of testing for the appropriate amount of tartaric acid to add is to prepare a 10% solution (10 grams in 100 ml of water) of tartaric acid in distilled water.  Dissolve the acid in a little water and add water to exactly 100ml.  Set up several glasses containing 100ml of juice and, using one as a control, to the other glasses add 1, 2, 3, etc. ml of the 10% solution and measure the pH changes.  The volumes of the 10% solution used are equivalent to the grams per litre of acid necessary to make the required adjustment.  That is, one ml of the solution equals one gram of acid.  The same process can be used if post-fermentation acid adjustments need to be made.  By using the 10% solution, results are instantaneous and less bothersome than dissolving the acid volumes one at a time. 

Be aware that all the acids - tartaric, malic and citric - will affect the TA values differently.  While a one-gram addition of tartaric acid will increase the TA by one gram per litre, malic acid will increase the TA by about 1.12 and citric acid by about 1.17.  They also affect the flavour differently.  So lab tests are essential.  

Whether the grapes are pressed immediately after crushing or let stand on the skins for flavour extraction before pressing, once the juice sample has settled and cleared, the acid and pH readings should be accurate.  The same cannot be said for red grapes, however.  Most winemakers take their samples immediately after crushing, but the readings are not accurate.  Doing a test twenty-four hours later will see an increase in pH of between 0.1 and 0.2 as the direct result of potassium extraction.  The TA change will be minimal.  A further increase in pH will be observed after pressing due to maceration during fermentation and greater extraction of skin constituents. 

Many grapes, particularly in climatically unfavourable years, may require the acid to be reduced prior to fermentation.  This can be achieved in several ways. 

Water Addition: Adding ten to fifteen percent water, particularly with the more floral grape varieties, will achieve the desired TA without making significant changes in the pH; however, sugar will have to be added as the result of dilution. 

Occasionally grapes from California, even the Okanagan, have high Brix (or SG), high pH and high TA; and it may be desirable to add some water in order to decrease the potential alcohol of the high sugar.  While adding water will also reduce the acid, it will still be necessary to add acid in order to reduce the pH. 

Cold Stabilization: This procedure is usually performed after fermentation, when the weather is slightly below freezing.  Putting the wine into a refrigerator is an alternative.  In either case, it also helps to "seed" the wine with cream of tartar crystals in the amount of 2 - 6 g/l.  Do bench trials to determine the optimum amount to be used.  Cold stabilization will not work if the pH is too low, less than 3.2, because the malic acid content will be higher than the tartaric acid content; and malic acid does not precipitate its salts as does tartaric acid. As well as reducing acidity, cold stabilization reduces the probability of tartrate precipitation when the wine is chilled before serving.  Prior to cold stabilization, the pH should be below 3.65, otherwise any precipitation of potassium bitartrate will lead to a decrease in both the pH and the TA, possibly necessitating the addition of acid prior to bottling.  Conversely, if the pH is much above 3.65, the pH will increase. 

ACIDEXâ:  This so-called double salt of calcium carbonate, in theory, reduces both tartaric and malic acids equally.  Before fermentation a portion of the juice is treated wherein all the acid is removed and then added back to the rest of the juice. Do not use this procedure on wine, as the portion treated will have a pH close to 8.0 and the wine will oxidize irrespective of its SO2 content.  Do not be alarmed at the dark brown colour of the deacidified juice; fermentation will clear it up.  It is advisable not to use any SO2 in the treated juice, otherwise the colour may become "fixed" or bound.  In order to use AcidexÒ effectively, it is necessary to consult the tables on page 6. 

Unlike the following carbonates, the juice must be stirred into the AcidexÒ in order to reduce the malic acid as well as the tartaric acid.  In order to reduce the malic acid, the pH must be higher than 4.5, preferably above 5.0, during the entire process, so stir the juice in slowly.  (See Explanations for Acid Reduction p. 4)  Some winemakers have added AcidexÒ to the juice or the wine and observed an acid reduction, but only the tartaric acid has been reduced.  The same result could have been obtained by using one of the carbonates described below at a fraction of the cost. 

Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) or Chalk: Use at the rate of between 0.67 and 1.53 g/l to reduce TA by 1.0g/l.  Seeding with cream of tartar crystals and chilling hastens the process.  If the pH is too low, calcium carbonate will not work for the same reason that cold stabilization will not work.  If this procedure is used, do it well before bottling, at least three months, or a chalk haze or crystalline deposit could occur in the bottle.  I prefer to use calcium carbonate before filtering.  Calcium carbonate is not the preferred method of acid reduction by wineries because of the length of time it takes to complete the process, as well as the possibility of tartrate precipitation in the bottle.   They do, however, have metatartaric acid at their disposal.  These acids prevent tartrate precipitation for up to a year.  Metatartaric acid is temperature sensitive, and wines should be held below 20 °C in order to retain the activity of the acid.  According to Peynaud (Knowing and Making Wine), this acid should be used only in wines that are not going to be kept very long. Since I have not used either, I cannot comment on their effectiveness. 

Potassium Carbonate (KCO3): Use at the rate of about 1.0 g/l to reduce the TA by 1.0 g/l.  The wine should be chilled, although it will work at cellar temperature, and unlike calcium carbonate, potassium carbonate reacts immediately and does not leave a deposit. 

As with tartaric acid, for the purpose of testing for the proper additions of potassium carbonate, make a 5% solution.  Put one litre of wine into a refrigerator and chill to about -3 or -4°C.  Set up a few glasses with 250 ml of the chilled wine.  Using one as a control, add 1, 2, 3, etc, mls of the solution which will be the equivalent of 0.5, 1.0, 1.5, etc, g/l.  Refrigerate for two hours or so stirring regularly - 7 or 8 times.  Let the samples warm up to cellar temperature and taste to determine the amount to add to the batch.


1.        1.The last two procedures are generally carried out on wine.  It is always best (safest) to do lab trials before treating the entire volume of wine.

2.        Potassium will increase the pH very quickly compared to calcium, so do not use it if the wine pH is already high, say above 3.5 or for large reductions.  Potassium carbonate is best used to "fine tune" the acid balance.

3.        When using either of the carbonates, put it into a small quantity of wine, mix well, add back to the larger volume and stir it well.  Always leave plenty of space in the larger container, as foaming can be violent unless the wine is very cold. 

            Malolactic Fermentation (MLF): Unlike the four procedures described previously which remove tartrates, malolactic fermentation removes malic acid.  It does so by converting malic acid into lactic acid.  One gram of malic acid is converted into 0.67 grams of lactic acid and the rest is given off as carbon dioxide.  This procedure is often used for two reasons: it is a natural means of reducing acidity; and as a stylistic tool: it changes the character of the wine by making it softer and slightly buttery.  It also influences microbial stability: if used in marginal to high pH's - between 3.5 to 4.0 - it can encourage growth of spoilage forms of lactic acid bacteria.  Leuconostoc Oenos is normally the only lactic acid bacteria inducing MLF in lower pH wines (<3.5). Higher pH wines support the growth of Lactobacillus and Pediococcus, both spoilage bacteria.  

One of the most readily available MLF cultures was developed at Oregon State University.  It consists of two strains, Erla and Ey2d, now referred to as OSU1 and OSU2, which were developed to tolerate both low temperature fermentation (about 15C°) and low pH (about 2.9), similar conditions for winemaking in B.C. 

If you use this culture, make a starter.  It is in liquid form and the package states that it is good for 5 gallons, and at about $7.00 per package, that's expensive.  Buy some apple juice, which has the desired pH of about 4.0 (it also has lots of malic acid), and start the culture in this medium.  Gradually add white grape juice to sensitize the bacteria to the lower pH of the must and add directly to the ferment.  This starter can be used for both red and white grapes. 

Freeze-dried cultures have recently become available.  They are very easy to use and very effective - just sprinkle them into the fermenting wine.  The drawback is that they are very expensive. 

MLF is routinely carried out on red wines, and very few white wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc).  Some winemakers like the taste; others don't.  It also has some important catches to it: 

  1. Sulfite levels must be kept dangerously low - 30 ppm - during malolactic fermentation.  Malolactic bacteria are sensitive to sulfite; they may be stunned, but they are not killed.  If the MLF is not completed before bottling, when the free sulfite degrades, the bacteria can become active again; and the wine will undergo malolactic fermentation in the bottle.
  1. Since home winemakers cannot test for either tartaric or malic acid levels, they don't really know how much TA drop to expect; and the only way to find out if the MLF is completed is to use color chromatography.  See the appropriate link for Charles Plant's explanation of this procedure.
  1. Add the ML culture about two-thirds of the way through the ferment.  Adding it too early may result in the yeast overwhelming it.


Obviously getting involved with MLF is another dimension of winemaking that many people may not want to step up to, but it bears serious consideration. If MLF is not practiced and the sulfite levels are not high enough to inhibit the ML bacteria, there is the real danger that the wine, once it has been corked, will undergo MLF in the bottle.  So it is best to use the process for no other reason than to avoid the potential problem. 

Blending: Blending high acid wines with low acid wines is a method of balancing acid that many winemakers prefer.  It is safe, uses no chemicals and yields immediate results.  Many winemakers do an MLF on a portion of the wine and blend it with the non-MLF portion in order to balance the softer lactic characteristics with the more aromatic and fruitier characteristics of the grape resulting in a more complex wine.  It can be a lot of fun to experiment in this way, and the rewards can be considerable. 

All of the above-mentioned procedures are useful and safe; indeed, it is unlikely that many commercial wineries make their wines without using one or another - or a combination - of these methods of dealing with acid imbalances. 

Explanations for Acid Reduction 

All acids have an isoelectric point (also isoionic or dissociation point), the pH at which 50% of the acid is in its free form and 50% is still in its bound form.  However, the isoelectric point pH's differ for each acid.  The two main acids, tartaric and malic, have isoelectric pH's of 2.96 and 3.41 respectively.  It is only after the isoelectric pH's have been attained that optimum acid reduction can occur. 

Once the isoelectric pH of tartaric acid is reached and continues to increase, the bound tartaric acid becomes free tartaric acid  (H2T-) which changes into potassium bitartrate (HT-) which, in turn, changes into dipotassium tartrate (T2-) both of which are salts.  While the free tartaric acid can be reduced with carbonates, the potassium bitartrate and the dipotassium tartrate can be reduced with a combination of cold stabilization and carbonates. 

Malic acid reacts in the same way as tartaric acid; however, malic acid (H2M-) does not respond the way tartaric acid does to carbonate treatment, and the potassium malate (HM-) and dipotassium malate (M2-) salts will not precipitate during cold stabilization.  Thus the use of AcidexÒ to reduce the high acidity often associated with cool climate grapes.  Because the isoelectric point of Malic acid is so much higher than that of tartaric acid, it is necessary to increase the malic acid pH even higher in order to complete the dissociation of the acid into its salts.  In order to achieve this, it is necessary to add the juice slowly into the AcidexÒ in order to maintain a pH higher than 4.5, preferably close to 5.0.  Stirring the AcidexÒ into the juice will result in the tartrates being reduced without having any reducing effect on the malates; and, while the desired acid reduction may be achieved, malic acid will be predominant giving the resulting wine a sharper rather than a softer edge, which was the purpose of the exercise in the first place.   

Cool Climate Grapes 

The most frequently encountered problem, if it is a problem, is low pH and high TA.  It is not unusual, however, to encounter both high pH and high TA due to a higher concentration of malic acid and high potassium which results in high pH. Under normal growing conditions, some of the malic acid is metabolized into sugars and some disappears through transpiration. And the decrease in TA is directly parallel with the decrease in malic acid.  (See page 7)  Tartaric acid and its salts, on the other hand, remain fairly constant during the ripening process; and ultimately the level of malic acid is metabolized to the point where the dominant acid is tartaric.  

One method of dealing with the high pH/high acid phenomenon is the following: 

  1. Add tartaric acid to adjust the tartaric/malic acid balance;

  2. Use AcidexÒ to reduce the potassium; and

  3. Add tartaric acid to achieve the desired pH and TA if necessary.

Since it is unlikely that few, if any, any home winemakers can determine both the tartaric and malic acid levels, it is best to consider the above procedure only in terms of the standard practice of reducing the pH to the desired level prior to fermentation. 

A second problem arises when red grapes exhibit both high pH and high TA.  Whereas with white grapes it is necessary to press off the juice, make adjustments with AcidexÒ and add the juice back to the must, this is not practical with red grapes.  The best way to deal with red grapes is to add tartaric acid to reduce the pH; use malolactic fermentation to reduce the malic acid; employ cold stabilization; and, if necessary, make further deacidification adjustments with potassium carbonate. 

The problem can be dealt with in the same way with those white grape varieties that can be enhanced by malolactic fermentation.  Unfortunately, white grape varieties that depend upon malic acid for their aromas and flavours do not respond well to malolactic fermentation and require other treatments, including the use of higher levels of SO2 to prevent spontaneous malolactic fermentation after bottling. 

On the other hand, grapes from warm climates can also exhibit both high pH and high TA.  When this situation occurs, the high pH is due to high potassium, and the high TA is almost entirely tartaric.  Tartaric acid must be added to reduce the pH, and the necessary acid reduction must be accomplished by using procedures discussed previously.  It is unlikely, however, that malolactic fermentation will result in any significant reduction in TA due to very low levels of malic acid. 

Index of Acidity (IA) or Acid Taste Index 

Ultimately, acid balance is a matter of taste and there is no "rule of thumb" that will determine what the correct acid balance is.  However, research has been done that provides some general guidelines that can be helpful in determining whether the acid balance is within the "desired" range for the type and style of wine.  It is simply a matter of subtracting the pH from the TA.  For example: dry red wines should have an IA range of about 2 to 3, dry white wines about 2.7 to 3.7 and off-dry white wines about 3.8 to 4.8.  Too far below these levels and the wine will be flabby or soapy; too far above them and the wine will be sharp and acidic.   

Specialty wines such as dry Sherries, sparkling wines, dessert and after dinner wines are not as easy to assess using this method: Sherries because of their general low pH and low TA; sparkling wines because their low pH and high acid are mitigated somewhat by carbonation; dessert and after dinner wines in particular require a much higher pH-to-TA ratio because they usually have a lower pH with higher acids in order to balance the sweetness.  Icewines, for example, may have an IA as high as 12 or more.  Of significance in red wines is the level of astringency: high astringency will tend to make wines on the high side of the IA seem more acidic than they really are. 

While numbers may be useful tools and can be used as aids in striving for good pH/acid balance, the final arbiter of proper balance is the taste buds.   

Prepared by Bill Collings, January 27, 2002 (amended May27, 2004) 

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Balance in Wine - Part 2

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is the second part of Peter Bell's article on "Balance In Wine". The first part can be found on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 post.

These concepts find very useful application during the barrel-aging of red wines. It is often found that a young Pinot, for example, tastes vaguely out of balance with regard to alcohol, acid and tannins. Small additions of acid to a laboratory sample seem to improve the wine. But what it really needs is more time in barrel, to pick up some tannins from the oak. After eight months or so the low acid becomes not only acceptable but desirable.

In some wines, notably those from Alsace, there is an interplay between small amounts of sweetness and bitterness. Remove the sugar, and the bitterness becomes too apparent; remove the bitterness, and the sweetness (exacerbated by low acid and high alcohol) will play too much of a role in the finish. Alsatian wines in some ways redefine the concept of balance.

Flavor intensity, sometimes referred to as extract, exists in balance with sweetness. Good late harvest wines, as well as sweet fortified wines, have an enormous amount of extract to give the wine interest. This is how such wines can be almost syrupy sweet while still managing to finish dry - a seemingly contradictory situation. These wines also have lots of astringency to aid in this effect. Australian wine tasters refer to the flavor intensity which balances sweet wines as 'lusciousness'.

Other aspects of wines which exist in balance are oak vs. fruit and age vs. youth. As you can imagine these are almost entirely in the realm of subjective response; some tasters love very oaky wines, while others would call the same wines horribly unbalanced. Whole nations can exhibit a preference for one character over another - in Great Britain, for example, there has traditionally been a strong leaning toward wines with extreme bottle age. To these drinkers a wine showing any fruit flavors is one which needs more cellaring.

The temperature at which a wine is served can have a dramatic effect on the balance of its various elements. Low temperatures make tannins seem much more apparent - try chilling a full-bodied red wine down sometime to demonstrate this to yourself. Most people find that wine tastes less acidic at a low temperature. Sweet wines taste sweeter at higher temperatures, and by extension slightly sweet wines, served cold, will generally be perceived as dry.

High temperatures tend to make the alcohol in wine more apparent. This can be a problem with red wines drunk in the summertime - the alcohol, being very volatile, will spoil both the nose and the palate of the wine.

See also the article "Making a Reserve Wine".

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Balance In Wine

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Today I am beginning a series on balancing wine.  Since it tis the balance of acids and sugars that make a good wine great.  Maybe this will help all of us make great wine.  Anyways, I'm thinking that it will be about 6 or 7 posts and will include information on acids, pH, and sugar.   Some of the info will be from other websites because it is useful and well written.  No use re-writing a good article. To start the series off, I found a nice intro article from Cornell University.  It is a rather long post, so part of it will be on today and the other part will be posted on Thursday.

Balance in Wine
Peter Bell


This is a concept that on the surface seems very simple, but that turns out to be quite challenging. It is important to have some familiarity with what balance entails if you are to become a good wine taster.

Balance in wine refers to the interaction and harmony between two or more of the wine's constituents. By far the most straightforward balance is that between sugar and acidity. Not all wines, of course, have residual sugar, though all have some acidity. Sugar-acid balance is thus limited to wines which have an interplay between these two elements.

There is no accurate formula for calculating the perfect acid-sugar balance in a wine, despite the fact that there are some people who advance that very notion. In its simplest sense, a wine which has a good acid-sugar balance tastes neither too sweet nor too acidic: the sugar exists in the right quantity for the acid, and vice versa.

By extension, a wine which is out of balance has either too much acid or too much sugar. There are plenty of off-dry-to-sweet white wines on the market which are more or less out of balance. A wine with too little sugar for its acid will taste harsh, sharp and acidic; the evolution of flavors in the mouth will be interrupted by the sensation of acidity. A wine with too much sugar will taste cloying, sugary and flabby, and will not refresh the palate.

Some wines have too much sugar and acid. They are often the result of a winemaker trying to balance a high acid with additions of sugar. These wines don't work, because the other elements if the wine, especially 'extract', don't match the sugar and acid. Experienced tasters often describe such wines as having a 'sweet-tart' character.

The balance between astringency (tannins) and acidity in red wines is of paramount importance. French enologist Emile Peynaud, in his book The Taste of Wine, makes the following points:

    * the less tannic a wine is, the more acidity it can support
    * the higher a red wine is in tannins, the lower should be its acidity
    * the combination of high acid and high tannins make for the hardest and most astringent wines

Another important balance is that between alcohol on the one hand, and acidity and astringency on the other. This is obviously most relevant to red wines. Too little alcohol will cause the acidity and astringency to dominate, making the wine harsh and thin. Too little acid and astringency will cause a wine to taste overly soft, heavy and flabby, with the spirity quality of the alcohol playing too much of a role. Back to Emile Peynaud:

    * a wine tolerates acidity better when its alcohol content is higher
    * a considerable amount of tannin is more acceptable if acidity is low and alcohol is high
Second Part on Thursday's post.

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Wine and Beer Magazines

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This might sound like a paid advertisement, but I can assure you that it is not. Too bad, 'cuz I could use the cash. But, anyways, I was just browsing through my collection of Winemaker and Brew Your Own Magazines. I am amazed at the amount of information that I have obtained from reading these over the past 4 years

Each magazine has the Ask the Wizard section. This is where you can send in questions and the wizard will answer them. Actually, the wizard is an expert in the field and brings years of experience to answering the questions.

Also, each magazine usually has a few articles on how to do different techniques and the letters to the editor are just filled with tons of useful hints.

If you wish to subscribe to these magazines click on the pics.

I wish that I could write more, but we are celebrating Thanksgiving today because this is the only time everyone could get together. Really crazy here with kids and grandkids running around. A better post on Tuesday. I promise.



Making Wine Labels

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Your wine is bottled and cellared.   What other nice thing could you do?  Well, making your own labels comes to mind.   Making your own labels will allow you to get creative and have a lot of fun with your wine.


There are several programs available that you can use.  If you have Microsoft Word, Microsoft Publisher or Adobe Illustrator then you have a good start at making your  own labels.    Some other programs that you might be interested in are:




4th & Vine


Personally, I use Microsoft Publisher to layout my labels by using the grid function.  In most cases, you can do a 2 across and 2 down grid for wine labels for a standard wine bottle.  Smaller bottles, like 12 ounce beer bottles, a 2 across and 3 down is just about perfect.  Generally, I insert a picture into each portion of the grid and attach a text box with a description to it.  Then I use the group function and group the  picture and text box together.


Now, your ready to print. 


Here’s where you can have some fun.  You can experiment with different colored paper,  plain versus adhesive backed paper, or any other thing that you what to play with.  Personally, I just use regular 20 pound paper and mostly in white if my label has any color to it.  If I’m just printing in black, I’ll use a colored paper.   Here’s a good hint if you are doing colored labels.  If you are doing a lot of one kind, just make 1 good copy and take it to a place that can do colored copies.   Why, waste your ink, when you can pay just a little money to waste their ink.


After, you have your labels printed, then grab a glass of wine and start attaching your pieces of art.  I just use scotch tape along the long side of the label and try to make it look nice. 


That’s about it for making your own labels.  Bottom line is to experiment to get the look you like and have fun doing it.


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300 Wine and Beer Posts

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Yep, after a whole year blogging, I finally hit the 300 mark in posts.  Quite an achievement for someone who really did not like to write while in school.  In January, I thought that I would hit the 300 post mark in March, since I set such a lofty goal of 1000 posts for the year.  What a rude awakening.  Trying to do 3 posts a day was way too much, so I settled for once a day.  Even that was more than I could handle.  So, I settled for the Tuesday and Thursday routine and it seems to be working out.
I've learned a few things along the way.  Posting everyday or even 3 times a day made for some really sucky posts.  I've tried to do more "quality" and informative posts on the Tuesday/Thursday schedule and hopefully they have been.  I'm still in the learning process and would like to try and personalize more of the future posts.
Administratively, this thing is becoming a nightmare.  Trying to keep the recipe archives and the how to archives up to date is getting to be a mess.  So, I have started blogs just dedicated to those items.  In the future, when you want a recipe, you will be sent to the recipe blog.  The same with the how to's.  A re-design is in the works but I'm not quite sure when it will be implemented.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you that have stopped by, read a post, left a comment, etc. 
Now, off to the next 100 posts !!!  See you there !!!

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Blending Wine

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Right about now is the time that most home winemakers begin to open bottles of wine made last year. Will it taste good, average or excellent? If it is just average, could I added something to it to make it better? What if I mix a little blueberry wine with the concord wine? A thinned bodied, with a full bodied? These are just some of the questions you run into whenever you decide to blend your wines.

Blending wines is a combination of math and art. You can calculate how much of each wine to blend by using the Pearson Square or you can can do it the artsy way. Personally, I prefer the artsy way, that is taking a little of wine A and mix it with a little of wine B until I get the taste I am looking for. Let me give you an example. I made a concord wine from grapes in 2004 that had great taste by was very thinned bodied. I made a blueberry wine from canned blueberries in early 2005 that was more full bodied. So, I said to myself "What if I blend these two wines?" I started out with 2 small glasses, filled one with blueberry and one with concord and then pour the 2 glasses into a larger glass. Then the fun part, tasting the blend. It was better, but not good enough. So then it was 3 glasses, first 2 blueberry and then 1 concord. The mixing continued until I found the taste I was looking for, which I believe was 1 blueberry to 2 concord.

For you math types, here is the Pearson Square. This example was taken from Grapestompers website.

The easiest way to illustrate how the Pearson Square works is to do an example....

For our illustration, let's say we are blending because we would like to lower the level of alcohol in our wine. We have some Merlot that is 15% alcohol, and we would like to blend it with another wine so we end up with a target alcohol of 12%. The other wine's alcoholic content is 11%.

Let's begin by showing you what the Pearson Square looks like. See the figure below:

Pearson Square

The center of the square, shown by the letter "C", represents the "target" value we want to blend for (in this case, we want to obtain a wine of 12% alcohol).

The upper left corner, shown by the letter "A", represents the known alcohol percentage of wine #1 (Our Merlot, which is 15%).

The lower left corner, shown by the letter "D", represents the known alcohol percentage of wine #2 (another Merlot, which is 11%)

To use the Pearson Square, we merely substitute numbers for the letters in the diagram, and then do some simple subtraction. We find the difference between the values in the corner and the center "target" value, and place the answer in the opposite corners. This value is always the absolute value (no negative numbers allowed!) of the difference.... so, for our example:

15 minus 12 equals 3, and
12 minus 11 equals 1

Here's what the Pearson Square looks like now:

Pearson Square - Example calculations

Voila! As you can see, we need 3 parts of the 11% wine to mix with 1 part of the 15% wine, and we will end up with our "target" wine of 12%. Pretty neat, huh?

There are other things to consider when blending wines. Such as, not blending a bad wine with a good wine, balancing tannins etc. The following links make great reads for exploring more about blending.

Blending Wines: Grapestompers

Blending Batches - Tips from the Pros: Winemaker Magazine

Blending to Improve Wines: Winemaker Magazine


New Wine and Beer Blogs

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sorry for the late post.  I'm working on two new blogs.  One is about making homemade wine and the other is making homemade beer.  The plan is to place some orginal content on both sites along with going back through my archives and re-posting the best posts on these 2 blogs.  They should be up and running by next week.
Thanks for hanging in there !!!
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10 Ways to Beat Oxidation

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

1. Transfer whites quickly otherwise they could turn brown

 2. Adjust the pH if your wine is not between 3.1 to 3.6

 3. Use sulfite

4. Top up your carboys or barrels and make sure that they are full

5. Rack by gravity and try to avoid pumps

6. Avoid pumps since they tend to dissolve oxygen into the wine

7. Use closed systems

8. Use ascorbic acid prior to bottling

9. Store at a cool temperature, ideally 55 degrees F

10. Inspect your equipment for wear and tear

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Wine and Beer Articles

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Some interesting reads that I found on the net and wanted to share with you. Sort of a break from working on our hobby.

Here is something that I wish we had in my area.

Wine making for beginners

By Times-News
Ads by
KIMBERLY The Community Education Center at the College of Southern Idaho will offer the class "Home Brewing for the Beginning Wine Maker" from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 26 atWert's Brew Haus on U.S. Highway 30 in Kimberly.

Daryl Wert will instruct, and the cost is $35.

Students will learn about the beginning steps of making wine at home, the equipment needed, the wine kits, processing, bottling and types of wines.

Class size is limited, so register early. For information or to register, call 732-6442 or visit

The reason we all got into this hobby, to make better wine and beer.

Hobbyists enjoy putting personal touch on brew

Myrtle Beach Online

Some beers just blend better if you let them sit and condition. The longer the beer sits, the better it gets.

Not satisfied with the taste of commercial beers, or maybe you just want something a little more unique? Homebrewing may be the way to go to savor a beer that's all your own.

Getting started as a home-brewer can be as simple as buying a book or receiving a gift on a special occasion.

Read More

Since the step-son lives in Reading, PA, I just had to included this article. Gives me another thing to look forward to on the next trip down.

Joe Sixpack | Reading Beer making a comeback

Philadelphia Inquirer

Never in a million years will this take away attention from the beers of Legacy

UNLESS YOU happened to live in Berks County 30 or more years ago, Reading Beer might never have crossed your path. But you probably tasted something like it, because it was your basic, low-priced American lager, not unlike the hometown brew in Norristown, Rochester, Allentown or 100 other Rust Belt cities.

Read More

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Liquid Wine Yeast

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

As I said in the previous post, I don't use liquid yeast. So, I'll just be listing some of the major ones along with their vital stats as a reference guide.

White Labs

Champagne - Classic champagne yeast with a neutral character. Temperature range 70 -75 degrees F with a potential alcohol of 17%.

Chardonnay White Wine - Use for white and blush wines. Nice range temperature range ( 50 -90 degrees) and will ferment out to around 14%.

French Red Wine - Is a classic Bordeaux yeast that tolerates cold and has a rich, smooth flavor. Will ferment at 60 - 90 degrees F and produce a wine with 17% alcohol. Best for Cabernet and Merlot.

Steinberg - A Riesling and Gewurtraminer strain. Cold tolerant and has a high fruit and ester production. Lower alcohol output (around 14%) and can with stand temperatures of between 50 - 90 degrees.


Pasteur Champagne - Use for Dry Whites, Spumante, Sauv. Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gewürz. Will ferment to 17% and has a temperature range of 55-75 degrees.

Sweet Mead - Best for Cider, Cyser, Fruit Wine, Ginger Ale, Cherry, Raspberry, Peach. Produces a sweet wine with low alcohol (around 11%). Likes the 60 -75 degree range for fermentation.

Chablis- Fruity Whites, Chard, Chablis, Gewürz, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris is what this strain likes to work with. Will work at the 55 -75 degree range and produces a wine with an alcohol content between 12 - 13%

Chateau Red - Cabernet, Red Varietals, Gamay, Zin, Rhone, Burgundy, Pinot Noir. 55 - 90 degree range and 14%

Bordeaux - Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Syrah, Riojo, Valdepenas. 55 - 90 range and 14%

Eau de Vie - This one is for the heavy duty wines like Cordials, Grappa, Barleywine, Eau de Vie, Single Malts. Will ferment out to about 21% at 65 - 80 degrees.

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