Monday, July 26, 2010

Maple "Icewine" Started

Earlier this spring, I've been contemplating niche market wines. These are wines generally made on small scale because, while they have a following, they serve a smaller market base. Dessert wines are a good example. How many folks have a wine cellar full of sweet dessert wines? I have a few, but it's definitely not my first choice to sit down and drink. But there is a definite market for them--Sauternes, sherries, ports, and ice wines. I started thinking of what kind of niche market dessert wine could be made from New England fruits. Blueberry, cranberry, and apples come to mind, but there are already wines on the market made from those fruits (for a great apple ice wine, see Still River Winery in Harvard, MA).

Hmmm, what's another quintessential New England food product containing sugar...

What about maple syrup? Classic New England flavor that's loaded with sugar and can already be found in flavored liquors. I found tons of examples of maple mead recipes on the internet, but I'm not a fan of mead. I also found a few examples of maple syrup wine, but generally that's made by greatly diluting the maple syrup and finishing it slightly sweet. I'm thinking of a big rich, indulgently sweet dessert wine made from maple syrup. Something made like an icewine starting with high Brix must so that even at 12-14% alcohol, it's sinfully rich and sweet.

First things first, get some maple syrup. I got on the trusty internet and found a Vermont family maple house that had syrup still available. Pretty soon, 4 gallons of syrup from Branon Family Maple Orchards of Bakersfield, VT arrived at my doorstep. I ordered 2 gallons each of Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B syrup to see how different the flavors are.

Second, start the wine. I started with the Grade A Dark Amber syrup so I didn't have 2 batches of wine to struggle with initially. I won't divulge all the details, but will just share some generalities:
1) Maple syrup is some high Brix stuff! I was measuring almost 75% sugar in the pure syrup
2) I diluted with H2O to get into more of a usable range
3) Maple syrup has literally no acid. The diluted must had a pH = ~7.
4) Maple syrup flavor changes dramatically when acidified with tartaric acid. Takes on some brighter citrusy flavors.
5) Fermenting with a yeast recommended for late harvest or ice wines.

It's been very slowly bubbling away in my basement for the past 4 months. I'm down to about 10% abv so it's still got a ways to go although it looks like the yeast is slowly shutting down. I have to admit that I'm really liking the result so far. Dark, lots of maple flavor, but strong hints of vanilla and citrus. Could fool me for a sweet sherry.

Stay tuned because this will be interesting.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homemade Wine Tasting Blow-out!

I spent an amazing afternoon yesterday sharing my wines and sampling the wines of Jason & Joanne, two home winemakers that I met at the 2010 Winemaker Magazine Conference in Stevensen, WA back in May. Jason invited us up to his and his wife Margot's house for a wine tasting extravaganza. I was really impressed with all of their wines--even Joanne's mystery red! Lot of people were in attendance--friends & other wine lovers.

I took up a broad sampling of wines. All of the current stock of 2008 grape wines (malbec, syrah, zinfandel), and both styles of 2009 chardonnay. I also pulled out the cranberry-banana and Craniagranoles just for fun. And at the last moment, I stuck in a bottle of the 2006 Seyval Blanc that has been aging in the basement. Really glad I did, because that wine was a hit! It was pretty tart when I bottled it back in 2007, so I've just let the last 3-4 bottles sit down in the basement. 3 years later, it's mellowed into a nice, crisp wine. Hard to believe that it's a 4 year old white wine.

And the best part of the day was meeting a wide variety of folks, including Chris & Nancy Obert, the authors of The Next Harvest... Vineyards & Wineries of New England. Very nice folks who had some great stories of tasting wines around New England. Also met Geno, the unofficial grape buyer of a home winemaking coop down along the South Shore that I've been toying with joining.

All in all, a very good way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2009 Dry Blueberry Bottled

Continuing my theme of indoor projects during this New England heat wave, I decided to bottle the 2009 Blueberry last night. The wine has been crystal clear ever since I racked it off the oak cubes back in December and with a pH = 3.13 and free SO2 = 54 ppm back in March, it should have plenty of antimicrobial/oxidation protection. I really should have measured the free SO2 again, but I only need about 18 ppm at that pH and I highly doubt that the levels have dropped that much in 3 months. Plus, I figure there will be a little SO2 bump from the residual sanitizer solution in the bottles.

So I broke out my Enolmatic bottler, sanitized some bottles, and got to work. I'm still having issues with the vacuum level on the Enolmatic. It's either too low and has trouble sucking the wine out of the carboy, or it's too high and wine gets sucked into the reservoir while the bottle is filling. I finally found a relatively happy medium and got all 4 gallons bottled. I used Amalgo Deluxe corks for the closure. Chose those for a couple of reasons: 1) they just need a quick dip in sanitizer instead of extending soaking, and 2) I want a slow amount of O2 ingress to help the wine age a little faster. Not a lot, just a little to add some aged characteristics and aromas since I wasn't able to barrel age this wine.

I'm pretty pleased with the end result. After I cleaned up I was able to relax and watch my favorite "Pirates of the Carribean" movie while enjoying the couple of glasses-worth of wine that got sucked into the reservoir.

Color: Dark, deep garnet (awesome color extraction)
Aroma: Fresh blueberries, vanilla, citrus finish
Flavor: Good body, fruit forward with slight cocoa notes, and a lingering after taste. Good tannin strength on the tongue with a silky smooth finish. Dark fruits & vanilla.

I do think this is my best dry blueberry wine yet and the closest approximation to a red grape wine that I've come up with. The American Wine Society competition is coming up this fall, and I do think this will be a worthy entry!


Monday, July 5, 2010

Hopefully stabilized the sauvignon blanc

It's a scorcher of a day in MA, so I decided not to sweat to death while ripping out some sod for my sidewalk project and spend the day dealing with wine because it's cooler in the basement. The sauvignon blanc has been chilling in an ice bath since Saturday morning, so it really needed to be racked anyway. At least that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

It looks like the MLB activity has subsided upon cooling, so I racked off the lees into newly sanitized carboys. With a pH = 3.2 and free SO2 levels around 35-40 ppm, I'm frankly a little flummoxed why the bacteria was active. Those free SO2 levels should give >1 ppm molecular SO2 at that pH and that's way more that the 0.8 ppm that's generally recommended to suppress microbial activity. Generous SO2, low pH, and lysozymes should be more than enough to keep the MLB in check. I added another 25 ppm SO2 for good measure and now I'm going to let the wine warm up. I need to bentonite fine this wine in a few weeks, so I don't want to add more lysozymes now as the bentonite will strip the lysozymes out of the wine along with any other proteins. Going to give the SO2 a chance to work while I'm getting ready to fine. Let's keep those fingers crossed.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

More Wine Medal Photos

I've been wanting to post a shot of the medals that I've won this spring, but time just kept slipping away. Finally, today was a gorgeously sunny summer day, so after mowing the yard and wrapping up a home repair project, I gathered up my trove and headed for the deck with my camera. Gotta take time to pat yourself on the back every once in awhile, ya know!

The first two are the medals from the 2010 Winemaker Magazine International Wine Competition. Silver for 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style and Bronze for 2008 Chilean Malbec.

The next bunch are from the 2010 Amateur Winemakers of Central Illinois competition. Silver medals for 2008 Chilean Syrah and 2008 Chilean Malbec and bronze medals for 2008 Northern CA Zinfandel (Revenge of the Zin!), 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style, and 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Burgundian Style.

Do have to say that I think those are awfully pretty pictures. I'm going to be shipping 3 of the wines to the Indy International Wine Competition later this week. Will definitely go with the 2009 Chilean Chardonnay--Chablis Style and the 2008 Chilean Malbec, but I'm having difficulties selecting between the syrah and the zinfandel. Neither one got extremely flattering comments at the Winemaker competition, and I think that competition's a pretty good example of what to expect from the Indy competition. Maybe I'll only send 2 wines...

Stay tuned--I'll make a decision yet.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sauvignon blanc & MLF--a no no

Well, finally had a chance to do a chromatography test on the '10 Chilean Sauvignon blanc that's been every so slowly bubbling away after racking off the gross lees. Yep, there's a bit of lactic acid present which means that my sulfite & lysozyme regime did not prevent a malo-lactic fermentation from starting. Guess the grapes had more mold/bacteria on them than I suspected.

A question for the ages--why does an advantageous MLF occur so readily in spite of your best efforts to prevent it and why is it so darn hard to get one to occur when you want it to happen?

Darn bugs...

Back to the wine--I decided to chill the carboys as best I could to encourage the bacteria to go dormant and then rack into new carboys with a hefty dose of lysozymes to prevent the MLF from restarting. Dashed off to the grocery store this morning for ice and the carboys are currently sitting in an ice/water bath. I don't see any more bubble production, so I think it's working, but want to get these things as cold as possible. My basement has warmed up to a whopping 70 °F this summer so I'm having a little challenge in getting this babies below 60 °F.

Need more ice...