Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sparkling Cranberry Experiments Results

Roughly about this time last year, I posted about some experimental sparking cranberry wines that I was trying.  Back then, my lovely girlfriend (now my wife) helped me get ready for their secondary fermentations in the bottle.  She'll be the first to tell you that this was a pretty big endeavor since we were investigating the affect of 6 different variables as part of this experiment.  Each of the 3 different base wines (cranberry, cranberry-cider, and cranberry-niagara) were also split into 2 carbonation styles (a lightly carbonated spumante and a fully carbonated sparkling).  If that wasn't enough, I also wanted to try a potentially labor-saving fermentation style using an encapsulated yeast (read the original post for more details).

Since then, the bottles have been sitting quietly doing their thing.  During the winter, I housed them in an upstairs closet to stay warm and then in the basement during the summer to keep relatively cool.  After almost 12 months of hopefully fermenting, I decided to pop a few bottles open a few weeks ago while I was clearing out the basement in preparation for winery construction to begin.

Drumroll please....

"Blech."  Followed by "dang it...shoot" (the words were actually a bit stronger, but this is a family show).

Cranberry (base wine made from 2 lbs cranberries/gallon of water)

Very few bubbles at all.  The spumante bottles were barely fizzy at all and the sparkling bottles had only a light fizz that disappeared quickly after opening.  Pink color with a strong cranberry taste, a thin mouth feel, and a very bitter finish.

Cranberry-Cider (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of apple cider)

More bubbles, but only in about half the bottles.  The sparkling bottles had the largest number of "bubbly" bottles but still had a significant number of duds.  The sparkled bottles did produce a nice mousse of bubbles that lingered for a decent period of time.  Pale orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of old dried apples.

Cranberry-Niagara (base wine made from 1 lbs cranberries/gallon of Welch's White Grape Juice)

Just about every bottle had sparkled with only 1-2 duds  The spumante bottles were refreshingly fizzy but I wanted more.  The sparkled bottles had a nice lingering mousse of small, fine trailed bubbles.  Bigger mouth feel than the rest.  Pale pink-orange color with a barely perceptible cranberry taste that was dominated by the aroma & taste of foxy niagara grapes (like drinking a dry version of Sparkling Welch's Grape Juice).

In the end, I opened every bottle and dumped them down the drain.  The Cranberry-Niagara produced the highest quality sparkling wine, but did not have a flavor that I really wanted to ever taste again.  Rather than waste valuable storage space on a wine that I wasn't going to drink, I dumped them.

Some lessons learned for the future:
1)  Amount of cranberries in the recipe needs to be fine tuned.  2 lbs/gal resulted in too strong of a flavor, while 1 lb/gal gave too weak of a cranberry flavor.
2)  Use a grape base for best mouthfeel and higher chance of complete carbonation.
3)  Forgo the "foxy" grapes like Niagara and use a more neutral flavored V. vinifera grape as the base
4)  Encapsulated yeast do work well for "sparkling" wine production, although the jury is still out on whether I'd use this "yeast-in-a-cap" method again.  Worked well when it worked, but still had a larger number of duds than I would like.  Reasonable for amateur use, but not commercial use.



Greg said...

Hmm, that's too bad. I guess there's not a good alternative to méthode champenoise

MA Winemaker said...

Well, I think the makers of Prosecco would disagree with you. In this case, I'm not completely sold on the "beads in a cork" approach, but using encapsulated yeast is a viable approach that would greatly reduce the riddling labor costs & time. I think one of the most interesting observations is that the yeast worked best on the grape based bottles. What key nutrient/etc was lacking or missing in the water or cider based bottles?

MA Winemaker said...

The "beads in a cork" method harkens back to the use of yeast in dialysis tubing that is described in older home winemaking texts. Who's used this and how well does it work?