Northern Brewer is about more than beer! Read about winemaking techniques, wine styles, wine tasting, winemaking products and more.

Wine Style Focus: Barolo

Named after a village in the steep hills of southern Piedmont, Barolo is a DOCG-classified red that is famously assertive, complex, and fantastic with food. By Italian law, Barolo must made from 100% Nebbiolo, the classic grape of Piedmont.

Nebbiolo demands south-facing slopes and well-drained calcareous-clay soil, but even so it is late to ripen (as late as November in some years!). Its signature concentration of tannins, acid, and aromas and flavors of roses, violets, berries, truffles, prunes, tar, and chocolate all find expression in the wines of Barolo.

Traditionally Barolo was given an extended maceration and lengthy aging in old barrels to maximize tannin and acid and minimize oak character; more or less undrinkable when young, but bottle aging of up to ten years led to a rich, complex wine with earth and fruit in abundance, cherry-red in color with brick-orange hues at the edges of the glass. Modern methods have shortened the maceration and incorporate new oak (often French) for a more international, approachable style with vanilla-oak character and earlier-drinking tannin levels, but this is still not a soft, delicate wine.

Piedmont is home to white truffles, so it’s no wonder that Barolo makes a natural partner for the earthy flavors of truffles and other mushrooms (morel hunting, anyone?). The Piedmontese also pair their rich and hefty red with rich meat stews and sauces, pasta, and risotto. If you know a hunter or are one yourself, Barolo pairs very well with game, particularly rabbit or venison. It can also stand up to any cheese, including the moldiest blues. The protein in the cheese binds to the burly tannins of the Barolo, softening them and enhancing both.


Wine Style Focus: Shiraz/Syrah

Syrah is poised to become the next big thing in red wine; an ancient pedigree combined with rising popularity and plantings in new areas is setting the stage for this nuanced grape’s time in the spotlight.

The Syrah grape, called Shiraz in many new-world areas such as Australia, has been cultivated in France for centuries. In the 1700’s Syrah wine from the Rhone in the southeast of France had an international reputation as a superior wine. In the 1800’s it was planted in Australia and became the backbone of the wine industry there. In more recent times California and South Africa have devoted increasing space to the vines, and Syrah newcomer Washington state has been scaling up its production as well. The grape contributes excellent fruit flavors and a round body to several blends, notably with Grenache and Mourvere to make “GSM”, or with red wine heavyweight Cabernet Sauvignon.

Syrah is a wine with very full flavors and often a hefty dose of tannins. Syrah can be made in different ways: old-world Syrah includes intense tannins, earthy tones, and spicy flavors and generally requires a decent amount of aging, new-world Shiraz tends to concentrate on plum, blackberry, and other dark fruits and is more often made to drink young. Some examples also display floral aromas and chocolate or espresso characteristics. For intense, heady Syrahs ferment your must at higher temperatures, even up to the 80-90 degree range for a day or two. Extended contact with the grape skins can also help make a big Syrah that has firm tannins and good aging capability. Syrah can be paired with beef, lamb, and other meats, and does well with spicy foods like Mexican cuisine.

Wine Style Focus: Sauvignon Blanc

Unpretentious, inviting, and crisp, Sauvignon Blanc is a wine for good times. This is an excellent wine to keep around for unexpected company and unusual food pairings. The spunky Sauvignon Blanc grape is an ancient one and was traditionally used for blending. In its native France it lent an acidic zip to classic wines such as Sauternes and white Bordeaux. As a stand-alone grape it is most associated with New Zealand, and especially the Marlborough region, but it is grown all over the world, with excellent examples from South Africa and California as well. Soil rich in limestone tends to bring out flinty notes in the wine; fermenting on the cool side is recommended to bring out the best of its bright and fruity flavors.

One of the most distinctive wines around, Sauv Blanc has an upfront acidic bite, which makes it refreshing and well-suited for the summer months. It can also have flavors of tropical fruits as well as grassy and herbaceous notes. It is often drunk young and without the use of oak, though aged and oaked versions can be complex, with more subdued fruitiness. If you love wine with food, keep a few bottles of this stuff in the cellar. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the easiest and best wines to pair with food. Its uncomplicated and refreshingly acidic character allow it to match well with a wide variety of dishes, from delicate sushi to garlic-laden entrees. Some classic matches are with shellfish, goat cheese, and even spicy Thai food.

Wine Style Focus: Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the most universally enjoyed and versatile wines in the world. The range of flavors coaxed from this humble grape is truly astounding: from bright and crisp to dense, oak-aged and buttery; tropical fruit to flint and steel. It is the number one white wine in the United States and an excellent one to keep in the cellar for friends and gatherings of all sorts.

The Chardonnay grape is exceptionally adaptable and easy to grow, which makes it a clear choice for vineyards around the world. The grape is very terroir-expressive, it can grow in almost any vineyard condition, and is vigorous enough to warrant pruning and intentionally keeping yields low. Timing of picking is important to achieve a good balancing acidity. It’s flavor is fairly neutral, which gives it a wide appeal for wine drinkers and a wide range of options for wine makers. The basic Chardonnay is slightly fruity with a noticeable green-apple acidity, but depending on the vineyard and the winemaker, Chardonnay can exhibit banana, flint, butter, hazelnut, licorice, marzipan, guava, lime, smoke, and more. A classic California-style Chardonnay has oak and buttery notes from barrel-aging and malo-lactic fermentation. In Burgundy extended aging on the lees is used to impart toasty, bready, and nutty flavors. In Australia and many other New World wineries, fermentation temperatures are kept cool to increase the tropical fruit presence. Chardonnay pairs well with a variety of lighter foods, as it lacks the bracing acidity or tannins of many other wines. Try it with chicken in white sauce, shrimp salad, or braised pork.

Have beer, want wine

Got a few batches of homebrew under your belt … feel like trying your hand at wine? An easy thing, and soon done, as you can see in this video.

If you already have a brewing starter kit with a six gallon carboy (i.e., Northern Brewer’s Starter Kits all Contain one), then the list of add-ons is quite short:

1. A wine kit. Aseptically-packaged varietal grape juice (Merlot! Malbec! Syrah! Chardonnay! Pinot Grigio! Zinfandel!) from great vineyards the world over. These are user-friendly, complete (they include yeast, finings and clarifiers, plus oak for most reds and some whites), and they make great wine for about $2-$5 a bottle.

2. A big bucket for primary fermenter. (don’t forget a lid!) Wine kits yield six gallon batches, so we need a 7.9 gallon primary; the six-gallon carboy you already own will be used as the secondary fermenter.

3. A corker and corks. If you are just dipping a toe in the winemaking water or plan to only make a batch or two a year, you can get by with a handheld corker. A bench or floor corker is the weapon of choice for the large-volume or frequent winemaker (and they can also cork those nifty 750 ml Belgian beer bottles!). Use #8 corks with a handheld corker, and #9 corks with bench or floor models.
4. Wine bottles. Just as with beer bottles, buy new or scrub and reuse empties – you’ll have at least a few weeks to collect ’em while the wine ferments and clarifies.
5. Stirring technology. Because the must (think of it as wine wort) needs to be mixed before fermentation and degassed after fermentation. All you really need is a long spoon or paddle that can be sanitized; optional but highly recommended is a hand drill-mounted device like this, which for our purposes is like a very, very fast and efficient spoon.

Top 5 Ways to Improve your Wine Kit

Winemakers, free your minds from the smothering bonds of the kit box!

Wine kits may seem like a confined sort of brewing because all the instructions are laid out for you. When it comes down to it though, the kits are just a box full of good ingredients, and its up to you to determine how to make the wine. Here are five ways that you can let your creative juices flow. Above all, have fun!

1. Throw out the sawdust. If you’ve ever looked skeptically at a bag of dusty wood shavings that came with your kit, you have good reason. There are some very good oak alternatives out there, and substituting in a high quality source of oak flavor can greatly improve your wine kit. There are so many options available! The country of origin, toast level, and type (cubes, staves, etc.) of oak you use has a big impact on the final flavor of the wine. Taste a little sample out of primary and decide what you think would be best for the finished wine. After experimenting with different types of oak, you might even become interested in a barrel, which not only improves the oak flavor but also contributes a unique aging process. Good Pinot Noir especially can benefit from the slow oxidation of barrel aging.

2. Ignore the timetable. Well, not completely. But you should consider the times given as flexible, especially as you get towards the end of the process. For a wine like Sauvignon Blanc, no extended aging would likely be necessary, and drinking a month or two after the 6-week kit is finished might be totally fine. But big wines like Cabernet Sauvignon can’t be drunk so quickly, and really require aging to be palatable. Extended bulk aging can have its advantages, from slow extraction of quality oak to the favorable oxidation of barrels. If you are aging in bulk, remember to appropriately top up your vessel to reduce excess exposure to oxygen.

3. Play with yeast. Yeast is your friend. There is a great selection of yeasts available, and they are generally inexpensive. Tons of wine kits just come with standard, neutral Champagne yeast. This yeast is a good fermenter and very easy to use, but consider trying out something more suited to your particular tastes. I personally love the Wyeast Rudesheimer strain and the Lalvin D-47 and RC-212.

4. Blend a little. Most professional wineries practice blending constantly, whether it is with different grape varieties or the same variety but different oak or other factors. In your home cellar you can plan to make two batches in a row from blending-friendly grapes (like a batch a Cabernet Sauvignon and a batch of Shiraz), and then experiment with small quantities of different blends until you find one that clicks. It’s like making three wines instead of two!

5. Try your hand at sweetening. Don’t be afraid to make a sweet or semi-sweet wine out of a kit that is intended to be dry. There are several good options for this: if you know you want to make a semi-sweet wine you can use the Lalvin 71B Narbonne yeast, which leaves about 3% residual sugar and has an excellent flavor profile. If you have made a dry wine and think it would taste good with a bit more sweetness, try adding potassium sorbate to halt further fermentation, and then add your choice of sweetener.

Nutrient vs. Energizer: Which Should I Use and When?

Nutrients and Energizers sound pretty beneficial – and they can be! But, what the heck are these products!? Moreover, if you use the wrong stuff or an inappropriate bolus, you can do some major damage to your yeast!  What you need to know about nutrient vs. energizer Read more

Citrus Wine

I opened my fridge one morning and poured myself what I expected to be a nice glass of OJ, but it smelled like Pee-Yew (much like rotten veggies and diaper)!

I checked the date stamp on the carton which told me the OJ was months past its prime. It was probably some gram negative bacteria like Escherischia coli or possibly Citrobacter, which can be seriously harmful if ingested. They prefer to live in human intestines, but sometimes they travel. Gross! Read more