Wine Component Tasting

An interactive wine tasting brought you by Northern Brewer and Winexpert’s Tim Vandergrift. Tim leads us through his “Wine Component Tasting” presentation.

Wine Style Focus: South American Reds

Something of an incubator for offbeat or forgotten varietals, the vintners of Argentina and Chile have a way of making a grape their own.

Carmenere is a forgotten constituent of classic Bordeaux that has found a new home in the high vineyards of the Chilean Andes. A bearcat in the vineyard but a delight in the glass: umami flavors of soy sauce, grilled meat, leather and coffee wink out from beneath Merlot-like richness of black cherry, plum, blackberry, and spice.

Malbec, once regarded as a lowly blending grape, has come into its own in Andean vineyards. Lots of high-altitude sun makes for a long, steady ripening, which in turn makes for a big and intense – yet supple — wine of inky color, oozing deep bass notes of plum and spice.

More well-known varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir …) also thrive in South America, known for their pronounced expression of sumptuous and juicy fruit flavors and aromas.

Wine Style Focus: Aromatic German Whites

You want something other than same old, same old Chardonnay? Turned off by the austerity of Sauvignon Blanc? With more umlauts than an 80s hair metal tribute band, we break down the aromatic whites of Germany and Austria:

Gewurztraminer is a flamboyant, fragrant, and showy wine with a full, fat mouthfeel and low natural acidity. With typical aromas of roses and tropical fruit, Gewürz is best known as a simple, early-drinking off-dry wine. Premier examples show more complexity in the glass, exhibiting notes of spice, cinnamon, ginger, and musk. Pair Gewürz with Chinese or Vietnamese (seriously, try it!), oily fish, and soft cheese.

“Grü-Ve” takes pride of place in Austria’s wine scene (it’s grown almost nowhere else), with plantings that date back to the Roman Empire. For such a gluggable, fresh white this wine has amazing complexity: overtones of citrus and peach with spicy white pepper, smoke, and apple. It’s also amazingly food friendly, finding happy matches with everything from cold asparagus to spicy-hot Szechuan dishes.

A 19th-century hybrid of Riesling and Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau brings very fresh, floral, “grapey” character to blends like Liebfraumilch and Piesporter. With low acid and immediate fruitiness, these refreshing and approachable off-dry whites are wines of the moment, not meant for cellaring.

A demanding grape capable of creating sublimely age-worthy wines, Riesling is the Grande Dame of these aromatic whites. Vinified dry, off-dry, or as an intense botrytis-kissed late harvest dessert wine, you’ll find flowers, citrus, mineral, unctuous honey, spice, and a streak of fruity acidity that is the key to Riesling’s longevity in the bottle. As with other wines in this flight, Riesling is a natural match for Asian cuisine as well as white fish, chicken, and pork.


Spring Wine

Brewing beer is an art where the effort is packed into a short period. The vast majority of decisions take placing on brewing day, when you’ve got to multi-task, hit all your expected numbers, and get all the temps, sanitation, and additions right. Wine and mead making are much more drawn out. And amazingly, much of the skill is in paying attention to your fermented wine or mead and reacting to it. Instead of exerting control over all factors, as one constantly tries to in beer, you’ve got to let the wine control you.

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Notes on a Brew Day for Somebody Else’s Wedding, Pt. 1: Selection International Argentine Malbec

Yup. I brewed a wine. A double batch, actually. On a weeknight. In between putting the kid to bed and washing the dishes and amidst racking a Dortmunder. Gotta love wine kits!

But let’s begin at the beginning: this post is going to be the first in an ongoing series about brewing (or vinting, if you must [get it?]) for an occasion. I have undertaken to provide the adult beverages for my cousin’s wedding this fall. To date I’ve brewed (and vinted, if I must) for three other weddings, including my own, and this time I thought it’d be interesting to document the process and compare notes with others who’ve done the same.

So: Malbec. I like Malbec just fine, but the reason I’m making a double batch of this particular kit for the wedding is because my cousin and her fiancee spent a year traveling together in South America, working on organic farms and vineyards before returning to the midwest to start their own farm, and Argentina got stuck in their hearts.

Awww … isn’t it cute when the airlocks bubble at the same time? Read more

Seasonal Ingredient: Clementines

Almost every fruit and vegetable is available year-round. Buy in-season, however, and you get produce at its peak of flavor and nutrients. In January, clementines are readily available.

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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.

Yeast Experiment Round One Results

First round results are in for the yeast experiment! On a Friday afternoon several of us Northern Brewer folks sat down for a unique wine tasting. Some of you folks probably took a look at my previous post, The Grand Yeast Experiment, in which I described the set-up.
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The Grand Yeast Experiment

Fourteen batches of wine and mead. A bevvy, nay a slew, of yeast. Which will take home the gold? Only time, and a lot of drinking, will tell.

A few days back I made up 18 gallons of wine and mead to do a side-by-side test of different yeast strains. The picture above is of 12 1 gallon jugs of mead and wine, there is also a few gallons of pyment and a full carboy of wine. The mead was a 1.092 White Sage Honey traditional that received adequate doses of yeast nutrient and energizer. The wine was the Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz, which despite it’s low cost ranks very high in kit wine-making competitions. The pyment is a 60/40 blend of the Shiraz and White Sage Mead. Here is the breakdown on the yeast.

White Sage Mead – Red Star Pasteur Red, Lalvin Narbonne 71B-1122, White Labs 575 Belgian Ale Blend, Lalvin D-47, Red Star Montrachet, Vintner’s Harvest CR51

Pyment – Lalvin 71B-1122

Vintner’s Reserve Shiraz – Pasteur Red, Lalvin 71B-1122, White Labs 760 Cabernet, Lalvin D-47, Red Star Premier Cuvee, Red Star Montrachet, Vintner’s Harvest CR51

Tasting notes and results will follow in a future blog post. Place your bets on the winners now!

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.