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How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:00 am
by herbalholly
I make good bread and I make good bacon and I get a lot of satisfaction from those but my wine is really not very good.

We drink it and it's ok but I dream of making wine that friends and family are delighted to share with us, rather than all visitors bringing their own for fear of having to drink ours.

What can I do?

We've been making it for about 6 years. We follow the recipes and have tried many differnent recipe books. We've tried different types of wine, gorse, dandelion, blackberry, elderberry, elderflower, orange, mint, strawberry, peach, banana and lots more. They almost always 'work' and we rack them off in good time and bottle them and leave them for a year as we're told we should but thye always taste like cheap sweet sherry. The flavours of the fruits and flowers are often vaguely there in the scent but rarely in the taste of the wine.

Can anyone tell me how I can improve?

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 8:11 am
by Odsox
Thank you, reading all the home brew postings over the years led me to believe it was just me. :iconbiggrin:
I had the same problem although you have persevered a lot more than I ever did, all my "wine" tasted like crap, even (or especially) ones made from kits.
So I gave up long ago.
Sorry I can't help, but I can empathise.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 8:19 am
by Crickleymal
As far as my palate for wines is concerned there are 4 flavours, sweet, dry, red and white. I have made some brilliant wines and some absolute carp too. I think the thing to do is to make notes and if you make a good one then you can duplicate it. Unfortunately I'm so disorganised I can never be bothered so it's all a bit hit and miss.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 9:21 am
by Green Aura
Our home made wine is very hit and miss. We've got a splendid little book called "Wine making the natural way" (I think) - most of the recipes we've tried from there have been very drinkable, although probably not comparable to a decent grape wine. The ones we always have good results from are dandelion and rhubarb, but we've never really had much success with any reds. I'm hoping this batch of elderberry we've just bottled is good - it tastes VERY promising thus far. :drunken:

I agree with taking notes - I have an excel spreadsheet for just this purpose.

Two tips, from bitter experience. Don't try making wine from shop-bought cordials - they make you gag :lol: The other is be wary of recipes from the US. I can't make up my mind if they like really sweet wines or there's some unspoken agreement to add the sugar in stages. We've tried two recipes, both of which halted in their fermenting and we've, as yet, not been able to restart them. The only conclusion we came to is that the amount of sugar is just killing the yeast.

Finally, we've found that the best wines we've made is when we've been "hands off" - just let them do their own thing with minimal interference beyond the initial decanting from the bucket to DJ and a rack or two. I'm sure many will disagree!

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 11:59 am
by dave45
Use grape juice, and avoid white sugar.
AIUI yeast evolved to ferment the balance of sugars and nutrients in grape juice, not garden veggies and industrially produced beet sugar. From my experiments with beer, avoiding white sugar improves the end result significantly (maltose v sucrose?? ). I have never used "brewing sugar" for wine, but have used the powdered malt extract in beer. Turbo nutrient comes in handy with stuck ferments.
If you get discouraged, buy a commercial grapejuice wine kit that doesn't require added sugar and see how you do with that. I did and I hardly bother with country wines now, although I know it is possible to make reasonably drinkable wines, it is hard to get consistent results without scientific experiment style methods, and they are never as good as grape-based wines.

On the other hand my dad makes 25 gallons of elderberry and blackberry wine every year and its not bad at all !

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 12:08 pm
by GeorgeSalt
Be very careful using recipes from older recipe books - CJJ Freezer is very popular, but he's very heavy-handed with the sugar for the modern palate. You mention "sweet sherry" flavour, the sweetness can mean you're overdoing the sugar but sherry flavours could be air getting to the wine during maturing.

We really need to know the recipes that you've tried (the full recipe and where it came from).

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013 12:40 pm
by Crickleymal
I've found that I prefer "country" wines to grape wines. My wife prefers them sweet and I prefer a medium to slightly dry. I usually end up putting about 2.5lb of white sugar in. I've tried glucose once, didn't seem to make any appreciable difference and I think I had a go at using invert sugar in a beer brew once, again no difference to my palate.

The best wines that I've found tend to be red fruit like elderberries or red currants. I also agree that the hands off approach seems to be the best. Just take your time, even forget about it for a month or two after the first racking. Filtering can help but using a drip through filter is terribly tedious and the pressure filter papers have to be carefully washed beforehand else they will taint the wine and of course they seem to hold about a pint of water which dilutes the wine. OK if you're making several gallons, not so go if it's just one gallon.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Wed May 08, 2013 11:16 am
by Crastney
it's good that you've continued so long.
I would recommend noting down as much information as you can remember and then going to a specialist wine/home brew forum (like for instance www . thehomebrewforum . co . uk ) - I admit that I'm a member there, and have had lots of very good advice, and everyone there seems to be able to make very nice wine, so the advice will be helpful.
from what I've discovered, the temperature is important - keep it at about 18 - too high, and you get fusol alcohols produced which will give you really cracking hangovers (above 21 is getting tricky) - fermentation may take longer - waiting is part of the fun. Sterilise everything. twice. constant temp should avoid a stuck fermentation. Sherry flavour sounds like you have let air get to it somehow - probably after fermentation, whilst still in DJ (demi john) - remember to top up to exclude air after the initial vigorous ferment has finished.

apart from that, you'd need more expert advice.

hope that helps

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Thu May 09, 2013 6:32 am
by herbalholly
Thanks everyone.

I will certainly start to keep records of what I make, that makes good sense. I'm glad I'm not alone in finding it hard, I'm also glad that there are things I can do to improve. I'll have another go at orange wine, I really believe that that should be very tasty. So far it's been pretty bland, but it must be do-able. i'll also try blackberry again in the autumn, that has been the best I've made, it wasn't very sophisticated, it tasted like boozey jam, but at least it tasted of blackberries. I'll let you know how I get on.
Many thanks again for all you input.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Thu May 09, 2013 4:11 pm
by Crastney
just a quick question - what kind of yeast are you using?

any yeast will work, but there are specific yeast for specific things, so cider, champagne, red wine, white wine, ale, bread, etc, etc. all have yeasts that work for that specific application.

you wouldn't use champagne yeast to make bread, so don't use bakers yeast to make wine.

also how much sugar are you adding? If you add extra, it does give a higher abv, but sugar is a flavour dilutant so you'll just end up with less flavour, and if you hit the alcohol intolerance of the yeast, there will still be sugar left, which sounds like this might be the case too.

so make full notes of everything you do, down to the smallest details, and then ask on the home brew forum, or another specialist wine/brewing forum.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Thu May 09, 2013 5:51 pm
by boboff
My homebrew all tastes disgusting as well.

My only tip is to rack rack rack wait and rack again, when I can be bothered to do this, and not left the wine on sediment for any length of time the flavor has been better.

Than and conc grape juice instead of white sugar are top tips, as well as make sure everything is sterile, and you are not getting off flavors from other yeasts and moulds.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Fri May 10, 2013 2:12 pm
by herbalholly
Funny you should say that Crastney, we have always used the same wine yeast as it's the only one our homebrew shop sells for making wine. I don't have any at the moment to look at, but from memory it's called 'super wine yeast' or something. It comes in a little thin white pot.

It's hard to narrow the problem down any further really as I haven't been keeping notes, so I do think I have to start with that. I just can't imagine it's due to any one problem as I've used so many different recipes and approaches, from the very complicated with thermometers and chemical compounds to my Gran's 'stick the fruit in a bucket approach' and many many shades in between.

(My Gran, incidentally, makes scrumptious wine but hoards it for special occasions; a trip for 5 hours to go and visit her for a week isn't special enough but we did pry a bottle off her for our wedding. She doesn't drink so her outdoor privy is stacked high with at least 100 bottles of wine)

So I'll buy a notebook.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Fri May 17, 2013 12:04 am
by MKG
Loads of good advice here.

I wouldn't take the grape concentrate route, though. It's all well and good, but it's one of the more expensive routes to take and is based upon the assumption that grapes are the best thing for making wine. This simply isn't true - grapes are best for grape wine, end of story.

The most important thing (apart from basic hygiene and common sense) is to have an idea of what you are aiming for. That's where your note-taking comes to the fore. In that notebook, you will no doubt have copious writings on the impressions you got from your various attempts - even the "failed" ones - and you will have built up a store of knowledge. That's when you can become more confident in your winemaking. The second most important thing is NOT to expect a great Chardonnay from parsnips - although you can expect a great parsnip wine and, if you happen to make elderberry wine, you can expect stuff which would hold up against ANYTHING made from grapes. I keep saying this - apart from sugar content, elderberries are chemically identical to grapes, and they're FREE.

However, you're getting stuff which tastes like "cheap sweet sherry" and that's a wonderful expression which tells me two things ...

a) You're either using too much sugar or you're not getting a vigorous-enough fermentation.
b) Your wine is oxidising in storage.

To take the second point first, I think I'll take a bet that your not using metabisulphite. Yes, I know it's one of those chemicals which lots of people scream about, but it's one which SHOULD be used. It prevents oxidation, it helps with maturation, it sterilises, and it dissipates a half-hour after you open a bottle. Strongly recommended. In my experience, your general purpose wine yeast will do a perfect job of fermentation before you reach the metabisulphite point. Specialist yeasts are fine (and expensive) and are designed to produce the characteristics of the GRAPE wine for which they are used. It is distinctly possible that those characteristics are not what you are aiming for in a home-made wine.

Sugar - when you make your wine, are you taking the sugar which is naturally present in the fruit into account? Remember that cider is made from apples with no sugar added, and cider can reach appreciable strength. Ignoring natural sugar can easily lead to over-sweet wines - and not even with the recompense of high alcohol content, as too much sugar inhibits the fermentation process and can stop it dead at far too early a stage.

Have a think about those two points but, while you're doing so, bear in mind that wine takes time. Yes, you can easily produce something which is "OK" and I think that's more or less what you've said. But really good wines take a long time to mature - your stated year is OK for a light white (say, an apple wine) but is nowhere near enough for a really heavy elderberry, which can take up to five years to reach maturity and will go on improving for another five (but will taste damn awful for the first three years). Having said that, nothing will improve much at all if you happen to be in the habit of trying to mature wines in bottles. Maturation proceeds much more efficiently and quickly in bulk - the more bulk the better. The absolute minimum volume for maturing a wine is one gallon, and five gallons is that much better again.

Persevere, have patience, and use metabisulphite (all the big wine makers do, so why not you too?). You'll get there. Keep making your "OK" stuff to quaff, but nurse a few gallons every year to put into a steadily cool place to improve. Before you know it, you have a large stock of maturing wine which is worth drinking.


PS ... banana wine begins life tasting like petrol - it is definitely one of those which needs to be put in storage and forgotten for years.

Re: How do I make GOOD wine?

Posted: Fri May 17, 2013 8:24 am
by becks77
Ha ha was jst about to say ask MKG and there he is :iconbiggrin: