The wine you made in Part 2 is by no means great. It’s OKish, but it has lots of faults. Think for a moment about drinking a reasonably good wine made from grapes. What are your impressions? There’s a certain indefinable “feel” in the mouth, a sort of viscosity which your new wine doesn’t have. There’s also a warming effect as you swallow the grape wine which you probably don’t feel with the new wine. And there’s an astringency – a drying of the mouth – which you almost certainly won’t feel with the new wine. In fact, drinking the new wine will probably be more reminiscent of drinking a well-diluted cordial – not unpleasant, but not very wine-like.
Well, let’s correct some of those faults by cheating. I’m not suggesting that this is always the way to go – but learn the cheats because they’re always handy. Most non-grape wines will benefit from a bit of adjustment.
So, let’s deal with the faults one at a time.
What about that “feel” in the mouth? Where does that come from? Well, it’s that strange thing which wine afficionados call “body”. No-one has yet successfully defined what that is, nor exactly how to achieve it. Some say that it depends upon the amount of fruit used to make the wine. Others insist that it is a result of the alcohol content of the wine. Still others confidently claim that it is a characteristic solely of grape wines. It’s most probably a combination of all of those things and others I haven’t mentioned, but the only important point is that the new wine doesn’t have it. So let’s give it some body.
We can’t go back and add more fruit for body because the wine is already made. But we can take a hint from a wine which probably has more body than any other – Sauternes. For those of you who’ve never tasted it, it’s an extremely sweet wine (usually treated as a dessert wine, although I think that’s wrong) which gives you the feeling that you’re actually drinking a very well-flavoured oil. This stuff crawls around your mouth. The interesting point as far as we’re concerned is that Sauternes is made from grapes which have been infected with a fungus which dries them out almost to raisin standard (that’s Botrytis for you). It’s said that this concentrates the sugars to such a degree that this sweet, viscous wine is the natural result – but if that was the case, then it should be reproducible merely by using more sugar to make a wine. You can try that, but it doesn’t give you a Sauterne. So the Botrytis infection does something else. What WILL give you a Sauterne-like wine is a trick of yeast chemistry called “bending the Krebbs cycle”, but we don’t want to go deeply into that at this point. Suffice it to say that the result of this trick is to force yeast to increase its production of a substance called glycerol – very similar, if not identical, to the glycerine you can buy in the supermarket. In Sauterne at least, it’s the glycerol which provides that heavy body – so will supermarket glycerine give a similar effect? The answer is a resounding yes.
What you need to do, then, is add glycerine a little at a time (say, a teaspoon to start, followed by half-teaspoons) to your gallon of wine, tasting it after every addition, until you begin to recognise a change in the feel of the wine in your mouth (don’t forget to gently stir it in, by the way). Stop at that point – adding glycerine is OK, but it won’t perform miracles. One of the extra benefits is that the glycerine will sweeten the wine slightly. I know some people like their wines dry, but an absolutely dry wine is not very pleasant.
Now you should have a wine which feels right, but doesn’t yet taste right or warm your gullet. We’ll attack warming next, then. The impression of warming is produced by alcohol. It’s as simple as that. So, you could get that effect by adding a slug or two of vodka to your wine. However, that rather defeats the object. You need to con your body into thinking there’s more alcohol there. Now what can you think of which produces a warming effect on the tissues of your mouth and throat? Any curry fans out there? Chilli will do the job very efficiently – chilli essence to be precise. Add that a drop at a time (stirring once again) until you JUST – and only just – begin to recognise a change.
Time for that astringency – a characteristic produced by tannin, which is remarkably low in the fruit tea-bag wine. You could, if you wanted to, go out and buy some grape tannin, or even some oak chips. Adding those to your wine and leaving it alone for a while will certainly increase the tannin levels. But there is another way to do it (and here I can see the wine buffs swooning in complete disgust) which is altogether cheaper and easier. Tea – ordinary tea. In fact a tea bag – but this time a real one. Tea is high in tannin, as you’ll know if you’ve ever let tea brew for too long – it begins to turn your mouth furry. That’s tannin. So make a cup of tea from a tea bag and allow it to carry on brewing for much longer than normal. In fact, let it go cold. Add a quarter cup of that to your wine, following the usual procedure of tasting and adding more if necessary, until you JUST begin to register the effect but not the taste. Now you have viscosity, warming and astringency.
Nearly there. Now, IF NECESSARY, for a bit more flavour. You should be getting into this conning game by now, so if you’ve already thought of adding a cordial, well done. Which cordial to add would depend upon what ingredients were in the fruit tea bags, but blackcurrant works surprisingly well in most cases. But here you have to be very careful. What you DO NOT want is to add so much cordial that its flavour takes over. Once again, it’s a matter of adding a little at a time until you recognise the smallest change in the flavour of the wine. Leave it at that point.
That’s it – you have now improved your wine about as far as it will go, and there will be a world of difference between what you started with and the finished product. There will also be appreciably less wine – welcome to the fun world of winemaking.
There are no guarantees, by the way. Following this method may result, if you overdo any part of it, in a gallon of rubbish. But the whole point is that it’s cheap and the practice is good. You may take to it right away, or it may take you a couple of attempts – but sooner or later you’ll get the hang of the adjustments and you’ll at least have had a lot of fun in the attempts. Don’t get all discouraged if you have a failure – just think about what may have gone wrong and avoid that next time.
Note that not all of the adjustments need be made to all home-made wines. Indeed, once you’re into the full swing of things, you’ll only rarely need to adjust anything.
The really observant amongst you will no doubt already be asking questions – like “Why didn’t we add that tea bag at the outset?” and “Why not get more alcohol to begin with rather than con my taste buds later?” They’re good questions, and deserve good answers – in Part 4.