Sunday, April 27, 2008

Decanting Wine (or Aeration vs. Oxidation)

A quiet spring Sunday at BlueStem Winery. April is always a quiet month as people start to get yard work done after a long winter. We received a large shipment of Cellar Craft wine kits last week and we have more Cellar Craft ingredient kits coming in on Tuesday. Our new supply of WinExpert kits along with a resupply of wine making supplies, homebrew equipment and home brewing ingredients will arrive tomorrow.

Yesterday's blog visited the importance of using a good cork when making wine. Today we are going to talk about removing the cork and enjoying the wine.

So, you have made 30 bottles of either WinExpert or Cellar Craft wine from a kit and you bottled it and you have waited the appropriate time and it is now ready to enjoy. I don't like to generalize but my rule of thumb on white wines made from either WinExpert or Cellar Craft kits is that you should wait a minimum of six months after bottling to enjoy the first bottle and a year is better. On red wines made from either Cellar Craft or WinExpert wine kits you should generally wait a minimum of a year and two is better.

But, as I said, you have waited the appropriate amount of time and it is time to enjoy. You have been told that oxygen is the enemy of wine and during the wine making you diligently tried to isolate your wine from oxygen as much as possible. Now it is time to drink your first bottle and I am going to tell you that prior to drinking your wine you should mix oxygen with it.

Yesterday we talked about corks and how a poor cork could lead to the oxidizing of your wine. There is a difference between oxygenation and aeration. Oxidized wine is wine which has been allowed to come in contact with oxygen during its storage life. Oxygen has attacked the wine and ruined its flavor and this wine can no longer be enjoyed.

Aeration is the mixing of oxygen with wine just prior to enjoyment. Wines which have been in storage will develop a smell which does not mean spoilage, it just means that we are unaccustomed to this aroma because we are used to smelling food which has been in contact with air, not isolated from it. Wines which have been in long-term storage may have chunks of sediment in them and will also have this slightly foul aroma. Use a special wine funnel which has a screen in it to do two things. Filter out the chunks and mix oxygen with your wine. This aeration will, in a few minutes, remove the unpleasant aroma. Will it damage your wine? No! Oxidation takes a little time, maybe hours and maybe a day. Open your wine, aerate it and enjoy!

As always, BlueStem Winery not only carries the winemaking supplies you need for your home wine making hobby but we also carry a complete line of home brew supplies for our home brewers. Our website is open all day every day or if in the area please feel free to drop in even if just to say hello!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Importance of a Good Cork

CorksIt is a good day to write a little bit about the importance of a good cork when bottling wine. It is a Saturday, the store is open but not yet busy, and on Monday I will be getting in a shipment that includes WinExpert wine kits, winemaking equipment and home brew supplies. On Tuesday I am expecting in the second shipment of Cellar Craft wine kits in the last week. These two shipments might must keep me too busy to write blog articles so best get it done today.

I know there are many home wine making people out there and you use a number of different kinds, styles, lengths, and diameters of corks when you bottle one of your Cellar Craft or WinExpert kits or some of your backyard fruit wine. When people are in the store my criteria for helping them select corks initially centers on what type of corker they own or wish to purchase. If they own (or want to purchase) a plastic hand corker (or what I call the brute force method of putting a cork in a bottle) I recommend either the #7 or #8 diameter corks. The #7 corks are the smallest diameter corks and are also the lowest quality. The #8 corks are a medium diameter cork and are of marginally better quality. Why do I recommend these two corks if they are of lower quality? Mostly based on the corker itself. The #9 corks are the largest diameter corks but are virtually impossible to insert into a bottle using this corker. The #7 and #8 corks also have chamfered ends which assist in insertion. We do sell one style of #9 cork with chamfered ends but these are of the same grade as the #8s.

The next choice in corkers is to purchase either a Portuguese or Italian double lever corker. They operate on the same principle (tapered sleeve for the cork to slide through prior to insertion) as the plastic hand corker but instead of pounding on the top of the corker with your hand or a rubber mallet, you pull two levers apart which in turn drives a plunger downward which pushes to cork through the tapered sleeve and into the bottle. Do they work well? No! I personally like the plastic hand corker better. Do they work with a #9 cork? Maybe if you are Hercules!

If your hobby is important enough to you to own a floor corker then the choice of corks comes down to style and quality as opposed to diameter. A floor corker will insert a #9 cork into the bottle easily. Pick the quality cork that you need based on the length of time your wine will be in the bottle. Cork choices range from first quality corks (these are the same grade as the #8s) to winery grade twin disc which are an agglomerated (compressed ground up cork) cork with a disc of natural cork on each end to Altec corks which are agglomerated suberin (this is the highest quality cork available) to synthetic corks. I personally use either the twin disc corks or the Altec corks for bottling our wine here at the winery.

So what is the importance of a good cork?

The whole purpose of the cork is to establish closure. Closure to me is defined as the ability to seal the bottle so that air does not transmit from outside the bottle to inside the bottle. Please do not believe anyone who tells you that a cork breathes! This would imply that air passes through the cork and this simply is not true! Air can pass by the cork if your cork is of a smaller diameter or if it is damaged in some way or if your corking process puts a crease down the side of the cork. If corks did breathe then I would not be in the business of making wine. I would be in the business of making a liquid that had a taste similar to vinegar!

If wine does aerate because of a poor quality cork or a leaking cork the wine will oxidize and in turn it will lose the protection of the free SO2 (sulphites) and then the tannins, pigment and polyphenolic protections of the wine will leave followed by the loss of flavor and discoloration of the wine.

My advice is to purchase the very best corker that you can and then purchase the very best corks to put in your wine bottles. Lots of cork shoved into a very small space makes for longer lasting wine.

Not to forget our beer brewing customers, BlueStem Winery carries a complete line of homebrewing supplies, homebrew ingredients, and home brew equipment in addition to our fine line of WinExpert and Cellar Craft kits and other home winemaking supplies. Our beer brewing supplies inventory has grown significantly and we look forward to serving either your home brew or wine making hobby!