A year is a long time to wait. Even labor takes a paltry nine months. But birthing my blueberry wine deserved patience.
Its conception was awkward, messy, and frustrating.
Kit winemaking was for beginners. So last August, I picked ten pounds of blueberries. This time I wanted to complete the circle: picking, pressing, macerating, fermenting and bottling. Along the way, I hoped to understand the challenge of crafting a wine from scratch.
It was a nightmare.
Harvesting was exhausting. Those ten pounds only gave me a gallon, or 7.5 bottles of wine.
Pressing the berries by hand nearly killed me. Fermentation took days to start. Alcohol was low and required chaptalizing with sugar. Record highs, lows, and a broken AC nearly ruined everything. And even after multiple rackings and finings, the wine was still hazy.
I needed to age the wine.
A few webpages and books told me that fruit wines improve with time in bottle. They sounded trustworthy, or at least reasonable.
“Real” wines are released upon the market after at least a few months of aging in bottle. This gets over short term effects like bottleshock. No, not the boredom of watching a movie about wine, where the only redeeming factor is the presence of Alan Rickman (one point for Slytherin!). Bottleshock is a wine’s reaction to oxygen exposure during bottling. It freaks out chemically, muting flavors until the oxygen dissolves.
Down-time also lets phenolic compounds like bitter tannins bind, group and sink to the bottom. Their harshness dissipates with age, much like that cranky grandma who got nicer once senility set in.
So, I waited a year, made another wine, drank through my first kit wine, and generally forgot about how hard blueberries had been.
Now nostalgic but fearing the worst, I chill a bottle of the blueberry, hoping the cold might mask my mistakes. My latest vignoles white became unexpectedly fizzy yet fine: thanks mostly to good fruit.
But there’s only one way to know.
The wine looks fine (just ignore the bottle’s half inch of sediment). It shows a clear, pale ruby with salmon tinge: akin to a rosé with age. Yay!
Its nose, well, to put it gently, sucks. There’s a bit of grapefruit and strawberry, but musk, earth, and yeast crush the fruits as if they were Japanese people running from Godzilla.
This is why you smell a wine first. You need to know if a musky, yeasty Godzilla is going to ravage your palate like downtown Tokyo.
For the sake of science, I sip.
Once my brain rattles back into consciousness. I try the wine again.
Brass-knuckled acidity whips me in the face again. There’s nothing else there. All sweetness is gone. What remains is a thin, acidic glass of difficulty.
Sure my goal was to make a dry red, but I expected some fruit to hang around. All I can tease out is green strawberry, apple, citrus, sulfur and some spice. My chart below can’t hide my disappointment:
The delayed fermentation and mold allowed for wild yeasts and/or bacteria to contribute the foxy, musky earth tones (although that might just be the blueberries).
I also should have macerated the skins and juice properly.
Most red wines spend one to two weeks with pumps or manual punch downs circulating the skins. That extracts more color, sugar, and flavor esters. Exhausted, impatient and lacking pumps or siphons, I just bagged the skins as if they were tea.
Chaptalizing was my other mistake. Blueberries have 65% (9.96g/100g) of the sugars of grapes. That translates into 35% less potential alcohol than wine (since sugar ferments into half its weight in ethanol alcohol). I wanted something wine-like at around 12% alcohol. So I dumped in cane sugar and yeast food.
My blueberry is clearly up to wine-reminiscent alcohol levels (e.g. it will get ya drunk). But raising them masked any fruit.
I also need a pH acidity tester. While still a berry, the blue’s sugar balanced its acids nicely. Like fresh lemonade: you need sugar.
If had I trusted the fruit and just fermented it, there might be something left to taste. Most blueberry wine is made into dessert wine for a reason. Dry, it will hardly taste of blueberries.
Aging the wine further won’t help either. There’s no core fruit flavors to hold out, when tertiary tones of earth and saddle take over.
Next time, I’ll stick to grapes.