Complexity in wine separates the great wine from the rest. Creating a complex wine, however, requires the use of advanced wine making techniques.
Here are three techniques you can start applying to your own wine making to take it to the next level. It doesn’t matter if you’re making wine from a kit, frozen must, or fresh fruit.
Techniques for Making More Complex Wines
There are several things you can do, even with a kit, to improve its complexity. Simply put, complexity is a function of nuances in flavor and aroma.
Single variety wines, while flavorful and tasty, tend not to be very complex. Their flavor profile is simple. Let’s look at some methods to add complexity to our wines.
Yeast imparts flavors and character in your wine as it turns the sugars into alcohol. Different yeasts produce different flavors.
Thus one way you can make a more complex wine is by fermenting half your wine with one yeast and the other half with another. You’ll have to do a bit of research to determine what yeasts work well with the grape varietal you’re working with.
To do this you’ll need two fermenters, two carboys, and all the necessary airlocks. You can use the yeast your kit comes with for one half and pick up another strain for the other half.
Mix Different Types of Oak
Oak is considered to be the winemaker’s spice cabinet because of all the different flavors that it contributes. Another way to add complexity to your wine is to combine oak from different places.
For instance instead of just using the oak that comes with your kit pick up some American and French oak cubes and combine them. American oak tends to be more bold while French oak is more subtle. Combining the two at varying ratios can offer a lot of complexity.
Pier Benci, an Italian wine maker, offers his preferred ratio as 30% American oak and 70% French oak. Likely the American oak is used in less quantity so it doesn’t bury the French oak.
Hungarian oak is another option. Also, if you’re using carboys instead of barrels you’re free to experiment with other types of wood altogether.
Blending Different Varietals
The blending of wine is a long standing European tradition. Taking various amounts of different varietals, sometimes up to five or six, to creating one wine adds a tremendous amount of complexity. Nuances from each varietal all acting together to create one masterful glass of wine.
Blending is done with finished wines by experimentation. Take a base varietal such as Zinfandel. Then create a mixture of 75% Zin and 25% Merlot for example and see what happens. Try several different blends and ratios until you find one that really speaks to you.
Test your blends by the glass before mixing all of your wine. Find the ratios you like and then bottle the blended wines.
This is where wine makers start to earn their status as artists. Blending is done with only the best of each varietal. They do not try to use up a sub-par wine by blending it with something else.
Each varietal is fermented, oaked, and guided to the very best quality possible and then combined in a way such that the sum of the varietals is greater than any one of them by themselves. To create truly amazing wines a winemaker must know and understand how to bring out the best in each varietal and know how it all will contribute to the blend.
The best way to learn this winemaking skill is through practice. There are guidelines, I’m sure, in wine making texts, however, experience is vital to mastering this.
Applying These Advanced Wine Making Techniques
To master these techniques takes practice but also some experimentation. The best way to experiement with these techniques is to split your wines and make them separately.
For instance you wouldn’t want to just toss two yeast strains in on fermenter. Not only will you not get to experience each on theit own you’re also running the risk that one yeast will kill off the other. Those little guys are competitive.
As for oak it would be a good idea, at first at least, to age half your wine with American Oak and half with French. Taste each. Then blend during the bottling process. This allows you to create many different combinations of oak so you can see which you like more as they age.
Blending is the same way. Don’t blend the grape juices and then ferment. Make them separately and combine the finished products.
Photograph by: Dinner Series