My Bottled Wine is Cloudy – Now What?

My Bottled Wine is Cloudy – Now What?

Bottling is the final step in the wine production process. If your wine going to look good in the glass it needs to look good when it goes into the bottle. Once it’s in the bottle it’s hard to clear up any issues. Recently Tom wrote in the with following situation: We bottled 2 days ago and the wine is cloudy, you can see by holding the bottle up near a light bulb. My question is can I still clear the wine? I mean can I put the wine back into a carboy and use another clearing agent or something like that or am I stuck with the wine as it is? This is an unfortunate situation I and many others have found themselves in. In my case I bottled a wine before it was fully degassed. The reality is whatever gets bottled stays there until it gets served. So if your wine has sediment, protein haze, or carbon dioxide in it, it’ll still be there when you open it up again. Also, if your wine goes in with a pH or acidity problem time will not fix it. Trapped carbon dioxide may slowly escape if you use a natural cork closure and give your wine several years to age. But this largely depends on just how much carbon dioxide is in there. Sediment though isn’t going anywhere no matter how long you wait. Time can help tame harsh tannins and allow subtle flavors and aromas to fully develop, however, it can’t remove sediment or fix chemistry issues. Back to Tom’s question. Can I Still Clear the Wine? In truth the wine will clear on its own in the bottle given enough time. The problem is that whatever settles out of your wine will also be in the bottle and prone to getting stirred up when the wine is served. With careful pouring and by decanting you may be able to keep that sediment from going into someone’s glass. This, understandably, isn’t a perfect solution as it complicates how you serve the wine but may be your best bet. Certainly you could pour it back into a carboy and do another round with a clarifier, however, it will come at a cost. Emptying all those bottles, mixing in a clarifier, and re-bottling your wine will expose it to a lot of oxygen. While your wine may still taste okay when it’s re-bottled its shelf life will likely be greatly reduced. I would venture to guess that even a red wine would show signs of oxidation within six months to a year. A white wine would be more susceptible to this double handling and show signs of oxidation much sooner. What’s the Answer? That depends on what matters most to you. While a cloudy wine may not look great in the glass the haze usually doesn’t affect the actual flavor of the wine. Given that the wine can clear in the bottle if given the time a bit of decanting may be the easiest and least harmful solution. On the other hand if you want to give this wine away and...

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How to Know When to Rack your Wine

How to Know When to Rack your Wine

There’s a lot of different information out there on when to rack your wine. Largely this is because you rack at different times for different reasons depending upon where you are in the wine making process. The three main times when you rack a wine are: 1. When moving your wine from the primary fermenter to the secondary. 2. When moving your wine from the secondary fermenter to a bulk aging vessel. 3. After fermentation you can rack either for clarity or in and out of oak vessels. Let’s take a look at why and when you rack wines during these different phases. Racking from Primary to Secondary Fermentation Vessels When making wine from fresh fruit you’ll want to rack within seven days or so of pitching your yeast to get off of the gross lees. This is the chunky fruit lees that collects at the bottom of your fermentation vessel. If your wine is left on the gross lees for too long you’ll pick up off flavors and aromas. To avoid this you’ll want to rack 5-7 days after pitching the yeast. When making wine from a kit you’ll usually rack your wine after 7 days or when your specific gravity reaches a specific reading, 1.010 for Winexpert kits. During these first seven days a lot of yeast or fine lees is produced. In general you want to rack off of fine lees once it reaches a thickness of about 1/2 inch (13 mm for my metric friends) on the bottom of your fermenter or carboy. Any thicker than that and the yeast at the bottom can start to decay and produce off flavors and aromas. You may want to consider racking once or twice during a long secondary fermentation. For instance, if you ferment a white wine at cool temperatures your total fermentation time can extend for several months. Keep an eye on that sediment layer and rack if it exceeds 1/2 inch (13 mm). Racking from Secondary Fermentation Vessels to Bulk Aging Vessels The second racking is done when fermentation has wrapped up. You’ll want to get your wine off of the lees and into an aging vessel. Either an oak barrel or carboy. When this racking takes place depends entirely upon when fermentation ends. This could be a week or up to two months after your first racking. Letting your wine sit on the fine lees for more than two months can lead to flavor and aroma contributions from the decaying yeast. This is known as sur lie aging. Post Fermentation Rackings Once your wine is in bulk aging containers, oak or otherwise, your wine may still need to be racked. Normally you rack either to help your wine clear or to get it off the oak so it doesn’t pick up too much oak flavor. When racking for clarity you’ll want to rack every two or three months to avoid sur lie flavors. These aren’t bad, in fact they are desireable in many cases, however, sur lie is not for every type of wine and must be carried out with the utmost care. Don’t...

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The Solera Wine Aging System

The Solera Wine Aging System

Solera aging is a system developed by the Spanish and Portuguese and is used in the production of Sherry and Port. Not only is this system complicated in nature, it’s a lot of work and takes a long time to realize the benefits of using it. A solera system is comprised of several “solera rows” stacked on top of each other. Each row is made up of many barrels. Wine moves from the top most row to the bottom most row before being bottled over the period of several years. This system is also referred to as “fractional blending” which will make more sense soon. How Solera Aging Works Each solera row is a different stage in the process. The bottom layer is stage I, the last stage of the system. On top of stage I is the stage II solera row. This continues on up to the highest stage number on top which contains the youngest wine. Most soleras contain five stages, however, really fine Ports and Sherry wines may be aged in soleras with upwards of eight or nine stages. Let’s use an example to show how this works in practice. Suppose you and I are making Sherry together and we have a five stage solera. Each stage has ten 100 gallon barrels (1000 gallons). Yes that’s an odd size but the numbers will be easier this way. Every year we make 500 gallons of wine. As soon as this wine has finished fermenting and clearing we bottle 500 gallons of stage I wine, 50 gallons from each barrel. Remember stage I is the bottom layer. With the stage I stuff bottled we rack 500 gallons from the stage II barrels into the stage I barrels. After that we rack 500 gallons from the stage III barrels into the stage II barrels. This continues on until each stage V barrel is sitting there half empty. At this point we’ll rack last year’s 500 gallons of wine into the stage V barrels. Our solera is not completely full again. You never rack more than 50% of a barrel at one time. Some wineries will rack as little as 25% at a time. To make matters a little more complicated you don’t rack from one barrel straight into another barrel of the next stage. When we rack 50 gallons out of a single stage II barrel 5 gallons will go into each of the ten stage I barrels. Another way to do this would be to rack 50 gallons out of each stage II barrel into a large tank to allow them mix together before filling up the stage I barrels. This, of course, continues throughout each stage. Here’s a sketch of our solera to help you visualize this process. Read this from the bottom up. So now you can see why they call this fractional blending. A fraction of the wine that is racked out of a single barrel is fed into every other barrel. By doing this we are ensuring that the final product coming out of the stage I barrels is as uniform as possible. We...

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Gross Lees vs. Fine Lees

Gross Lees vs. Fine Lees

Did you know there are actually two types of lees? Not only are there different kinds, but they are actually quite different from one another. One kind of lees can spoil your wine in a very short time. The other kind has the potential to take a good wine and make it great by adding flavor compounds as well as smoothing out the mouthfeel. Gross Lees The gross lees refers not to how disgusting the stuff may be but the size of the debris. When you make wine from fresh fruit it is inevitable that some of the grape skins, seeds, and perhaps a stray stem or two will wind up in the bottom of your fermentation container. It’s this chunky style lees that causes the most concern when it comes to determining how long you can let your wine sit before racking. The gross lees that can leave really funky flavors in your wine in short periods of time. As the pile of grape leftovers decomposes it can produce some rather offensive compounds. The gross lees may have spoilage organisms, sulfur, or excess sulfur dioxide left over from the vineyard. Fine Lees On the other hand there is the fine lees. That’s the silky sediment that gently piles up on the bottom of your carboy. This is the stuff that gets stirred up so easily when racking your wine. Primarily the fine lees is comprised of dead yeast cells. As these cells break down they contribute primarily polysaccharides (long carbohydrates) and mannoproteins. Additionally they can bring out flavors of nuts, honey, bread, etc. The proteins can bind with tannins and help smooth out the wine. Sur Lie Aging Aging wine on the lees for a controlled period of time is often done to pick up interesting flavors from the yeast. However, you should know that when wine makers age their wines “on the lees” they are referring to the fine lees. This is a seldom made but pertinent distinction. For more information on this subject check out Sur Lie Aging Explained. You can keep your wine on the gross lees for a period of a couple weeks and be okay. However, you can leave your wine on the fine lees for much much longer periods of time. Further different strains of yeast will impart different flavors on your wine as they decompose as they did during fermentation (here’s a bit more about the affects of different yeast strains of the flavor of wine). So be sure to do your research on sur lie aging and your particular strain of yeast. Check back for more on sur lie aging soon! Photograph of gross lees by: Vagabond...

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Choosing The Right Wine Making Yeast

Choosing The Right Wine Making Yeast

There are many factors that go into choosing a wine making yeast. This is the second most important decision you’ll have to make next to picking the grape varietal to make your wine from. Choosing the right yeast is important for two reasons. First, different yeasts produce different flavor and aroma profiles to finished wines. This has to do with how the yeast processes the must when it’s digesting the sugars and nutrients. The second reason your choice of yeast is so important is that not all strains have the same alcohol tolerance. Many wild yeasts have tolerances of only five to six percent alcohol. Other strains specifically cultivated for wine making may have alcohol tolerances upwards of 18% or more. While this topic has been covered here before we’re going to dive into the specifics of how to do it right. So let’s get to it! Choosing a Wine Making Yeast Step One: Pick Your Flavor Profile The first step in choosing a wine making yeast is to figure out what flavor profile you’d like to have. The stellar folks over at More Winemaking provide a great free resource called the Yeast and Grape Pairing Guide. This guide breaks down what yeast strains give what flavor and aroma profiles for different grape varietals. Open up the guide and look for the varietal of wine you’re looking to make. For each varietal they list the most common yeasts used along with the different flavors and aromas that can be expected from using them. You’ll notice that some yeasts are not meant to be used on their own. They’ll say something like “good for adding _____ to a blend”. This may be because that particular strain does not offer very much flavor but really packs in the aromas. These yeasts are best paired with another strain in either a mixed fermentation or a split fermentation. Here’s a quick look at the difference between the two. A mixed fermentation is where you pitch more than one yeast strain at the same time in the same must. A split fermentation is where you ferment the same varietal grape must with different yeast strains in different fermenters keeping them separate until they’re finished. After fermentation you blend them back together. Step Two: Verify the Yeast Alcohol Tolerance Once you’ve got a handle on the flavor and aroma profiles it’s time to make sure that your yeast of choice is strong enough to completely ferment your wine. If the yeast you choose is not strong enough to finish fermenting your wine there’s a good chance it will be sweeter than you prefer. To check the alcohol tolerance of your yeast strain head over to Lallemand and check out the Lallemand Yeast Charts. In addition to alcohol tolerances they provide other important information such as nitrogen demand, how competitive the yeast is, and a few others. Be sure to book mark that table as you’ll want to refer to it at the start of any fermentation. I use it all the time to plan my wine making efforts. Step Three: Estimate the Final Alcohol Content...

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The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Fermentation

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Fermentation

There is a bit of confusion out there as to what the difference is between primary and secondary fermentation. Sometimes secondary fermentation is confused with a second fermentation and other times malolactic fermentation. Let’s set the record straight. Primary Fermentation Before we talk about secondary fermentation lets start at the beginning with primary fermentation. This stage starts as soon as you add your yeast to the must. During this stage the yeast population is growing rapidly. You know you’re in the primary stage because there’s a lot of visible activity. There’s often a lot of foam on top of the must and your airlock will be bubbling like crazy. Why? The yeast population growing really fast because of the huge supply of sugar, nutrients, and oxygen they lucked into. It’s like a party in there. Everyone is hopped up on sugar and bouncing off the walls. This is the most active and productive phase of fermentation. In fact up to 70% of the total amount of alcohol is produced during this stage which only lasts about three to five days. After that we move into secondary fermentation. Secondary Fermentation After a while things start to slow down. The oxygen has been depleted and the bulk of the sugar has been used up. Because of this the yeast population is no longer expanding. In fact life is getting hard for the yeast. Alcohol levels have risen to the point that it is affecting the yeasts ability to reproduce and even survive. Many cells are dying off and collecting at the bottom of the fermenter. This is one of the reasons we have to rack the wine after primary fermentation is over. We don’t want to pick up any off flavors from the dead yeast. Secondary fermentation lasts between a week to two weeks. Obviously this is a much slower stage in the process. Primary fermentation took three to five days and produced 70% of our alcohol while secondary fermentation takes up to two weeks just to get the last 30%. The foam will disappear and you will see tiny bubbles breaking at the surface of your wine. Your airlock will now be bubbling every 30 seconds or so. There is no identifying event that separates the primary stage from the secondary stage. When it happens depends on the grape varietal, sugar content, yeast strain, fermentation temperature, etc. In other words you just have to watch your airlock or the level of activity at the surface. Secondary Fermentation is not a Second Fermentation This is where it gets confusing. A second fermentation is where excess sugar not previously consumed by the yeast restarts alcoholic fermentation. Commonly this happens when a wine is back sweetened before all the yeast have died. Some people mistakenly refer to malolactic fermentation as a second fermentation. I think it makes sense to differentiate between the two so that we’re speaking a common language. Malolactic fermentation is malolactic fermentation. Second fermentations usually happen by accident except when making sparkling wines. Sparkling wines are bottled before the yeast is dead and a little unfermented grape must is added...

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