Winexpert kits from smallest to largest. Each kit makes 6 gal. of wine
In part one of this article we discussed the characteristics that differentiate one size/price range of kit from another. http://winemakersacademy.com/choosing-a-wine-kit-part-1-owerview/ In part two we are going to look at how each of the product lines in the Winexpert family compare to each other using these characteristics. Just by way of reminder, the aging times provided in this article are based on our experience, numerous customer reviews of various wines and a great deal of online research. However, many people are comfortable drinking their wines earlier than we recommend. Ultimately it’s your wine. It’s up to you to decide when it’s ready to drink.
A word about prices – Winexpert has instituted a Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) price fixing scheme that regulates the price that their resellers are allowed to advertise on many of their product lines. However, you may be able to get a discount from your local retailer or online retailer, they just can’t advertise a lower price. The prices shown below are based on either the MAP price if there is one or the typical internet price for non-MAP categories at the time of this writing. The cost per bottle is based on thirty bottles per kit except for the Selection Speciale kits which only make 15 bottles. The prices do not include the cost of the bottles which are reusable. The price ranges for a comparable commercial wine are subjective based on our experience.
Summary of Each Kit Type
Like most things in life, you make your choice and you pay your money, and in the case of wine, you wait your time. With that in mind here is a quick guide the differences between to the various sizes of kits and why you might choose one over the other.
Key Characteristics of Kit Lines
|Island Mist||Vintners Reserve||Selection||Selection w/ Skins||Eclipse||Selection Speciale|
|Size in Liters||7.5||10||16||18||18||12|
|Time to make||4 wks||4 wks||6 wks||6 wks||8 wks||6-8 wks|
|Age Time White||1-3 mo||3-9 mo||6-9 mo||N/A||9-18 mo||9-18 mo|
|Age Time Red||1-3 mo||6-12 mo||9-18 mo||12-24 mo||12-24 mo||12-24 mo|
|Compares to Commercial Wine costing||$8-$12||$8-$14||$12-$18||$14-$24||$18-$30||$14-$30|
Product Line: Island Mist
Size: 7.5 Liter
Time to ferment and clear: 4 weeks
Aging time: 1-3 months
Approximate Price: $70 (May 2016)
Cost per Bottle: $2 – $2.5 Compares to Commercial $8-$12 wine
These are great kits for new wine makers because they are easy to make and quick to drink. They can be bottled in as little as 4 weeks and in theory consumed immediately after bottling. However you’re probably going to be disappointed unless you wait at least a few weeks. My wife and I have found that for us three months is about the minimum amount of aging before we start to drink these kits. They will continue to improve until about a year or two then level out. These kits are not intended for long term aging or storage but they are a great way to start building up your wine cellar.
These kits are not technically “wine” but that doesn’t keep them from tasting great! They are something of a cross between a wine and a wine cooler. They have a traditional wine such as a merlot or a white zin as the base with different types/mixes of fruit flavors added after fermentation by adding a flavor pack or F-pack. The addition of the fruit and sugar helps to mask some of the harshness you might otherwise taste in a wine this young. This helps with the early drinkability. They are intended as a light, sweet, refreshing beverage to be served chilled or over ice. They are ideal for picnics, parties, backyard barbecues or just chilling. They are low alcohol (6.5%) so you can drink more without becoming intoxicated.
A lot of winemakers will add an additional 3-6 pounds of sugar to the must before they cast the yeast. This ups the final alcohol percentage and adds a little more body. My wife and I have found that 3 pounds of additional sugar works best for our taste. I am a big proponent of new kit makers sticking to the manufacturer’s directions until they get some experience under their belt. This is the one tweak that I think might be okay for new winemakers but I still think it is better to go “by the book” for your first kit.
Product Line: Vintners Reserve
Vintners Reserve World Vineyard
Size: 10 Liter
Time to ferment and clear: 4 weeks
Aging time: 3-12 months
Approximate Price: $55 – $85 (May 2016)
Cost per Bottle: $2 – $3 Compares to Commercial $8-$14 wine
Unlike the Island Mist kits above Vintners Reserve kits are true wines. These are also great kits for new wine makers because they are easy to make and quick to drink. They’re relatively inexpensive so you don’t have to worry as much about making a mistake and messing them up. They can be bottled in as little as 4 weeks and in theory consumed about a month later. However, you are really going to want to wait at least three months and preferably six months or more for whites wines before you drink them. For reds 6 to 12 months may be more appropriate. The World Vineyard kits are basically the same as the Vintners Reserve except that the kit is made with grapes from a specific country or region.
Product Line: Selection International, Selection Premium
Selection International with Grape Skins
Size: 16 Liter without skins 18 Liter with skins
Time to ferment and clear: 6 weeks
Aging time: 6-24 months
Approximate Price: $85 – $130 w/o skins $120 – $170 w/ skins (May 2016)
Cost per Bottle w/o skins: $3 – $4.50 Compares to Commercial $12-$18 wine
Cost per Bottle w/ skins: $4 – $5.50 Compares to Commercial $14-$24 wine
These are larger kits than the Vintners Reserve and World Vineyard and contain better quality grapes so naturally they generally make a better quality wine. The down side is that they cost more, take longer to make and longer to age. These kits take about 6 weeks to make and require one or two extra steps. We generally age our white selection kits a minimum of 6-9 months and our reds 12 months. These kits are definitely worth the extra time and money. They make a very good wine that has more body and a richer flavor that the inexpensive kits.
Winexpert has recently expanded the Selection line with the addition of the Selection International With Grape Skins kits. These kits are 2 liters larger and include a bag of grape skins that are added during primary fermentation to enhance the flavor. The addition of the skins increases the price and adds a little more complexity to the winemaking process but produces a better, more complex red wine.
Product Line: Eclipse
Size: 18 Liter
Time to ferment and clear: 8 weeks
Aging time: 9-24 months
Approximate Price: $160 – $170 (May 2016)
Cost per Bottle: $5 – $6.00 Compares to Commercial $18-$30 wine
These are high end kits and they command a high end price. They take about 8 weeks to make. There are more steps involved and the process is a little more complex. The whites should age at least 9-12 months and the reds 1-2 years. These wine will continue to improve with age for several years. They have a deeper, richer flavor. Some of these premium kits also include grape skins that you add when you start the wine to further enhance the flavor.
Product Line: Selection Speciale
Size: 12 Liter
Time to ferment and clear: 6-8 weeks
Aging time: 9-24 months
Approximate Price: $70 – $110 (May 2016)
Cost per Bottle: $5 – $7.50 Compares to Commercial $14-$30 wine
These are also very high end kits that make excellent specialty wines like port, sherry and ice wine. These are typically dessert type wine that finish sweet. Unlike all of the other kits, these specialty kits only make 3 gallons of wine or 15 bottles.
While these kits make great wines they can also be challenging to make so they are not a good choice for your first few adventures in wine making. The reason is that these kits have a lot more sugar to start with and end up at a much higher alcohol level that a typical wine. The high alcohol level which is toxic to yeast can make these kits tricky to ferment and can easily lead to stuck fermentation. You are better off to have 6-10 kits under your belt before you attempt one of these. Once you have the experience go for it. These are very rewarding kits to make. The results are well worth the effort.
Tips for Picking a First Kit and Developing Your Cellar
The length of time that you have to age a wine before you start to drink it is probably the biggest challenge faced by beginning wine makers. Let’s face it we’re all into instant gratification. Once we’ve finished fermenting and clearing the wine we want to start drinking it immediately. Waiting even a few weeks or months can be torture. This is especially torturous for red wine lovers because reds take longer to age.
One strategy that has worked well for many people, us included, is to start out with one or two inexpensive kit that are quick to make and quick to drink. Then do a more expensive kit or a big red kit that needs to age longer. Then repeat this cycle as many time as necessary to build up your supply of quick drinkers and at the same time start building out your cellar of higher quality wines that require more time to age.
In my opinion the best choice for a first kit is an Island Mist kit. They are easy and quick to make and they take the least amount of aging. Plus the fruit flavors in the F-pack will help to conceal any minor flaws in the wine. Another good choice is either a Vintners Reserve or World Vineyard white wine kit. These kits are also easy and quick to make. They take a couple of months longer to age than the Island Mist but they are still ready to drink pretty quickly. You could also do a low end red but you will have to wait longer for it to be ready to drink.
Of course if you have money to burn you could always do an Eclipse red and start drinking it early if you want. We had an Eclipse Pinot Noir that was drinkable at a year but it was still too harsh for my taste. We have a 9 month old Eclipse Merlot that is bulk aging. We sampled it a couple of weeks ago and it wasn’t too bad. I could drink it if I had to but I’d much rather let it age.
My wife and I started an experiment a little over two years ago to see how the taste compared between different quality levels of kits over time. We bought a Pinot Noir kit from each of the three sizes of kits (Vintners Reserve, Selection and Eclipse). We started all three at the same time using the Eclipse instruction for all three. We bulk aged all three in parallel and bottled at the same time.
We had a blind taste test with 30 people about a year into the experiment. At that point the Eclipse only received one more first place vote than the Vintners Reserve. The Selection finished well back in third place. Last month we did another blind taste test but with a smaller group.
At this point the wines were just a little over two years old. The Selection which had finished last before was neck and neck with the Eclipse and actually edged out the Eclipse by one vote for first place. The Vintners Reserve finishing well back in third. In another 6-12 months I’m betting the Eclipse recaptures first place. This was just one experiment by one winemaker so it is hardly definitive proof of anything but it does seem to support the argument that higher quality kits will start to distinguish themselves from their lower priced rivals over time. To learn more you can listen to the WMA pod cast about the experiment at the following link:
I hope you have found this review of the different categories of wine kits helpful in selecting your next kit whether it is your first or your one hundredth.
© 2014, 2016 by Dennis Haynes