The Great Riesling Yeast Experiment (Part II)

The Great Riesling Yeast Experiment (Part II)

The saga continues with the racking of my experimental Riesling fermented with two different yeast strains. Read this if you missed part one. Up to this point the two batches of Riesling have been fermenting separately.  One in a primary fermentation bucket and the other in a six gallon carboy. Little could be observed of the two wines save for the airlock activity. However, I recently got a chance to see, smell, and taste the two Rieslings when I racked them into their respective carboys. Here’s what I found. Opening the Primary Fermenters After seven days in their primary fermentation containers it was time to check chemistry and rack off of the lees. I opened up the lid to the plastic fermenter with the R-HST Riesling in it and was greeted by an interesting aroma. Not only was it a different aroma than the W15 Riesling, it smelled odd. I’m not entirely sure what it was but it had a tinge of sulfur to it. My wife really disliked the aromas wafting her way as she helped me prepare to rack. The W15 had been bold and fruity up to this point and didn’t disappoint when I removed the airlock. This wine smelled very fruity. I was expecting the same when I taste tested it. Testing the Wines With the lids removed I drew a sample of each wine to test it’s chemistry. The first thing I checked was the specific gravity. The R-HST weighed in at 1.008. This means there is still a bit more sugar yet to be fermented. The W15 Riesling was at an even 1.000. So in the same period of time the W15 yeast had burned through a bit more sugar than the RHST. This was particularly surprising because both wines came from the same kit and were inoculated at the same time (within about one minute of each other). I expected some differences in behavior between the two but this was a much larger difference then what I was anticipating. The W15 did seem to ferment more vigorously. The airlock looked like it was boiling at its peak. The difference in airlock activity was a solid indication that the W15 yeast was fermenting more quickly. Not only was the specific gravity different, the titratable acidity (TA) different as well. The pH, however, remained the same between the two. Sampling the Wines Any time I take a sample for testing I also taste it. This is why I love making wine. But before I tasted it I took a good look at the two wines. They both had similar yellow colors and were quite cloudy. The W15 Riesling was more cloudy than the RHST Riesling. I tasted the W15 Riesling first and what a surprise! Despite the bold grape smell it had strong grapefruit flavors. My wife picked out lemon and lime. Both of us agreed that it had an intense citrus flavor. Not much grape flavor at all. Then I moved on to the R-HST. This wine was noticeably sweeter, as evidenced by the higher specific gravity. I could taste a faint hint of pear as well as white or unripe...

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How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

How to Pick a Wine Making Yeast

Yeast is the most critical ingredient in the wine making process. When you pick a wine making yeast you are, in effect, choosing the destiny of your wine. The right yeast or yeasts can transform a good grapes into a great wine. Where do The Differences Come From? These tiny organisms are truly amazing. Not only does it make the production of wine possible it is the only micro-organism capable of producing this elixir. However, the notion that different yeasts can alter the way a wine tastes in the end is a relatively new discovery. For most of this worlds past 6,000 years of winemaking history winemakers didn’t even know what yeast was let alone understanding the different strains and what they can do. Only in recent history have we discovered that different strains will produce different characteristics in wine. Fermentation, from the yeasts perspective, is merely the digestion of food. They consume and process sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as their byproduct. Some yeast strains may use more or less enzymes or esters and it’s these small differences in digestion that account for different flavor profiles. To help you sift through all the different yeasts and how they affect different grape varietals our friends over at MoreWineMaking.com have put together an amazing guide! Click here to browse their entire collection of free manuals and pick up Yeast and Grape Pairing. Picking A Winemaking Yeast To give you an idea of how to pick a wine yeast I’ll walk you through my own decision making process. My next wine is going to be a Riesling kit and I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to pick my own yeast to replace whatever the kit comes with. I’ll be using two different yeast strains in a split fermentation. Half of the grape juice will be fermented with one strain of yeast and the strain will ferment the other half. This way I can directly compare how the same wine tastes when made from two very different yeasts. Here are the yeasts I’ve chosen and why. The first yeast is W15. This yeast is known to produce citrus flavors, heavy mouthfeel, and can stand up to aging. Aging is an important characteristic for a kit wine for reasons we’ll explore here in a minute. Th second yeast I’ve picked is R-HST (catchy name huh?). This yeast can produce rose and peach flavors, some mouthfeel, as well as minerality. Minerality is a quality that also lends itself to aging. The Differences Take Time to Manifest In an interesting article on the flavor contributions of yeast Cornell researchers found that most characteristics yeast impart on wine take six months to a year to show up. This is, in part, why it took so long for winemakers to figure out that different yeasts produced different flavor profiles. They were comparing wines too early. Kits generally don’t produce wine that can be aged for very long. My concern is that the wine will start to decline before the yeast characteristics show up. This is why I chose two strains known to produce wines that can be aged. Ferment Separately Because...

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Advanced Wine Making Techniques

Advanced Wine Making Techniques

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. Split Fermentation 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...

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