The only thing better than sitting back and sipping wine with friends is sitting with friends and sipping wine you made yourself.
You don't need grapes to make wine. I've made my own delicious homemade wines from tomatoes, bananas, ginger, even dandelions. The variety of wines you can make is limited only by your imagination.
All wines start as a tea, which is just like it sounds: your ingredients soaked in water for a length of time. In this case, the ingredients should be cut or mashed, as the more surface area that's exposed to the water the better. This is called the "must." Some winemakers juice their must and combine both the juice and must into the container. The water should be pure, clean drinking water, as any impurities will transfer to your wine.
The two other ingredients instrumental to your tea are yeast and sugar. The sugar is usually a no-brainer—around 2-2.5 pounds per gallon (2 1/4 cups = 1 pound). The yeast is another story.
Now we’re not talking brewer's yeast or baking yeast or nutritional yeast; this is strictly wine yeast. There are an inordinate number of types of wine yeast, including those that are better for white or red wines, or for dry or sweet wines, etc. I usually use champagne yeast as it's one of the most versatile and fastest-acting. You can find wine yeast in specialty food stores or order it online. Experiment with different yeasts for different flavors and read reviews to find a yeast that matches your favorite wine style. Follow the directions on the package for activating the yeast before using it – and for how much yeast to use.
Additives are a hotly debated topic among wine makers, but not all wine additives are controversial. A Campden tablet
in your tea, for example, is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep wild yeasts and bacteria from taking up residence (and propagating) in your wine. Pectic enzyme
can help keep wines made from high-pectin ingredients from turning cloudy. Neither the pectic enzyme nor the cloudiness caused by a lack of it will affect taste. But if clarity matters to you, as it does to most wine drinkers, it's a little addition that goes a long way.
One last additive you may find in a lot of winemaking recipes is tannin
. If you choose to add tannin to your wines, just be aware while no tannin at all can make wines taste flat and dull, too much can make them taste downright astringent. The right amount of tannin, however, can give a wine dryness and a longer shelf-life. One of tannin's functions in wine is as a preservative. Without it, wines won't be able to retain their constituents, or their tastes and textures, as long.
- I soak my tea in a 5-gallon bucket for about 10 days, stirring a couple of times each day to keep the wine aerated. I also keep the bucket covered with a clean towel to keep out unwanted elements, from dust to bacteria.
- After 10 days, I strain out the must and pour the tea into a carboy (a rigid plastic container with a narrow mouth like what you see in a water cooler).
- I then cork it with a fermentation lock, or a special winemaking airlock that lets gas escape.
- Then I store it in a cool dark location where it can remain undisturbed for about 3-6 months. Since I don't use a hydrometer, or a device that shows the alcohol content of the wine, I start tasting it periodically after it's turned clear.
- When I like what I taste, I bottle it.
One of the most important (and least often followed) winemaking steps is to always write down your wine recipes, so that you can learn from your mistakes. If you ever come up with a creation you absolutely love, you can replicate it.
Always label your wines as well, including the dates. This way you'll know not only what kind of wine you're impressing friends with but its vintage as well!
Summer = Sangria
Looking for something to make with your wine? Try these sangria recipes: