A friend of mine gave me quite a few wine kits. All of the white wines have come out very good, but the reds are a different story. The reds have a brownish color and no taste to them. Could they have been damaged, if stored in a hot garage or maybe just old? Is there anything I can do to the last Merlot kit to make it come out correctly? I have made quite a few reds and all of them have come out well, except the kits that I received from my friend.
It sure does sound like your friend gave you some old wine kits. With time, especially when exacerbated by heat or light, the red pigments in red wine can change to brown. This means not only does the color look cooked, the taste and aroma components can as well or, as you found out, have nothing to them at all. I’m sure many of us have experienced the same thing when we’ve opened up an older bottle of wine that we let sit in our cellars for too long — the color can be coppery and the taste can be tired and entirely lacking fruit.
Always look for the date-of-manufacture and lot code on any kit you buy or receive as a gift. Unfortunately, unlike most foodstuffs, wine kits aren’t required to be packaged with a “best if used by” date. Even worse, manufacturers of kits seem to all use different codes (really they’re internal tracking tags for the company itself, like 20070812DJ, for lot “DJ” packaged on December 8th, 2007) and they’re painfully cryptic for the consumer to understand. If you have a favorite line of kits you like to buy, and especially if you buy them from a regular winemaking supply shop or Web site, definitely ask the retailer for tips in decoding this lot production date code. Most kit makers guarantee their product for 6–12 months after production and as such, it behooves the kit buyer (and the kit seller) to be aware of what these codes mean.
As far as how to save the last Merlot kit that you made, there really is nothing you can do to make it look and taste fresh again. Once the color and aroma components have degraded, there isn’t anything we can add or do to the kit to revive it.