Wine Wizard

When I opened my blueberry-Zinfandel wine I was struck by a strong acetone-type smell. Am I experiencing bottle sickness or TCA?

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I’m so glad you’ve discovered the pleasures of blueberries and Zinfandel! I find that these two fruits complement each other well in Bordeaux-style red winemaking. But you also seem to be experiencing the dubious joys of an “off odor” or “spoilage” character. Your “acetone” or “TCA” smell could have a few causes. My first suspicion

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A sediment like fine sand is appearing in my homemade wine after it is opened. Can you tell me what’s going on?

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You’ve got a case of the common “tartrate fall-outs.” The “fine sand” sediment you’re seeing in your bottled Concord wine is probably small tartrate crystals — or solidified tartaric acid. I’m sure


What does “surely” mean when referring to winemaking? I can’t find a definition anywhere.

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I’m so glad you wrote with this question! How many of us have stood there baffled, not knowing what to do or where to turn, when faced with an unfamiliar wine term — usually written in another language! Well, here’s the answer to your question. What you’re describing as the word “surely” is really the

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How do I adjust my wine’s pH without changing the TA?

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Ask almost any commercial winemaker and they will say that pH is one of the most important – if not the most important – winemaking parameter. Even though TA is important for

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I’ve read you can use bananas to give body to thin wines. Can you please explain why this works and any impact on flavor?

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 Home winemakers use bananas, both dried and fresh, as a source of perceptible sweetness and body. Both effects are derived from the complex polysaccharides (that’s a fancy name for big, long-chain sugars) that bananas contain. By cooking the bananas or by using dried bananas (as many recipes specify), you’re taking advantage of these sugars to

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Is it better to separate free-run wine from the pressed wine during fermentation and should they be blended before bottling if you are making Zinfandel?

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Dear Wine Wizard, Our Zinfandel wine is now in secondary fermenters, with free-run wine separate from the pressed. Do you have advice on allowing the free and pressed wines to go their own ways – or do tannins enrich Zinfandel? Also, I have another question: How do I locate a resource to help me understand

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What can cause homemade wine to have a slight “vinegar” taste?

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Seems like an attack of your friend and mine, the acetic acid bacteria. These bacteria live in wineries, on winery equipment and in the air. In fact, you’re probably breathing some in


I did not rehydrate my yeast before I pitched it. How do I do this and what happens if I don’t?

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Dear Wine Wizard, I did not rehydrate my yeast before I pitched it. How do I do this and what happens if I don’t? John Eastwood Cleveland Wine Wizard replies: Rehydrating yeast before adding (pitching) it to juice or must is an important step in assuring a healthy fermentation. Adding dry yeast to a high-sugar

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What does toasting add to oak flavor? Can I use a blowtorch on an oak plank to toast it, cut it in thin strips and add to my wine?

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Dear Wine Wizard, I make wine in five-gallon batches from juice that I buy in Canada. I also buy skins, stems, and small bags of toasted oak chips, then let it all age in five-gallon carboys. I have not been able to notice the oak flavor from these small bags of chips. Can you buy

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How many pounds of grapes will make five gallons (19 L) of wine? Are there guidelines for reds and whites and varieties within each of those groups?

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You’ll need about 85 to 90 pounds (39 to 41 kg) of fresh grapes (still on their stems) to make five gallons of wine. It will start off at about 2.5 lug


I’ve heard homemade wines go bad after two years. What causes that and how can I prevent it?

FREE

As Miss Manners would say, “Do not despair, gentle reader.” It is absolutely a falsehood that homemade wine “goes bad” after two years. It has just as much potential for staying power


There is a yellow ring around the top of the wine in my carboy, but the wine tastes and smells fine. What’s with the yellow ring?

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Dear Wine Wizard, My partners and I, for the first time, bought Merlot grapes last year. We followed our normal procedure, which we have been using for the past five years for the red grapes we used, including Zinfandel, Barbara and Carignan. We plucked about 75 percent of the grapes off the stems prior to

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My cherry wine has a bitter/tart taste. Is there any way to remove this?

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Stop right there! Don’t pour your wine down the drain. Your problem is both curable, and most important for future batches, preventable. It seems you’ve got an overload of tannins in your wine, the bitter and astringent compounds found in the skins and seeds of all fruits and vegetables. Usually these compounds add a nice

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What is the best way for a home winemaker to make fortified wines?

FREE

Let me start answering your multi-part question by breaking it down. For starters, “fortified” wines are just that. They’ve had alcohol (usually in the form of neutral grape spirits (brandy without the


What is the shelf life for dry yeast? Is there anything I can do to revive it and will it work?

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Your yeast packet is almost guaranteed to be past its prime. Yeast cells, even those that have been freeze-dried, certainly do have an expiration date. Using yeast that is more than six to eight months old greatly enhances your chances for encountering such problems as stuck fermentations and off-odors down the road. So it’s recommended

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Can you give me some guidelines on whether or not to add sulfite to my wine?

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Wine Wizard replies: To sulfite or not to sulfite: That is the question. It’s one that fires hot debates in the cellars of wineries worldwide. Sometimes seen as a personal choice, the use of sulfites in winemaking requires a delicate sense of balance and a light (though judicious) hand. Otherwise, your wine can be irreparably

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Do you know why my blackberry wine’s color precipitates out?

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Wine Wizard replies: Even though I’d have to see the recipe and an outline of what you do every step of the way to truly diagnose the cause, I can, however, tell you the problem. What we’re looking at here is a classic example of what happens to all wine eventually, precipitation of solids. Even

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How can I make homemade sparkling wine?

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First let this Wine Wizard ruminate over the techniques mentioned above. Adding a little sugar (called priming sugar in the beer trade, dosage in the wine business) to newly fermented wine and