Advantages Wine on tap, Low cost, Could be the start of a new hobby
Disadvantages Waiting a whole week to try out.
PRODUCT: Young's Wine Buddy 5-Gallon 7-day Wine Kit
VARIANT: Merlot (others: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel Blush)
DESCRIPTION: 5 Gallon (30 Bottle) Wine Making Kit
VENDOR: Wilkinson (most Home Brew suppliers)
PRICE: £19.99 + (one off cost of £40 - £65 for equipment)
Every now and again I love to quaff the odd drop of vino. Unfortunately that old meanie the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows this and is consequently trying to tax me into sobriety.I have often considered making my own wine, no duty to pay and a ready-to-hand supply being the main motivations. I even went to the extent of buying a wine makers book containing many intriguing recipes that suggest a very good time will be had by all when the corks are finally pulled. The problem with this approach is the amount of work involved in making the wine and the time factor. I will be at least another year older before I get to use said corkscrew. I'm not that patient.
Of course wine kits have been around for a very long time and many can produce a drinkable wine in about a month or so, but this is still far too long for me. I need something that will be almost as convenient as hitting the local supermarket for my usual Franco/Italian brain scrambler.In January I took a walk into town to do a bit of window shopping. Wandering around the Wilkinson store, which is one of those places that carries all the odd stuff you never get anywhere else, I found a beer and wine brewing section. At first glance what I saw there seemed to reaffirm my opinion that wine making was a lot of hard work. Shelves full of buckets, barrels, corks and chemicals etc. They also had some wine making kits tucked away on the top shelf which I glanced at briefly.
That would have been the end of my interest, but for one box that stood out from the rest. Its label proudly proclaimed it was possible to make five gallons of wine in just seven days. Now even I have enough patience to wait seven days for an experiment to come to fruition, so I studied the box a little further. The claim seemed a genuine one, although I must confess I doubted the final product would be of much worth. The kit was called Wine Buddy and is produced by brewing giant Young's. The particular kit that caught my eye was the Merlot grape variety.The Wine Buddy kit claimed a five gallon capacity was possible, that's about thirty bottles of good old country plonk. At £19.99 I figured that would work out at a pretty respectable 67p a bottle, try getting that price at your local Tesco.
Of course a wine kit is only the start of the story, you need a lot more equipment if you are actually going to be in a position to make anything with it. The kit itself only contains the basic ingredients and chemicals needed to produce the wine.If you are just starting out you will need the following items in addition to the wine kit. (Items marked with a * are mandatory - prices are approximate):
4Kg White Granulated Sugar - per kit (£3.00)*
2 x 5 Gallon Fermenting Barrels with Caps (£20)*
2 x Airlocks and rubber bungs (£2.50)*
1 x Wine thermometer (£2.50)
1 x Hydrometer and Test Beaker (£5.00)*
1 x Long Stirring Spoon (£1.50)*
1 x Siphon Tube (£1.50)*
30 x Coloured Wine Bottles. (New £25 - Used ones are free)
30 x Corks (£3.00)
1 x Pack of Sterilising Crystals (£1.00)*
More to the point, I already have boxes full of old wine bottles that I've been saving up for my biannual trip to the bottle bank, about sixty in total, so that instantly brought my initial costs down to a reasonable £60 or £2 per bottle.I bought all the items suggested by the kit, plus a few that were not, just to avoid having to make a second trip half way through the experiment. I have included an image of some of the requisite equipment to give you an idea of how much space you will require for storing these items.
The Wine Buddy kit itself contains the following items:1 x 1.5 litre fruit concentrate in a plastic bottle.
Each item is clearly marked to avoid confusion.The ingredients used to make the wine are commonplace in home wine making. The base fruits are apple and elderberry with a drop of grape skin colour. These are supplemented by a flavour enhancement pack that contains concentrated grape juice of the variety indicated on the pack label, in my case Merlot, along with cherry concentrate and more grape skin colour.
The pack also includes French oak chips to help simulate ageing the wine in a quality wine barrel.The instructions given are comprehensive and organised in numbered stages for each day on which you are required to perform tasks. Most of the work is done on day zero, then you just sit back until day six, when you get to finish of your project. By day seven you are in a position to bottle and even drink your wine if you wish to sample it that young.
The wine produced should contain roughly eleven percent alcohol, which is about the norm for vin ordinaire.The makers advise you to give the wine a few days to settle and lose some of the harshness, a few weeks if you want the wine to mature properly. Full maturity is reached within three months, if left in the bottle, and the wine should be consumed within one year.
I must confess I really did doubt that it was possible to make anything other than drain cleaner in such a short space of time. I have been proved wrong in a big way.The wine you get from these kits won't compete with the great châteaus or even a competent Aussie vineyard, but its stands up well when set against the cheap rustic wines the supermarket shelves are dripping in.
From a flavour standpoint I would say it's a bit more on the berry than grape side of things, but this gives it a soft fruity quality that lingers for a while on the back of your tongue. It definitely improves with age as well, mellowing quite quickly from the mildly fizzy sharpness of the first day product to a smoother drier quality within a few days. After three weeks it really has become a delightful table wine, with enough subtlety to rival anything you can get for around four quid.The colour is pretty good too, not quite as richly red as some Merlots I have tried, but a full glass certainly doesn't look insipid in the way many cheap wines do, or even a few not so cheap ones.
The bouquet is a subtle blend of cherry and grape aromas that are hardly perceptible unless you do the wine snob nose test.. Who cares anyway, I made the stuff to drink not snort.Can you get drunk on this plonk? Emphatically Yes!
This is quite a deceptive little wine, hiding its alcohol well beneath the mellow flavour. When it does kick in you get a sudden urge to eat Chinese food. I spent more on takeaways in February than I did on making the wine that caused me to order them. The odd thing is I love cooking, so I normally only eat one takeaway every three months or so, I had three in one week because of this wine. Fortunately I'm now beginning to overcome my addiction to prawn crackers with the help of a therapist.At 11% by volume, this wine won't phase you hardened drinkers out there, but keep in mind who made it, you did, so if you want more oomph all you need to do is add more sugar and ferment for longer. The yeast used is pretty alcohol resistant, so 13% is definitely achievable. Buy a good wine making book before you start making changes though, it will probably stop you turning your wine into fruit syrup or vinegar.
Would I buy this again? Oh Yes!I'm just about to start my fourth batch. I'm really enjoying the fact that I can now chill out and thumb my nose up at Mr Alistair 'Dodgy Eyebrows' Darling at the same time. As for my lack of patience, I now find myself relaxing to the sounds of fermentation, its a lot more fun than a fish tank.
On the negative side, I would like to take issue with the claimed number of bottles the makers say can be produced by one of these kits. I have yet to achieve more than twenty eight standard 75cl bottles, which is two short of the claimed volume. In all honesty, I do believe some of the blame for this lies with me and the amount of wine I put in each bottle. I prefer to reduce the airspace in the neck to the bare minimum and this may be using slightly more than 75cl of wine. More importantly though, is the loss caused by the huge amount of sediment created in the fermentation vessel. This hogs nearly a litre of fluid that can only be retrieved by filtration, a messy business at best, and something the instructions do not indicate will be necessary. I suppose the claim would hold water if you were to leave all the wine and sediment in the barrel, but who would do that?
If there is one drawback it's the initial cost of the equipment needed to get started, but this would be recouped quite quickly by anyone making more than one batch.If you fancy the idea of making your own wine to sip on those warm summer evenings in the garden, I can happily recommend this kit as a good place to start.
If you are interested in how the kit is used to make wine read the sections labelled MAKING WINE.
STERILISE EVERYTHING (including your hands) before use. ANY contamination of the wine by unwanted bacteria etc., WILL cost you dearly. Failing to keep everything scrupulously clean is guaranteed to be the one thing that will seriously effect the outcome of your wine making experiment. If you are making the wine in the warmer months watch out for the vinegar fly, this little nuisance is attracted to the fermentation gases and is guaranteed to contaminate your wine if allowed to get anywhere near it. Keep all your fermentation vessels airtight or well covered. Always use airlocks when you can.
IMPORTANT - IMPORTANT - IMPORTANT
So what's involved?
NOTE: Following the instructions given with the kit to the letter will produce a very drinkable wine.
The first thing you need to do is read and then re-read the instruction leaflet. The methods employed by the kit manufacturer are pretty straightforward and shouldn't prove difficult for anyone.First you need a five gallon (22.5ltr) fermenting vessel complete with a cap. Buy two of Young's own chemical drum type for convenience, or substitute any other suitable vessel. (Glass demijohns or carboys that once held plain water are possible alternatives.)
IMPORTANT - IMPORTANT - IMPORTANTDO NOT use ANY container for fermenting your wine that has previously had any other chemical in it or is made of metal or coloured plastic, unless it has been certified to be safe by an appropriate authority. It is tempting to use old containers, because they can be obtained cheaply, but they can be very hazardous to your health.
Any vessel that has been used previously for wine making or has been standing for some time should be washed out thoroughly with boiling hot water, rinsed carefully and then partially filled with a sterilising solution. This should be left for twenty four hours and agitated regularly to kill off any nasties.
New fermenting vessels just need a ten minute wash out with warm water mixed with a bacterial steriliser suitable for use with foodstuffs. I bought some along with the other kit, but if you forget, baby bottle steriliser will suffice or at a pinch boiling hot water can be used on its own.
I found it made things a bit easier to put all the other kit I would need, bungs, siphons, airlocks, spoon etc., into the second fermentation vessel with a few gallons of sterilising solution. This meant everything would be clean as and when I needed it.When all your equipment is sterile you can begin making your wine.
Pour about one gallon (5ltr) of boiling hot water into your sterile fermentation vessel. I use my biggest pan to boil all the water at once. If you have to use a kettle it can be a bit of a tedious exercise. Into the water pour all 4kg of the sugar. Stir the liquid until all the sugar has dissolved completely. The long plastic spoon I bought makes stirring fluids in the bottom of deep drums a lot easier, so I highly recommended you buy something similar.Next to go in the mix is the Concentrate Pack. Caution is needed when opening this container. Made of fairly soft plastic with a tightly sealed screw cap, it has a tendency to burp the sticky fruit juice all over the place if too much pressure is applied when breaking the seal. The concentrate is gooey, so the container requires swilling out with clean cold water to get all the contents into the fermentation vessel. A quick stir to mix the concentrate in and on to the next step.
Top up the fermentation vessel with cold water. Another four gallons of water are needed, so a big jug or a very clean (new) piece of hosepipe attached to the tap will make life easier. The whole contents now need a good stir with the big spoon.The final part of stage one is to add the active ingredients. First in are the Wine Yeast and Nutrients; these are combined in one sachet for convenience. Then the Oak Chips are added. As the name suggests these are just fresh oak wood chippings, they are supposed to impart a barrel matured flavour to the wine, but with my knowledge of wine being what it is, basically red/white - like/yuk! I can't really lend any authority to that claim.
A bit more stirring and voila!With the mixing bit done the fermentation vessel can be sealed and an airlock fitted. I bought a couple of types just to experiment with. The one shown perched on top of the fermentation vessel in the equipment image is the one I prefer, simply because I like the plopping sound it makes. The other is a much simpler, short type that makes very little noise. Boring!
The second stage in wine making is the least involved, because all you need to do is watch and wait.It's best to keep the fermentation vessel containing the wine in a room with a reasonably constant temperature, about 20-25 degrees Celsius. Fermentation will work best if the room stays warm around the clock. My first batch was kept in my lounge, so I could keep an eye on it. Subsequent batches have been kept in an airing cupboard.
You have nothing to do at this stage, other than to monitor the vigorousness of the fermentation. This is slow, then fast, then slow again, then hardly noticeable. Over a six day period the liquid slurry in the vessel miraculously transforms into an alcoholic beverage, or not if you haven't followed the rules.
Well at least I hoped it would be.Once the fermentation has subsided to the point where it appears to have stopped, around day six, the wine is probably ready to be cleared and racked.
Again it is important to follow the instructions precisely at this point.The next step involves the use of a device known as a Hydrometer. A Hydrometer measures the density of a liquid and as a result can tell you if your wine has alcohol in it or not. It looks a bit like a pregnant thermometer and has a scale on it that measures something called the Specific Gravity (SG) of a liquid.
[_For you nerds out there:_
The Specific Gravity (SG) of water - at sea level - at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius is 1.000. The alcoholic content of a wine can be determined by subtracting the SG of the fermented wine from the original SG of the unfermented syrup. This figure can be divided by 7.5 to give the percentage of alcohol in the wine. E.g. Syrup SG 1.080 minus wine SG 0.993 equals 0.087. Divide by 7.5 equals 0.0116 or 11.6%. A nice dry wine.]
In the case of this wine kit we do not know the SG of the original syrup, it's not required. Following the instructions correctly should have resulted in a syrup with an SG within the range the manufacturer intended. This allows us to avoid any laborious calculations; the only thing we need to know is that an SG of 0.996 on the hydrometer is what we should expect once the fermentation is complete. If the hydrometer doesn't give us this, or a lower value, the fermentation needs to continue until it does. Putting the fermentation vessel in a warmer location will usually get things back on track. Of course the fermentation may get Stuck, essentially the yeast ceases all activity, a problem that has too many solutions to cover here.I achieved an SG of 0.993 on my hydrometer, which gave me an alcohol content in my wine of roughly 11%.
Having achieved the right SG, the next step is to stop the fermentation process altogether. Normally this process would take months, as the residual yeast in the wine starves itself into dormancy, here a stabilising chemical is used to kill off the yeast permanently. This is vital and needs to be done properly to ensure the yeast doesn't reactivate itself in your wine bottles. If it does you'll have an awful mess on your hands.Having stabilised the wine a special pack of flavour and colour enhancer is added. This gives the wine more body, a fruitier flavour and a closer resemblance to the grape variety it is supposed to resemble.
Lots more stirring.Now the time has come to clean up the liquid. At present it is full of particles of yeast and fruit etc., which make the wine cloudy. All this must go if your party guests are going to be impressed with your wine.
The kit has three cleaning agents in it, know as Finings (_pron: fine-ings_), these have properties that make them attach themselves to the various impurities in the wine and drag them to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. The process is done in three stages with each fining pack being introduced to the wine at hourly intervals. Once all the finings have been stirred in, the wine should be placed on a surface at about waist height (a kitchen worktop is ideal) and left for a full twenty four hours to clear.Raising the vessel to a reasonable height early on means that it will not have to be moved again before the contents are siphoned off.
Once the wine is clear, this WILL take at least twenty four hours, perhaps longer, it should be siphoned off the sediment into another sterile fermentation vessel. A great deal of care needs to be taken to avoid disturbing the sediment, which can easily end up following your nice clean wine into the new vessel. Leaving a small amount of wine in the first vessel, rather than trying to get every last drop is the best course of action. The sediment can be filtered out of the remaining wine once the bulk is safe.All that remains is to sweeten the wine if required; it most certainly is not in my opinion.
How you store your wine is up to you. I use all my old wine bottles because they cost me nothing and are easy to recycle, but you could get a few wine boxes or even a barrel. A lot depends on where and how soon you are going to drink it. A barrel would be useful for a party, bottles for an intimate dinner, boxes for everyday use.
Although your wine is drinkable at this stage, it is still a little bit rough and will benefit from a little storage time.
Once again, whatever you use STERILISE it thoroughly first.If you are going to bottle the wine, you will need to get corks for them and a cork press to insert them. Never use old corks, they are likely to be contaminated and even if you sterilise them they can impart unwanted flavours into your wine.
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