Thank you for your wine making newsletter each month. It is very informative and helpful to me in my winemaking. I have a question, "How do I keep the fruit flavor in my wine? I end up with about 13 percent alcohol content but am losing the fruit flavor. Could you help?
Ed H. ----- Hello Ed,
Thank you for all the kind words. We try very hard to bring useful, relevant information to the home winemaker.
What your question really involves is the basic balance of the wine. There are three primary elements in a wine's basic balance profile: fruit flavor, alcohol and sweetness.
Obviously, the amount a fruit that you use in a wine recipe will affect the wine's fruitiness. The more fruit in the wine recipe, the fruitier the wine will be, but there are limits to how far you can take this.
Using too much fruit in an attempt to increase the wine's fruitiness can create a wine that is sharp or tart tasting. This is caused by excess fruit acid – the acid that is in the fruit. It can also create a wine that takes an incredible amount of time to completely age. So, there is only so much fruitiness to be had in a given wine recipe.
One way of maximizing the amount of fruit you use without making it too acidic is to using an acid testing kit. This will allow you to monitor how much acid is in the wine. The direction that come with it will tell you what range to shoot for.
While adding more fruit increases the fruitiness of the wine, alcohol decreases it. This happens simply because the alcohol is numbing the tongue making it less sensitive to fruit flavors. This is why you will typically find among wine recipes in various wine making books and on the web, that the higher the alcohol level, the more fruit the wine recipe will call for.
To keep a handle on your wine's acidity level, you will want to use a wine hydrometer. The scale on the hydrometer will tell you how much alcohol can be made with the beginning sugars that are in the wine must.
Sweetness also plays a role in balance. During a fermentation all the sugars are turned into alcohol, even the sugars that come from the fruit itself. Removing the sugars will lower the fruity impression of the wine, dramatically.
The good news is the sweetness of the wine can easily be corrected at bottling time. By adding a little sugar syrup solution you can bring back the fruitiness. Just a very slight amount of sweetness can bring out a lot of fruitiness in the wine. You don't necessarily need to make the wine sweet. You just need to take the dry edge off the wine.
Add the sugar to taste and then also add potassium sorbate. This is a wine stabilizer that will keep the wine from fermenting the newly added sugars. This is what I recommend doing with your current batch.
As for future batches, you will want to lower you target alcohol level a little... maybe 11% instead of 13%. This will make a noticeable difference in the fruitiness of your wine. It will seem more lively and less watery.
By working with these three basic elements of a wine: fruit flavor, alcohol, and sweetness, you can control how much fruity character your wine will, or will not, have. It is up to you to create a wine the way you like it, with the amount of fruitiness you prefer. It's all part of learning how to make your own wine.
Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.