I get a lot of questions about how to make a sweet wine. I think the best way is to ferment to dryness, stabilize, then add boiled & cooled sugar syrup. I’m getting ready to do that with my raspberry wine, so I thought I’d use it as an example. It’s pretty dry right now, with a specific gravity (SG) of 0.996. It also tastes tart even though I neutralized some of the acid with potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3).
How much sugar?
I intend to raise the SG by 0.010 to 1.006, and that will mean adding about 30 g/L of sugar. For each US gallon, then, I’ll be adding 113.55 g (about 4 oz). How did I decide on 0.010? Well I didn’t want the most memorable thing about my wine to be that its sweet, so I aimed for a small incremental change. I thought that 0.010 would give me an incremental boost that wouldn’t overdo it, and anything less might have gone unnoticed. It’s important to set clear goals in your wine making, but sometimes “not too little but not too much” is as precise as you can get.
Make a sanitized sugar syrup
Unlike honey, sugar can harbor unwanted micro critters, so I’ll want to sanitize it before adding it to the wine. It’s also good practice to dissolve any solid additives in water, or other liquid (maybe a small about of the wine) before adding them to wine. That way the additive (sugar in this case) is incorporated into the wine without disturbing it and releasing a lot of dissolved CO2 all at once. So for each US gallon, I’ll measure out about 2 fl oz (about 30 ml) of water, boil it in a microwave, dissolve the 4 oz (about 114 g) sugar, bring back to a boil in the microwave, then cool in a water bath. I’m trying to minimize the amount of water I use, but if the sugar doesn’t dissolve easily I’ll add a little more.
Update 2/9/2009 – Sugar Syrup: Rethinking the proportions
After making sugar syrups and reading more about it, I’ve settled on two parts sugar to one part water (by volume) as the best way to make it. I’ve collected what I know about sugar, and making sugar syrup into a separate post. It’s one to bookmark and refer back to.
Stabilize and rack the wine onto the sugar syrup
Once the sugar-water has cooled, it’s time to add the sulfite and sorbate. This will stabilize the wine and keep any dormant yeast from springing into action. Check the directions on the package of sorbate that you buy, mine call for 0.5 tsp/1 US Gallon so I’ll add that along with sulfite to 50 ppm. Pour this sanitized sugar syrup with sulfite and sorbate into a sanitized container then rack the wine into it. It’s really a good idea to rack at this point because you’ll be leaving behind any sediment, which is always a good thing but it’s especially important now to leave behind as much yeast as possible, and the siphoning will gently mix the syrup into the wine.
Now comes the most common task in winemaking – waiting. Give the sugar time, a week at least – a month if you can, to integrate into the wine, and check to make sure it hasn’t started fermenting again. After that comes the most fun task in winemaking – taste it. If it’s still not sweet enough, then go through another sweeten-wait-taste cycle. If it’s ready, then it’s bottling time. I’ll drink to that!
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