Author Archives: Erroll

Apple Cider

The Lady of the House and I visited Eaglemont Wine and Cider the other day. They make good wine, we bought a bottle of their red blend, but it was the cider that held my attention. We bought a bottle of that too, and it turned out to be just the thing for watching an old episode of Lost at the end of a stressful day – nice delicate aroma, good flavor, and not too much alcohol.

How to make apple cider

I liked it so much that it got me thinking about how to make apple cider. At it’s most basic, it’s just fermented apple juice. In principle, you could just obtain some juice (from the store, a roadside stand, grinding and pressing your own apples, or what have you) and pitch the yeast. Like most everything else, though, there are some details you should attend to. Make sure the juice has no preservatives (other than sulfite), the specific gravity of a clear sample is between 1.045 to 1.065 (add sugar if it’s too low), and the acidity is between 3-5 g/L as malic.

I normally measure acidity as though all the acid were tartaric, but the acidity in apples is almost all malic and cider makers often report TA as malic. To convert, multiply by 1.1193. That gives a range of 3.4 – 5.6 g/L, as tartaric.

You can use the Wine Recipe Wizard to help with additions. I’ve made wine from 1-gallon jugs of apple juice you see in grocery stores (Trader Joe’s sells them in glass jugs for less than home brew shops sell empty 1-gallon jugs) and that would be a great way to start making cider.

It’s a lot like apple wine, but with less alcohol. Like wine it can be sweet, dry, or anywhere in between. Cider is often carbonated, but it doesn’t have to be. Try it!

Apple cider, juice, and wine

There’s some confusion about the word, so let me tell you what I mean when I say “cider.” If you start with apples, grind them and press them you have apple juice. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s filtered, cloudy, pasteurized, or preserved – it’s still apple juice. If you take that juice and ferment it, you’ve got cider. If, on the other hand, you add sugar to bring the potential alcohol up to wine strength and ferment it, then you’ll get apple wine.

Further reading

Some good books and websites with more info on cider and how to make it:

Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx – yes, that Annie Proulx. Before she became famous she wrote this great book on cider!

Cider, Hard and Sweet by Ben Watson

Craft Cider Making by Adrew Lea – He learned about Cider from his time at the UK’s Long Ashton Research Station.

The Wittenham Hill Cider Pages – Andrew Lea’s cider website

Easy Blind Tasting

Tasting blind is the best way to know what your really think of a wine or mead. I devised an involved method to evaluate my boiled mead experiment, but here’s a simple method that the Lady of the House and I use for quick comparisons.

We have three different kinds of wine glasses: clear stems, blue stems, and red stems. When we want to do a quick tasting, We each pour up to three different wines into each kind of glass while the other is out of the room, note which is which, and then leave the room. We don’t know what we’re tasting as we scribble down our impressions of the “clear” wine or the “blue” wine. We only tell each other after we’re done sniffing, swirling, spitting, clearing our palates, and writing down what we think. Yes, I know what she’s tasting and she knows what I’m tasting, so it’s not double blind – that’s the price for a quick and easy setup. It’s not much of a price, though, because we’re both pretty focused on the wine in front of us.

Describing a wine

If you’re not a trained taster, it can be hard to know what to say about a wine. This is where comparing two of them side by side can help. The aroma: is one stronger than the other? Are they both strong or faint? Write that down. Do they differ in some way? Write that down – even if you have a hard time describing exactly how – “they differ in a way I can’t describe” is better than making something up or not writing down anything at all. Do the same thing for flavor (stronger, fainter, different) and make note of any familiar tastes that you notice (it’s ok if you don’t notice any or can’t describe them – the more you do this the better you’ll get). Pay attention to acidity (too much will seem tart, not enough will be flabby, and just right will feel lively), tannin (with soft tannins you’ll notice a drying sensation in your mouth, harsh tannins are bitter) and sweetness (does it taste sweet or not? is it too sweet?).

Clearing your palate

You might notice that flavors and aromas become more muted after you’ve been tasting for a while. It’s a bit like tuning out a steady sound – after a while you just don’t notice it. That’s why tasters clear their palate between different wines. A cracker or an apple will give your taste buds something different and “reset” them for the next wine. Sniffing some coffee beans or some such can do the same for your sense of smell.

Isn’t it supposed to be fun?

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but it can really turn something ordinary into an occasion. It isn’t just that you learn more about how wines differ or which ones go with which food, it’s that you have something new to talk about at dinner. Sometimes the Lady of the House and I agree on the wines, and other times it’s as though we were tasting completely different ones. There’s often a surprise and always something to talk about. So spice up your next meal with an easy blind tasting!

Further reading

For a great book on how to taste wine, try How to Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine.

Know Your Ingredients: Raspberries

You can make good raspberry wine without knowing much about raspberries. Lots of people, including me, have done it by following a recipe. But if you want to know why your favorite recipe does things the way it does, or if you want to create your wine from scratch, then you need to know more about the fruit. I tried to collect information about raspberries that’s relevant to making wine and put it in a convenient place you can bookmark.

First some basics: One cup (240 ml) of raspberries weigh about 4.3 oz (123 grams).1 Fresh raspberries keep best when stored cold, just above 32F (0C).2 If you’re making wine and you have the space, then I recommend freezing – they not only keep well frozen, but the freeze/thaw process aids in extraction. One more thing: unlike grapes, the acid in raspberries is almost all citric.

What’s in raspberries?

Raspberry and grape composition1
Component Raspberries Grapes
Water 85.75 80.54
Protein 1.2 0.72
Fat 0.65 0.16
Ash 0.46 0.48
Fiber 6.5 0.9
Total Sugar 4.42 15.48
Starch 0 0

The amounts are g/100 g, and do not add up to 100 because the test for each component is subject to experimental error. The USDA presents this data a little differently, by including a carbohydrate line item. They don’t actually test for carbohydrates, though, they just report the difference between 100 and the sum of water, protein, fat, and ash3. Ideally, it would equal the sum of total dietary fiber, total sugar, and starch. They do measure those three quantities, so I include them in place of the carbohydrate line item.

Sugar content is hard to measure

The amount of fiber is interesting because it might explain why you can’t rely on your hydrometer to gauge sugar content in raspberries. Almost all the soluble solids in wine grapes are sugar, but they are only about 30% sugar in raspberries. Adding acid content to total sugar only gets us to 50%, on average4. So what’s the rest? Take another look at that fiber line. Some of that fiber, the USDA doesn’t say how much, is soluble fiber and would make up part of the soluble solids.

Average Stats
Brix: 10.04,5,6
Sugar (g/100 g): 4.31,4,5
TA (% citric): 1.64
pH: 3.35,6

Making raspberry wine

What does all this mean? That raspberries are different from wine grapes in some important ways. Since most knowledge about wine making comes from making grape wine, we should start with those differences and how they might change our usual practices.

Because sugar is harder to measure in raspberries than grapes, you’re better off using an average value of 4.3 g/100g rather than a hydrometer or refractometer reading. Another big difference from grape wine is the high pectin content, so you should plan on a higher dosage of pectic enzyme – maybe 6x as much for the same weight. Finally, because each raspberry is a collection of many tiny berries, raspberries have a lot more skin and seed surface area than grapes. This means phenolic extraction will be very high, so I recommend juicing the raspberries and making the wine like a white or rose instead of fermenting on the skin.

So start with your juice. Measure the volume and titratable acidity (I’d expect around 16 g/L) and use 4.3 Brix (1.017 SG) as an approximate sugar content. Choose target values for alcohol and TA based on the style of wine your trying to make and your personal taste. Then determine the amount of sugar, water, and acid to add to your juice. I created the Wine Recipe Wizard just for this purpose.

If you’re making a dry wine, then all you have to do is make these additions and ferment to dryness. For a sweet wine stabilize and sweeten after your wine has cleared.


1) USDA National Nutrient Database Great information on the composition of many foods. I used the keyword “raspberries” and the food group “fruit & fruit juices,” and selected raw raspberries to find information for this post.

2) On Food and Cooking – Haraold McGee
An excellent book on the science of cooking. No recipes, but lots of information on ingredients, like raspberries and other fruits, and food chemistry. That makes it a great reference for the home winemaker as well as the home cook.

3) Documentation for USDA National Nutrient Database When you really want to know how the USDA determined the amount of fat in raspberries – or how and why they did anything in the nutrient database – look here.

4) Volatile Composition in Raspberry Cultivars Grown in the Pacific Northwest Determined by Stir Bar Sorptive Extraction-Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry – Sarah M. M. Malowicki, Robert Martin, and Michael C. Qian
Measures the composition of raspberries grown in Washington in 2005. Includes good data on sugar, acid, and soluble solids.

5) Raspberries And Related Fruit – Dr. Marvin Pritts
Does not report direct measurments, but indicates that “typical” raspberries will weigh in at 9 Brix, which agrees with Malowicki et al, have a pH between 3.0 – 3.5, and will contain 5-6% sugar. That’s a higher sugar content than Malowicki but significantly less than if the soluble solids were 100% sugar.

6) Raspberry Wine Recipe – One of my own raspberry wines.

Notes and Further Reading

The Average Stats table is just me with a calculator trying to boil down the tables, ranges, and approximate values of my sources into a simple useful number. Here are sources that I wanted to track down, but couldn’t for one reason or another:

  • Boland, F.E., V. Blomquist, and B. Estrin. 1968. Chemical composition of fruits. J.A.O.A.C. 51: 1203.
    Chemical composition of strawberries, red raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries, boysenberries and cranberries is presented. Analysis included total soluble solids, ash, K2O, P2O5, invert sugar, protein, citric acid and amino acid.
  • Leinback, L. R.; Seegmiller, C. G.; Wilbur, J. S. 1951. Composition Of Red Raspberries Including Pectin Characterization. Food Technology 5:51
  • Spanos, G.A. and R.E. Wrolstad. 1987. Anthocyanin pigment, nonvolatile acid, and sugar composition of red raspberry juice. J. Assoc. Off. Anal Chem. 70(6): 1036.

How Far Can You Trust Your Hydrometer?

Hydrometers measure soluble solids density, and we use this to closely approximate soluble solids content of fruit juice. Because almost all the soluble solids in wine grapes are sugar, we use hydrometers to determine sugar content. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, every book on wine making I have says something like this, but did you maybe tuck the “in wine grapes” qualifier into the back of your head and just remember the “… almost all the soluble solids are sugar” part? I know I did, and it was while researching raspberries that I discovered just how much hydrometers can overstate sugar content.

Great data on raspberries upends an old rule of thumb

I was checking university extension offices, googling, and looking anywhere I had found information on fruit composition before when I came across this great paper on raspberries. It’s got excellent data on sugar and acid content, and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in making raspberry wine. I want to zero in on the Brix and Total Sugar measurements:

Brix vs Sugar Content in Raspberries
Varietal Brix Total Sugar Sugar Brix Ratio
Meeker site 1 11 2.83 25.7
Meeker site 2 8.6 1.01 11.7
Meeker site 3 9.2 2.38 25.9
Meeker site 4 9.8 3.28 33.5
Chilliwack 9.6 3.84 40.0
Tulameen 9.5 3.09 32.5
Willamette 8.7 2.31 26.6
Yellow Meeker 10.8 4.60 42.6

Average 9.7 2.92 29.8

Total Sugar is reported as grams per 100 grams, and if the soluble solids were 100% sugar, then Brix would equal Total Sugar. The last column, Sugar Brix Ratio, is my own calculation and expresses sugar as a percentage of soluble solids. I also reported average values in the last row.

We go from soluble solids being “almost all” sugar in wine grapes to less than 30% (on average) for raspberries! I asked Michael Qian, one of the authors, about this. He said that the data were good but some fruit, like raspberries and blackberries, just have a lot of pectin and other non-sugar soluble solids. I really appreciate him taking the time to help me out; I’m sure he’s a busy guy and this was a pretty basic question from someone outside his target audience (so, if you’re reading this – thank you!).

We know more than before – it just doesn’t feel like it

It’s exciting to learn something new, even if it does make things more complicated. When can we rely on our hydrometers? Wine grapes are probably a safe bet. Raspberries and blackberries are not. We need more information about other fruits, and I’ll be looking into that. If you know something about sugar content and soluble solids of other fruits, please say so in the comments.

Alright, what do we do when we know our hydrometers will read high? I don’t have a good solution yet. For raspberries, we might just adjust the reported Brix by 30% – still not accurate, but closer than the hydrometer reading. If you have an idea, I’d love to hear about it.

Jack Keller once said that a hydrometer is like a compass. Maybe it’s like a magnetic compass. It works well enough much of the time, but the question is, how do we find true north when we really need to?

Colony Collapse Disorder: Another reason for optimism

The number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States rose to 2.46 million in 2009 (see the just-released USDA honey report). That’s more than in 2005, the last full year before CCD struck, and more than in 2006 when CCD was first reported. I’ve summarized USDA data on colony count, per-colony yield, and honey production in the table below.

US Honeybee Colonies And Honey Production
Year Production (millions) Producing Colonies Yield
2005 174 lb (79 kg) 2.41 million 72.4 lb (32.8 kg)
2006 155 lb (70 kg) 2.39 million 64.7 lb (29.3 kg)
2007 148 lb (67 kg) 2.44 million 60.8 lb (27.6 kg)
2008 161 lb (73 kg) 2.30 million 69.9 lb (31.7 kg)
2009 144 lb (65 kg) 2.46 million 58.5 lb (26.5 kg)

Colony Collapse Disorder is real, we don’t know what causes it or how to treat it, and it’s causing losses and hardship for beekeepers. But each passing year of stable colony counts, this is the fourth, is another reason for optimism that CCD is not threatening our honey supplies or pollination capacity. News media coverage seems to be moving away from the shrill cries of “disappearance” and “extinction”, as in this ABC report on the declining incidence and severity of CCD over the 2008/2009 winter.

I make a lot of mead and buy honey in bulk. I’d like to keep doing that, so I’ve been following the CCD phenomenon ever since I heard about it. I’m also interested in production and and the outlook for honey prices. From that perspective, the rest of the honey report is a good news/bad news story.

More honeybees but less honey in 2009

In 2008 we saw managed colonies decline, but per colony yield and total honey production rise. 2009 gave us a mirror image of that with the number of colonies rebounding but producing less honey. Much less. In fact per colony yield was the lowest since 1989 and total US honey production was the lowest ever. That’s the bad news. The good news is that lower production didn’t lead to higher prices.

Honey prices up a bit, inventories down a lot

Producer honey stocks fell to 37.2 million pounds (16.9 million kg), down from 50.4 million pounds (22.9 million kg)a year ago – a 27% decline. My own honey price survey showed no change in 2009, and the USDA’s “all honey” price was up 2% to 144.5.

Revisions of 2008 data

It looks like the USDA has revised some of it’s 2008 data this year. The all honey price was originally reported to be 141.0 in the 2008 honey report, but is said to have increased from 142.1 in the 2009 report. Also, the number of producing honeybee colonies was originally reported to be 2.30 million at the end of 2008, but are said to have risen by 5% to 2.46 million at the end of 2009. The USDA does not provide a new figure for the 2008 colony count, but 2.46 million is about 7% higher than 2.30 million. So it looks like honey prices rose more, and the colony count fell less, than first reported in 2008. Since the USDA was not explicit about all these revisions, I use the data as reported in my table. After all, the 5% figure or the 142.1 could have been typos.

Further reading

The ABC news story that I mentioned was based on A survey of honey bee colony losses in the United States, fall 2008 to spring 2009.

Better Wine Through Hard Choices

Jack Keller’s 2/13/2010 entry called, “When to pull the plug” caught my eye. No, I haven’t developed a moribund fascination with euthanasia but I recently evaluated and discarded five batches of wine and mead. That was over eight gallons that I had high hopes for at one time, and it wasn’t easy to pour it down the drain. Why did I do it? It’s possible to give up too quickly or hang on too long, so it’s an important decision. Let’s look at what Mr Keller has to say about it:

I only pull the plug when a batch has undeniably gone south for eternity. That means a spoilage bacteria has crossed the Rubicon before I knew it existed

I can’t link to this particular post, so you’ll have to click through and search by date and/or title. Like most of his writing, it’s well worth reading the whole thing. Jack is an exceptional winemaker, and this rule might work really well for him. I came to a different conclusion, however, and I think most home winemakers should approach it as a cost-benefit trade off.

Benefit of saving wine

Some problems can be fixed for less time, trouble, and money than starting a new batch. That’s the strongest, most straightforward argument for trying to save a troubled batch. Moving a carboy from the cold basement to a warmer spot upstairs might be all it takes to get a stuck fermentation going again. Some infections can be nipped in the bud by gently floating off a telltale film from the surface, then immediately racking with a higher-than-normal dose of sulfite. If a batch can be saved by simple steps like these, why wouldn’t you? But there’s a gray area in between these easy fixes and the total losses that Jack talks about. The right choice there isn’t obvious, and depends on the specific problem and you own knowledge and resources.

Cost of trying too hard

Some wine and mead will not turn out well enough to justify the work of trying to save them. Every carboy, jug or bottle takes up space. I don’t know about you, but I’m not suffering from too much room for my hobby. Is your back getting stronger and better with age? How about cleaning – is that starting to grow on you? Me neither. We’ll drink better wine with less effort if we can identify and discard the batches that aren’t going to be worth it.

How to balance benefit and cost when evaluating your own wine? Here’s how I did it:

Hard choices and good decisions

I had been keeping an eye on those five batches because I had reasons to think each one might succumb to infection, oxidation, or some other fault. But when I decided to pour them down the drain, it wasn’t for any of the reasons I had been worrying about – I succeeded in saving all five batches. The problem was the taste. None of them tasted bad, or off, or unbalanced. They just didn’t excite me. I forced myself to think about how they stacked up against good budget wine that I’m familiar with. Given the choice, would I rather have a glass of the apple mead or Welch’s wine? The blueberry wine or Fetzer Cabernet? I make my own wine because I enjoy doing it and because I want something different (in a good way) from, or better than, what’s available commercially. I reluctantly decided that these five just didn’t make the cut.

What makes this decision so hard is that you have to make it with incomplete information. Keep good notes so that you know as much about the wine as possible, evaluate the wine as thoroughly as you can (including taste, smell, and visual inspection), then make the call. Take more notes on what you decided and why – like every other aspect of making your own wine, you’ll get better at it.

Washington Winemaker Goes Mobile

I’ve made some changes that (hopefully!) improve the experience for mobile device users. You shouldn’t notice a difference unless you visit the site with a Blackberry, iPhone, Motorola Droid, or other such gadget. If you do, you’ll see links to the ten most recent posts, followed by a list of pages – things like the About Page or the Recipe Wizard that you’d normally see in the horizontal nav bar. The sidebar, with its navigational shortcuts, was jettisoned to save space. So was the beautiful (if I do say so myself) header graphic. What brought this on?

The Lady of the House Bought a Motorola Droid!

This is the first “smart phone” for the Washington Winemaker household, and we’re very excited about it. One thing we were really looking forward to was the navigation feature. It uses GPS, mapping data, and a voice synthesizer to give you spoken directions. We recently moved and we’re doing a lot of driving in unfamiliar territory. Well it works beautifully, exceeding our very high expectations, and it means that both of us are less anxious when the other goes somewhere alone. On top of that, we can access the internet from almost anywhere. Neither of us knew how valuable this was until we tried it; now we don’t want to be without it. All in all, the DROID is an expensive little gadget that’s worth every penny. Oh yeah, it’s a pretty good cell phone too.

I’ve seen the future and it is mobile

All this got me thinking about how we will use the web in the future, and I think these small mobile smart-phone/net book thingies are only going to become more popular. What would that mean for Washington Winemaker? When I first looked at this site with the Droid it was all there: the lovely header, the nav shortcuts in the sidebar, and it all worked. But it was a little awkward to read and use. In updating the site for mobile devices, I wanted to pick the low hanging fruit first and see how people liked it. Do you use a smart phone? Have you looked at this web site with it? What do you think? What other improvements are worth doing?

Well I best be going now. I don’t know how much more playing research and usability testing the Lady of the House will let me do before she takes it back.

Honey Prices: Unexpectedly Flat In 2009

Honey prices advanced in 2008, and last January it looked like we were in for more of the same in 2009. But it turns out that honey in December sold for about what it did in January. I now have my first full year of data on malt extract, and here the story is the same. With the exception of The Cellar’s liquid malt extract, which rose early, dry and liquid malt extract prices were unchanged last year. I started tracking malt extract, and other sweeteners, because they might be of interest to our home brewing friends and to provide some context. One hitch in my plan is that I moved during the year, and I no longer have convenient access to a Sam’s Club. Starting with 2010, I’ll be tracking Wal Mart’s prices instead. This means that for table sugar and maple syrup, I only have full year data from Costco. It looks like maple syrup dropped and table sugar rose, at the end of 2009, but with only one source I’m not sure we can make too much of that.

In the table below, I’ve included honey prices from March 2008, just before the surge, as well as January and December of 2009.

Source and Type Price March 2008 ($/lb) Price January 2009 ($/lb) Price December 2009 ($/lb) Change From March Change From January
Costco Clover 1.47 1.83 1.83 +24.5% 0%
Miller’s Honey Clover 1.55 1.73 1.73 +11.6% 0%
Miller’s Honey Wildflower 1.15 1.43 1.43 +24.3% 0%
Miller’s Honey Organic n/a 1.83 1.83 n/a 0%
Dutch Gold Clover 1.30 1.80 1.80 +38.5% 0%
Dutch Gold Wildflower 1.26 1.71 1.71 +35.7% 0%
Dutch Gold Organic n/a 1.80 1.80 n/a 0%

Where can you get the best deal on honey?

The packers offer slightly better prices on clover honey than Costco, but to get those prices you have to buy in 60 lb buckets and pay shipping. Costco lets you buy in smaller 6 lb jugs and avoid shipping charges by visiting their retail locations. The best price around is still Miller’s wildflower – a high quality honey at a great price. It’s also available as a pair of 3 lb jugs from Amazon, but at $3.71/lb this is a much more expensive option. It’s eligible for free shipping though, so if you don’t have access to an affordable local source like Costco, you don’t want to buy in 60 lb lots, and/or shipping for those heavy buckets would eat up any savings, then it might make sense for you.

Outlook for honey prices

In October, Kim Flottum forecast rising honey prices this winter:

So … in the short run, the price of honey this winter is probably going to go up some. Maybe a lot. And you may not be able to find local honey later this winter.

With a good idea of US honey production, the worst year ever, and reports that many other exporters are seeing poor crops, he expects a supply squeeze to boost prices. No sign of that, in the prices I track, as of January but it’s something to keep an eye on. Something else to keep an eye on is his assessment that Colony Collapse Disorder hit hard last year and reduced US producing colonies by over 13%. We haven’t seen much evidence that CCD has reduced the US colony count yet – did that change in 2009? The USDA will release their figures in February, and I’ll have more to say then.

For those who don’t know, Mr Flottum wrote the book on backyard beekeeping and edits Bee Culture Magazine. When he talks about beekeeping, the rest of us should listen.

Malt extract prices

Not much has happened in my first full year of tracking malt extract. You can still by liquid malt extract in bulk for $2.01/lb to $2.99/lb while bulk dry extract will set you back $2.52/lb to $4.66/lb. There isn’t anything special about the sources I track, except that I’ve bought from all of them: The Cellar Homebrew, Mountain Homebrew, The Grape and Granary, and Moor Beer.

Update 3/3/2010 – Honey Prices on the rise?

I noticed Costco charging more for honey on my most recent trip, $2.00/lb up about 9% since January. Maple syrup rose 6% and table sugar was unchanged. I didn’t get a chance to check Walmart. A quick check online showed no change at the packers, and malt extract prices remained flat.

Food and Wine Pairing

Did you know that Chardonnay goes with poached eggs? I didn’t either. It was date night at the Washington Winemaker household, and that meant I needed to select a wine to go with dinner. The Lady of the House decided we were having eggs poached in mushroom soup. This is a new recipe for us from Morrison Wood’s With A Jug Of Wine. A great cookbook for a winemaker that, sadly, is out of print. His more recent Through Europe with a Jug of Wine is available and will probably end up in my library.

The Wine and Food Matcher

Alright, we were both excited about the recipe but what was I going to serve with it? If you can pair wine with breakfast cereal, then eggs ought to be doable. I needed some advice, though, and for that I turned to Natalie MacLean. She’s a respected wine writer and the author of Red, White, and Drunk All Over. The wine and food matcher on her homepage gives you suggested wine pairings if you pick a food or suggests foods for a particular wine.

Would you like Chardonnay with that?

For eggs, it suggested Chardonnay. It just so happens that I’ve been buying a lot of bargain Chardonnay that I really like – it holds it’s own against $15 bottles for a fraction of the price – so I uncorked a bottle. How’d it turn out? The eggs were terrific, so was the wine, and Natalie was right – they were great together.

As to having eggs for dinner, well those of us who think pizza is breakfast food can’t object too loudly …

The Gift Of Wine: How to make it

The trick to making a good gift of homemade wine lies in seeing it objectively and seeing it the way other people do (not necessarily the same thing!). After doting over the yeast, balancing the must till it’s just so, and (im)patiently aging, you might have a hard time tasting your wine with a critical palate. I know I do.

How to tell if your homemade mead or wine is good enough

One way to get an objective look at your own wine or mead is to compare it against a known quantity in a blind tasting. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to decide what to compare it against. You want to know how good your homemade Chardonnay is? Taste it blind against a good commercial Chardonnay. It’s tougher when you want to test something more obscure.

Commercial meads are available, but I’ve been unimpressed by the ones I’ve tried. You could test your own mead against them. It might be better, though, to think about what food would pair well with it and test it against a good commercial wine that also goes with that food. For example, I served aged dry rhubarb wine with ham at Thanksgiving, and it was terrific. So a dinner party with ham could become a tasting party for rhubarb wine (tested against Chardonnay maybe?). There are lot of questions you won’t be able to answer in an apples to oranges comparison like that, but you should be able to answer, which one would I rather drink with ham?

Competitions are also a good way to get objective feedback, even if the feedback is just a score. They can be less work than a tasting party, but a good tasting party will be a lot more fun.

A gift of wine will tell a story: Make it a good one

Ok, you’ve done your taste tests and it isn’t just you – you’ve really got a good homemade wine and you want to make a gift of it. Like commercial wine that you give away, your gift of wine will tell a story. The story can’t be all about you. If it’s, “look at me!” or “see what I can do!” you might as well give away pictures of yourself – even good ones won’t make good gifts. If you know someone who’s started or genuinely interested in making their own mead or wine, then one of your own would make a great gift. Someone who really likes a kind of wine that’s hard to get would love to get a good homemade version. Scoring well in a competition also makes a good story, and I’m sure you can think of others.

A great wine needs a great label

I’ve written about why it’s important to make a good label for homemade wine before, and everything I said goes double for gifts. Why would the recipient think there’s something special about it if you don’t think it’s worth the effort to make a good label? You might even make special labels for wine or mead that you give away. Use it to help tell the story – did it win a blue ribbon at your state fair? Put that on the label!

Have you had a good (or bad) experience with homemade wine as a gift? I’d love to hear about it.