Correcting Faults In Wine
Correcting or adjusting faults in finished wines is all part of the know-how of wine-making, and herein lie many of the tricks of the trade together with many of the skills that go to make a clever wine-maker.
When making wines we set out to produce a certain type of product. Sometimes we succeed so easily that we are almost embarrassed by our good fortune. At other times obtaining what we really want calls for some skill. Whatever our aim, we can obtain it, or get as near to it as is humanly possible, without much trouble, provided that we have a rough idea of what we want and how to set about getting it.
In the first place we use a recipe and method that will produce what we are after. But it sometimes happens that the end product is not quite what we wanted. There may be too much acid present, or the wine may be either too sweet or too dry. These are not really faults as such, because whatever sort of wine you get, some will acclaim it the finest they have tasted while others will shudder at it. It is all a matter of taste, and surely the skill in making wines comes in making the type of variety you really like. This is easy enough when you have gained experience in making a wide variety of wines, even if it means treating the finished product in some way.
Make no mistake about this, your favourite commercial product whether it be wine or whisky could not be produced without after-treatment of some sort, usually blending. In the case of the higher-alcohol wines, such as ports and sherries, fortifying is also carried out because, like us, commercial producers cannot produce more alcohol than the yeast will make. If it were not for this, commercial products would not be stronger than those made by home wine-makers.
Over-acid wines An over-acid wine will naturally show itself by making you wince. The simplest means of reducing the acid in an over-acid wine is to blend it with a similar wine which lacks acid. Lack of acid is usually noticed as lack of bite, that is, having swallowed the wine, it is gone. There is nothing left on the palate to tell you that you have, in fact, tasted wine rather than something else with a fruity flavour. Obviously the blending improves both the wines — the over-acid and the under-acid.
But how do you reduce acidity if you have no wine lacking in acid? The simplest means of correcting this is to use pure medicinal chalk (precipitated chalk) from a chemist. First, it should be decided how over-acid the wine’is, and whether the fault is, in fact, over-acidity rather than harshness caused by an excess of tannin. It should be made clear, though, that young wines sometimes have a slightly acid and harsh taste as well. Therefore young wines should never be treated, but should be kept until they are a year old. By that time many of the suspected faults will have ironed themselves out. If after a year a wine is still over-acid, then treatment with chalk is justified.
Put the wine into an open vessel such as fermentation vessel, and treat a sample (say 6 dl or 1 pt). Take a little of the sample and stir in a teaspoonful of chalk, then mix this with the remainder. After treating the bulk with this doctored sample, allow the chalk to settle out until the wine is brilliant again before tasting. This method reduces the risk of taking out too much acid.
If further treatment is necessary you can do this without removing the wine from the chalk deposit. After removing the required amount of acid, allow the wine to clarify to brilliance — which will take less than an hour — and then siphon it into bottles or ajar for further storage. If by accident, you remove too much acid, add a little citric or tartaric acid to make it up.
Rough wines Rough or harsh wines usually have a rather stronger all-round flavour than is wanted, with a noticeable harshness on the palate.
Certain fruit wines made from rather more fruit than usual will produce this type of fault. Elderberry is a notable offender in this respect. So it is wise to stick to a well-tried recipe and not exceed 1.8 kg (4 lb) per 5 ltr (1 gall). This amount will not produce an excess of acid provided that all the fruits are ripe. Nor will this amount produce an excess of tannin provided that the pulp is not fermented for too long.
You will often find harshness in a new wine, but delay treatment for a year or so to enable self-rectification to take place if it will. Treating for roughness too soon may result in a considerable lack of desirable characteristics when a treated wine has ironed out its own faults. The overall effects can be that twice the amount of roughness has been removed when half of it should have remained to give the wine necessary character.
When roughness persists after a year of storage whisk half of the white of an egg into a froth with a little of the wine and stir it into the bulk. Allow to settle out and then taste the wine. If similar further treatment is necessary, do it before taking the wine off this first deposit. Be careful not to take out too much, although you remedy this by adding a pinch of grape tannin. Allow the treated wine to clarify to brilliance and then bottle it or put it into jars for further storage. The half of an egg-white recommended is for the experimental treatment of 5 ltr (1 gall). When treating larger amounts, increase the amount of egg-white accordingly.
When egg white is added to the wine, it forms an insoluble cloud which surrounds tannin and other constituents causing the harshness and takes them to the bottom of the jar.
This treatment is necessary only with red wines, and then only rarely, but it is as well to know what to do.