Wine Making FAQ and Tips

Start making your own wine

Can I really make wine that tastes as good as the best commercial wines?

Our kits ranks with commercial wine costing much more. We invite you to blind taste the wine you make with comparable commercial wine. We believe you will be very pleased with the comparison. 

Can I sample the wine before buying?

Regularly, interested and novice wine lovers ask us whether they can have a sample of the wines we make. Unfortunately this is legally not allowed and we cannot do so. For the novice winemakers though, we do have an unbeatably attractive alternative to offer. Because we are convinced of our quality, we have our “Satisfaction Guaranteed” proposition; if you are not satisfied with the wine you have made, we will replace the wine with a wine kit of equal or lesser value or refund your money for the kit. 

How do I clean my bottles?

There is a simple way to keep your bottles free from mould clutter and spots. These will ultimately spoil your valuable wine. I suggest the next three steps:

  1. Rinse the bottle with water directly after use.
  2. Put away the bottle with the opening down so that excess water can get out
  3. Leave bottles up-side-down until days before bottling and rinse them all with a solution of ‘the pink stuff’. An empty milk jar or spray bottle is very handy to apply this cleaning solution.

Just prior to bottling, as you know, we sanitize the bottles in our professional bottle washer. If you have already noticed spots inside your bottles that you want to remove, a bottle brush can be really effective. Both brushes and chloroclean (the pink stuf) we sell in store. Washing bottles in the dishwasher is great for the outside of the bottle but really does not do much for the inside.

How do I know what quality of wine kit to purchase?

Our business is built on providing a wine very similar to the commercial wine that you like at a fraction of the price. We will make suggestions based on the quality and price point of the wine you purchase. We strongly suggest that, when you get started, you make the highest quality wine kit available. The cost savings are well worth it and you will have wine that tastes like fine commercial wine at a fraction of the cost!

How long will I have to age my wine before I can drink it?

Your wine will be very palatable soon after you bottle, particularly if you decant the wine for an hour or two before serving. As the wine ages in the bottle, you will be excited to find how the wine softens and matures.

The wines you make from a kit, or that we make in our store from a kit, are really, really young when they see a bottle. During their first weeks to months these -just bottled- wines will taste a little harsh with an unbalanced acidity. A little sharp all over and with under developed fruitiness and aromas.

The cause is the presence of tannin (very strong black tea). Tannin is a substance that comes from the seeds, stems and skins of grapes and release in the wine during the process of fermentation. Some additional tannin may be introduced by the oak chips, which are used to compensate for the absence of barrel production as in a traditional winery. Tannin is an acidic preservative and essential to the long term maturing of wine. Over time, the harsh and bitter flavor of tannin will precipitate out of the wine and become sediment in the bottle together with some of the red color pigments. The complexity of the wine’s flavor from fruit, acid and all the palette of other substances that make up the wine’s character, will come into greater balance.

Generally, red wines are the ones that can be produced with a fair amount of tannin with an eye towards long term storing and maturation. White wines have had no contact with the stems and skins during fermenturing and will have little tannin, (though some can be added, again, through barrel aging or by adding oak chips). Therefore most white wines don’t age well. But also for white wines, some ageing changes the perception of acidity (because the acids combine with alcohol) which in turn gives a softer mouth feel.

At the end of the day, all wine, white as well as red, will “go over the hill” and will be good as a base for cooking or vinegar only.

The age ability of your wine is influenced by several factors like the varietal of grapes, the soil or microclimate (“terroir”) and the age of the vines. The processing in the winery, for example the degree of filtering adds another factor (taking out the tannin), further the size of the bottle matters -half bottle ages faster than larger bottles- as well as the storing conditions (temperature: the higher the faster) in your wine cellar.

If you consider aging your wine, at all times avoid, exposure to (sun)light, vibrations and temperature fluctuation. These do your precious wine no good.

So, freshly bottled wine, especially ones containing tannin, can taste harsh in their early days. Over time however, if all conditions are take well care of, the young wine will lose its tannin and the mouth feel mellows. Its flavors come in balance and a surprising palette of tones in its bouquet reveals.

The chart below outlines in general the peak aging period from time of bottling plus the maximum shelf life of a given wine, after which it is considered “past vintage” and should be consumed with little or no delay.

The chart assumes that you have a consistent, cool and dark environment to store your wine (12 – 18°C – 54 – 65°F) with humidity of 50 – 70%. If the wine cannot be stored in these ideal conditions, avoid long aging.

Type of kit Min aging Peak aging period Shelf life after bottling
Cellar Craft Showcase White 3 months?  ?
Cellar Craft Showcase Red 4 months? ?
Cellar Craft Sterling White 1 month  ?
Cellar Craft Sterling Red  2-3 months ?
Ultimate Estate Red 4-5months 9-24 months 3-4 years
Ultimate Estate White/Blush 3-4 months? 6-18 months 2-3 years
Traditional Vintage Red 3-4 months? 6-18 months 2-3 years
Traditional Vintage White/Blush 2-3 months? 6-12 months 11/2 -2 years
 Cheeky Monky White 1 month
 Cheeky Monky Red 2 months
European Select White 1 month
European Select Red 2 months
Niagara Mist Immediately 1-6 months? 1 year?

If you plan to age your wine for longer than 5 months in the bottle or if your storage temperatures are less than ideal (12 – 18°C – 54 – 65°F), we recommend the addition of ¼ teaspoon of potassium or sodium metabisulphite (dissolved in ½ cup of cool water) to the wine before bottling. This sulphite addition will help to extend the aging ability of the wine without affecting quality and you may still drink the wine at an early age. We can provide you with aging guides for each brand of wine kit.

How many bottles does a kit make?

Most kits make 23 litres or about 30, 750 mL bottles. To a newcomer, this may sound like a lot of wine but keep in mind that, if you are like most winemakers, you will likely give some bottles away because you are so proud of the results! 

What are the best conditions to make wine?

Fortunately, great wine can be made in most household environments. You don’t need a lot of space. Most winemakers make wine in the basement or in the kitchen as it is handy to have a water source nearby. Best temperature range is 65 – 75 F. (18 – 24C.). Because you are working with a kit, there is virtually no odour involved. 

What are the best conditions to store wine?

If you intend to age the bottled wine for a long time, it is important to have a cool environment with a temperature range of 50 – 64 F. (10 – 18 C.). In this range, the wine will gently mature at an ideal rate. If the storage conditions are warmer, the wine will mature rapidly so avoid prolonged aging. 

What is a full bodied wine?

Many customers ask us about the body of a wine and how to find out. The body of a wine refers to the fullness, weight and concentration and total mouth feel of a wine. A light-bodied wine would be have less concentrated flavors, while a full-bodied wine would be notably more concentrated. If I may make an analogy, light-bodied wines would feel similar to water in your mouth and full-bodied wines would be more like milk as far as its heaviness. 

What is the level of sulfite in wine kits

All wines, even organic, contain sulfites. Sulphur dioxide is a natural by-product of the fermentation cycle. Small amounts of sulfite are needed in wine to protect it against oxidation (browning) and unwanted bacteria to ensure that wine will age gracefully, and to improve the overall flavour and quality of the wine. When you make wine from kits, your finished wine will contain the minimum amount of sulfite preservative needed to make good wine every time. By following the recipe, your wine will generally contain lower levels of sulfite than commercial wines.

Why filter the wine before bottling?

We recommend that you filter all of your wines before bottling. Besides polishing the wine to brilliance, filtering helps to eliminate potential sediment. Filtered wine will age and taste bette in the long run. See our store for the best filter to suit your needs.

Wine tips and tricks

Bulk aging before bottling?

If you choose to age your wine in the carboy beyond the recommended bottling times, you will need to protect the wine during this stage. Be sure to keep the carboy topped up into the neck of the carboy, change the liquid in the airlock monthly and store the carboy in a cool environment in a temperature range of 7 – 18ºC (45 – 65ºF) with the mid-range preferred. You will need to replenish the sulphite previously added at the stabilizing stage as the sulphite level will drop over time in the bulk aging period. Sulphite is an essential preservative for wine. If you do not replenish the sulphite by adding ¼ teaspoon potassium or sodium metabisulphite powder (dissolved in a small amount of cold water) to the 23 litre carboy before bottling, the wine will quickly begin to oxidize and deteriorate in the bottle. If you cannot meet all of the above conditions for bulk aging, it is probably est to bottle according to the recipe recommendation. 

Decanting wine

Decanting wine is not just a fancy thing to do. It can actually enhance the flavor and improve the smoothness of both young as well as aged wines. Anyone who wants the best from their wine should own one. Decanting wines is not just for show, and even in this modern age of fined and filtered wines, some will still benefit from spending some time in a decanter.

Reasons for decanting the wine
Decanting is pouring the wine from its original bottle to another container, preferably a carafe or wine decanter. The main reasons for decanting is to expose the wine to oxygen, thus releasing the aromas and softening the astringent grape tannins so often apparent in young wines and to remove the wine from any sediment that may have formed. Decanting is a great benefit to almost all red wines and in most cases, white wines as well. For young red wines, decanting for up to eight hours is a tremendous way to unlock bound fruit esters and help the wine become more vibrant and smoother in character. For young white wines, an hour or two results in a significant improvement in taste. Bottom line, decanting makes wine taste better in most cases.

When does a wine need decanting?
Wines which have aged in bottle, typically red wines rather than white, will generally throw a sediment over the years. Not only is this sediment displeasing to the eye, it may also be found unpleasant in the mouth. More than any other wines, these are the ones that deserve decanting. Young wines also benefit from decanting, although the aim is not to take the wine off its sediment (there is rarely any such sediment in young wines), but rather to aerate the wine.

The action of decanting itself, and the large surface area in contact with the air in the decanter, alters the wine, softening its youthful bite and encouraging the development of the more complex aromas that normally develop with years in bottle. For this reason also more affordable wines can benefit from decanting, if a first taste reveals a tannic, grippy, youthful structure.

What is the sediment in my wine?
You may find some solid white crystals in your bottled wine. What you are likely seeing are tartaric crystals or “wine diamonds”. The opinion of most wine connoisseurs is that these crystals are a sign that the grapes used to make the wine are the very pinnacle of quality. The crystals are easily eliminated in the bottled wine by a careful decanting (always a good thing for wine prior to serving) or they can be eliminated by chilling the wine in bulk prior to bottling.

Decanting Wine: How to do it?
Firstly, remove the entire capsule from around the neck of the bottle. Position a light source shining through the neck from behind. This allows you to observe the wine coming through the neck for sediment.

With a smooth and steady action, pour the wine into the decanter. Don’t rush, avoid disturbing the sediment in the wine. Keep the neck of the bottle over the light source, so that you can observe for an arrowhead of sediment moving into the neck of the bottle. This is your cue to stop pouring.

The remaining portion makes a great addition to the gravy, should you be decanting the wine as an accompaniment to a roast dinner.

(this article is an edited version of C. Kissack)

Food and wine pairing: Elevate your taste experience

aste is subjective and so there is no right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing your vino. The ideal outcome is to create a taste experience by considering what types of wines and foods you (and your guests) most enjoy. Wine is meant to elevate food. With a proper wine pairing, food actually tastes better!

Despite personal preferences, there are some general pairing rules to send you in the right direction.

Match the body of the wine with the body of the food to keep them on a level playing field. Delicate food flavors with lighter bodied wines (lower alcohol content) and full flavored foods with heavier wines (higher alcohol content).

Contrast or complement? Complementary choices seek to imitate similar flavors, i.e. a crisp Riesling with citrus flavors paired with lemon-squeezed fish. Contrasting creates opposite flavors, i.e. salty cheese served with sweet dessert wines.

Choose your wine based on the strongest flavor on the plate. This can be the sauce, but is generally the protein portion of the meal.

Don’t feel restricted by the old adage, “red wine with red meat and white wine with fish or chicken”. It applies in a few special cases, such as serving white wine with fish if it’s an oilier fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies), since the fat in the fish brings out the less friendly tannic acid flavors of red wine. But there are plenty of times beef or lamb will make as good (or even a better) match with a well selected white wine.

The best way to find out simply is to try, Salud!

Start building a wine cellar

Building up a wine cellar takes less time, is less expensive and easier than you think. Agree, the quickest way is to double your batches, but that approach will not be within reach for all of us. I have been giving thought to how to start a wine cellar conveniently and gradually “as you go”. Simply by adhering to the following principle. Every time you have bottled a batch, take 10 bottles, date them and put them apart (out of sight preferably). Drink the remaining 20 bottles just as you were used to doing so you won’t become deprived. Result: In a years’ time you have created your wine cellar with a variety of properly aged wines that are ready to drink. Depending on the style and brand you choose, you need not be afraid of extending this time to up to two years. After you have reached your foundation you continue making your batches or add new favorites. Now while you let these sit and age, you pick a bottle from your aged selection. Ask in store for guidance.

Tasting wine

Wine tasting is not the same as drinking it. To experience the true flavor of a wine requires that you pay attention to your senses of sight, smell, touch, as well as taste.

Sight: Look at the wine — in daylight if possible. The best way is to tilt the wine in the glass and look at it against a white background. What do you see? Is the wine clear or cloudy? The color will vary according to what wine it is. Red wines vary greatly in color — a Merlot, for example will usually be an intense ruby red while a Cabernet Sauvignon will be a darker, deeper red. As a red wine ages, you will see hints of reddish-brown around the edges. White wines become more golden as they age.

Smell: Through our sense of smell, wine reveals its pleasures to us. For the first impression of the primary aroma, smell the wine after pouring in a glass, but before swirling. To determine the secondary aroma, swirl the wine vigorously in the glass. As the wine coats the sides of the glass, it releases its bouquet. The aromas can be quite different depending on how far into the glass your nose goes. At the top of the glass, they are more floral and fruity; deeper in the glass, they are richer. Try to detect the full range of scents from berry to floral to spicy to woody … and so on. Relate to references that are familiar to you. The connoisseur jargon may sometimes be confusing. Consider intensity and appeal.

Touch: In one of my earlier newsletters this is referred to as ‘mouth feel’. When tasting wines, the touch is the feel of the wine on your tongue and the inside of your cheeks. Is it soft or brisk? Does it have a refreshing zing around the edges of your tongue? Or is it flat and flabby? Tannins (used in red wines to keep them from spoiling) will feel sort of rough and tart on your tongue a bit like very strong tea. Younger red wines are usually more tannic. The ideal touch of an aged wines is a mellow softness — a velvety feeling in your mouth.

Taste: This is the final step and should be taken only after you’ve used your other senses. When tasting a wine, take a small amount in your mouth, swirl it around lightly so all your taste buds are exposed, then keep it there for a brief period. Does the wine taste the same as its aroma? Is it sweet, acidic, crisp? Is it light or full-bodied? At this point you can either spit it out (especially if you are tasting several wines , … I know what you are thinking now) or simply drink it, but be sure to experience the aftertaste (the finish). What is the memory of the wine on your palate? Here again try to relate to tastes you are familiar with. It will help you remember and judge a wine at a following occasion.

The more often you do the above exercise, the more you will discover from your wines. Finally simply drink and enjoy the wine.


Acknowledgement “Tasting of wine:

The best way to enjoy your wine

Cleaning Your Bottles
Clean bottles are essential for the flavor development and shelf life of your wine. Wine is a “living” substance and miserable microbes are constantly on the watch to take over.

After use, rinse the bottle until no residue or smell is left. You may want to have a solution at hand of the ‘pink stuff’, Chloroclean ( available in store). An empty milk jar or spray bottle is very handy to apply this cleaning solution. To remove tough sediment, a bottlebrush does miracles. Washing bottles in the dishwasher is great for the outside of the bottle but really does not do much for the inside.

Handling Your Wine After Bottling
After you have bottled the wine, the air that is introduced in the wine due to the handling needs to be worked out past and through the cork. Excess of air (oxygen) will oxidize your wine taking away its pleasant fruity flavor in return for a nasty smell. For this reason leave your bottles a week to 10 days upright in the box. Thereafter you can tilt the bottles horizontally and let them sit to mature. The cork gets wet, will expand a bit, sealing off the content of the bottle from too much air penetration.

Aging Your WineWine is an active biomass. All the way!

From grape to glass wine constantly but gradually goes through several stages of transformation. Immediately after bottling wine can taste a little harsh and astringent. Its aroma may be concealed and its bouquet is certainly not yet developed. Matured wine tastes smooth, will reveal a richer bouquet and becomes a delight to drink. To age your wine takes some care and time.

Store in an odor free, dark and cool place for three months to a year depending on the wine, your patience and eagerness. The ideal wine cellar temperature is between 11ºC and 14ºC (52ºF to 58ºF) where home conditions are more likely to be 14ºC to 18ºC. This will, reasonably spoken, also work. More important is that the temperature does not fluctuate more that 2 to 3ºC (5ºF) around the average once per year.

Serving Your Wine
Serve your wine at room temperature; 18 – 20C for red wines and chilled to 12 – 14C for the whites and blush. Pour the wine into a glass, to a level typically below its widest part. This allows you to swirl the wine in the glass and release its bouquet that is being caught in its tapered end. A technique to release the bouquet of the wine is exposure to air. This can be helped by aerating or decanting the wine prior to serving. This is only done with red wine. Just uncorking the bottle and let it sit before serving it is not enough to obtain this effect. Now, enjoy!

Top 10 Winemaking mistakes

For our home brewers who want to improve on their craftsmanship we discuss ten winemaking mistakes. This month the first five, next month number six to ten.

1. Inadequate Equipment

Winemaking equipment, such as pails, carboys and spoons often seem similar to items that may be around the home. However, in many cases, proper winemaking equipment and utensils are made of special materials and this can influence your finished product.

Re-using plastic pails from other sources, like buckets that previously held food products, is always a mistake. The food odors will have sunk into the plastic, and will taint the wine. Also, plastic items not intended for food purposes, such as brand-new garbage pails must never be used for winemaking. The pigments, UV protectants and plasticizers (chemicals used to keep the plastic from becoming brittle) will leach into the wine, and could affect your health.

A specialized U-brew retailer will be able to direct you to equipment appropriate for winemaking. Saving a few dollars by using suspect equipment is not worth it.

2. Cleaning and Sanitation

90% of all winemaking failures can be traced to a lapse in cleaning or sanitation. Cleaning is removing visible dirt and residue from your equipment. Sanitizing is treating that equipment with a chemical that will eliminate, or prevent the growth of spoilage organisms.

Everything that comes in contact with your wine must be clean, and properly sanitized, from the thermometer to the carboy, from the siphon hose to the bung and airlock. One single lapse could cause a failure of your batch.

3. Failure to Follow Instructions

Wine kit instructions may seem to be long and complicated, and the urge is to simplify them, or to standardize steps between different kits. This is always a mistake, for several reasons.

First, the kit instructions are based both on sound winemaking techniques, and empirical trials. This means that not only did some egghead write the instructions based on book learning, he made his assistants actually follow the instructions to the letter, hundreds of times, to make sure they worked.

Second, if your kit fails to ferment correctly, or clear sufficiently, there may be no easy way to correct it if you have not followed the directions.

This is sometimes a problem in that kit instructions are very different from those for wines made from fresh grapes. Trying to use the techniques described in winemaking textbooks will usually lead to problems: wine kits are another kettle of fish entirely.

4. Bad Water

Water is not quite as critical as many people think. In fact, if your water is fit to drink, it is usually just fine for winemaking. However, if your water has a lot of hardness or a high mineral content, especially iron, it could lead to permanent haze or off flavors. Also, if your house is equipped with a salt-exchange water softener, that water can’t be used for winemaking. If you’re in doubt, go ahead and use bottled water to make your wine: you’ll appreciate the difference.

5. Poor Yeast Handling

If you look at the instructions in your wine kit (and please, do), they will likely instruct you to sprinkle your packet of yeast directly on to the must. Yet if you read the yeast package (and many winemaking textbooks) they recommend rehydrating the yeast. If the objective is to deliver the maximum number of yeast cells to the must, which technique is best?

It turns out that the answer is not as simple as one or the other. When performed correctly, rehydrating gives the highest live cell counts, and the quickest, most thorough fermentation. The catch is, it has to be done precisely correctly. Lalvin EC 1118 champagne yeast, for instance, asks you to add the yeast to 10 times its weight in water at 40¬–43ºC (104¬–109ºF).

Breaking it down, the amount of ’10 times’ is important if you’re trying to maximize live cell counts. That’s because the yeast is dried on a substrate of nutrients and sugars. At a ratio of 10:1 water/yeast, the osmotic pressure allows for maximum nutrient uptake (osmotic pressure is influenced by the dissolved solids in the water, like nutrients and sugars). If too much water is used, the yeast will grow only sluggishly. If too little water is used, the cells may burst from the flood of liquid and nutrients forced into them.

Secondly, the temperature range is inflexible. The outer wall of a yeast cell is made up of two layers of fatty acids. These layers soften best in warm water, much as greasy film will come off of dishes best in warm water. Once it has softened up, it will allow the passage of nutrients and waste products in and out of the cell much more efficiently. If the water isn’t warm enough, the cell won’t soften. If it’s too warm, generally anywhere above 52ºC (125.6ºF) the yeast cell will cook and die.

The next thing you have to worry about is temperature shear. Yeast is terrifically sensitive to environmental conditions. If it goes too quickly from a favorable temperature to a less favorable one, weakened cells may die, and others may go dormant, in an attempt to ride out the temperature shift. This reduces the numbers of live, viable cells available to ferment the must, and gives spoilage organisms a chance to get a foothold, and potentially ruin your wine. So if you are rehydrating your yeast, you’ll have to wait as the yeast cools to within two degrees of your must temperature before adding it: accuracy counts!

On the other hand, simply dumping the yeast onto the top of the most should result in lower cell counts. Empirical evidence shows this isn’t the case: the yeast appear to know what they’re doing. Generally, a five-gram packet of yeast will have less than a six-hour lag phase on an average wine kit. This is perfectly acceptable, and isn’t long enough to allow spoilage organisms to get a foothold in your wine. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot simpler than going through the rehydrating process, fraught as it is with risks.

You can rehydrate your yeast if you absolutely want to, but be sure to do it accurately and precisely. The rest of us will tear open the package and dump it in, and spend the extra time sampling our last batch!

6. Poor Temperature Control
Kit instructions tell you to ferment your wine within a specific temperature range. We recommend 20 – 25°C (70°F to 77°F). Yeast thrives between these temperatures. This is one of the situations where Wine Kitz’s instructions are different than commercial winemaking techniques. In commercial wineries, some white wines are fermented cooler than this, sometimes below 55°F. Commercial wineries have the luxury of process control and taking a year (or two, or three) before they bottle their wines, so they don’t face the home wine makers’ issues. For you namely, if the fermentation area is too cool the wine will ferment very slowly. This will lead to an excess of CO2 gas (fizz) in the wine, and it may not be ready to stabilize and fine on the appropriate day. Even worse, the kind of fining agents included with Wine Kitz kits don’t work well at temperatures outside of the 20 – 25°C (70°F to 77°F) range. Below 19°C (68°F) your wine kit may not clear at all!

7. Adding Sulphite and Sorbate at the wrong time
Sulphite and Sorbate, the stabilizers in the kit work to inhibit yeast activity. If, by mistake, you add them too early your wine may not finish fermenting. If you add the sorbate on day one, the yeast will never become active, and the kit will not ferment.

8. Leaving out the Sulphite
Some people believe that they are allergic to sulphites, and want to leave them out of their kits. While this is their option, it’s a bad idea. True sulphite allergies are terrifically rare, and if someone has a reaction to drinking wine, it’s almost always due to some other cause. Besides, yeast make sulphites themselves during fermentation, so no wine can ever be sulphite-free, no matter what.

Without added sulphites the kit will oxidize and spoil very rapidly. It will start to go off in less than 4 weeks, and be undrinkable in less than three months. Also, if the sulphite is left out, but the sorbate is added, the wine will be attacked by lactic bacteria, which will convert the sorbate into the compound hexadienol, which smells like rotting geraniums and dead fish.

The bottom line is this: if you do not add the sulphite to the kit, neither your retailer, nor Wine Kitz can guarantee the wine, so think carefully before you do it.

9. Not Stirring
On day one, the kit needs to be stirred very vigorously. This is because the juice and concentrate are very viscous, and don’t mix easily with water. Even if it seems that dumping the contents of the bag into the primary with the water has done the job, it hasn’t. The juice lies on the bottom of the pail, with a layer of water on top, throwing off any gravity readings, and making the yeast work extra hard.

When it comes time to stabilize and fine the wine, it has to be stirred vigorously enough to drive off all of the CO2 it accumulated during fermentation. This is because the dissolved gas will attach to the fining agents, preventing them from settling out. You need to stir hard enough to make the wine foam, and keep stirring until it will no longer foam. Only then will the gas be driven off so the fining agents can work their magic.

10. Not Waiting
Wine kits are ready to bottle in 4 to 8 weeks depending on the kit; they’re not ready to drink! If you really, really can’t wait, the minimum time before a kit tastes good is about two weeks. This is long enough for the wine to get over the shock of bottling, and begin opening up to release its aromas and flavors. Three months is much better, and the wine will show most of its character at this point. For most whites, however, and virtually all reds, six months is needed to smooth out the wine and allow it to express mature character. Heavy reds will continue to improve for at least a year, rewarding your patience with delicious bouquet.

What happens when wine ages?

When wine sits in the barrel or the bottle, the flavors, aromas, and colors change.

All U-brew wine will benefit from aging. Most store bought bottles today are made to be consumed immediately, especially the ones with screw tops. These wines may turn brown and lose their fruit character if you cellar it for years. How long a particular U-brew wine should age depends on the variety or blend. As a general rule, wines with relatively high levels of tannins and acidity age best.

Tannins are a category of chemicals that come from grape skins and seeds. They have an astringent, somewhat bitter taste and make your mouth feel dry. But over time, tannins “soften” because they polymerize, ie form long chains with each other. The tannin polymer molecules feel and taste less harsh and the wine becomes smoother.

As a wine ages, it also develops a stronger aroma. Before tannins chain up, they “hold on” to volatile aroma compounds, keeping them from evaporating.

Result of good aging is a smoothness on the palate, rich and balanced flavor and superior taste. In short wines that are pleasant to drink and that are revealing their aromas.

Wine Handling and Serving tips

All wines (including sparkling wines) have different optimal storage methods, serving temperatures, and opening and pouring procedures — even different ideal drinking glasses.

Red wines should be served “room temperature”, but that refers to a room a bit cooler than most of us would find comfortable. Start at 18C (65F) and adjust to taste. Wines should generally not be stored in a refrigerator. Apart from being too cold, if the bottle is corked, food flavors can seep into the bottle. Wherever wine is stored, be sure to keep the bottle on its side, in an area with 70 percent humidity if possible.

Whites, Blush wines, Fruit wines as well as some fruitier reds (like a Gamay), should usually be served substantially cooler. Cooler, but not cold. A range of 11-13C (52-55F) is a good beginning. Colder and you will start to mask the flavors. The average refrigerator is around 4C (40F), so if you cooled your white wines there, remember to not serve immediately after opening. Let the wine sit for 15-20 minutes.

If you need to achieve the proper temperature in a hurry and you don’t have a wine cooling cabinet, a large serving bucket with both water and ice will do. The addition of water helps to keep the ice close to the bottle and also to conduct heat away more effectively. Fifteen to thirty minutes is usually enough.

While the wine is reaching its optimal serving temperature, you can prepare the glasses. The ideal glass for a red wine will have a thin rim, a largish bowl, and a stem with a wide base for holding and stability. Whites are better experienced from a slightly narrower bowled glass. Avoid heavy cut glasses, so that clarity and color can be viewed well.

Of course, glasses should be clean. If they have been sitting in your cupboard for a while, be sure to wash them to remove any dust that may have collected around the rim. Dust will alter the perceived taste. And remember to keep fingerprints away from the rim by holding the glass by the stem. This also prevents the warmth of your hand from changing the temperature of the wine.

While not the most important aspect of wine serving, using the proper shape and size of the wine glass helps to convey the wine to the optimal areas of the tongue and palette for the different types.

Now you are ready to start pouring.

Using a corkscrew that fits your hand well, try to insert it into the cork at a slight angle to get more pulling leverage. Once the spiral is fully inserted, give the handles or the corkscrew a little jerk — dynamic friction is less than static. Be careful not to splinter the cork into the bottle.

Decant any heavier reds (port or older wines) that show evidence of sediment by allowing them to settle, then pour carefully. You may even wish to use a cheesecloth. Allow these wines, as well as most red wines, to breathe (i.e. remain open to air) for several minutes up to two hours. Just uncorking the bottle is not enough while there will be just a limited air contact with the wine surface in the bottle neck.

Pour no more than one third to half a glass to leave plenty of room for swirling and sniffing once the bouquet has collected in the upper half of the glass.

Now it’s time for the most important step: taste!

Wine storage tips

This article was so close to what I wanted to write that I borrowed it and modified it.

Wine, like anything else, changes over time. It is therefore important to produce desirable changes and avoid harmful ones. You can do this by controlling the air, temperature, light, vibration, and humidity of the storage space interacting with the wine.

Nothing spoils good wine faster than too much air. This not only causes it to lose freshness but, more importantly, it causes the wine to oxidize. This results in premature aging and before long, you have vinegar instead of wine. Fortunately, glass is impermeable to air and a good cork will keep air exchange to a minimum for years.To get proper aging, all wine has some air in the bottle to begin with. After you have bottled the wine, the air that is introduced in the wine due to the handling needs to be worked out past and through the cork. Excess of air (oxygen) will oxidize your wine taking away its pleasant fruity flavor in return for a nasty smell. For this reason leave your bottles a week to 10 days upright in the box.

After that it’s important to ensure the cork remains moist so no additional air is allowed to enter the bottle. That’s why it’s advised to store your wine horizontally to keep the cork from cracking or shrinking, thus admitting unwanted air. In addition, storing wine at around 70 percent humidity will help to keep the cork properly moistened (too low humidity dries it out; higher humidity encourages growth of mold and mildew.

The importance of the cork in a wine bottle is often underestimated, it does play a major role in ensuring your wine stays fresh and ages properly.

Proper temperature is another major factor is ensuring your wine stays drinkable before you open it. If a wine is stored in conditions that are too cold, it causes the cork to shrink (thus letting in air). If the conditions are too warm, the wine will age faster than it should.

The optimum temperature for storing wine is 10-12°C (50 to 55°F). However, any constant temperature within 5-18°C  (40-65°F) is acceptable. Many people store their wine in cellars to maintain these temperatures. Small collections can be kept in wine cabinets, which come in all sizes and styles to fit your personal tastes.

Even more important that the actual temperature is the rate of temperature change. A ten degree change over a season is harmless, but frequent and rapid changes can severely damage wine, even when stored within the desired range.

Along with controlling temperature and humidity, light exposure should be kept to a minimum. Though modern bottles have good UV filters, some can still penetrate — leading to a condition called ’light struck’. This shows up as an unpleasant aroma. Incandescent bulbs produce less ultraviolet light than fluorescents, so the former are preferable.

Vibration interferes with aging and stirs up sediments. Try to avoid moving bottles until ready to be served.

Interestingly, bottle size also plays a part in storing wine (albeit a rather small part). A larger bottle has a smaller ratio of air to wine so when you can, purchase or use a larger bottle. Once the bottle has been opened and if you don’t expect to consume the remainder in a few days, I would suggest that you transfer the leftover wine to a smaller bottle or use a vacuum pump and store cold.

Generally speaking, if you’re a casual drinker (not a collector) and drink your wine within one year after purchase, you can store wine just about anywhere that is not exposed to light or heat (basement, closet, pantry, under the sink).

Suggested aging

It is a misconception that the longer the wine is aged the better. The opposite is not true either.

As a general rule, white wines need less aging than red wines. To obtain a balanced aroma (nose) and taste (mouth), wines from different kit sizes that are just bottled require different time to age.


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