“Raisin Riesling”

By , February 3, 2012

With great pride, and no little relief, I feel justified in announcing a success in our efforts to make wine at home. Recently, I decided to try our “weakest” batch, one that had the highest odds stacked against it.

a glass of "raisin riesling"

"Young" raisin riesling in garage sale crystal. Cloudy, but delicious! (Photo: Mark Zeiger.)

We prefer red wines, so we’ve discussed the possibility of coloring cottage wines if necessary. After all, perception adds flavor almost as much as anything else. If it looks like red wine, we’re more likely to think it tastes like red wine, reality notwithstanding.

Our choice for dye seemed obvious: beets. Beet juice will color just about anything a deep, satisfying burgundy, and with their high sugar content, they’re likely to contribute to the wine making process in addition to adding color. After all, people make beet wine. We have plenty of beets from last year’s garden, and decided that if we were to experiment, we’d best do it earlier in the fermenting process rather than later.

We cooked beets for dinner one night, and I drew a carafe of the young wine, first to sample, then to color.

The wine in question is a “second batch” raisin wine. After racking our first batch of raisin wine, I decided to try another batch from the two pounds of minced raisins remaining.

After about a week, I’d begun to think it wasn’t doing well, but after I’d racked it, the yeast seemed to take off, coating the side of the secondary fermentation jug with fat CO2 bubbles. Still, the liquid appeared thin and pale. If we were going to try coloring wine, this one seemed a likely candidate.

It worked great. Michelle cooked the beets without salt so that we could add the juice directly to a glass of the wine. It colored it beautifully, and, even immediately after adding the juice, the flavor was excellent. The beet juice’s flavor barely registered, but adding it changed the character of the wine, making it smoother and fuller bodied.

On the other hand, the untreated wine had charms of its own. We logged the results of our dyeing experiment, but decided to leave the wine alone.

Even though I prefer red wine, I’ve always been fond of Columbia Cellarmaster’s Riesling. When we moved to the homestead, we brought a case of it with us. I eked it out over several years. Now, it’s just a fond memory.

At its current young stage, the second-pressing raisin wine evokes memories of that riesling, with similar flavors and a light carbonation. We hadn’t thought to try to make anything like a riesling, but we stumbled on to it nevertheless. I tried the second batch as an experiment, hoping to extract maximum value from the raisins. I had little hope of success. I had no idea that I would create what we will now refer to as “raisin riesling.”


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