best way to ensure some sweetness (and fruit flavor) in finished product?

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wine newbee

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It's been a while; I hope all's good for you folks in wine-land.

My 1st batch of wine, 2 years ago, was with muscadines. I didn't want the usual super-sweet stuff, but ended up with a super-dry batch. "Not bad" for a first try, the old hands told me. But (I'm sure) not great either.

My second batch (another muscadine variety) was a little less dry, but still not sweet enough to catch any fruit flavors.

I just sampled my 3rd effort -- paw paw wine -- yesterday. Hmmmm ... just as dry as the other batches, and no paw paw taste at all. All I could pick up was alcohol.

SO -- what do I do with this year's grapes, so I can have a muscadine wine with some sweetness and flavor, but not cloying sugariness? I'd prefer not to "back-sweeten", as some suggested. I think I'd maybe compromise sanitization if I went that route.

I was told by somebody I should use enough sugar so that the alcohol level in fermentation would go to ~15-16%, killing the yeast and stopping sugar use by the yeast.

OK: how do I plan for that? I mean, what's the calculation? If I have 22 lb if grapes, and am using the Lalvin 71B (I was told that was the way to go with muscadines), how much sugar would I use? How much water, for that matter?

You can tell I'm still a little foggy with all of this.

Thanks much for any feedback .....

Mitch
 
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Tim3

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You’ve got 4 options. As you mentioned you can backsweeten or have such a high starting brix your yeast can’t ferment it all. You also could chill your wine to stop yeast activity and filter, or add brandy to the point where the alcohol kills the yeast (like port). Of all these options, commercial wine makers will usually choose the chill and filter method. While home winemakers will usually choose the backsweeten method (let it ferment dry, add sorbate, and then use bench trials to add a sugar water solution, or clarified grape juice, to taste).
 

Chuck E

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I have never been able to "kill the yeast" with alcohol and arrive at desired a sweetness. Too much alcohol always overwhelms the taste of the wine for me. I use an app called FermCalc to arrive at optimum sugar and water amounts. You can backsweeten with other ingredients besides sugar. Stabilize with potassium sorbate before backsweetening. Try fruit juices or fruit juice concentrates as the sweetener. I do bench trials to make my wine taste the way I want it to.
 
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Starting with a high gravity may -- or may not -- work as a yeast rated for 15% ABV may hit its limit at 14% or 16%. The rating is an average so you will get variation by batch. Plus you have to want a high octane wine.

Adding spirits has the same problem -- do you want a high octane wine? Freezing is very inexact as fermentation doesn't stop instantly -- commercial wineries can do with because they have many barrels, and can blend high and low sugar barrels to get the exact point they want.

This leaves backsweetening. Start with the SG you want to result in a desired ABV. Add sorbate + sulfite to prevent a renewed fermentation, then (as @salcoco recommended) conduct bench trials to see what level of sugar tastes best.

IME bone-dry Muscadine/Scuppernong is astringent and unpleasant. It needs a bit of sugar to bring out the fruit.

Another option is glycerin -- adding 1/2 to 1 oz per gallon will soften the astringency, although with Muscadines you may need sugar as well. Conduct bench trials and see what works.
 

Rice_Guy

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@Tim3 points to four tools, I would add more, 5) add enough acid to drop the pH to 2.7,,,, 6) pasteurize the wine like apple cider folks do

Back sweeten/ Sanitation? , my experience is the yeast is inactive in a year so I don’t use sorbate, at nine months sometimes they are active up usually not, at six months age the yeast are active

as with others on this list I find it extremely hard to stop a fermentation.
 

wine newbee

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You’ve got 4 options. As you mentioned you can backsweeten or have such a high starting brix your yeast can’t ferment it all. You also could chill your wine to stop yeast activity and filter, or add brandy to the point where the alcohol kills the yeast (like port). Of all these options, commercial wine makers will usually choose the chill and filter method. While home winemakers will usually choose the backsweeten method (let it ferment dry, add sorbate, and then use bench trials to add a sugar water solution, or clarified grape juice, to taste).

Hey, Tim; I ... have never heard of "bench trials". Should I google that, or can you give me a short/sweet description?
Thx....

Mitch
 
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@wine newbee, you have a common misunderstanding of air exposure. In a recent post I went into some detail:


Bench trials or testing is small scale tests to determine something. For backsweetening, put 2 oz wine in several glasses and add increasing amounts of sugar syrup to each. Taste to see which one you like best, and scale the amount of sugar to sweeten the entire batch.

If you have sanitized all equipment and are using good hygiene, your risk is minimal.

For backsweetening, I use a different method -- I add small amounts of sugar or syrup to a batch, stir well, and taste. Repeat until I think it needs just a bit more, at which point I stop. This method has the drawback that if you oversweeten the wine, it's really hard to take the sugar out. Use this method at your own risk.
 

Tom914-6

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Hey everyone, neewbie here and I did the back sweetening on a batch of apple wine. I stopped the fermentation like winemaker81 said to do and then added some apple concentrate and used wine conditioner. I put some in a half gallon bottle and added until it was almost sweet enough and almost the right apple flavor. Everyone who tasted it thinks it's pretty good. We also did a small batch of grape and plum. We mixed the two together then added some pure grape juice my wife made from our grapes and some sugar. It is absolutely excellent tasting wine. We plan on back sweetening most of our wine. Not all and not all to the same degree. I am tempted to use a bottle of Japanese plum wine in my 5 gallon batch of plum. We will see, right now the plum wine is very high alcohol content taste and that is not what I am shooting for. I am going to rack it again and let it age for another month or so. I may bottle my peach wine this weekend and just try to back sweeten without any added peach taste.
 

wine newbee

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@wine newbee, you have a common misunderstanding of air exposure. In a recent post I went into some detail:


Bench trials or testing is small scale tests to determine something. For backsweetening, put 2 oz wine in several glasses and add increasing amounts of sugar syrup to each. Taste to see which one you like best, and scale the amount of sugar to sweeten the entire batch.

If you have sanitized all equipment and are using good hygiene, your risk is minimal.

For backsweetening, I use a different method -- I add small amounts of sugar or syrup to a batch, stir well, and taste. Repeat until I think it needs just a bit more, at which point I stop. This method has the drawback that if you oversweeten the wine, it's really hard to take the sugar out. Use this method at your own risk.

Hi; my background is in micro. I guess you could say I see things through the lens of bacterial/viral contamination. In the environments I'm used to working in, you keep any "fresh air" contact with any medium to .... a minimum. Maybe this doesn't apply to wine. Is there the possibility the alcohol content of the wine zaps some negative bugs out there (fungi, bacT, molds, etc)?

Mitch
 

Rice_Guy

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yes, wine is what I would call a multi variable preservation system.
Over 5% keeps a lot of families out
pH below 4.0 keeps lots of families out, ,,, as well as being anaerobic and free SO2 and having no sugar to metabolize and available nitrogen and sorbate , ,,,, and what else lots of organisms excrete metabolites, ,,,, the rules are complicated since changing one variable as pH also influences the efficiency of other preservatives in wine.
Hi; my background is in micro. I guess you could say I see things through the lens of bacterial/viral contamination. In the environments I'm used to working in, you keep any "fresh air" contact with any medium to .... a minimum. Maybe this doesn't apply to wine. Is there the possibility the alcohol content of the wine zaps some negative bugs out there (fungi, bacT, molds, etc)?

edit, ,,,, the food poisoning risk can be ignored, the real risk is oxidation which is nontoxic chemicals like acetaldehyde or ethyl acetate
 
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I figured @Rice_Guy would chime in. 🙂

Once fermentation completes, the biggest danger is O2. Limiting head space and keeping air exposure to minutes (instead of hours, days, or weeks) is a big safeguard.

SO2 makes a huge difference, as many things that can survive the alcohol or acid, have trouble with SO2.

EDIT: had to fix the wording, as even I wasn't sure what I was saying ......
 

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As with so many questions you have received a number of answers. As always though, the simplest is the the safest and best route.

- Plan your desired ABV, add sugar, if needed to hit your desired starting SG, ferment dry, then back-sweeten to taste., preferably shortly before bottling not right after fermentation ends. That way your going to get a more accurate sweetness as well as picking the ABV at the start.
- Anything that involves trying to stop a ferment is a gamble, if you fail to actually kill ALL the yeast, fermentation can restart or wild yeast in the air can restart it.
- Over feeding it is also guess work as yeast doesn't always ferment fully dry so you could get super sweet wine or an ABV that make your wine into jet fuel.
- Adding Brandy is introducing other flavors and that might not result in the wine you really want.

Back-sweetening is much safer and easier. Any wine with residual sugar or sugar added after ferment is going to need K-Sorbate anyway so back-sweetening avoids guess work and yeilds a more accurate outcome in most cases.

Just my personal opinion, but; I like simpler methods that avoid or reduce the chances of errors or bad outcomes.
 
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