Buying wine for topping up

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distancerunner

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We're faced with an unusual problem this year. We've run out of glassware and need to top up.

Normally we go through the supply of carboys and jugs and make decisions as to how we'll divide the wines into the containers. Not an option this year. At least, not without causing ourselves a lot of extra work. Before anyone suggests buying more carboys of any size, we're also out of cellar room.

There are 19 liter carboys that require three or four liters. It's a lot of wine to buy.

Short aside: I went to the State Store (Pennsylvania is a control state) to look at box wine. Franzia, Black Box, etc. I reached for one and thought, "If I put a lesser wine in our wine, won't the quality go down?" Bought a couple of bottles for the table and went home.

What do you buy for top up wine? Cheapest thing you can find? Grand Cru or Classico? Something in between?
 
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I only buy and add what I would be willing to drink, if I wasn't using it for top-up. That being said, I also rack and don't worry much about picking up "SOME" sediment at every racking, until the last one before any filtering/bottling. If it fell out once, it will fall out again.

And I haven't found much in a box that I am willing to drink. Costco used to have a Malbec in a box that was pretty durn good, but alas, no longer.
 
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I agree with @cmason1957 -- never use an inferior wine. You are very unlikely to improve a wine by blending in a lesser wine.

When looking at the cost of topup wine, look first at the investment you have in the carboys that need topup. Protecting those wines is first priority.

@MisterEd's suggestion to blend a carboy into the others is your lowest cost solution. You don't have to buy anything extra.

I use Vivinio (cell phone app) and salesman advice to choose topup wines, looking for the lowest cost wine that I like the best. If you buy a case, a lot of places offer a discount in the USA.

Marbles need to be lead-free, so unless you're positive, don't use 'em. Insert gas is a risk, as you have no idea how much the gas has displaced normal air, and won't know you're wrong until it's too late. Topping up with wine is as risk-free as you can get.
 

distancerunner

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Is it possible to make a blend with the carboys needing more wine? Otherwise you can try marbles or something else inert to take up the space.

Yes. It's possible to blend. However, we want to hold off until a month to six weeks before bottling to do so. If we have no other choice we may have to do just that.

A couple of gallons of marbles? Might as well buy more carboys and deal with the wrath for storing them in the kitchen. It would be way cheaper.
 

jburtner

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I make extra and use 6/5/3/1/0.5 gallon carboys and 750ml bottles to store bulk aging varietals and any top-up blend plus 750's i've made...

By bottling time I'll have topped-down some wines into 5g or 3g carboys that started in 6g and have a few 750ml blends corked on the side tor any top use...

It's the musical carboy game and some of it ends up in me belly along the way too :)

Cheers!
-johann
 
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Yes. It's possible to blend. However, we want to hold off until a month to six weeks before bottling to do so. If we have no other choice we may have to do just that.

A couple of gallons of marbles? Might as well buy more carboys and deal with the wrath for storing them in the kitchen. It would be way cheaper.

That's always a tough one though buying more carboys is probably the least expensive solution. I have almost 40 carboys from 7 to 2.5 gallons. As of now I only have 2 - 3 gal, 3 - 2.5 gal and 3 - 5 gal left and had to rack the wines several times to find the right size carboy. I think the blending suggestion might have been combining the leftovers from the carboy s and combine the wines for topping up. Not knowing what size carboys you have or the amount of the different varietals makes it hard to recommend a solution. The only reference you make is 19 liter and if that is the only size you have it would create a problem.
 
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I'm not sure how relevant this is to the OP but this is my strategy. I have various size carboys of 6.5/6/5/3 and 1 gal. Early this year I made a double batch of a cheap Chilean Merlot. I wanted to experiment with a couple of tweaks and have a decent top-up option. It yielded a 6 gal and a 5 gal batch. I first bottled 10 750ml's from the 5 gal and the rest fit nicely into a 3 gal. I then bottled the 3 gal and yielded 15 more bottles to use for topping. This past weekend I bottled the remaining 6 gal so I have 30 more now. I currently have a double Cab batch bulk aging in a 6.5 and a 5. I have only topped up the 6.5, leaving the 5 gal jug pure. The 6.5 has about 3 liters of Merlot in it now so I'll be interested to see how they differ when ready to drink. I have used much of the Merlot for topping up and the only flaw in the strategy so far is that my wife has come to really like the Merlot and is starting to open bottles of it just to drink. :ib
 

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One other consideration is that it is not like the wine you buy for topping up is wasted or anything. You will drink it eventually! So this suggests buying a wine of quality comparable to the wine you made. If you need to buy 6 bottles of something similar, well, it is a lot of wine to buy, but you will drink those 6 bottles later!
 

Sailor323

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I used to use Bota Box wines for topping up. I figured that the small amount needed wouldn't affect the wine significantly.
 
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I have run into this situation a couple of times and have so far, topped off with as good a boxed wine Merlot as I could find. I did rack my 6-gallon ferment to a 5 gallon (filled) and the 1 gallon topped off with the box wine...probably .6-gallon Nebbiolo and .4-gallon Merlot (I'm really curious how that will taste). I hated to do it, but I didn't have a .5-gallon jug around. I have discounted the marble idea. It may be good for adding an inch or two to top off, but for a litre or more...no thanks. I believe the rule of thumb is 3 lbs of marbles to 1 litre of top off area.

I like the idea of vinting a 6-gallon Merlot and using that as top off in the future. I'm sure it will be better than the box wine, but not all box wines are bad in my view. Not real tasty, but not bad.

That said, I have a question: When racking off a 6-gallon juice or kit from primary fermentation, and knowing some of it will be lost, are you starting off your fermentation with a bit more 'must' to make up for the difference to (mostly) fill a secondary ferment in a 6-gallon carboy? Or, are you not topping off the secondary?

I've seen secondary aging not topped off in a 6-gallon carboy with upwards of 1/2 gallon of air in the carboy and been told that there are no repercussions in not topping off secondary ferments as the CO2 still being created will displace any air....that, and the airlock will keep out the O2. Plus, the short time in secondary (usually 2 weeks or so) will be okay.

In aging, yes, definitely fill to the necks...no matter the size.
 
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That said, I have a question: When racking off a 6-gallon juice or kit from primary fermentation, and knowing some of it will be lost, are you starting off your fermentation with a bit more 'must' to make up for the difference to (mostly) fill a secondary ferment in a 6-gallon carboy? Or, are you not topping off the secondary?
IF you bottle on the kit schedule (4 to 8 weeks), most kit instructions state you do not need to top up. If you are racking carefully, a 23 liter kit is down 1 to 2 bottles (750 ml to 1.5 l). I had trouble believing this, but numerous members have said they do it with no ill effects, and I believe them.

23 liter kits are designed to be reconstituted to exactly 23 liters. For years I shorted the water to concentrate the flavors a bit more, but in recent years I had several kits that came out acidic. Which makes sense, as shorting the water throws the kit out of balance.

Similarly, adding too much water dilutes the flavors, throwing the kit out of balance in the opposite direction. When buying kits from reputable vendors, reconstitute to the recommended level.

In the past I used 19 liter carboys and put the excess in a variety of containers. I just purchased my first 23 liter carboy and will move a FWK Chardonnay into it at the next racking, and will top with a nice tasting Chardonnay I purchased for this purpose. I rarely bottle on kit schedule and I'm much happier with the carboy topped, anyway. This avoids having to mess around with numerous containers and a sea of airlocks.

When working with fresh grapes and fruit, it's not so easy, so I may have a variety of containers. But I now use the same method -- at one racking I was short about 2 inches of wine in a 1.5 liter bottle ... so I topped it with a Merlot, and took the remainder of that bottle upstairs for dinner.
 

sour_grapes

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I have run into this situation a couple of times and have so far, topped off with as good a boxed wine Merlot as I could find. I did rack my 6-gallon ferment to a 5 gallon (filled) and the 1 gallon topped off with the box wine...probably .6-gallon Nebbiolo and .4-gallon Merlot (I'm really curious how that will taste). I hated to do it, but I didn't have a .5-gallon jug around. I have discounted the marble idea. It may be good for adding an inch or two to top off, but for a litre or more...no thanks. I believe the rule of thumb is 3 lbs of marbles to 1 litre of top off area.

I like the idea of vinting a 6-gallon Merlot and using that as top off in the future. I'm sure it will be better than the box wine, but not all box wines are bad in my view. Not real tasty, but not bad.

That said, I have a question: When racking off a 6-gallon juice or kit from primary fermentation, and knowing some of it will be lost, are you starting off your fermentation with a bit more 'must' to make up for the difference to (mostly) fill a secondary ferment in a 6-gallon carboy? Or, are you not topping off the secondary?

I've seen secondary aging not topped off in a 6-gallon carboy with upwards of 1/2 gallon of air in the carboy and been told that there are no repercussions in not topping off secondary ferments as the CO2 still being created will displace any air....that, and the airlock will keep out the O2. Plus, the short time in secondary (usually 2 weeks or so) will be okay.

In aging, yes, definitely fill to the necks...no matter the size.

When I have a choice (i.e., fresh grapes or juice), I start with extra to allow for topping a carboy. With a kit, I don't have a choice, so I resign myself to topping off (using commercial wine or old stock of homemade).
 

distancerunner

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Scrounged up a couple of threes and ones. And a couple of growlers, a few 1500's and a 750.

Everything is safe, sound, and under airlock. Not a drop of store bought was added.

This is going to be a royal pain to cold stabilize, from a where-the-heck-do-we-put-it-all stand point. A lot of little bottles take up a lot of real estate.

Opened a recently bottled second wine from 2020 to celebrate.
 

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