Unimpressed with top line kits?

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baron4406

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Since our local wineries are pumping out some great wines, I really made an effort last year to see how I could ratchet up my grape wine quality. So I went hog wild on some top of line kits, mainly WE-Eclipse and RJS kits. The WE Malbec and RJS Old Vine Zin are 15 months old so I decanted one of each and had a little tasting session. I was excited because Old Vine Zin is my favorite varietal. Well to say I was disappointed would be an understatement and I wasn't alone. No bad flavors but both tasted......like a juice bucket. No real structure, no nose.....nothing. I also have an Amarone, Nebbiolo, and a Stag's Leap Merlot. The Merlot is still in a carboy and it really has no flavor either. I made them all with better yeast (RC212 and BM 4X4) and skipped the sorbate. Also did 8 week EM's on all the kits. I store them in my cellar, under the stairs where its dark and 63-65 degrees year round.
Am I expecting too much? Each of these kits was $150 to $180. I really thought they would at least have a bit of flavor and structure. I'm probably uncorking all 4 cases and turning them into brandy to salvage it. Tonight I'm gonna try the Amarone and Nebbiolo and hoping for the best.
 

FunkedOut

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That’s disheartening. I just started an RJS Malbec with RC212 and was hoping for glory.
Hopefully, you have a better pallet than me, and I will find my wine delicious.

Not sure how to help. Maybe try blending a couple bottles in the glass?
You could leave some around for making sangria if that’s your thing.

Curious, which Zin kit did you make? The cru international or the en primeur?
 

baron4406

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It was an RJS En Primeur kit. It wasn't just me I had two friends who were both winemakers testing them too. Sorry I just expected more. Both of them used me as a tester to see if they wanted to make these kits too. Guys then broke into my prized 2017 Syrah (all grape-central valley). The kits do have excellent mouth feel tho just zero taste like you usually get with the juice buckets.
 

LouisCKpasteur

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The only kit I've done that you've named is the Nebbiolo. Can you report back on that when you taste it? A professional winemaker tasted it at nine weeks and gave it a thumbs up. He may have been just being nice. I had a few ounces at 9 months, was satisfied with the taste, but not the nose. I've noticed on some of the premium kits that I have a pretty long decanting period to get any kind of nose. The Eclipse Nocturne (GSM plus Cinsault) kit I started in July '17 and entered in this year's Winemaker Magazine Int'l Contest won a bronze, even though I thought I wasting my time because the nose just wasn't impressive. Hopefully get my notes on that soon.
 

ibglowin

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A small barrel will help with some micro oxidation and concentration. I made kits for about 2 years and then went in on fresh grapes only after that except for white wines. You can get a pretty good white wine from a high end kit. I wouldn't dump them, just let them keep aging. High end kits need 2 years to come around usually.
 

baron4406

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I've heard people say that but if its tasteless now how is it going to improve? I have the space and if it needs to sit another 6 months I can let it do it.
 

ibglowin

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Time is your friend in this hobby/obsession. The barrel can do some amazing things to open up a wine with the micro oxidation that goes on. You could also go back and add some tannin to it. It can be added right into the bottle if you have a micro balance to accurately weigh out the right amount. You just need a fresh cork to recork with. I learned early on kits they were lacking much tannin and that was my first addition used for all reds.

I've heard people say that but if its tasteless now how is it going to improve? I have the space and if it needs to sit another 6 months I can let it do it.
 

sour_grapes

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I opened a WE Stag's Leap Merlot the other day (that had tannins added as the tweak), and it was the equal of a ~$15 commercial wine. I was happy. My WE Nebbiolo and CC Amarone were in the same league. Lots (most?) of my others are not as good as that.
 

jgmann67

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I tweak all my kits anymore - EM’s, tannins, yeast swaps, no clarifiers or sorbate, added French and Hungarian oak... for my taste, the kits are much better with my tweakery. And, yes, I’d put them on par with decent commercial wines ($15-20 bottles). But someone on here rated the resulting wine quality in a good-better-best as kits-buckets-grapes. I agree.

I’ll also say that your wines are still very young at 15 months. They will continue to improve for another couple years. I’d say leave them alone and taste again every three months.

My Eclipse Nebbiolo kit, btw, is 2 years old right now and, while it’s still got a ways to go until it hits its peak, is very good. I get all the smokey tar, floral and tannin that you get with a decent Barolo. Imagine what it will be like at 3 or 4 years.
 
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mainshipfred

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I realize it's more work, there are greater risks and everyone doesn't have a source, but 3 lugs of a quality red grape is about the same cost as a quality kit. While whites are another story a juice bucket at $50 - $60 is is far less expensive than a white kit. I stopped making kits after my 4th batch and now much happier with the results. The nice thing about kits is you can make them 12 months out of the year rather than twice a year.
 

Chuck E

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Time is your friend in this hobby/obsession. The barrel can do some amazing things to open up a wine with the micro oxidation that goes on. You could also go back and add some tannin to it. It can be added right into the bottle if you have a micro balance to accurately weigh out the right amount. You just need a fresh cork to recork with. I learned early on kits they were lacking much tannin and that was my first addition used for all reds.
What is your "normal" tannin addition on reds?
 

joeswine

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Here is my take on itwine kits need to be worked, juice needs to be worked, unless the base has a good structure they need tweaking and time weather you use oak, barrels, tannins, berries etc,. You need to understand the wines profile from that point you can make a cheap kit decent, a thin but key better and understand that all the time in the world in a cask bottle or carboy will not improve the base straight up.
You need to read up on the wines taste profile then design the structure to meet your taste. The results will become more of what you expect.
Just my thoughts and always remember to think outside the box. Most good winemakers do.
 

cmason1957

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I did wonder if fairly young wines are being compared to two or three year old wines. The older wines will always be better. Last night, my wife and I were drinking wine we made in 2016 from a kit. It might not have quite the nose that the commercial wines have, but the body, flavor will stand up to any $15-25 bottle of wine. My cost, under $5,I'll take that any day.
 

crushday

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baron4406 - don't dump that wine! Stop and think about it. You're comparing your wine that is maybe 18 months old since you pitched the yeast against commercial wine that was probably in an oak barrel 18-24 months. You have to do an apple to apple comparison before you get too discouraged. Wine kits produce good wine and they can be great if you add time (you're already doing this) and follow the aging time and medium schedule of your favorite commercial winery. In short, you need barrels and time...
 

baron4406

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Nooooooooooo I don't EVER "dump" wine. I just run it thru my still and make brandy. Its why I'm quick to give up on wine because alot of times I really need the bottles. For example now I have 6.5 Gallons of Petite Syrah to bottle, plus my Stag's Leap Merlot kit. Plus 2 cheap kits I made. UGH

Ok I cracked a bottle of Amarone last night, that was actually decent even though its just over a year old. It had a completely different flavor profile and was actually quite enjoyable.

I have barrels, I just don't have a 6 gallon barrel for kits. This was just an experiment to see if I could have a reliable, steady supply of quality wine since grapes vary in quality so much (the ones home winemakers get at least). It looks like even the expensive kits vary greatly in quality which is totally understandable. My next plan is to drive up to New York and pick my own this fall. They also sell juice but they also sell the skins with the juice. Still I'm strictly grapes from now on.

What I look for in a "young" wine is potential. However if the wine has zero flavor and zero nose at 1 year old, its not suddenly going to explode with flavor after another year. The wines that improve with time start with flavors that need to round out and mature. I recently drank my last bottle of 2015 Barolo, one of my last juice wines. It tasted like nothing 3 years ago and aging it for 3 years did nothing since there was no flavor to start with.
 
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jsbeckton

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I have also been largely disappointed with premium kits. The tweaks have helped but still there are only a few that I think are really good. That’s why I started an all grape batch this spring. It’s a lot more work than a kit, but it’s more fun as well. I plan still make a few kits that I have liked but if the grape batches turn out really well I can see myself just giving up on kits altogether.
 

kuziwk

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Since our local wineries are pumping out some great wines, I really made an effort last year to see how I could ratchet up my grape wine quality. So I went hog wild on some top of line kits, mainly WE-Eclipse and RJS kits. The WE Malbec and RJS Old Vine Zin are 15 months old so I decanted one of each and had a little tasting session. I was excited because Old Vine Zin is my favorite varietal. Well to say I was disappointed would be an understatement and I wasn't alone. No bad flavors but both tasted......like a juice bucket. No real structure, no nose.....nothing. I also have an Amarone, Nebbiolo, and a Stag's Leap Merlot. The Merlot is still in a carboy and it really has no flavor either. I made them all with better yeast (RC212 and BM 4X4) and skipped the sorbate. Also did 8 week EM's on all the kits. I store them in my cellar, under the stairs where its dark and 63-65 degrees year round.
Am I expecting too much? Each of these kits was $150 to $180. I really thought they would at least have a bit of flavor and structure. I'm probably uncorking all 4 cases and turning them into brandy to salvage it. Tonight I'm gonna try the Amarone and Nebbiolo and hoping for the best.
The cellar Craft showcase kits are stellar, I made a carmenere of which I have about 9 bottles left. I have bought several bottles when I was in Mexico, one was 330 pesos and the one I made was much better. The thing you have to keep in mind I think is that not everyone likes some of the more tannic grapes. The kit manufacturers are very conservative on their tannins, I've been adding some tannin cellaring complex to even my high end kits and it makes a huge difference. I'm also looking into getting an oak barrel down the road, however I feel the tannin complex from Scott tan is likely the missing link to a more commerical red. You should also not expect a $60 bottle from these kits. I think at most you are in the $35 range. If you think about it, the best grapes wineries keep for themselves and don't sell them. Why would they give out their secrets?
 

baron4406

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Thanks for your post! I still have my Stag's Leap Merlot in a carboy and do have some Tannin Riche Extra laying around but I'm not sure how good that stuff is.
 

jgmann67

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Thanks for your post! I still have my Stag's Leap Merlot in a carboy and do have some Tannin Riche Extra laying around but I'm not sure how good that stuff is.
If I have TRE in my stocks, I will hit a hearty red with it about 3-6 months before bottling. Seems to smooth the wine out a bit.
 
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