What's a good process for bringing our plum wine to taste?

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Wouter

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Background

How we made our first plum wine batch
Last year we moved to a house with a plum tree that treated us generously with ripe and tasty fruit. We froze the leftover fruit (about 20kg) and turned it mid-winter into the beginnings of plum wine. Adding about 12kg (26.5 lbs) of sugar, we ended up with around 40 litres (approx. 10 gallons) with an alcohol percentage of about 14%. The mixture has had enough time to settle and get clear, and the harshest edge of the alcohol is starting to mellow.

The current taste
When we taste the plum wine in its current state, it seems that there is little to no sugar left. I don't think it's an unpleasant taste (my wife and co-winemaker disagrees), but it doesn't feel like a fresh summery fruit wine just yet! We've done some simple experiments mixing lemon juice and sugar into a glass of it, and it gets more interesting that way. Adding some (sparkly) water to reduce the alcohol percentage also seems to fit the subtle plum taste better.

Question(s) on bringing the plum wine to taste

I've bought a few ingredients to try and bring the current strong but flat plum wine into more palatable territory. These include:
  • Tannins from sweet chestnut
  • Tartaric acid
  • Malic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Regular sugar
This is our first time making fruit wine, so I have no idea what the best process is to bring our current creation to a pleasant taste. I imagine we would take small samples (100ml or so) of the wine to experiment with, adding ingredients bit by bit to see when we like it, or when a specific ingredient gets too prominent. But in what order would one add and taste these kinds of ingredients? For example, do you do the sweetening last, or actually first? The same for the other ingredients. And should we experiment with all the acids, are they more or less the same, or is using an equal-parts blend a fine way to get started? Anything we should keep in mind in the way these ingredients may actually change in flavour over time? (A side note: I think we'll bottle the wine at the current alcohol percentage, but dilute it a bit with water/sparkling depending on the mood or occasion)

Any tips and experiences are very welcome!
I hope this explanation was clear, but if you need to know anything more to give answers, please let me know.

Many thanks in advance!

P.S. I've searched on this forum and online for a good "bringing to taste" process for plum wine, but couldn't find any. If you have a good resource on or beyond this site, that would be great too!
 

Ohio Bob

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So your implying you don’t think it disagreeable, but two others feel it is disagreeable? What do they feel it lacks, or is overwhelmed by some other flavor? It’s hard to suggest improvements without knowing more about what it tastes like or what it doesn’t taste like.

You mentioned adding lemon juice. Perhaps blending in tarter wines, like blackberry, sour cherry, apple cider? In stores near me I’ve seen 375ml bottles of cranberry, apple cider, etc. I assume they are beer strength and not wines. But it might send you in a direction of “is this the taste I’m looking for”.

Blending with other wines, syrups, sugar, etc are best done after the wine has cleared and would be otherwise ready to bottle if not for the flavor. Another few weeks, or month of aging before bottling is recommended in case any sugar you just added restarts a fermentation.

Welcome! I’m 25% Danish, my mor mor was from Denmark.
 

CortneyD

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The advice I've always gotten with fruit wines is that a bit of sugar will bring the fruit flavors out and round out any sharp flavors, so I would personally start there with a bench test of 1:1 sugar water in varying measures to a standard volume of your wine. See where you end up with that and if you get close enough to where you like. Then you can play with other additives to tinker further. Good luck!
 

Rojoguio

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I can't comment to this except as written in my other plum wine posts the yeast I used extract a bitter taste from the skins I wish it had not done. To that I add the exception, I added a 2:1 cane sugar syrup that mask the bitterness to my sample but also mask the plum pulp subtle taste. The same taste I desired to intensify. So I will be bottling later this week using a "Wine Conditioner" to back sweeten the plum wine instead of cane sugar. Personally the wine conditioner did a better job in my sample. I hope this is of use.
 

Raptor99

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Welcome to WMT! A good wine has a balance between alcohol, acid, tannins, and sugar. All of these should be adjusted to bring out the fruit flavor, and not cover it up. I usually try to adjust them in this order:

1. Alcohol
I find that about 12% ABV works well for most fruit wines. Some on this forum make higher alcohol wines. In that case, it is best to use mostly fruit and very little water to keep a strong fruit flavor. A higher alcohol level might require a bit more sugar to taste balanced.

2. Acid
A pH meter is very helpful. What is the current pH (or TA) of your wine? If it needs more acid, you have your choice of what kind of acid to add. I usually try to add the same type of acid present in the fruit, e.g. citric for blueberries, malic for apples. Plums have malic and tartaric acid (https://www.hawkinswatts.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Natural-Acids-of-Fruits-and-Vegetables.pdf), so you could use a blend of those. Lemon juice would not be my first choice for plum wine, because it contributes mainly citric acid. But it is great with blueberry wine. As much as possible, I try to adjust the acid levels at the very beginning. But you can adjust them later if needed.

3. Tannins:
Tannins help to add complexity to the flavor and also protect the wine from oxidation, but they usually take a while to integrate into the wine and require a bit more aging. Plums have some tannins, especially in the skins (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/347808908_Soluble_tannins_in_plum_fruit_Prunus_domestica_L) but the amount will depend on the type of plum. Do you taste tannins in your wine? One of the skills I have needed to develop is to educate my palette to distinguish between the "bite" of alcohol vs tannins vs acid in my wine. I usually add some powdered tannin in primary, and then if I want more tannin, I use oak chips in secondary/aging. I've never tried sweet chestnuts, but that sounds like an interesting way to add some tannin.

4. Body
You can increase the "body" of wine by adding glycerin or lactose (not lactic acid). Either will increase body and contribute a small amount of non-fermentable sweetness. Do this before #4 so you can tell how much additional sweetness you need.

5. Sweetness
The sweetness depends on your taste, so experiment as you suggested to find out what you like. Higher acid and tannin will require higher sweetness for balance. Most fruit wines need at least a little sweetness to bring out the fruit flavor. I would do this last, shortly before bottling. You need to stabilize your wine with Potassium Sorbate and Kmeta (Potassium Metabisulfite) before adding sugar so that fermentation does not restart. Simple Syrup (1:1 sugar/water mixture) works well for this.
 

Wouter

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So your implying you don’t think it disagreeable, but two others feel it is disagreeable? What do they feel it lacks, or is overwhelmed by some other flavor? It’s hard to suggest improvements without knowing more about what it tastes like or what it doesn’t taste like.

You mentioned adding lemon juice. Perhaps blending in tarter wines, like blackberry, sour cherry, apple cider? In stores near me I’ve seen 375ml bottles of cranberry, apple cider, etc. I assume they are beer strength and not wines. But it might send you in a direction of “is this the taste I’m looking for”.

Blending with other wines, syrups, sugar, etc are best done after the wine has cleared and would be otherwise ready to bottle if not for the flavor. Another few weeks, or month of aging before bottling is recommended in case any sugar you just added restarts a fermentation.

Welcome! I’m 25% Danish, my mor mor was from Denmark.
Hi @Ohio Bob, I am 0% Danish by genes, but have lived here long enough to feel a decent chunk Danish too!

To clarify:
  • There are only two people involved: my wife is my fellow wine maker :)
  • We both feel the current state of our plum wine has lots of room for improvement. My wife just thinks there is need for more improvement than me.
  • The lemon juice was just and experiment and I don't intend to use it for the actual batch
  • I was more look for a general approach to bringing to taste (like at what stage to try which of the taste adjustments), rather than "this is the taste I have, what should I add".
Great tip on letting the wine age a bit more after adding sugar, just in case fermentation starts again. At the current alcohol level (±14%), which it has been at for months now, I suspect the yeast is dead or no longer able to ferment, but better be safe than sorry?
 

Wouter

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@CortneyD Thank you for sharing your approach!

@Rojoguio Thanks for the tip on Wine Conditioner! Sounds like a good idea to use a more neutral sugar rather than something with a more opinionated taste. I need to taste more carefully to figure out if some of the undesirable flavour is coming from bitterness from plum skin (which we did include) or not.

@Raptor99 Great to see your process in steps! This year I plan to make a stronger tasting version with less added sugar and water (there is such variety in recipes online, it's hard to know where to get started!). The current batch is high in alcohol but with somewhat subtle plum taste, so that may not be an ideal combination. Hence why we're thinking of adding some water, but I figured doing that when we drink it instead of before bottling gives the option to add sparkling, which my wife enjoyed in our initial tastings. A Ph meter sound like a good idea indeed. Any typical value range I should look at? I will need some more practice to tell tannin, acid and alcohol apart, so I'll pay some attention to that. Hadn't looked yet at glycerin/lactose, so I'll look into that, great tip! Regarding stabilising the wine: a camden tablet a day before bottling would work too, right?

@sour_grapes Thanks for the welcome. What a great community you have here! I have so much too learn.
 

Steve Wargo

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Background

How we made our first plum wine batch
Last year we moved to a house with a plum tree that treated us generously with ripe and tasty fruit. We froze the leftover fruit (about 20kg) and turned it mid-winter into the beginnings of plum wine. Adding about 12kg (26.5 lbs) of sugar, we ended up with around 40 litres (approx. 10 gallons) with an alcohol percentage of about 14%. The mixture has had enough time to settle and get clear, and the harshest edge of the alcohol is starting to mellow.

The current taste
When we taste the plum wine in its current state, it seems that there is little to no sugar left. I don't think it's an unpleasant taste (my wife and co-winemaker disagrees), but it doesn't feel like a fresh summery fruit wine just yet! We've done some simple experiments mixing lemon juice and sugar into a glass of it, and it gets more interesting that way. Adding some (sparkly) water to reduce the alcohol percentage also seems to fit the subtle plum taste better.

Question(s) on bringing the plum wine to taste

I've bought a few ingredients to try and bring the current strong but flat plum wine into more palatable territory. These include:
  • Tannins from sweet chestnut
  • Tartaric acid
  • Malic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Regular sugar
This is our first time making fruit wine, so I have no idea what the best process is to bring our current creation to a pleasant taste. I imagine we would take small samples (100ml or so) of the wine to experiment with, adding ingredients bit by bit to see when we like it, or when a specific ingredient gets too prominent. But in what order would one add and taste these kinds of ingredients? For example, do you do the sweetening last, or actually first? The same for the other ingredients. And should we experiment with all the acids, are they more or less the same, or is using an equal-parts blend a fine way to get started? Anything we should keep in mind in the way these ingredients may actually change in flavour over time? (A side note: I think we'll bottle the wine at the current alcohol percentage, but dilute it a bit with water/sparkling depending on the mood or occasion)

Any tips and experiences are very welcome!
I hope this explanation was clear, but if you need to know anything more to give answers, please let me know.

Many thanks in advance!

P.S. I've searched on this forum and online for a good "bringing to taste" process for plum wine, but couldn't find any. If you have a good resource on or beyond this site, that would be great too!
Welcome to the site.
 

Raptor99

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Regarding stabilising the wine: a camden tablet a day before bottling would work too, right?
We usually add a Kmeta (or a Campden tablet) before bottling to help protect the wine from oxidation. But if you plan to backsweeten (i.e. add sugar before bottling), you should also add Potassium Sorbate. Together, the Kmeta and K-Sorbate will prevent the added sugar from re-starting fermentation. That is what is usually called "stabilizing" the wine. If you are not going to backsweeten you don't need the Sorbate but should still add the Kmeta.
 

ryanstimmel

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Add prune juice with potassium sorbate to backsweeten. I recently made plum wine and did a number of tasting trials with different juices. All 5 tasters agreed that the prune juice gave it body and enhanced the flavor of the natural plums. The second best thing was to add sugar, but this did not help to enhance the body of the wine like the prune juice did.
 

Wouter

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We usually add a Kmeta (or a Campden tablet) before bottling to help protect the wine from oxidation. But if you plan to backsweeten (i.e. add sugar before bottling), you should also add Potassium Sorbate. Together, the Kmeta and K-Sorbate will prevent the added sugar from re-starting fermentation. That is what is usually called "stabilizing" the wine. If you are not going to backsweeten you don't need the Sorbate but should still add the Kmeta.
Thank you so much for that clarification, that's very valuable information. I guess the alternative would be using wine conditioner, which includes sorbate (and I'm guessing, already in the right ratio to the sweetener in the mix).
 

Wouter

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Add prune juice with potassium sorbate to backsweeten. I recently made plum wine and did a number of tasting trials with different juices. All 5 tasters agreed that the prune juice gave it body and enhanced the flavor of the natural plums. The second best thing was to add sugar, but this did not help to enhance the body of the wine like the prune juice did.
Interesting suggestion! I hadn't thought yet of using another juice to sweeten. Would you use a highly concentrated prune juice, or just regular juice (that you would drink straight up usually)? Thanks for sharing the result of your taste test :)
 
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I guess the alternative would be using wine conditioner, which includes sorbate (and I'm guessing, already in the right ratio to the sweetener in the mix).
Read the package before buying. I've noticed "wine conditioner" often includes oak extract, so be cautious. I use plain 'ole table sugar, and the sorbate I purchase calls for 1/2 tsp per gallon, along with 1/4 tsp K-meta per 5 gallons.

Would you use a highly concentrated prune juice, or just regular juice (that you would drink straight up usually)?
You should be able to use either, although you'll use less concentrate, which will dilute the wine less.

Note that if there is any sediment in the juice bottle, you'll need to bulk age longer (month?) to let sediment drop. If the juice bottle has no sediment, you can bottle sooner, e.g., I backsweetened an Apple wine with commercial juice and had no sediment in the juice bottle nor the wine bottles.

I've got an Elderberry from extract bulk aging. I'm now considering backsweetening with prune juice concentrate. Depending on how much I add, it will alter the flavor, but as long as the wine comes out good, I'm ok with that.

EDIT: fixed a typo that completely changed the meaning of the last paragraph!
 
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ryanstimmel

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Interesting suggestion! I hadn't thought yet of using another juice to sweeten. Would you use a highly concentrated prune juice, or just regular juice (that you would drink straight up usually)? Thanks for sharing the result of your taste test :)
I just use a regular juice and generally stick with the same kind of juice as the fruit base if using this method. On future wine projects you can also freeze some of the original juice to use it for backsweetening later. That way the flavor is consistent. Wine conditioner is also a very good option because its easy and already has the preservatives mixed in the correct quantities. It also generally improves the fruit flavor. The only caution is that you can take the sweetness too far if you add too much. If using juice for backsweetening, you may want to start with a slightly higher alcohol, since the juice can dilute your ABV% down a little depending on how much you use.
 

Hazelemere

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Background

How we made our first plum wine batch
Last year we moved to a house with a plum tree that treated us generously with ripe and tasty fruit. We froze the leftover fruit (about 20kg) and turned it mid-winter into the beginnings of plum wine. Adding about 12kg (26.5 lbs) of sugar, we ended up with around 40 litres (approx. 10 gallons) with an alcohol percentage of about 14%. The mixture has had enough time to settle and get clear, and the harshest edge of the alcohol is starting to mellow.

The current taste
When we taste the plum wine in its current state, it seems that there is little to no sugar left. I don't think it's an unpleasant taste (my wife and co-winemaker disagrees), but it doesn't feel like a fresh summery fruit wine just yet! We've done some simple experiments mixing lemon juice and sugar into a glass of it, and it gets more interesting that way. Adding some (sparkly) water to reduce the alcohol percentage also seems to fit the subtle plum taste better.

Question(s) on bringing the plum wine to taste

I've bought a few ingredients to try and bring the current strong but flat plum wine into more palatable territory. These include:
  • Tannins from sweet chestnut
  • Tartaric acid
  • Malic acid
  • Citric acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Regular sugar
This is our first time making fruit wine, so I have no idea what the best process is to bring our current creation to a pleasant taste. I imagine we would take small samples (100ml or so) of the wine to experiment with, adding ingredients bit by bit to see when we like it, or when a specific ingredient gets too prominent. But in what order would one add and taste these kinds of ingredients? For example, do you do the sweetening last, or actually first? The same for the other ingredients. And should we experiment with all the acids, are they more or less the same, or is using an equal-parts blend a fine way to get started? Anything we should keep in mind in the way these ingredients may actually change in flavour over time? (A side note: I think we'll bottle the wine at the current alcohol percentage, but dilute it a bit with water/sparkling depending on the mood or occasion)

Any tips and experiences are very welcome!
I hope this explanation was clear, but if you need to know anything more to give answers, please let me know.

Many thanks in advance!

P.S. I've searched on this forum and online for a good "bringing to taste" process for plum wine, but couldn't find any. If you have a good resource on or beyond this site, that would be great too!
Take a gallon of your wine and add 1/4 tsp citric acid. See what it tastes like. I fit is still flat add another 1/4 tsp citric acid. And see what hat it tastes like i.e. You can multiply it up e/g 2/8, 3/8 or 4/8 until you get a tanginess that you like.
 
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Great tip on letting the wine age a bit more after adding sugar, just in case fermentation starts again. At the current alcohol level (±14%), which it has been at for months now, I suspect the yeast is dead or no longer able to ferment, but better be safe than sorry?
If the wine is 9 to 12 months old, the yeast is probably dead. If it's younger than that, stabilize with Sorbate. Visualize 50 bottles of light purple Mount Vesuvius. If that vision doesn't appeal to you, add Sorbate + K-meta. ;)

Thank you so much for that clarification, that's very valuable information. I guess the alternative would be using wine conditioner, which includes sorbate (and I'm guessing, already in the right ratio to the sweetener in the mix).
We discussed this in a recent thread. The sorbate in the conditioners is sufficient to keep the packet from fermenting. It is NOT enough to keep the wine from fermenting. You need to add the normal amount of Sorbate + K-meta to the wine.
 

barryjo

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Hi @Ohio Bob, I am 0% Danish by genes, but have lived here long enough to feel a decent chunk Danish too!

To clarify:
  • There are only two people involved: my wife is my fellow wine maker :)
  • We both feel the current state of our plum wine has lots of room for improvement. My wife just thinks there is need for more improvement than me.
  • The lemon juice was just and experiment and I don't intend to use it for the actual batch
  • I was more look for a general approach to bringing to taste (like at what stage to try which of the taste adjustments), rather than "this is the taste I have, what should I add".
Great tip on letting the wine age a bit more after adding sugar, just in case fermentation starts again. At the current alcohol level (±14%), which it has been at for months now, I suspect the yeast is dead or no longer able to ferment, but better be safe than sorry?
A pinch or 2 of sorbate should end the referment anxiety.
 

Rice_Guy

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If I am judging a wine I have some acid blend, a few grains of acid in 100 ml will tell if that is first direction to go. , , , This is like cooking and everything is based on tasting. I would not use lactic acid since the retail grade is thin which results in dilution. Tartaric, malic and citric are all good, tartaric will feel smoother, malic will give sharp flavors.

We eat with our nose first, lemon juice is good for building aromatics. It is in solution like the lactic so results in dilution. 1% or .5% could be considered mainly for aroma. I like frozen juice concentrate since it adds aroma without all the water. It also adds sugar so potassium sorbate is frequently used to prevent yeast from fermenting it.

Sugar needs to be balanced against the total flavor impact from acids and tannins. In commercial beverages this is roughly a straight line. the measured TA (titratable acidity) is a reading of how many grams of acid and is better than pH for predicting sweetness goal.

I should add welcome to WMT
 

Rojoguio

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I just checked mine and after complaining the skins were a issue. 3 months of bulk aging and now the plum taste is very strong and the skin tartness has already mellowed. So it does mellow the skin flavors with time. Here is a picture, it's ready to bottle.
 

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