The Chemistry of Wine
Winemaking essentially involves the mixing of fruit juice and sugar and then adding yeast to convert the sugar to alcohol.
While wine is generally made from grapes, other fruits can be used as the base. The reason grapes are the usual fruit of choice is because of their high sugar content.
Alcohol is the by-product of the action of yeast on sugar.
When using the juices of other fruits, sugar usually has to be added as the fruit generally does not contain sufficient natural sugar for full fermentation.
Grapes contain enough natural sugars to allow full fermentation.
The skins of fresh grapes also have a natural yeast growing on them which is probably why grape wine is one of the oldest and most common fermented beverages.
Homemade Cranberry Wine
Cranberries have always been a favorite treat in my family. As my siblings and I grew up and learned to cook, cranberries were one of the foods we experimented with.
Among my favorite cranberry recipes is this simple one for cranberry wine.
Years ago, when my younger brother and I began experimenting with making wine, we found that cranberry wine was the best in terms of ease of production, taste, and clarity.
Grape wine, using frozen grape juice, was just as easy, but it tended to retain a yeasty taste as well as being somewhat cloudy. In both cases, we used juices from the grocery store rather than the crushing of berries for juice.
- 1 (1-gallon) glass jug, for fermenting the juice
- 1 rubber stopper with glass tube in it for the jug (you can also use an air-lock device in place of rubber stopper). A rubber stopper with glass tube or air-lock device can be purchased from a wine-making store
- 12 to 18 inches of plastic tubing to fit over the end of the glass tube (note: you do not need this if you are using an air-lock device)
- 1 container for water
- 1 funnel
- 2 (12-ounce) cans frozen cranberry juice or 2 (64-ounce) bottles cranberry juice
- 1½ cups sugar (if using bottled juice, you may want to reduce sugar as this is often sweetened)
- ¼ teaspoon yeast (you can use dry baker's yeast, but wine-making yeast is preferable)
- ¾ cup warm (not hot) water
- Clean and sterilize the glass jug by washing it by hand with warm, soapy water and then rinsing it thoroughly. (You don't want your wine to leave a soapy taste in your drinker's mouths.) While the simple, but thorough, washing should be sufficient as an extra precaution, you can run the jug and other utensils (other than the plastic tubing) used to make the wine through the dishwasher where the heat will sterilize them. It is very important to make sure that the jug and all utensils used in the making of the wine are sterile to prevent bacteria from contaminating and spoiling your wine. Running them through the dishwasher will help accomplish this.
- If using frozen cranberry juice concentrate, thaw and mix with water per directions on the can in a clean container that has recently been washed in the dishwasher. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar and the yeast in the ¾ cup of warm water. Add sugar to the juice and stir until thoroughly dissolved. You can use either tap water to mix the juice or distilled water (if you use distilled water you will avoid picking up any taste that the tap water might contain).
- If using bottled cranberry juice, pour juice into a clean container, add the sugar and stir until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of sugar and the yeast in the ¾ cup of warm water.
- Cover the container with the warm water and sugar mixture to prevent any airborne bacteria from contaminating the mixture and set the container aside for 2 to 3 hours to allow the fermentation process to get started.
- Pour juice, with sugar dissolved in it, into a jug, using the funnel to avoid spilling.
- Add the warm water and yeast mixture to the juice in the jug.
- Insert the rubber stopper into the top of the jug.
- Attach plastic tubing securely over the end of the glass tube.
- Place the jug on a shelf in a warm (about 70°F or 21.1°C) place (I used my basement).
- Place the container of water next to the jug and place the end of the plastic tube in the water. Make sure the water level remains sufficient to keep the end of the tube underwater.
- The tube will allow carbon dioxide gas, a by-product of the fermentation process, to escape into the water which will prevent air contaminated with bacteria from entering the jug with the wine.
Final Bottling and Aging
- After about one month, you will notice that air bubbles are no longer entering the container of water from the wine jug, and the juice becoming clear. There will be sediment on the bottom of the jug.
- At this point, get a length of clear plastic tubing that is 2 to 3 feet (approx .5 to 1 meter). The tubing should be ½ to ¾ inch in diameter.
- Remove the stopper and siphon juice into a second sterilized jug. Be careful not to disturb or transfer the sediment.
- The sediment can be poured down the drain while the jug with the wine should be securely capped with a screw-on cap or cork stopper.
- Store in a cool place, a basement with a fairly constant temperature of about 70°F or 21°C.
- Age the wine for 6 to 12 months.
Serving and Enjoying
- Allow at least six months for your wine to age. Ideally, your wine should be sufficiently aged and ready to drink within 12 months maximum.
- So long as the wine has been capped tightly and not exposed to outside air, it should be good for at least two to three years.
- While the quality of the wine will improve with age up to about 12 months, it will be at its peak and won't continue to improve after about 12 months. If stored for more than two or three years it might spoil (however, I have never kept it this long, so I am speculating).
- The wine can be chilled in a refrigerator before serving (and must be refrigerated after opening to prevent spoiling).
- For me, this process has always resulted in a nice clear, but slightly tart wine with the taste of cranberry.
- If you prefer a sweeter wine, you can add sugar to taste after opening.
Homemade Cranberry Wine Recipe Rating
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can segments of three medium oranges be added to the cranberry apple wine?
Answer: I don't see any reason why you couldn't add 3 medium oranges to the cranberry apple wine. It would affect the flavor of the wine which could be a good thing. My suggestion is that you try this with a small batch. If you like the resulting wine then keep doing it. If you don't like the result then leave the oranges out of future batches. If you do like the result but want to adjust the amount of orange taste then experiment by adding more or less orange to them and when finished experimenting adjust the number of oranges to the amount used in the batch you liked best.
© 2006 Chuck Nugent