2013 Tangerine Wine

Last year, I demonstrated how to make a gallon of banana wine at work, which was a big success. This time, I decided to try tangerines, since I have a tree that is currently bearing hundreds of them. Also, one of my co-workers is an avid fisherman and wants nothing to do with bananas on account of the old sailors' superstition. I picked about 50 tangerines (some of which got eaten along the way) with my trusty extendable fruit picker, then headed into work with some basic winemaking tools. With 15 or so thirsty employees, last year's banana wine went fast (it only yielded four and a half bottles), so I bought a second two-gallon primary. Nine bottles ought to tide us over until the next batch.

Ingredients (adapted from Jack Keller's recipe and scaled up to 2 gallons)
  • 48 tangerines
  • 1 vanilla bean (Jed's idea)
  • 7⅔ cups sugar
  • 2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • ½ tsp wine tannin
  • 2 tsp yeast nutrient
  • 11 cups spring water
  • 1 Campden tablet

February 28, 2013

One thing I have no patience for is juice extraction. Some fruits, such as figs, can be easily chopped but things like pomegranates and loquats are particularly tedious. I wasn't interested in spending a great deal of time picking seeds out of tangerine pulp so I just peeled off the rind and juiced those suckers straight into a stock pot, seeds and all, using my hand-held orange juicer. I tossed the pulp and seeds into two nylon mesh bags, sitting in each primary. I wanted to add the zest to get that characteristic citrus oil but the tangerines proved too small for my julienne peeler. This was the wrong tool for the job. A microplane zester probably would have done it correctly but I couldn't find mine. I wasted a bunch of time trying to scrape the pith out of the rind with a spoon but got frustrated and just chopped up what I had left. Fortunately, tangerines don't have as much pith as other citrus varieties, so I'm hoping it doesn't impart a huge amount of bitterness. I added the chopped rinds to the bags and tied them shut, then poured equal amounts of the juice into each primary. It's amazing what a vivid orange color fresh tangerine juice is--not your typical store-bought OJ.

I heated up some spring water in the electric kettle we have in the kitchenette and dissolved some sugar in it, adding it to the tangerine juice in small doses and measuring the specific gravity each time. Between the two batches, it took a total of 7⅔ cups of sugar mixed with 11 cups spring water to bring each to the desired gravity of 1.090. The pH of each batch was very low due to the acidity of the tangerines (2.95 and 3.0), so I didn't have to add any acid. Instead I dissolved 1 tsp calcium carbonate in ½ cup water and added that to each primary, bringing them up to 3.44 and 3.45, respectively. I also dissolved ½ tsp wine tannin, 2 tsp pectic enzyme, 2 tsp yeast nutrient, and 1 crushed Campden tablet in ½ cup spring water, then stirred half of that mixture into each primary. I only started with 1 tablet instead of the usual 1 per gallon because the pH was initially so low and I didn't want to stifle the fermentation like I had in my bochet.

When I made my banana wine last year, I realized these buckets are not airtight. You have to remove a strip of plastic around the edge of the lid in order to be able to pry the lid off, but doing so seems to defeat the seal. It's not a big deal during primary fermentation because CO2 is always being forced out, keeping the unit free of contaminants, but then you can't see anything happening in the airlock. This time, I brought some clamps to hold the lids on tightly. I love these little buckets for small batches but I wish I could find one that is airtight.

March 1, 2013

I prepared a starter solution of Lalvin EC-1118 yeast and pitched half into each primary. Thinking it might add an interesting flavor, I scraped out the inside of a vanilla bean and added that as well. I chose a vanilla bean over vanilla extract because a co-worker explained to me where "natural" vanilla extract comes from and, well, that ruined it for me forever.

March 2, 2013

The yeast is off to a slow start but it is fermenting.

March 7, 2013

The wine has already fermented to dryness. Perhaps these smaller primaries hasten the process since, being relatively shallow, the yeast is closer to the surface (and oxygen, which it requires). I stir my 5-gallon primaries daily as well but, those being deeper, I imagine there's a big difference in O2 content at the bottom.

March 14, 2013

Although the wine was already dry, I was too busy to rack it right away. After all, this is my place of employment and there is actually work to be done. I used the clamps from the primaries to suspend the bags of pulp and let them drip dry. It's not recommended to squeeze the bags, as this will cloud the wine.

Don't be put off by the black specks--those are just pieces of vanilla bean. I don't really notice any vanilla flavor, incidentally. It probably needs to be steeped in alcohol much longer.

I sanitized a pair of glass jugs and funneled the wine into them.

This is what tangerine pulp looks like after yeast has had its way with it.

April 18, 2013

The wine is getting clearer, though one is slightly cloudier than the other. It's about time I racked it.

April 19, 2013

I racked the wine into two freshly sanitized jugs. Of course, I tasted a sample. The vanilla flavor is getting noticeable now and it's a very nice complement to the tangerines. All of the vivid orange color, however, appears to have been attributed to the lees. The racked wine is more yellow (and translucent, of course). It seems like all "white" wines, no matter what fruit they're made from, end up generally the same color. Here's a before and after shot.

I dissolved two crushed Campden tablets in a half cup of water and stirred half of that into each jug.

I sprayed a generous amount of argon into the airspace at the top to prevent oxidization and reattached the airlocks. Here is the wine after the racking--pure California sunshine.

June 7, 2013

I quit my job so I had to transport the two jugs of tangerine wine back home in the car (yes, this batch was fermented in the office kitchenette--many thanks to my former employer). Fortunately, the lees were not disturbed too much. They had become quite compacted over the past month. I let them settle for a few days in their new home anyway.

June 9, 2013

With the lees fully settled again, I racked the wine. Since I definitely want to sweeten this wine (it's very tart right now, like citrus peel) I need to stabilize it. The wine is completely dry and shows no sign of activity but I'm still going to play it safe and use stabilizer before adding sugar. Most folks use potassium sorbate but I don't like the flavor it imparts so I use sodium benzoate instead. The recommended amount of stabilizer (1/4 tsp per 6 gallons) is so small that, for two gallons, I would need a high precision digital scale to measure it. Instead, I dissolved 1/4 tsp into 2 cups of water, then divided that volume by 6, resulting in 1/3 cup of liquid stabilizer per gallon. I also dissolved one Campden tablet into each of these solutions, then stirred them into the wine. Stabilizer is more effective when paired with sulfites.

June 30, 2013

The wine is totally dry and very tart, so I decided to sweeten it with sugar syrup. The stabilizer has been in the wine for several weeks, eliminating any risk of renewed fermentation. I boiled 1 cup of water and dissolved 2 cups of sugar into it, then let it cool. Using a wine thief, I drew out about a cup of wine, then measured out (3) 50 mL samples using a graduated eyedropper. I added 5, 10, and 15 drops of syrup to each sample, respectively, and stirred. For tasting sessions such as this, I completely rely on Jed's superior senses of taste and smell, since mine are crude. We came to the conclusion that the 10 drop sample revealed an unsatisfactory bitterness, the 15 drop sample offset the tartness but in doing so concealed much of the characteristic tangerine flavor, and the 5 drop sample was the best compromise out of the three. It was a bit on the dry side but the flavor was unmistakably tangerine, which was more important to us than sweetness. We decided to 6 six drops on a fourth sample, and liked the result. I used the following formula from this blog to calculate the required sugar syrup for 6 gallons of wine:

number of drops x 45 = mL of sugar needed
6 x 45 = 270 mL
270 mL / 6 gallons = 45 mL per gallon

I drew off 45 mL of sugar syrup with the eyedropper and stirred it into each jug, then sprayed some argon into the headspace and reattached the airlocks. The sugar did not cloud the wine the way I've seen it do so in the past. The wine can technically be bottled at any time now but I'll wait for the flavors to bond and bottle it whenever it's convenient.