It is a lot simpler than you might think, especially if you have a patch of rhubarb that needs using up! To make a rhubarb wine all you need is sugar, yeast, some form of bucket to ferment in, and bottles to put your final wine. The difficulty comes in how tasty your rhubarb wine is!
It is also possible to make a rhubarb sparkling wine by doing a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating your very own British Bubbles.
At any scale wine-making is: a balance of the starting ingredients, some alchemy, the control of oxygen, and presentation. A nice bottle does make a difference.
Why make your own rhubarb wine?
There are many reasons to make your own rhubarb wines, including, the satisfaction of creating your own alcohol, showing off to friends and family, making a good use of the rhubarb patch, getting a flavour that is just right for you and perhaps most compellingly the cost is significantly cheaper as you don’t have to pay any tax on the alcohol. As an example of the tax savings, a bottle of our Rhubarb, strawberry and elderflower has £6 of tax paid on the bottle price of £18.
You can in fact make enjoyable wines from a very wide range of ingredients including – fruits, flowers, grains, vegetables, stems, leaves, spices, teas as well as many others.
Some commonly home made wines include rhubarb wine, elderflower, elderberry, plum and dandelion.
What makes a good rhubarb wine?
Whilst taste is of course unique to an individual there are some common areas to look out for when experimenting with home-made wine, especially if you are making a rhubarb sparkling wine.
Firstly it is important to find the right balance of the key elements: water, alcohol, acidity, body, sweetness, tannins, taste and smell compounds. To arrive at that balance you need carefully chosen proportions of the starting ingredients. And then there is the alchemy by microbes, temperature and time that brings about the crucial changes. At most stages of wine making excluding oxygen is important. Removal of suspended particles usually improves presentation. A sparkling rhubarb wine also has bubbles which can impact on the key elements making it taste and smell completely different.
Rhubarb wine key requirements for still or sparkling
The basics will mostly be things that can be found around the house with the rest easily available online:-
- A 10 litre food grade bucket
- Kitchen scales
- Measuring jug
- Tea towel
- A fine mesh bag (or other straining cloth)
- 2 x 5 litre screw top disposable plastic mineral water bottles (made of PET)
- A food processor
- A large sieve
- A funnel
- Closed top bottles for the finished rhubarb wines
- rhubarb (providing flavour, tannins, some yeast nutrition, minerals)
- a small amount of vinegar. The rhubarb will provide acidity but as you experiment with your rhubarb wine you can consider choosing to add other sources of acid, for example lemon juice, allowing additional ester formation
The place you choose to make your home-made wines is also important and the more you can control the temperature the better, keeping a nice stable temperature. For your rhubarb wine you will want to check what temperature the yeast you have works best at but a stable temperature around 20C is likely to produce the best results.
Ideally a well-ventilated space is best as fermentation can be smelly.
The yeasts change sugar into ethyl alcohol, some glycerol, a little acetic acid and small amounts of 100s of other compounds. The temperature affects the balance of the outcome. With the addition of time, (and pressure for your rhubarb sparkling wine) some of the alcohol reacts with various acids present to form esters providing additional taste and smell. Some of the initial acids change into others. Body for the wine comes from glycerol, alcohol, remaining sugars, tannins and minerals.
Rhubarb wine recipe:
It results in a pink to straw coloured, refreshing, 11% alcohol, dry wine.
1.5kg rhubarb (flavour, acidity, tannin like compound)
1kg sugar (forming alcohol, glycerol and residual sugars)
20ml white vinegar (forming an important ester)
water (cooled boiled to remove dissolved oxygen is best) 2.6 litres.
Sachet (5g) of wine yeast
Yeast nutrient (as per manufacturer’s instructions)
- Make a yeast starter as per packet instructions in a little water
- Meanwhile place water, sugar, vinegar and yeast nutrient in the clean food grade bucket. Stir a little to begin dissolving the sugar. Leave (for 1 day) in a warm place such as an airing cupboard.
- When you see bubbles collecting at the edge of the liquid surface in the bucket then all the oxygen in the water should have been used up.
- Wash the rhubarb and chop up. Place in food processor and blitz until well mashed before adding immediately to the bucket contents. Leave at 15-20C, covered with a tea towel or lid (to keep off vinegar flies)
- Break up any fruit that forms at the surface daily (or you can float a plate on the top to keep the fruit pulp in close contact with the liquid). The sugar will dissolve fully over a few days, or you can stir up a little each day until fully dissolved. If you have one then you can take a hydrometer reading every day or so.
- When the fermentation has passed its peak, (you will know this by tasting the wine if it is significantly less sweet, and is taking longer for the fruit cap to reform after breaking up) or a hydrometer reading of less than 1.025 is achieved, run through the scalded jelly bag and funnel into the clean 5L plastic water bottle. Squeeze out as much juice as you can. Loosely screw down the lid so that a small pressure increase allows escape of gas.
- Leave to ferment at 15-20C until the bubbles produced slow to very few and most of the yeast falls to the bottom.
- Into the second clean 5L bottle crush half a Campden tablet
- Pour the liquid through the clean funnel onto the crushed tablet in the second bottle, leaving the yeast/ sediment mostly behind. Squeeze the sides of the second bottle until the liquid comes to the very top. Then lightly screw on the lid so that air does not enter but gas could escape if there is excess.
- Leave to clear. Dissolved CO2 will fill the head of the bottle.
- When fully clear pour the liquid into clean closable bottles/ containers. Make sure to fill the containers to within 1cm of the top and close with airtight seal. Screw top plastic or glass bottles are good, or you can use swing top bottles.
- Leave for a minimum of 3 months before drinking (to allow ester formation to occur), this is probably the hardest part as you will want to taste your work as soon as possible!
- When it is ready serve it chilled as you would a Rose wine and then enjoy.
Rhubarb Sparkling wine recipe
To make a rhubarb sparkling wine, follow the recipe above with the following simple amendments
- Definitely use a wine hydrometer
- When in the first 5L bottle and still fermenting – carefully monitor the hydrometer readings – possibly daily.
- At a reading of 1.010 now bottle into sealed containers. Swing top bottles are good. Recycled champagne bottles with push in plastic champagne corks and wire cages are almost ideal. Otherwise plastic bottles with the tops screwed down lightly (just bighting) to allow escape of any excess pressure.
- Keep the fermentation at 15-20C for 2-3 weeks.
- Drink within a couple of months
- Serve by first chilling the bottle upright in the fridge for a couple of hours and then pour into your champagne flute, leaving the small amount of yeast sediment behind.
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