I made 25 gallons of yellow plum wine this summer (began in August 2012). One batch in one of the 5-gallon carboys looks and has the consistency of water (not very interesting) and appears to have finished all of its fermentation. I’ve calculated its alcohol content to be around 12%, but its bland, dry flavor suggests that I add sugar before bottling, but this doesn’t seem to help much when I add sugar syrup in a glass to taste. Can I add brandy to fortify it? How much or what would you add to a very dry, uninteresting wine like this? It hasn’t turned bad, it’s just poor quality.
Thanks for the interesting question. I think that we can both agree that since these carboys of wine are all yellow plum, started at the same time, that some of the batch was not treat the same as the rest. Therefore, you have this one carboy that sticks out like a sore thumb.
From the symptoms you gave it sound like the particular carboy in question is lacking in body and flavor. This is caused by the fermentation not have enough contact with the pulp. This pulp is where the flavor and character of the wine comes from. Since this 5 gallons of wine is short on pulp, my guess is that you may have another carboy or two that is long on pulp.
With that said, there are two ways you can go about resolving this issue. Adding plum brandy is not one of them:
The first method is to cross-rack the 5 carboys of plum wine that you have. This is how a commercial winery would have handled it from the beginning. With each racking they would have gone from two carboys simultaneously into one carboy, and then another. By the time you get to the last racking, before bottling, the wine would be evenly blended. Since I assume that you have already done most of the rackings, this may not be a practical option for you at this time. It’s up to you as to whether or not you want to go through this process a couple of times. I you do decide to, I would urge you to make sure that your sulfite levels in the wine are correct after complete the blending.
The second method you could use is to treat the 5 gallons of wine in question and leave the others out of it. Adding brandy would not resolve the issue. While the additional flavor the brandy would add — particularly a plum brandy — would be great, the additional alcohol would make the wine too high in alcohol, or too hot. This additional alcohol would numb the tongue while drinking, giving the wine an even more watery impression.
Adding flavor is about your only option if you choose to take this route. I would suggest using one of our liqueur flavorings. These have been used successfully by many winemakers to enhance their wines. They come in many, many flavors and are very, very strong. One bottle per 5 gallons is the most I would recommend using.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.