Time to Taste
After 45 days, I poured the first drops of wine into a glass and sniffed.
The first thing I noticed was an acidic prickle that scared me into thinking I wasn’t fastidious enough when sanitizing and something nasty had infected the batch. Following a vigorous swirl, I was relieved to observe it had disappeared, leading me to believe it was just residual CO2 left over from fermentation.
Other than that, my wine was technically sound. Ruby red in color and transparent, it totally looked the part. Casual wine drinks wouldn't be able to tell that it wasn't poured from a standard bottle of wine on looks alone. Although it only hit 10% ABV (most dry wines fall between 11-15%), it wasn’t sweet on the palate and even had some acidity going on.
At first I was delighted to have made it, but confronted with the rest of the glass, I realized that I didn’t really want to finish it. I put the question to my friends, almost all of whom demurred about their ability to assess wine, before attempting judgment. Most were impressed by the act of winemaking itself, but the wine wasn’t exactly a hit.
The most common response was along the lines of, “I wouldn’t return this if it was served to me at a restaurant,” though for most people that usually takes a catastrophe. It at least seemed clear to them that this wine was teetering on the edge of quality.
There is a reason why no serious wine drinker would take this seriously. It wasn’t the fact that I used a frozen concentrate, it’s the foxiness. Foxy is the term for the strong quality of American grapes like concord, a scent and taste resembling… you guessed it, fox. It’s also been compared to the smell of a fur coat. More generally, it’s a musky note. This is a quality unrelated to the controversial “barnyard” note that shows up in certain wines, which tastes more like how horses smell.
Foxiness is a hallmark of grapes from the species V. labrusca, whereas all of the grapes that get turned into what is classified as fine wine are V. vinifera.
That distinctive flavor is part of what makes concord grape juice so pungent and delicious whether as juice, or jellied and served with peanut butter on bread, but it is quite a funny flavor in wine. Manischewitz makes a ubiquitous kosher wine from concord grapes. Known for being cloyingly sweet and packing the aforementioned grapey funk, its popularity has more to do with tradition than taste.
Mulling the process over while staring at the wine left in my glass, I decided to embrace the juice and threw in a handful of ice cubes. It seemed silly at first but the change was marked and immediate, taking away any harshness and adding some necessary levity to my drink.