Am I turning crap wine into crap port with SCIENCE?
January 23, 2013 3:32 AM   Subscribe

We're hitting -25C here for the next few days, so I thought I'd indulge in an experiment -- putting 2.5L of cheap kit Shiraz into a food-safe container with a loose-fitting lid outside and fishing the ice out at the end of every day. What should I expect? When should I stop?
posted by Shepherd to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It appears you're not the first one to consider this.
posted by HuronBob at 3:39 AM on January 23, 2013

It's called freeze distillation.

It may be illegal for you.
posted by katrielalex at 3:41 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: Port is not produced by distillation, it is fortified by adding extra alcohol before fermentation is complete. What you are doing is less unlike the production of Ice Wine, but still not the same thing.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:03 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

What should you expect? Something a little different from port. Port is wine with a distilled grape spirit added, which probably gives a different flavour to freeze distillation. Professor Wikipedia informs me that the spirit is added to port before fermentation is complete -- killing the yeast in the process -- which explains why port is so sweet. So if you are actually trying to replicate the flavour of port, you might want to throw in some sugar or grape juice after distillation.

When to stop? Just keep tasting until it's good enough, I guess. You're only freezing out the water so you can always dilute it again if you overshoot.

Good luck! I wish I lived somewhere cold enough to try this. Science is great.
posted by pont at 4:06 AM on January 23, 2013

No, it's not like ice wine either - that is made by freezing the grapes before fermentation starts, thereby concentrating the sugar & usually resulting in a sweet but low-alcohol wine.

Sounds more like Applejack (though not, apparently, Laird's Applejack).
posted by mr vino at 4:08 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would not expect much. Aventinus Weizen Eis-bock vs. the regular Weizenbock is really strong, but with an unpleasant rubbing alcohol nose.

This is more like brandy than port. Port would be adding a bottle of vodka to your fermenter.
posted by mkb at 4:08 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

winejack. or jacked wine. look up how to make Applejack, as freeze distillation is the process used to make it.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 4:21 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: This is freeze distillation, and it's pretty dangerous - the chances of concentrating methanol are high, and you're also concentrating nasty congeners like fusel alcohol. You're removing water through fractional freezing, but you're emphatically not purifying what's left over.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:23 AM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yeah, you're going to be concentrating sulfides if you try this on a cheap bottle. I'd try it with what you have now, then maybe try using a wine that doesn't contain sulfides for the next batch. The latest edition of Imbibe magazine recently gave great homage to a woman (Alice Feiring) that started a magazine focused exclusively on reviewing unsulphured wines, so the info is out there. Have fun, and document this as much as you can because I want to know how it turns out. :)
posted by oceanjesse at 4:43 AM on January 23, 2013

Had a colleague who did this and he claimed the results were good. I never got to taste any,
posted by Segundus at 4:52 AM on January 23, 2013

This more akin to making brandy, which (essentially) is distilled wine.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 AM on January 23, 2013

The result should taste like something you'd lick out of the bottom of your radiator, and does not make your head or digestive system feel very good the next day. Two thumbs down, not recommended. Stop now.
posted by Stagger Lee at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Good grief people, unless the kit wine was fermented with all kinds of other shit added to it, there won't be any appreciable amounts of methanol to concentrate or sulfides for that matter. Sulfides can occur in nutrient deficient musts but you'd know since it'll stink like burnt tires or some other nasty shit. There are traces of naturally occurring sulfites in all fermented products but sulfite is different than sulfide. Kit wines are designed to be pretty safe... most if not all of them are engineered to ferment very cleanly. Think about how much water you'd realistically remove from this 2.5 litres to get up 20% alcohol. Drinking a 3 glasses of this "grapejack" would be like drinking 4 glasses of it before it was freeze distilled. The hysteria around distillation is funny sometimes. As long as the wine is drinkable now you should end up with something drinkable. I can't say if it'll be good or not but you might want to add some sweetener to it when you drink to help balance the additional alcohol.
posted by glip at 5:51 AM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]

2nding glip's points. It's not dangerous at all (I've made applejack several times) but it might taste funky and may give you a bit more of a hangover than you'd otherwise get. I think it sounds like a cool experiment. You should post back to this thread with your results.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:15 AM on January 23, 2013

Drinking a 3 glasses of this "grapejack" would be like drinking 4 glasses of it before it was freeze distilled.

Sure, if you dilute it with a glass of water at the same time. Dilution mitigates some of the nastier effects of the congeners (and, sadly, alcohol). There's a reason strong spirits were considered medicine rather than entertainment in pre-modern times - they had wine and freezing weather back then, too. It wasn't until the advent of the still where "ardent spirits" were considered safe.

Pot or column stills remove methanol and other nasties as part of the process... if it's done correctly. Fractional distillation offers no such control over the process, and some of the stuff in wine gets dangerous at certain concentration levels (what stuff at what concentration levels you ask? You mean you don't know? Don't make moonshine.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:44 AM on January 23, 2013

Thirding glip. For this to be dangerous, you'd have to start with a much larger quantity of wine and freeze it down many many times.

That said, I suspect it'll be pretty nasty, especially if you're starting with something that's already strongly flavored. You could always use it as a cooking wine, though. Might make for a nice beef stew. Taste it every time you remove the ice and stop when it starts to get nasty. If you start to notice a rubbing alcohol or whiskey-like flavor, you should probably stop - that's the heavier alcohols, and they'll only get more pronounced as you go. They'll give you a nasty hangover.
posted by echo target at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2013

The enzyme methylesterase acts on pectin to form methanol in wines made from grapes. White wines generally contain less methanol since they have less pectins (less skin contact) than red wines. Red wines made from grapes spend days on the skins fermenting. Most kit wines get their colour from other methods so there's not a lot of pectin to begin with, which means there's not a lot of methanol to begin with. Even if the minute traces of methanol in kit wines were doubled I doubt it would be outside the acceptable range for wines. Generally red wines contain around 0.1g/L methanol, and that's for red wines fermented on the skins.

These kits are meticulously designed to not make people sick and ferment cleanly, the composition of the grape juice is controlled. There's not really any realistic way the OP is going to make enough methanol in their shiraz to poison themselves. I doubt kit wines contain very much in the way of fusel alcohols and cogeners but if you've got access to a lab I'd love to see some analysis of kit wines. It seems to me you're just spreading distilling FUD at this point, but whatever.
posted by glip at 7:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's a reason strong spirits were considered medicine rather than entertainment in pre-modern times...

Though he was hardly pre-modern himself, Gogol does mention this freezing-of-wine process in "I.F. Shponka and his Aunt", and one supposes that the Russians may have been at it for some time. Vymorozki is defined in the notes as "A concentrate produced by allowing wine to freeze and then removing the frozen portion".
posted by mr. digits at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2013

Fourthing glip. I don't kno if it would taste good, but you aren't going to get any sicker drinking one glass of a bottle that has been concentrated down to a glass than you would be drinking the entire bottle. Unlike slaphappy I know it is the dose and not the concentration that matters. You would get just as sick from drinking one mL of methanol if it was in 10 mL of water or in 100 mL of water. Your wine doesn't contain nearly enough methanol to make you sick or else you would already know.
posted by koolkat at 2:24 AM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: Longish story short: I decided to proceed despite the well-intentioned advice not to, but intend to imbibe the product only in small amounts and at lengthy intervals.

My one mistake was putting the container out in the morning, going to work, and retrieving it when I got home: instead of wine with icy chunks floating in it, I wound up with a giant about 95% frozen block, not solid like water-ice but definitely with no evident liquid present.

Taking it inside, I discovered that it was pretty "mashable", so I set about breaking it up with a wooden spoon in a giant colander. It broke into long, flat shards, mostly, almost microscopically thin.

Not knowing much science, I fell back on what I knew of semi-frozen drinks with desirable qualities: as with a Slurpee, I reasoned, the good stuff always sinks to the bottom, leaving you with tasteless ice on the top. Hence the colander. I let it sit in there, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, skimming the pale pink ice off the top with a slotted spoon periodically and dropping it in the sink. The rich, red fluid at the bottom of the colander/dripping into the bucket seemed to confirm that it was working. Or at least it was colourful at the bottom.

Once finished, I had just enough to refill one of the three original wine bottles. I decided not to try reducing any more. Tried about two tablespoons to taste -- it now tastes like crappy fortified wine, but with a kind of smoke to it that definitely adds some character. Is it boozier? No idea. I suppose I could get the hydrometer and check, but IIRC after you reach about 10% the hydrometer just sinks to the bottom of the cylinder and is pretty much useless anyway.

Thanks for all the tips and advice! I certainly learned a lot.
posted by Shepherd at 2:01 PM on January 29, 2013

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