Earlier this winter I joked about culling the “herd” of wine migrating from summer to winter storage (see Wine Migration). Now, I’m thinking a bit more seriously about that concept.
We are in the midst of Yuletide. Its most ancient observance may be the practice of making feasts between Samhain and Winter Solstice in order to use up food sources that would not last the winter. This apparently included culling the herds of weaker animals not expected to survive the harsh winter weather. I may have to perpetuate this practice with our homemade wines.
As it happens, we made a new and ultimately successful try at making wine on this day, St. Stephens Day, three years ago (described in A Return to the Vineyard). We’ve gotten pretty good at winemaking since then, but not every batch makes it to the bottling stage. Now and then something goes wrong. Batches get contaminated, or fail to launch or thrive for other reasons.
In November I realized I had a batch of grape juice wine that just wasn’t up to snuff. It had turned to wine with a rather high alcohol content, but it still tasted like grape juice, perhaps with a generous splash of vodka, not like wine. I tried a few fixes, but noted in my wine diary to evaluate it during the Christmas season. When I next checked and found no progress, I set the batch aside for mulling.
Our previous winemaking efforts yielded many lessons on what not to do, and perhaps one very valuable lesson in what we ought to do: we learned that failed wine batches make good mulled wine! (See Adventures in Wine Mulling and When All Else Fails, Wassail! Another Batch of “Differently-Abled” Wine.) This current failed batch, being so sweet already, didn’t need any sugar added, as our mulling spices recipe recommend. It mulls nicely, providing an excellent hot drink choice through the season.
We’ve got the equipment and space to leave questionable batches perking along until the season rolls around again. If the extra time straightens them out, that’s wonderful—if not, well, we have ways of dealing with them!
Weaker batches should be on notice—we’re actively looking for reasons to cull now. We like the frugality of finding secondary uses for poor wine batches, but we love the mulled wine!