Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jews and Berries

The price of blackberries dipped significantly enough that Paddy and I decided it was time to make some blackberry wine last weekend. So, we hopped in his truck and headed to our best source of quality brewing and wine-making ingredients: Sam's Club.

Seriously, though, we get funny looks buying 25 lbs of fruit and 12 lbs of sugar anywhere else. The stock boys look at you funny when you ask if they have any more flats of blueberries in the back, and the best guess most people have as to what the hell you're doing with a shopping cart full of strawberries is making 80 pies.

Now, in light of our Ginger Sockpiss and Blueberry Fail, we decided to really try to be sanitary about this whole thing. We were careful to sort out any blackberries that looked the least bit moldy, and then soaked them all in a no-rinse solution. Is it safe to do that? We have no idea. I guess we'll find out in a year or so when we drink it. Paddy plans to gift a bottle to someone we don't really like before trying it ourselves. But no-rinse is supposed to lose its potency after about 15 minutes, and we also rinsed the berries with clean water afterward.

Then came the boil - or lack thereof. Maybe it was all the sugar raising the boiling point, or maybe the burner just wouldn't get hot enough. Either way, it just kind of simmered for 90 minutes or so. We added sugar, and it was hot enough to dissolve that right away with no problem. It was quite thick and syrupy at this point, and the specific gravity looked dead on, though we suspected the high temperature may have skewed the reading. But it was still only simmering, I think we should have used the turkey fryer (as discussed here and here .)

But the length of time wasn't a concearn, because Paddy had something to keep us occupied: professionally made blackberry wine! I've never had blackberry wine, so I thought it would be interesting to see what it was supposed to taste like while we were making our batch. Paddy got out a couple glasses, then reached into his fridge and pulled out the wine.

Some of your aren't sure where I'm going with this. Others just threw up a little in the back of their mouths.

You see... I always thought Manischewitz was kosher wine. I was wrong. So, so wrong. It's not kosher wine, it's kosher Mad Dog.

The stuff tasted like a grape popsicle! I had trouble downing the very first glass Paddy poured for me. I ended up just gulping most of it down at once. And it's not like Manischewitz is a terrible company, their matza balls rock! So... what the fuck is wrong? Well, it seems there might be a reason beyond bad wine making. Check it out - from the sole repository of our species' culture and knowledge (Wikipedia):

The sweetness of Manischewitz wine and other kosher wines is often the fodder of jokes. However, Kosher wine does not have to be sweet. One of the reasons for the prevalence of sweet kosher wine in the U.S., and in the Americas generally, dates back to the early days of Jews in America, when there was the need to locally produce kosher wine for the Kiddush ritual on the Shabbat and holidays. The combination of a limited choice of grape varieties that could grow in the areas where Jews had settled, along with limited time available to produce the wine and a market dominated by hard cider, yielded a bitter wine that had to be sweetened to make it palatable.[citation needed]

Indeed, so well-known is the sweet Manischewitz variety in the U.S. that the existence of a thriving kosher wine industry anchored by vineyards in France and Israel, along with a growing U.S. industry, is often a surprise to Americans unaccustomed to taking kosher wine seriously.

Joke fodder? Well, I have to say the first thing that came into my mind when I tasted it was "I have to make fun of this in a blog post!" But I somehow feel bad. I mean... if that's how it's supposed to taste... and obviously people buy it.... but do the people buying it just not know of any other kosher wines? I sure as shit didn't. But then, it's not a subject I've really ever looked into, with my whole not being Jewish thing I have going on.

It's easy to see why most people only know of Manischewitz; it took me all of 5 seconds to find They have 4 wines on the first page alone, quintupling the number of kosher wines I knew about. And they run the full gambit from $4.99 to way the fuck more than I can afford to spend on a bottle of wine. And they have names like Tierra Salvaje, Bartenura Moscato, and Chateau Labegorce. Wow! And that "wow" wasn't sarcastic, I'm genuinely wowed by such things. The wines I drink never have names that fancy!

Not enough? Try Online Kosher Wines or Kosher - Wines.

But this raises the question of what the hell makes a wine kosher? Paddy's guess was no bacon (our wine making process is complex). Here is an explaination (it's not the bacon thing) by Yael Zisling; and with a name like that, I'm inclined to trust him on this matter.

If you're too lazy to click on the link, it mainly has to do with when the grapes are harvested and who is allowed to touch them (not me). But in reading his description, I saw absolutely nothing requiring kosher wine to taste like a fucking grape popsicle. I guess, in the end, it's just another instance of a large company making low-quality product. Manischewitz is so big compared to Sol de Chile or Galil Mountain, that they're all you really know about unless you look into it. I'm kind of curious to try some of those, though most places won't mail order to my state, as it is illegal. But if I get the chance, and it's not one of the $90 bottles, I'll have to try some.

Now, I figure Jewish readers (assuming we have Jewish readers, assuming we have readers at all) are bitching at their computer screens; saying that most Jews know of these (probably) much more delicious kosher wines, and the only reason I've only heard of Manischewitz is that I'm not Jewish. That's quite possible, but what can I say?

So anyway, we kind of simmered the must for maybe 90 minutes, then just gave up. It was late. I know the right thing to do would have been to get out the turkey fryer and boil the hell out of it, but I wanted to go home and go to sleep. We may pay for this in the end, the Blueberry Fail is still sitting outside somewhere at Paddy's place, probably just a bucket of fuzz by this point. Is the blackberry wine doomed to the same fate? Quite possibly, only time will tell.

We then cooled it with our cooling coil, mentioned here, and pitched the yeast. Only then did we remember that we didn't take the starting specific gravity. So even though you're supposed to do that before adding yeast, we pulled some out and got a disappointingly low reading. Too little sugar. The temperature had indeed influenced the earlier specific gravity reading. So even if the no-rinse didn't render the berries poisionous, even if it doesn't mold over... it will still be pretty weak wine. Paddy suggested slowly adding more sugar over the course of fermentation, so as to not kill the yeast by giving it too much sugar at once, but my trusty Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible says that's how you make a wine very sweet. The sweet Manischewitz blackberry wine was bad enough; I don't need 3 gallons of moldy, poisonous, weak, sweet, not kosher, home-made Manischewitz.

(Oh, and "House Wine" might have a cheap sounding name and cheap looking label, and it may not be kosher, but it is inexpensive and fucking awesome. Bold yet velvety smooth with very little acidity while not losing the full flavor you want in a red wine. I highly recommend you pick some up!

And if you got the "Jews and Berries" joke without Googling it, it's quite possible you haven't set foot outside since 1985. Go fishing, or something.)

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