Winter experiments with wine and bread

Winter experiments with wine and bread

Among the wonderful things Santa brought us last month was a wine-making kit. It’s the whole deal: juice, glass jug, and all the additives and gewgaws needed to make five full bottles of cabernet.

The jug has been bubbling away on the counter for almost two weeks, and after I got over my initial fear of explosions, it’s pretty fun to watch. If we didn’t screw it up in assembly, we should be ready to sample some in a couple more weeks.

This is the very first attempt, so we’ll find out how dummy-proof the kit really is because I’m an excellent test of the concept.

Judging by the number of instructional videos to be found online, plenty of people try making wine at home at some point. In doing a little research (which grew out of curiosity after getting the batch from the kit started — see? Dummy), I’ve learned a few casual things about wines and home wine-making in general.

Perhaps most interesting, according to Scientific American magazine, is the alcohol content of most wines has crept up over the last decade or so. It’s the result of a jump in consumer preference for bolder, fruitier flavors.

To get that kind of flavor, the grapes are left on the vine for a longer period, resulting in higher sugar levels and thus more alcohol at the end. Vintners are actually trying to use less potent natural yeast in place of the variety in use for several thousand years.

Stronger wines, which can rise to 15-17 percent alcohol content, dampen down the subtler flavors we enjoy in wine, making them less desirable for pairing with interesting food. This is a case when it really is beneficial to ask your wine merchant or server for advice in choosing something that will match up well with your meal.

In keeping with the home experiment plan for warding off the gray winter days, I’ve also ordered a sourdough culture that originates in Egypt, supposedly from a baker which has stood within sight of the pyramids for a few centuries.

It might actually be from someone’s basement in New Jersey for all I know, but I’m a sucker for romance and the chance to mansplain every time I offer a loaf to someone. “This bread is from a culture that was around before the Mayflower’s timbers even took root,” blah blah.

In all the bread-making I’ve been doing for the last couple of years, I’ve steered away from sourdough as I don’t want to mess with remembering to feed the dumb thing. It’s rather a miracle that I remember to feed the cat now and then, let alone a jar of Egyptian bacteria in the fridge.

And as with the wine jug, what if it explodes in there?

I’m realizing I’ve inherited my grandmother’s odd fear of kitchen explosions, though hers was well-founded. For some reason she was singled out by fate to have this happen more than once, as I remember glass bottles of 7-Up blowing up in her refrigerator.

She was the fussiest person alive, so it was a rather cruel trick and resulted in tremendous horror for her. Such drama sticks with you well past childhood, and I still half expect to see a blown-up jar of old pickles or broken glass and Sprite everywhere when I open the door.

The sourdough culture is shipped in a dried, dormant form, doubtless to avoid explosions, and must be brought back to life with flour and water for a few days when it arrives.

The last time I tried sourdough, I started from scratch with a big plastic tub, flour, water and grapes. The whole business sat in the fridge for weeks, getting stinky and making scary bubbles.

The recipe was from a couple of serious California bread artisans, so it was legitimate, but I never quite got the hang of keeping it alive. Maybe this time around I’ll marry up “feed the cat, feed the dough” in my mind. That way I can keep both alive for another year.

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