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Use fresh rhubarb and a few other ingredients to make this rhubarb wine recipe. The recipe makes six bottles of rhubarb wine and takes about three afternoons of active time to make. Includes tips on winemaking equipment, the full winemaking process, and a DIY video.
Quite a few people think of rhubarb as strictly a springtime treat but if you grow it yourself you’ll know that you can be pulling stalks of it far into the summer. Even so, it’s a matter of time before you’re tired of eating rhubarb crumbles. When this happens, you know it’s time. Time to make homemade rhubarb wine. Rhubarb wine is my favorite homemade wine to make and I usually make it as a crisp yet sweet dessert wine. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the subtle taste of rhubarb in a delicious homemade drink.
Last year, I only made a single batch of this recipe and it turned out to be a real tragedy. A tragedy in that I didn’t make more! I’m planning on rectifying the situation this year so you can bet that every spare stalk of rhubarb is going to be saved for these bottles of boozy deliciousness. The wine is dry, and crisp, and has the full-bodied taste of rhubarb in every sip. The color will vary depending on how pink the rhubarb was that you made it with. Usually, rhubarb wine turns out as a clear white wine but it can sometimes even appear slightly amber when finished. Regardless of color, it’s absolutely divine and has impressed everyone who has tried it. Especially the skeptics.
What does Rhubarb Wine taste like?
Depending on how much sugar and tannin you use, rhubarb wine can be very dry and zingy to sweet and lemony. Either way, it’s fresh and summery and great for serving at late-summer gatherings. The lemony part of the flavor comes from the oxalic acid that’s naturally in rhubarb and is what gives it its kick. The tannin in the recipe is the perfect amount, in my opinion, and comes from adding a mug of strong black tea to the must. It gives the wine a gentle dryness. Lastly, the sweetness of the wine depends on how much sugar remains in it after fermentation is complete. I go through how to make your wine sweet or dry in the instructions below.
How to Make Rhubarb Wine
Everyone knows that wine contains alcohol, but how does it get inside? Traditional grape wine is made from grape juice, and you make rhubarb wine using sweet homemade rhubarb juice. After this point, yeast is introduced and it starts eating up the sugars. Alcohol is what the yeast produces as a by-product. Depending on the wine yeast you use, you can make rhubarb wine with anywhere from eleven to fifteen percent ABV. To know exactly how much is in your wine, you’ll need to use a hydrometer which I cover below.
There is a big difference between traditional wine that you buy from supermarkets and wineries and this recipe and it all comes down to the fruit. Wine, as most of us know it, is made with grape juice. Grapes have perfect balances of sugar, water, wild yeast, tannins, and other ingredients that make winemaking relatively simple. Country wines, like rhubarb wine, take a little more thought to replicate that ideal environment.
That’s because they don’t naturally have everything that yeast needs to thrive and ferment. Grapes truly are perfect for fermenting! So, to make wine with other fruits, we add things like commercial yeast, and ingredients to stop fermentation. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can make wine from practically any berry, fruit, edible flower, and even vegetable. Black currant wine is superb but so is parsnip wine, and elderflower wine.
Make Dry or Sweet Rhubarb Wine
What you’ll end up with at the end of making rhubarb wine is a clear and light yellow to golden wine. It’s a white wine that’s initially very dry, so if that’s your taste, you could leave it at that. That dryness comes from the alcohol content and the tannins from the tea. Basically, there’s no sugar left in it at the end and the crispness reflects that. Some people prefer dry white wine, and they can bottle it up at that time.
If you’re more of a fan of dessert wines, there’s an extra step that will transform dry rhubarb wine into sweet. You literally just add a bit more sugar and an extra ingredient that ensures that the yeast doesn’t come back to life and produces more alcohol. If you’d like to use honey to back-sweeten the wine, you can do that too. When you make your own wine, keep notes on the process, records of exact quantities, and hydrometer readings.
Using a Hydrometer
Although not necessary, a hydrometer is a great way to keep track of how sugary your wine is and how much alcohol it contains. A hydrometer is a long glass bobber that you place inside another tall container with a liquid. It tells you the specific density of the liquid inside compared to plain water. Water is measured at 1.0, and liquids that are heavier than water (such as sugar water or juice) are heavier than that. Alcohol is lighter than water so the measurement would be less than 1.0.
Knowing the specific gravity of your liquid can help troubleshoot any issues that you might encounter. If you take a reading both before (original gravity ‘OG’) and after fermentation (final gravity ‘FG’), you can also know how much alcohol is in your wine. The formula for this is (OG – FG) x 131.25 = ABV %
When I first started making wine, I stopped off at the local recycling center and asked if they had any demi-johns (carboys). From there I picked up piece by piece until my set was complete. There are a lot of things that you can use in winemaking that you already have in your kitchen cupboards. You can get other specialist equipment like airlocks, hydrometers, wine corks, and a corker from a winemaking supplier. If you’re lucky, you’ll have someone local. If not, there are plenty online.
Another thing that I get recycled for winemaking is the actual wine bottles. Cleaned and sterilized, many can be used indefinitely. Though some come with screw-on lids, it can be difficult to sanitize some of them of bacteria and other contaminants. Fortunately, you can purchase sterile wine corks that you can insert into the neck of any wine bottle using a corker.
Winemaking can get expensive if you get all the equipment at once. Consider it an investment though, since each bottle of wine you’ll eventually make will cost about a dollar in ingredients. One other tip I have is that you can save money by purchasing a beginner’s winemaking kit.
Sterilizing Winemaking Equipment
Sterilizing winemaking equipment and bottles is essential. If not done properly, you can introduce all kinds of nasties into your wine that will cause it to taste terrible or spoil. There are three ways to sterilize winemaking equipment, so choose the best way for the type of material the equipment is made of.
- Run it through the dishwasher. Though you will need to use a bottle-cleaning brush to get inside wine bottles and demi-johns.
- Glass and metal objects can be sterilized in the oven. Place them inside an oven preheated to 320-350°F (160-180°C), and leave them to heat through for thirty minutes. Turn the oven off and allow them to cool inside.
- Chemical sanitizers. There are many available at winemaking suppliers and the idea is that you dissolve it into a container, allow it to sit for around 5-10 minutes then drip dry. You need to do this immediately before using the vessel and I’ve used them before when using large fermentation vessels. For this recipe and the smaller demi-john, I just use the oven method.
Less Acidic Rhubarb Wine
Some people get upset stomachs from too much acid in food and drink and, for that reason, tend to stay away from white wines. If you’re the same, there are two things you can do to make this wine recipe gentler on your stomach. First off, use bright pink forced rhubarb. It’s lower in acid than summer rhubarb. Also, you may want to consider using a specialist wine yeast. Both Vintner’s Harvest MA33 and Lalvin 71B-1122 cut down on malic acid in wine and they may be of use in reducing oxalic acid. You can also make other rhubarb recipes such as these ones:
Rhubarb Wine Recipe
- 2 Plastic tubs
- Fermentation bucket optional as you can use one of the plastic tubs
- Hydrometer optional
- 1 Demi-john 5 liter/1.3 gallon – having two demi-johns is better
- Airlock with drilled bung
- 6 Wine bottles
- 6 Wine corks optional – you can use screw tops if you wish
- Corker optional – this is a tool that helps you to cork bottles
For after fermentation
- 1 Campden tablet (or 1 tsp Campden powder)
To sweeten the wine
- ½ tsp Potassium sorbate
- 1 cup Sugar (200 g)
Prepping the rhubarb
- Wash the rhubarb sticks and cut them into half-inch, or thinner slices. Place these pieces in a clean, sterilized tub and pour in the sugar. Stir it well, and then cover the tub with a clean towel or plastic wrap and leave for at least 24 hours but up to three days.
- After that time, the sugar will have pulled the moisture out of the rhubarb, creating a rich syrup.
- Bring four quarts of water to a boil, hold it there for five minutes, and then allow it to cool to lukewarm. While it's cooling, make a large mug of strong black tea and allow that to cool too.
- Pour the lukewarm water over the rhubarb and sugar. Stir well to dissolve any of the sugar at the bottom of the tub. Pour the liquid through a strainer* into another clean tub. Discard the rhubarb pieces (or use them to make rhubarb pie).
- Pour the tea into the rhubarb liquid.
- If you want to know exactly what percentage of alcohol your wine is at the end, take a reading with a hydrometer. This is optional but will give you a better idea of what your wine is like in the end. You'll probably get a reading of about 1.1.
- Next, add yeast* and yeast nutrient to the rhubarb liquid. Stir well then cover the tub with a clean towel and allow it to sit undisturbed at room temperature for five days. If you want to be more professional in this step, you can use a primary fermentation bucket with an airlock. Fermentation will be pretty violent in this stage though so it can get messy if the container doesn't have enough headspace.
- At the end of the five days, rack the liquid through a sterilized siphoning hose from the tub into your clean demi-john. The way I do it is to set the tub on a kitchen counter and the demi-john on the floor. Place one end of the siphoning tube in the tub, about halfway deep, then suck on the other end until the liquid begins coming through. Hold the end of the tube over the demi-john's opening so that it flows inside. You could put it inside too, but be careful to not let the tube touch the demi-john. There could be germs from your mouth at the end. Alternatively, you can use an auto-siphoning tube.
- As the liquid flows into the demi-john, adjust the hose in the tub so that it's able to get all the clean liquid out. Just ensure the tube doesn't suck up the mucky residue at the bottom of the tub. If a small amount gets in that's fine, but the less you get in the better.
- Fill the demi-john so that there's no less than an inch of headspace from the top of the rhubarb liquid to the bottom of the bung that you'll insert in the next step. You'll likely have less liquid than this at this stage, though.
- Once the rhubarb liquid is in, fit a drilled bung into the demi-john's opening. Next, pour a little boiled but cooled water into the airlock's chamber before inserting it into the drilled hole in the bung. This airlock will allow gas to escape but keeps air and potential contaminants from getting inside.
- Leave the wine to ferment in a place that's at least room temperature, if not warmer. A dark-to-dim place is also best, but I usually ferment wines in my bright kitchen and haven't had any issues. Light can potentially oxidize the wine, though.
- The temperature that the wine should be during its fermentation varies depending on the type of wine yeast you're using so look at the sachet for this information. A good way to ensure that the wine is at the correct temperature is to stick an LCD thermometer strip on the demi-john.
- When your wine gets fermenting, you'll know it by the blip, blip, blip, of the water in the airlock. Fermentation usually begins immediately but can take a few days to start. Keep an eye on the temperature of the room and be patient.
- It will take about three to six weeks for fermentation to complete. By this time, the airlock may only be releasing a bubble of gas every minute or so or none at all.
Aging the Rhubarb Wine
- Rack the wine from the demi-john into a clean tub using the siphoning hose. Like before, avoid sucking up the sludge at the bottom. It's basically the remains of yeast and will make your wine look and taste pretty bad.
- Add a crushed Campden tablet to it. Crush the tablet and mix it with a small amount of water then pour it into the wine. Campden tablets contain sodium or potassium metabisulfite which stops the fermenting process. It also stops mold and bacteria from growing in your wine and spoiling it during the aging process. Adding it is not optional.
- Pour or siphon the wine into a clean and sterilized demi-john. You can use the same one you've been using if you clean it, but a second one that's prepped and ready to go is even better.
- If the wine doesn't come up to the bottom of the demi-john's neck, top it up with simple sugar syrup*. Too much oxygen touching the wine during aging can adversely affect the flavor of the wine.
- Make sure to add the potassium sorbate at this point too, so that yeast doesn't come back from the dead, and start fermenting the sugar you've just added. Mix the powder with a small amount of water and pour it into the wine.
- Fit a closed bung in the demi-john's opening and then allow it to age for six months or longer. During this time it should be kept in a dark place at a constant cool temperature and the demi-john stored upright.
- After six months, the wine will be pale golden in color, and probably quite dry (unless you added sugar syrup).
To Sweeten the Rhubarb Wine
- Have a taste, and if the flavor of the wine is too dry for your liking, you can sweeten the wine with a rich simple sugar just before bottling it. This is an optional step.
- Dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1/2 cup of boiling water. Boil for a few minutes to evaporate a little of the water. Allow this strong simple sugar syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Rack the wine into a clean tub then add the sugar syrup and the potassium sorbate* and stir well. The sugar will sweeten the wine, and the potassium sorbate will ensure that the yeast doesn't rise from the dead to devour the sugar. If you leave the potassium sorbate out, your bottles of wine could eventually explode. Take another hydrometer reading if you'd like to work out the alcohol content
Rack the wine into bottles
- If you use the hydrometer to measure the liquid's specific density again, you can now work out the alcohol content. It's likely that you'll get around 0.998 in this second reading, making the wine about 13.39% alcohol (if your initial reading was 1.1). If you want to leave it this way, you can skip the next section.
- Siphon the wine into clean and sterilized wine bottles and cork. You could technically drink it immediately but it's better to let it age a month or longer.