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Use fresh spring rhubarb and a few other ingredients to make this rhubarb wine recipe. Includes tips on equipment and the full winemaking process.
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.
I only made a single batch of this recipe last year 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, crisp, and has the full-bodied taste of rhubarb in every sip. 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 you use, rhubarb wine can be very dry and zingy to sweet and lemony. The lemony part comes from the oxalic acid that’s naturally in rhubarb. It’s what gives rhubarb its kick! Either way, it’s fresh and summery and great for serving at late summer gatherings.
Some people get upset stomachs from too much acid and there are two things you can do. 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.
how wine is made
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 a 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.
Grapes have perfect balances of sugar, water, wild yeast, tannins, and other ingredients that make winemaking simple. Making country wines, like rhubarb wine, takes a little more thought. We add things like commercial yeast, and ingredients to stop fermentation to have better control. Winemaking is a precise art, and it’s something that you can make with a lot of other berries and vegetables, like black currants, parsnips, and apples.
Choose to make dry or sweet rhubarb wine
What you’ll end up with at the end of making rhubarb wine is a clear and light 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 really like a 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 transform it into alcohol. If you’d like to use honey to sweeten the wine, you can use that instead of sugar but you’ll need to use a little more. When you make your own wine, keep notes on the process, records of exact quantities, and hydrometer readings.
If all of this is beginning to sound complicated, you can make other boozy treats with rhubarb including this delicious rhubarb gin recipe.
Using a hydrometer
Although not necessary, a hydrometer is a great way to keep track of how sugary your wine is. Also of 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, and wine corks and 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, I’d advise not reusing that part. It can be difficult to sanitize them of bacteria and other contaminants. Fortunately, you can purchase sterile wine corks that you can insert into the neck of any wine bottle.
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 the 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 to 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.
Rhubarb Wine Recipe
For after fermentation
- 1 Campden tablet or ⅓ 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 bucket 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 pink 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 with some of the water 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 for five days. If you want to be more professional in this step, you can use a primary fermenting bucket with an airlock. Fermentation will be pretty violent in this stage though so it can get messy with one.
- At the end of the five days, rack the liquid through a sterilized 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. If you don't have an auto-siphoning tube, place one end of the siphoning tube in the tub, then suck on the other end until the liquid begins coming through. Hold the end of the tube over the demi-johns' opening so that it flows inside. You could put it inside too, but be careful to not let the outer surface of the tube touch the inside of your demi. There will be germs from your mouth on the end.
- As the liquid flows into the demi-john, make sure 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. If the liquid doesn't come up to the bottom of the container's neck (and you're aiming for a dry wine) you can fill it up to this point with water that's been boiled and cooled.
- Once the liquid is in, fit your drilled cork into the demi-john. Pour a little boiled but cooled water into the airlock's chamber before fitting it into the cork.
- Leave the wine to ferment in a place that's at least room temperature, if not warmer. 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. You can purchase an LCD thermometer strip to put on your demi-john but I point the thermometer gun I use for soap making at it to take regular temperatures.
- When your wine gets fermenting, you'll know it by the blip, blip, blip, of the water in the airlock. It can get annoying when you're sleeping, so keep it out of earshot while you get your zzz's. Fermentation can take a few days to start, so keep an eye on the temperature of the room/wine and be patient.
- It will take about 4-8 weeks for fermentation to complete. By this time, the airlock may only be releasing a bubble of glass every minute or so or none at all.
Aging the wine
- Rack the wine from the demi-john into a clean tub. 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 horrible.
- Add a crushed Campden tablet to it. Campden tablets contain sodium or potassium metabisulfite which stops mold and bacteria from growing in your wine and spoiling it during the aging process. Adding it is not optional.
- Siphon the wine into another clean and sterilized demi-john. If the wine doesn't come up to the neck of the bottle, 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 potassium sorbate too, so that any remaining yeast doesn't start fermenting the added sugar. If it does, you'll likely have a mess on your hands with the bung popping out during the aging process.
- Fit a cork and then allow it to age for about six months. 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). 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.
To sweeten the 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.
- 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
- 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.