1. Patience is a Virtue
Many wine kits are marketed as “4 Week” or “6 Week” kits, however, this should be considered the timeframe from opening your kit to the start of aging. For a delicious and refined final product, the wine should be aged at least an additional 3 months, if not 6 months or a year before enjoying. The longer you can wait, up to several years or more, the better your wine will taste.
2. Bulk Aging is Better
Some controversy exists over whether aging in a carboy provides any benefit over aging in bottles. Bulk aging has a few distinct advantages, however, such as being able to test and evaluate your wine as it ages – and make changes as necessary. The aging of wine is a process of allowing small, controlled amounts of air to slowly oxidize the wine, smoothing and refining its flavor. Carboy storage ensures the proportion of air to wine is very minute, while bottles tend to include more oxygen per volume of wine. The more slowly your wine is oxidized, the better – a clear advantage of bulk aging.
Bulk aging also makes the wine more resistant to temperatures changes, as the larger volume of wine heats and cools more slowly than individual bottles, preventing thermal shock. Allowing your kit wine to sit on the lees will extract extra flavor and character in your reds, and additional racking is only possible if your wine is bulk stored. Additives such as oak, spices, or flavorings can be easily added to wine stored in carboys – once your wine is in bottles, your input is finished.
Experts agree that bulk aging offers no benefit after 24 months. We recommend bulk aging your kit in a carboy for 6 months to a year, and then bottling. If nothing else, it’s less tempting to drink your prematurely aged wine from a carboy than it is to crack open a bottle!
3. Storage Conditions Matter
The conditions under which your wine is stored will have a dramatic impact on its aging and overall quality. Although many households like to display their homemade wine proudly on racks in their kitchen or dining room, absolute darkness is the ideal. UV light will degrade wine over time, and this is why we recommend dark green bottles over flint.
The temperature of your aging area should be kept cool, between 55 and 65°F, and it should fluctuate as little as possible (10°F or less is acceptable). Humidity should be between 60-80% so that corks (if bottled) neither dry out completely nor become saturated with moisture and begin to degrade or grow mold.
Additional factors such as constant vibration from a washing machine, chemicals or cleaners stored nearby, or simply too much moving/shifting of the stored wine should also be avoided.
4. Oak Your Wine Kit
Oaking wine provides a huge benefit to its flavor profile, enhancing fruity flavors and aromas and adding deliciously subtle hints of vanilla, chocolate, coffee, or nutty undertones. Some wine kits contain a packet of oak, the quality of which will almost always be proportionate to the price and quality of the wine kit. You truly get what you pay for when it comes to wine kits.
Many kit winemakers choose to purchase small quantities of oak to fine-tune and personalize their creation, which we highly recommend. “Oakmore” powder is a great option, which will impart full flavor after just 1-2 weeks and will settle to the bottom to be racked off. We offer oak chips, cubes, and shavings in small quantities perfect for a kit. These take longer than the powder, typically between 3 weeks and 2 months, depending on the size of the oak particles Larger chunks of oak require more exposure time due to less surface area contacting the wine, but may impart better flavor characteristics.
Super Smoother is a 2-part kit containing 1-part Glycerin for improving mouthfeel and smoothing harsh young wines, and 1-part Sinatin 17 which is a liquid oak extract for flavor. Super Smoother comes in a handy 1 oz packet that will treat 6 gallons of wine.
With any oak, it is always best to test and evaluate the flavor at multiple stages of oaking so you can fine-tune the desired level of oakiness in your wine. Beginners tend to over-oak their wine – remember that one can always add more oak, but never take it away.
5. Back-Sweetening, Back-Blending, and Halting Fermentation
Back-sweetening and back-blending is often necessary in kit wines that ferment out extremely dry. Many kits intending to produce a sweeter wine will include a packet of unfermented grape juice, which is added after fermentation has ended and the wine has been stabilized (back-blending). This method is superior to adding peripheral sweeteners (back-sweetening), as blending the same exact grape juice will integrate much more smoothly into the flavor of the wine.
It’s important to make sure fermentation has completely ended before either back-sweetening or back-blending. Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Metabisulphite are used to ensure fermentation does not renew after the addition of juice or sugar, as without these preservatives the remaining yeast would simply convert that added sugar to more alcohol.
Much akin to oaking wine, it’s very important to taste before and after you blend or sweeten. Take a small sample of wine from your carboy and mix a proportional amount of juice or sweetener and evaluate its impact on flavor. Here you can make your own interpretation of how much juice is needed to achieve a desired result. Also similar to oaking, one can always add more juice or sweetener to a wine, but it's difficult to reverse the effect.