To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history - Clifton Fadiman
Our love affair with wine began more than eight thousand years ago in the South Caucasus, and we’ve been caught in its thrall and dedicated to making and consuming it ever since the Russians stumbled across the secret joy of grapes.
During the not so insignificant period of time since the first goblet of wine was savored by man, the way it’s made, stored, and drunk has evolved and changed with the passage of history, and even though we’ve become accustomed to the idea of making wine at home, it’s only been a part of the mainstream zeitgeist for the last fifty years.
The notion that someone could make wine in the comfort of their own home took off in the early nineteen seventies and led to a nationwide explosion in the popularity of the product of grape fermentation.
Having slowly but surely taken root in the counterculture movement that found a natural home in California, the practice of home winemaking soon began to spread throughout the country, and a generation of amateur vintners transformed what had, up until the beginning of the age of velour and disco, been an incredible niche hobby into a powerhouse industry that became the envy of the world.
It may have started small, but like the tiny acorn, the American wine industry grew into a mighty oak that changed the way that people all over the globe thought about and made wine.
The art of winemaking is now thought of as a serious pastime that requires a level of devotion that has attracted serious-minded hobbyists and fun-loving part-timers to its cause, uniting all would-be practitioners in a common love of all things grape.
And without fail, the one question that every new winemaker asks their fellow vintners when they first start fermenting and bottling the fruit of their labors is “How long does it take to make wine and when can I drink the first bottle that I’ve made?”
Truthfully, there is no definitive answer to the question, as the age-old idea that it gets better with age applies to all wine. The longer you leave a bottle of wine to mature, the better it’ll eventually taste when you do pour a glass.
There is however a golden rule that every vintner should be aware of when they start down the path to winemaking glory, and that’s the minimum amount of time that you should leave a bottle of homemade wine for before you open it and drink it.
And the general consensus among the amateurs (and professionals) who have invested their lives, time, and energy into crafting homemade wine, is that you shouldn’t even think about sampling a bottle for at least two months.
How Long Does It Take To Make Homemade Wine?
Two months (personally, we’d add at least two weeks to that figure and would be more comfortable waiting at least three months before we opened a bottle of the wine that we’ve made) might seem like an excessive amount of time to have to wait, but you have to remember that it takes around three weeks for wine to ferment properly and after the fermentation process has “finished”, wine should be left to mature for another three weeks before it’s bottled.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t sample your wine before you bottle it, you can, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Patience is a virtue, and it’s a key human ingredient to making sure that your wine tastes as good as you hope it will when you make it.
To reinforce that idea, we’re going to briefly guide you through the aging process and explain what happens to wine when it’s left in the bottle, and why it gets better the longer you leave it.
One Month - After a month the wine has started to settle in the bottle, and even though you can taste it, no serious vintner would advise you to even try it at this point. Don’t give in to temptation, and keep telling yourself that the wait will be worth it.
Two To Three Months - Your wine has started to age, and having been left to mature has to start to build the flavor profile that in your heart of hearts, you’re hoping it will develop. It’s also the minimum recommended time that you should leave your wine in the bottle for.
Six Months - The long wait is over, and after six long months and more than one hundred and eighty days in the bottle, your wine has reached the point where it should have matured properly and you can fully enjoy the wide-ranging flavor profile that it will have built up while aging in the bottle.
Twelve Months - We know, it’s asking a lot of anyone to leave their wine in the bottle for twelve months before they drink it.
But trust us, it will be worth it as the rich, deep, and sweet flavors that it will have acquired while it’s been left to mature will be even more intense, and the first sip that you take will be enough to make you believe that twelve months is the perfect amount of time to age your wine for.
After all, the longer you leave it in the bottle., the better your wine is going to taste when you eventually drink it.
Aging Your Wine
The rules for aging homemade wine don't usually apply to wines that you’d buy in the supermarket or from a liquor store, as they’re almost always ready to drink as soon as you get them home.
The winery responsible for creating and bottling the wine will have made sure that the wine has been aged correctly before, and after being bottled, which means that as soon as you’ve paid for the bottle, you can start drinking it.
It goes without saying that we’d recommend that you wait until you get home before you do start drinking it because drinking in public can lead to all sorts of unwanted legal complications and every local police department tends to frown on any behavior that doesn’t treat wine (or any alcohol for that matter) with the respect that it deserves.
The Red And White Conundrum - Red wines tend to benefit more than white wines do from aging and being left to mature, and the longer they’re stored properly, the richer and deeper the flavor of the wine will be.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, as Champagne (which is made from white grapes and is technically a white wine), tastes even sweeter and slightly divine if it’s left to age for a decade or two.
Some red wines, such as Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel acquire an incredibly interesting and wonderful flavor profile if they’re left to mature for more than five years, but the cost of letting them do so (unless you’ve used that particular variety of grape to make your own wine and have stored it at home) in a purpose-made cellar almost always increases the cost per bottle for a winery, which they then pass on to their customers.
Which, at least partially, explains why some wines are far more expensive than others are. The older a wine is, the less affordable it is.
Maturity And Cost - While most of us balk at paying more than twenty or thirty dollars for a bottle of wine if you do push the grape filled economic boat out now and then and occasionally invest in an eye wateringly expensive bottle of wine, then it will benefit from being stored properly and left to mature.
How long you leave your investment before you succumb and drink it, is entirely up to you.
And, if you make red wine at home, then the longer you leave it in the bottle, providing it’s sealed the right way, the better it will eventually taste when you drink it.
Leaving your wine to rest in the basement, or in a dark corner of your home, is the easiest way to create your own vintage and can, and will, help you to increase your skills as an amateur vintner.
The Cork Versus The Screw - The way you seal your bottles can make a world of difference to the way a wine ages.
If you just use screw tops, then your wine isn’t going to benefit from being left to age for an extended period of time, and after six months or so, it’s probably going to be as good as it ever will be.
It’s one of the reasons why a lot of cheaper wines are sold in screw-top bottles, as they’ve been stored for as long as they need to be and are ready to drink straight away.
However, the same isn’t true of any bottle sealed with a cork. Corks don’t seal a bottle as tightly as a screw-top cap does, which means that they allow oxygen in, which helps the wine in the bottle to acquire a whole host of new and interesting flavors as it matures and ages.
If you want your homemade wine to get better and better with age, learn how to cork your bottles.
Storing Your Wine
The way you store your wine is just as important as the amount of time that you leave it for, and there are some set rules (a lot of winemaking is about rules and established parameters, all of which are worth learning and following) that should help to guarantee that your age will age and mature gracefully and with (added) taste.
Keep The Lights Low - Ideally, wine should be stored in dark bottles and in a dark corner or, if you have one, the basement of your home.
Any light, both artificial and natural, can have an adverse effect on the flavor of the wine being stored, so make sure you store your bottles somewhere where they won’t be troubled by excessive light.
Temperature - Wine can be temperamental and it doesn’t react well in the heat and doesn’t like it if wherever it’s being stored is too cold.
Like Goldilocks, wine likes its storage area to be just right, which in real-world terms means that wherever you store it should be between fifty-five and sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it’s just right.
No Basement? No Room? Let’s Talk Fridges - If you don’t have the necessary room to store your wine, you could always invest in a wine fridge, set its temperature accordingly, and install it in a relatively dark corner of your home.
Contrary to popular belief, white wine doesn’t have to be kept in the cold, and should only be chilled for a few hours before you drink it.
But red wine, that should be served at room temperature, and after it’s been opened should be left to breathe for a couple of minutes before it’s poured.
A Quick Guide To Making Wine
Now that you know how long you should store your wine, and how to store it, we thought it might be fun to tell you what you’ll need to make, and how to make the wine that you’re going to store.
The Basics - Let’s start with the ingredients. You’ll need two kilograms of your chosen fruit (preferably grapes), two hundred grams of sugar, water, and a packet of wine yeast
The Equipment - And, here’s the equipment that you’ll need to make, and bottle, your wine - An airlock (and stopper), some bottles and corks, a couple of one gallon fermenting jugs, a sieve, a hydrometer, and a fermenter
Once you assembled all of your equipment and your fruit, it’s time to start making your wine, which despite what you may have heard while gathered around the water cooler or in the changing room of your gym, isn’t overly complicated or difficult.
Cleaning - Make sure that all of your equipment is clean and ready. Thoroughly wash whatever fruit you’ve chosen, and when you’re satisfied that you’ve washed off whatever the bugs might have left on it, and any dirt that the store missed, put the fruit in the fermentation bucket.
It’s Crushing And Smashing Time - Crush and squish your fruit in the fermenter and when you’re satisfied that you’ve thoroughly pulped it, add two gallons of water to the mixture and stir it thoroughly for roughly thirty minutes.
Sugar And Yeast - This is where the fun begins. Add the sugar to the mixture and again, thoroughly stir it in for about thirty minutes or so.
Once you’re happy that the sugar has been stirred into the mixture, open the packet of yeast, tip it into the mixture and, that’s right you guessed it, stir it in until it completely dissolves.
Fermentation - After everything in the fermenter has been thoroughly stirred and mixed, cover it up and leave it somewhere safe, at around seventy degrees Fahrenheit, overnight.
When you get up in the morning, and while your coffee is brewing, give the mixture a stir and over the course of the next five days or so, stir the mixture every five or six hours.
Into The Jugs - After five days, your mixture (you can check to see if it’s ready with the hydrometer, but believe us, it will be) will be ready to be transferred to the fermenting jugs. Place the sieve over the first jug and slowly and carefully pour half of the mixture into it.
As soon as it’s full, transfer the sieve to the other jug and carefully pour the rest of the mixture into the second jug.
All of the fruit will be caught by the sieve (you might have to empty it a couple of times while you’re transferring the mixture to the jugs), and as soon as you’ve finished, dispose of the fruit that’s been caught by the aforementioned sieve in a recycling food bin or bag.
Seal the top of each jug with an airlock and bung, and store the jugs in a cool dark dark place for a month a half. We know, it’s a long time, but as we said earlier, patience is a virtue and one of the key ingredients to making good wine is patience.
Bottling - After the full six weeks have passed, transfer the contents of the fermenting jugs to your bottles, cork them and store them somewhere cool and dark for the next couple of months.
And then when the time is right, and the minimum period has passed, you’ll be ready to break open and enjoy your first bottle of homemade wine.
Dispelling Some Homemade Wine Myths
As making wine at home has become more and more popular, the number of myths and half-truths about it have increased tenfold, so before we leave you to your winemaking devices and let you get on with what’s really important, making wine, we thought we’d take a few moments to lay some of the more persistent rumors and myths to bed once and for all.
Homemade Wine Will Wipe You Out - We’ve all heard the stories about a friend of a friend who was hospitalized after drinking a bottle of homemade wine and almost didn’t make it out of the ICU, and how homemade wine can and will make you sick.
It’s nonsense of course, but it’s one of those urban legends that won’t go away.
As long as you thoroughly clean and sanitize all of your winemaking equipment, and wash the fruit that you’re using to make it before you start, there’s almost zero chance of your homemade wine making anyone sick.
We say zero, as we and you can’t be responsible for the amount of wine that one of your friends or family members might drink, and if they drink too much, they’re going to get sick.
And as the yeast you’ll use has been specially formulated for winemaking, and all of the fermenting jugs and bottles are made from food-grade materials, there is absolutely no way that your homemade wine will make anyone sick.
Unless of course, they drink far too much of it, but again, that’s just one of those factors that you can’t control.
The Hangovers Are Worse With Homemade Wine - Unfortunately, this one might be true and it’s all due to the increased amount of tannin and histamine that the homebrewing processing will imbue your wine with.
It’s one of those things that can’t be avoided unless you drink less and actually take the time to savor and enjoy all of the flavors that your wine will develop and accrue while it’s being stored and you’re waiting to drink it.
The Final Word On Wine Time
Now you know as much as we do about how long you need to store your homemade (and incredibly expensive store-bought) wine for if you want to make sure that it tastes as good as you hope it will.
Just remember, the key to good wine is patience. The longer you leave it in the bottle, the better it will be.