During the fermentation process, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is created by the yeast, along with the creation of alcohol. In beer, CO2 is not much of a worry as it creates the carbonation. In a still wine however, CO2 is undesirable and affect the taste and quality of the wine.
When making wine that will be in the carboy for quite a while before bottling, getting rid of CO2 is not as big of an issue as it is for kit wines. Most people that purchase wine making kits buy them so that they can bottle their wines in 4 to 8 weeks. But in reality, this is simply not enough time in most cases to allow CO2 to disipate out of the wine adequately.
Most wine kit instructions do stress the importance of degassing wine. But they are usually pretty short on instructions. For example, a recent kit that I purchased – a RJ Spagnol’s Cellar Classics Zinfandel states:
“Important: Degas wine vigorously for 5 minutes by stirring with the handle of a spoon or with a drill mounted stirring device. INSUFFICIENT STIRRING WILL PREVENT THE WINE FROM CLEARING ADEQUATELY.”
Well, 5 minutes of stirring with the handle of a spoon once is inadequate most of the time to even come close to fully degassing a wine. And using a drill with a stirring device for five minutes without some proper precautions is insufficient – to say nothing of the fact that even this is unlikely to properly disperse CO2 from a wine that is only 4 to 6 weeks old. Add in some high pressure weather systems in the area, or perhaps the wine has been kept in a very cool part of the house, and there’s a good chance you may need to stir vigorously several times a day for several days to get rid of most of the unwanted gas.
I once met a man who was quite pleased he had made wine at a wine making store and he wanted to share one of his bottles with me. He opened it up and began to pour – and immediately, there was a good amount of foam on top. Swirling the red wine in the glass created even more foam on top. This was a wine that was seriously neglected by the staff at the store he did his winemaking at as far as degassing is concerned. The wine tasted ok – it was a young wine made and bottled not long before he opened it – but that presence of CO2 was not very good.
So what can you do to properly degass your wine? Well, the instructions provided by the wine kit are partially correct. Stirring vigorously for five minutes is a good thing. But you should then put the airlock back on the carboy, and let it sit for a while – a couple of hours, perhaps three, or more – the choice is yours – when you have time and come back and give that wine another vigorous stirring for several minutes. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. You might have to do this over several days to adequately degass your wine.
I’ll admit that if you are just wanting to make wine that is drinkable in four to six weeks, and you are planning on consuming it fairly quickly and aren’t picky about some foam in your glass, then degassing might not be all that important to you. But if you are thinking of putting some bottles in the cellar and you want something to be really proud of, degassing is an important step.
It’s not hard, it’s not really time consuming either. I’ll sometimes just degass a wine in the kitchen while I’m looking through the kitchen door at the hockey game. Might as well do something else if I can, instead of just sitting there.
If you are planning on making more than the odd batch of wine, you might want to consider purchasing a device called a “Fizz-X” or a “Whip De-Gasser.” I have the Fizz-X – both of these are similar in that they attach to an electric drill. The Fizz-X has a plastic fitting that slides up and down the steel rod, and fits into the mouth of a 5 Imperial gallon carboy. The top of the Fizz-X is fitted into a drill, while the bottom has collapsible blades on the end. Once the drill is turned on, after the rod is in the wine, the blades swing out and agitate the wine faster than a vigorous stirring by hand will do, and helps to drive out the CO2 more quickly.
Some precautions if you decide to try this method:
- An electric drill is electric. Becareful you won’t splash wine into it. The last thing you want is to get electrocuted before you even have a chance to enjoy your wine!
- You might want to remove some of the wine from the carboy to drop the level. These devices can cause a whirlpool effect and if you’re not careful, you could overflow the carboy.
- Don’t turn the drill on to its highest speed at first. If your wine has a lot of CO2 in it, you could get a lot more foaming than you thought possible.
There is another method you can use to degas your sine using a vacuum, but we’ll discuss that in another article.
How do you know if your wine has been adequately degassed? Simple – give it a stir and see if you get foam at the top with bubbles racing to escape in the wine. If you see that, your wine could use some degassing.
And you do want to make the best wine you can, right? So don’t forget this important step, and spend a little time on the process of degassing.