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How to Make Wine at Home [Beginner’s Guide]
If you've found us, I'm guessing you're taking your first tentative steps towards making your own wine...
You might be overwhelmed at the thought of becoming a winemaker but don't be!
There are two key skills every good domestic winemaker needs, and I'm pretty sure you have them already.
- 1Patience! There's a lot of waiting.
- 2A good stirring arm. There's a lot of stirring!
Think you're up to the task? Great!
Everything else you need is right here in our guide to making homemade wine.
This is the most comprehensive wine making guide on the internet and we're really proud of it.
There are easy to follow step by step recipes for red wine and white wine.
We cover all the bases and hold your hand as you transform fruit (or fruit concentrate) into delicious wine!
Step #1: Equipment You Need to Make Wine
Winemaking does require some specialist equipment but there are also components that you can replace with things that may be lying around the house.
If you're looking for the quickest and easiest route to homemade bottled wine then specialist wine kits are available containing all the necessary equipment and sometimes most of the ingredients too.
Just be aware that you'll pay a premium for this convenience.
The individual pieces of winemaking equipment that you'll need are listed below. Keep reading to have each of them explained.
The Optional Science Kits:
Good winemaking relies on keeping the grape juice within precise operating windows for temperature, acidity, sulfur dioxide, and malic/lactic acid (during malolactic fermentation).
You have a significantly better chance of producing a great tasting wine by regularly monitoring these factors and adjusting your wine must accordingly.
If you're making wine from grapes, I would definitely use these tools.
I explain them all below.
This is a large container that will contain most of the ingredients. The initial fermentation takes place here and this is where you'll be doing most of your stirring!
It's typically called a fermenting bucket in the brewing trade and it's exactly the same thing we need. However, with winemaking we don't need an airtight lid.
This is a piece of winemaking equipment that you can 'cut corners' with.
Basically, what you need is a large bucket, but it needs to be made with food grade material.
Polyethylene plastic works well, as does glass and stainless steel (but they can be heavy).
Wood can be difficult to clean and materials like copper can be aluminum can be toxic.
The size is really important here.
Wine recipes typically make one gallon or six gallons of wine.
This is the volume of finished wine.
The initial mixture that the primary fermentation bucket holds is more than this (especially if you're making wine with actual grapes).
Therefore, the size of your primary fermentation container needs to be bigger than the resultant wine volume stated by the recipe.
The fuss-free option is to just go with the bigger container and leave your options open.
A common size of fermenting bucket available from winemaking stores is 7.9 gallons.
This is even big enough for 6 gallon wine recipes made from grapes. This is the size we recommend as it gives you options.
Note: Most wine recipe kits that include grape concentrate, will yield 6 gallons of wine.
Winemaking Tip #1
Never underestimate the importance of being clean! EVERY piece of equipment needs to be washed and sterlized before use or you risk spoiling your wine. We explain how to do this here.
Secondary Fermenter (Carboy)
This container is usually made from glass (but sometimes plastic) and can be matched in size to the amount of wine produced by the wine recipe.
It's actually really important to match the size of this piece of equipment as closely as possible to the wine yield of our recipe.
We want this to be filled as closely to the top as possible to limit exposure to air (well, oxygen really).
Carboys are the popular choice of container for this purpose. They are big glass jugs that have a thin neck and a small opening at the top. The thin neck limits the surface area of wine that is exposed to air.
The top of our carboy is usually sealed with an airlock (see below).
If your budget allows it, I recommended getting two carboys. But, it's certainly not essential.
Having two will make your life much easier when it comes to racking the wine. You can just rack from one directly into the other, instead of using a 'holding' container and cleaning the original carboy before filling it again.
Wine Press (Optional)
A wine press is a device that allows you to extract the maximum juice from crushed grapes in minimal time.
If you only plan on making 6 gallons of wine per year then it's really not necessary to buy one as they can be expensive. Using whatever is in your kitchen to crush the grapes is perfectly fine.
If you plan on making large batches or multiple batches a year then it might be something to consider.
Remember that to produce 5 gallons of wine you'll need to crush around 65-80 pounds of grapes. Let that be a marker for the work that lies ahead.
For most other wine varieties you'll need far less fruit to produce 5 gallons.
The two key things that a wine press does for you are:
- 1It extracts more fruit
- 2Saves time
Important Note - If you're making red wine from grapes, then we press after fermentation and not before. This is to ensure the juice takes on as much color as possible from the grape skins.
The airlock fits into the lid or opening for the secondary fermenter (carboy) and allows carbon dioxide to be vented out.
The carbon dioxide is produced during fermentation, and it's important to allow it to escape to relieve pressure in the container.
The key here is to not allow any oxygen to enter the carboy at the same time and that's why we need a specialist airlock.
Oxidation of wine is bad news at this stage of its lifecycle, causing it to age prematurely. Too much oxygen at the fermentation stage can also cause bacteria to thrive, which will ultimately lead to an overly acidic wine.
Racking Cane (Auto-Siphon)
A raking cane is used for moving liquid from vessel to another. Be it from fermentation bucket to carboy, carboy to carboy (when racking), or carboy to bottles.
It consists of a long transparent plastic tube with a length of flexible tubing at one end. This tubing has a clamp to shut off the flow of wine.
The opposite end is where the wine is sucked up and it is designed to prevent dead yeast cells making their way into the bottles. It does this by not sucking up wine that is in contact with the bottom of the container.
Like a straining cloth, this is used to filter out the solid fruit pulp.
You can use substitute materials here like a cheesecloth.
This is necessary if you're starting from fruit pulp. If you're using fruit concentrate you may not need this.
Making good wine is as much about science as it is about good ingredients and following a good recipe.
A hydrometer is a key piece of equipment that allows you to monitor sugar levels and also to track fermentation.
It does this by measuring the specific gravity (which represents the concentration of sugar) of a liquid.
- We measure for the first time before the fermentation starts. This measurement allows us to predict how much alcohol can be created (the sugar is converted into alcohol during fermentation).
- We measure during fermentation to monitor the stage it's at. The more sugar that has been converted, the further we are in the cycle. If you want a sweeter wine, you'll want to halt fermentation early. A really dry wine, on the other-hand, will convert all of the sugars into alcohol (and therefore be more alcoholic too).
- When we've reached our desired Specific Gravity (SG) or Brix reading (don't worry, a wine recipe will tell you) it's time to rack the wine.
You can use these hydrometer readings to calculate the alcohol content of your wine.
We'll explain all of this in more detail further on. We've got a great guide on hydrometers if you're keen to learn more.
Calculating ABV of Homemade Wine
ABV (%) = (Final SG - Original SG) x 131
Original reading = 1.090
Final reading = 0.997
(0.997 - 1.090) * 131 = 12.2
Wine Alcohol Content = 12.2% ABV
Without a hydrometer you are simply guessing and this is a dangerous thing to do. It's really important to be precise when making wine!
A hydrometer is a relatively cheap piece of equipment that has a huge influence on your success.
I recommend this one that comes with a measuring cylinder included (you need one of these too) and a protective case. It can measure in 3 scales (Brix, Specific Gravity, Potential Alcohol) which is everything we need.
Important Note: It's really important that you have the liquid you are measuring at the right temperature. Hydrometers are usually calibrated at 68 F (20 C) so for an accurate reading, your wine must should be at the same temperature. Check your hydrometer instructions as the calibration temperature can vary slightly by manufacturer.
This is another piece of winemaking equipment that I wouldn't say is absolutely essential but for the relatively small cost it can really help provide excellent conditions for your yeast and grape must.
Yeast works best within a specific temperature range and you can only be sure you are meeting those needs with a thermometer.
A thermometer is also helpful later on in the process when maturing the wine.
A degasser is a device that helps remove carbon dioxide (fizz) from your wine.
If you're making red wine I'm sure you don't it to be carbonated so this is what we use to remove the bubbles before bottling.
It should be said that if you age your wine (before bottling) long enough then the CO2 will naturally disappear but there's no exact timeline on this. You may also degas your wine by stirring vigorously, but this can take a long time.
pH Meter (Optional)
It's not essential but without it you're leaving things slightly to good fortune, especially if you're making wine from grapes.
A pH meter allows you to balance your wine must (the must is what we call the juice) so that it has the right level of acidity for a good wine.
Getting your wine must in the desired operating window for acidity is crucial for a successful fermentation and also for getting a flavorful, fruity wine as an end-product.
pH can be measured using a meter that costs $15-$40 or test strips that shouldn't cost more than $10. Test strips aren't great for red wine though as the deep red color makes reading the color chart very difficult!
You need accurate measurements within +/- 0.1 pH so that should be your benchmark when looking for a solid pH meter.
This one from Milwaukee Instruments is a popular one that also measures temperature.
Acid Test Kit (Optional)
Like a pH meter, this isn't an essential purchase. However, you're taking a chance if you don't ensure your wine must is in the right operating window for titratable acidity (TA).
You risk affecting the fermentation and also the overall balance/quality of the wine by not taking regular measurements and making adjustments.
Specialist test kits are available from good wine making stores. They shouldn't cost more than $15.
CellarScience make one that's available here.
Chromatography Test Kit (Optional)
This is used for checking the progress of malolactic fermentation (MLF).
Malolactic fermentation is implemented when making most red wines and a few notable white varieties like Chardonnay.
A test kit like this is the only way to know for sure that MLF is finished. However, they are expensive and you may just want to 'wait it out'. MLF should be finished when carbon dioxide bubbles stop passing as bubbles through the air lock (after a few weeks).
You can see one here.
SO2 Test Kit (Optional)
Keeping track of sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels within wine is an important balancing act along with pH/TA (acidity).
SO2 works as a preservative and protects your wine from spoiling. It has antiseptic and antioxidant properties that conserve your wine and stop it turning into a vinegary soup.
However, levels of SO2 must be managed and it's not the easiest thing to measure. Too much SO2 and the taste will be affected, too little and it won't have an effect.
You can go down the path of an expensive (more accurate) electronic device or much cheaper vial test kits.
Punching Down Tool (Red Wine Only)
When the red wine is fermenting with skins, pulp and all, the 'bits' will float to the surface to form a cap.
We need to continually 'punch down' this cap and mix it back into our must.
Punching down helps prevent bacteria forming on the oxygen exposed solids and it also ensures the grape must takes on as much flavor and color as possible from the skins and solids.
You can 'punch down' with anything you feel you have lying around that would work but a dedicated tool is best.
Bottles, Corks, Corker
If you plan on bottling your wine like most of us, you'll need bottles, corks and a corker to push the corks into the bottles.
Wine bottle corkers come in a few varieties.
Floor corkers are hands down the best. But, they are expensive and take up a lot of space. I would only go for one of these if you plan on making lots of wine (many batches a year).
Double lever hand corkers are a great alternative. They cost a fraction of the price and work great for 30 bottles at a time.
I've used this one and I can recommend it. It's sturdy and quite inexpensive. It works best with #8 corks.
A bottle filler attaches to your racking can (via some tubing). The racking cane sits in your carboy and draws the wine out which is deposited into your bottle down below.
A bottle filler isn't an essential piece of equipment as you can easily fill bottles without one. However, it ensures each bottle is filled to the correct level automatically. It also ensures there is no splashing or excessive oxygen exposure which are bad for the wine at this stage.
You can pick one up for less than $10 and it's good value in my opinion.
The Other Bits
We've covered the specialist pieces of winemaking equipment that you'll need but there are some other little bits that are helpful too. You might have these lying around the kitchen already.
Winemaking Tip #2
Key to great wine is thriving yeast. Give your yeast the best possible conditions by:
1. Keeping the temperature consistent (Red wine = 68-83°F, white wine = 59°F or less).
2. Providing plenty of energy (sugars).
3. Keeping it healthy with nutrients.
Don't worry, we'll explain how in the recipe down below!
Step #2: Winemaking Ingredients
Ok great, you've sourced all of your equipment for making your first batch of homemade wine!
Next, we need those special ingredients.
Just like with the equipment, there are 'all in one' kits available that contain everything you need.
They're expensive but the good ones produce some pretty good tasting wine.
I like the Fontana range available on Amazon but there are some other good ones out there too.
They definitely make life a bit easier but they involve cutting corners slightly so you don't get the full experience. They provide the grape concentrate already made, so you skip the whole first stage of prepping and crushing the grapes.
Anyway, if you want to do things the traditional way then this is what you need.
There's a shopping list below followed by a description of each wine ingredient and what it does.
Important Note: Our wine recipe is for making 6 gallons (23 liters) of wine. This is the final volume of bottled wine. It equals around 5 bottles.
65-80 pounds of grapes = Approximately 5 gallons of wine
The starting point for wine is usually fruit but flowers, herbs, and even vegetables can be used too.
We're going to stick with the classic grape wine in this guide but if you're keen to experiment we've got a compilation of great homemade wine recipes.
How Do We Select the Right Fruit?
The condition of the fruit is really important. We want beautifully ripe grapes!
Too young and they won't contain enough sugar and will taste tart.
Too old and over-ripe and the wine just won't taste good.
Ripe grapes have the highest sugar content which is excellent news for winemaking. They're also at their least acidic or tart.
To be honest, any type of grape will do. It's just important that it's sweet.
Some vineyards sell grapes online, and if you're fortunate enough to live in 'wine country' be sure to ask around.
How to Inspect Wine Grapes
Generally speaking, the more money you spend the better quality the grapes will be. However, quality is not guaranteed and it's really important to check your haul upon delivery.
A really thorough check should include testing pH and sugar levels (brix). We'll discuss both of these down below.
A grape inspection should include both a visual check and a taste test.
The grapes should taste flavorful and sweet. The seeds should be crunchy and taste bitter.
Visually, a few raisins are ok but we don't want whole clusters.
Be wary of sulfur in the form of yellow dust. This is added to fend off mildew and is normal practice in vineyards.
However, if it's added late in the season it can pose big problems for your wine in the form of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) which can spoil wines.
Measuring Sugar Content
The grape grower will be able to tell you the sugar content as this was measured when the grapes were harvested.
We're looking for sugar levels in the ranges of:
1° Brix = 1% sugar (1 gram of sugar per 100ml)
Brix can be measured using a hydrometer or refractometer.
It's not the end of the world if grapes are slightly too sweet or not sweet enough as we can correct this after we crush them.
We can add sugar to raise the °Brix and dilute with water to lower the reading.
However, if they are more than a few °Brix outside the desired range then we have a problem.
Measuring Grape Acidity (pH and TA)
Acidity is another really important metric when it comes to wine grapes.
We measure this using pH and also TA (Titratable Acidity).
The pH scale runs from 0 (strong acid) to 14 (strong alkali) and measures how strongly acidic or alkali a liquid is. The middle of the scale (7) is a neutral solution.
For finished red wines we want a pH of between 3.4 - 3.7.
For finished white wines we want a pH of between 3.0 - 3.4.
Since the pH will naturally rise during fermentation, we want the pH of our grapes to be slightly lower than these values.
Ideally, we want our grapes to be within 0.3 pH.
We measure pH using a pH meter.
TA stands for Titratable Acidity. This is another similar measure to pH but it represents acidity by volume (grams per liter).
A value of 8 g/L TA can also be represented as 0.8% TA.
It's a great measure of how tart (or acidic) a wine or grape is.
Most finished wines have a TA in the range of 0.6 - 0.9% TA.
Our target TA for our grapes is:
Again, it's not the end of the world if we're slightly out as we can correct this before fermentation. But, we don't want to be making large adjustments because this will negatively impact the flavor of our wine.
We don't really want to be adjusting by more than +/- 0.2% TA.
Important Note: It's actually very unlikely that we get perfect wine grapes which contain the perfect balance of acidity and sugars, so needing to make adjustments is common.
We can raise and lower both pH and TA using a variety of methods that each have their pros and cons. We'll discuss these in our recipe a bit later.
The levels of sugar in a wine recipe affect two things.
The sweetness and the alcohol content.
The total level of a sugar in a recipe (both from the fruit and sugar that we add) provides an alcohol content equal to 50%.
For example, if we have a mixture containing 24% sugar, after fermentation we will have a wine at 12% ABV.
To be honest, for beginner winemakers, it's best to keep the ABV in the range of 10-12%.
Too much sugar overwhelms the yeast and will be left as residual sugar in the wine. This will result in a sweet wine.
If we go with less sugar, the wine may have a very thin body and could be quite tart.
A higher ABV also prohibits microorganisms from growing and spoiling our wine.
What Kind of Sugar Do We Need?
Most sugar that you have lying around the house will do just fine!
However, avoid sugars that contain molasses as they will flavor the wine in an undesirable way.
We dissolve the sugar in boiling water to form a syrup so the texture/type of sugar isn't so important. We just care about its sweet goodness!
The right balance for making syrup is 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water. This gives us a syrup with a 50% sugar content.
Corn sugar (dextrose) is great for winemaking because it's usually ready made for yeast consumption.
Important Note: In our recipe we use corn sugar (dextrose) as it's very easy to use and make the required calculations with.
Yeast is actually lots of really tiny single cell organisms that need food, moisture, and heat to survive. A bit like us!
If we treat yeast well, it will reward us by converting sugar into alcohol (and carbon dioxide) during the magical fermentation process.
For making wine, we really want to use a special wine yeast. Baker's yeast (Brewer's yeast) is acceptable but it will struggle to get you alcohol levels above 10%.
These days good wine yeasts are made by the following companies:
They usually come in 5 gram packets of dry yeast or 35ml to 180ml liquid packets.
Each packet is usually the correct amount of yeast for a 5 gallon recipe. Make sure and consult the recipe though just to be sure.
Wine Yeast Suggestions
Note: Our two suggestions are two of the most popular choices for home winemakers. However, selecting the right wine yeast really depends on the type of wine you want to produce.
Yeast only performs its winemaking role under the right conditions.
One of these conditions is to be fed with a nutritious dinner!
Yeast nutrient is basically energy for the yeast to keep it consuming sugars and making alcohol at a decent rate. It also keeps the yeast healthy.
Yeast nutrients usually include a few different compounds but diammonium phosphate is usually the main ingredient. This is an important source of nitrogen for the yeast.
Yeast Nutrient Suggestions
Fermaid-K, Fermax, and Go-Ferm are very popular yeast nutrients used by home winemakers.
Go-Ferm is usually used in conjunction with Fermaid-K.
Go-Ferm is used to feed the yeast starter which will then be added to the grape juice. Fermaid-K is then used to feed the actively fermenting yeast.
The reason for this is Go-Ferm doesn't contain diammonium phosphate (DAP) which is harmful to yeast when it is rehydrating. Once the yeast is stronger, it thrives on the DAP which Fermaid-K provides.
Potassium Metabisulfite (Campden Tablets)
Potassium metabisulfite is commonly bought as Campden Tablets but can also be found in powdered form.
It's an antioxidant that stabilizes your wine.
It does this by removing free oxygen particles that would otherwise feed unwanted micro-organisms.
We add this to our crushed fruit in the beginning to kill off any microbes and unwanted natural yeasts. We also use it to inhibit fermentation.
This ingredient isn't absolutely essential but by adding it we have a much better chance of having a clear wine.
It's actually produced by the wine yeast during fermentation but this gives no assurance of getting a clear wine.
It's best to add it after crushing our grapes so that we don't need to rely on fining agents if we have a cloudy wine.
Pectic enzyme breaks down pectin, a gelatinous material found in fruits. When fruit is crushed, it's the pectin that can give it a hazy or cloudy appearance.
Important Note: Pectic enzyme can be purchased in various strengths so always use the recommended dosage on the package. 3-4 teaspoons per 6 gallons is usually about right though.
Tannin is a really important component in winemaking. It can really raise the complexity of a homemade red wine, especially if it's given time to age.
It also acts as a wine clarifier, removing particles that might remain before bottling.
It's also very inexpensive to buy, so it's a no-brainer if you're making red wine.
Just be sure to read the instructions as the amount to add varies depending on the wine you're making.
Tartaric Acid (Optional)
This is used to raise the acidity of our wine must prior to fermentation.
A Malolactic culture allows us to perform malolactic fermentation (MLF). This is where malic acid is converted into lactic acid and CO2.
MLF is desirable in dry wines because it reduces the fruitiness and makes the wine more complex. It also reduces acidity (increases pH and raises TA) to make a wine softer.
MLF can happen naturally but it's better if we induce it and control the process. We do so using a culture like Acti-ML.
This one might be obvious but I thought I'd include it because it's imperative that you use filtered water.
Tap water just won't do. Even though you drink it and it tastes great, it may still contain things that disagree with the yeast (I told you yeast was fussy!)
So, get down to the supermarket and get some big bottles of water.
Step #3: Our 6 Gallon Red Wine Recipe
Hooray, the shopping is over! It's time to get messy!
This is the bit you've been waiting for. Winemaking isn't difficult and I'll prove that with this guide.
Each step is explained in detail but simply.
If at any stage you have questions then leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I'll get back to you promptly.
Our recipe makes 6 gallons (or 23 liters) of wine. This is the standard volume you'll find with most wine kits.
1. The Big Clean
What Do I Need?
Sorry to start with something so boring but this step is absolutely crucial!
We need to clean and sanitize (disinfect) everything before we use it. Even if it has never been used.
A long brush will be needed to reach the bottom of the fermenters.
A scrub with some hot water and a brush is good enough to get everything clean (as long as it's not filthy).
How to Sanitize Winemaking Equipment
To sanitize we can either use heat or chemical agents.
To heat, we can use the oven or even the dishwasher (on a hot setting). A pressure cooker can work too.
The heat must be sustained for a period of time to kill off any pesky microorganisms.
If you're taking the chemical route, then you have a few options.
- Sodium Metabisulfite and Potassium Bisulfite - these are the most commonly used sanitizers in winemaking. Sodium Metabisulfite is commonly know as Campden Tablets and is great for plastic and glass materials. Fifty grams is added to each gallon of water.
- Bleach - but only a weak mixture of around 1 part bleach to 20 part water. We must rinse equipment after using bleach.
- Acid sanitizers - these are products like Star San and SaniClean. They use phosphoric acid to clean. They are corrosive to soft metals though, so be careful!
It's always a good idea to give your equipment a final rinse with clean water after sanitizing. We don't wan't any chemical residue to remain.
Remember to check the care instructions for your carboys/fermenters just in case they have specific rules when it comes to cleaning.
2. Prepping the Fruit
What Do I Need?
A) The first thing you need to do is a bit of 'quality control'.
Sort through your fruit and remove any fruit that's not ripe. Any grapes that are old looking (especially rotten) or not ripe yet should be removed.
We also need to remove stalks and stems and sticks. Basically anything that's not ripe grapes shouldn't be there.
B) Next, we want to give the grapes a rinse.
This is to remove any dirt, residue, or pesticides.
We don't want to get them overly wet because grapes are great at absorbing moisture. Taking on more water isn't good for the flavor of our wine.
C) Next is the fun bit! Well, the hard bit anyway. All of our ripe fruit needs to be crushed.
There's no right or wrong way to do this to be honest, but we don't want to lose any delicious juice.
A potato masher or a wine crate are both useful for this. Hands and feet are good too!
We don't want to completely liquidize our fruit, just bust it up and release the juices.
We also want to get rid of the stems.
I know a blender sounds ideal for this purpose but it's not! It tends to make a more bitter juice as it contains much more skin and seed.
3. Sterilizing the Fruit
What Do I Need?
This step is really important or the wine could easily be spoiled by any bacteria existing in the fruit.
We want to do this straight after we've crushed our fruit. This is to limit the amount of oxidation our grapes receive.
If you're making wine from fruit concentrate, then you don't need to do this. The fruit juice has already been sanitized.
To kill any bacteria or unwanted wild yeasts in our fruit we add Campden tablets. The same thing we use to sterilize our equipment in 'step 1'.
These are made from potassium metabisulfite and are perfectly safe for human consumption in these doses.
How to Add Campden Tablets to Wine Must
The basic rule is 1 Campden tablet per gallon of fruit juice.
The tablets need to be crushed and dissolved in a small amount of fruit juice (or water first).
This is then added to the whole mixture and stirred thoroughly.
This must then rest for at least 24 hours.
The next step is adding wine yeast (and nutrients) and we may kill the yeast if it's added within 24 hours of the Campden tablets.
You can cover the fermenter with a cloth to keep anything from dropping inside but it should not be sealed with anything tightly. The sulfur dioxide released from the tablets needs somewhere to escape.
4. Giving Red Wine Color
Our red wine mixture of juice, skins (some stems), and fruit pulp is now slowly beginning to naturally ferment due to the wild yeasts present on the grapes.
The potassium metabisulfite that we added is great for winemaking because it kills off the bad stuff and only allows the stronger natural wine yeasts to survive.
For red wine at this stage we want to maintain a temperature of about 70-75º F (21-24C).
However, the experienced winemakers do something called a 'cold soak'. This involves keeping the wine must at around 35-45°F.
It's important that we avoid the 50-55°F temperature range as this is where 'bad' yeasts thrive.
After a couple of days you'll start to notice the pieces of more solid fruit floating up and forming a layer on top.
This isn't ideal as we want the juice to mix with the fruit as much as possible to absorb the color. Therefore, we should gently stir the mixture 2 or 3 times a day.
The longer we leave the juice in contact with the skins and pulp, the more color and flavor our red wine will take on.
The color extraction will reach its peak between 5-8 days after the fruit was crushed.
You might find the juice will actually lose some color vibrancy if you wait longer than this.
5. The 'Sciencey' Bit (Calculating Sugar Content & Acidity)
What Do I Need?
We know our ripe grapes contain quite a lot of sugar but it's not enough. Not enough to make a wine with a typical ABV of 10-14% anyway.
So we must add sugar to our crushed fruit mixture.
We also want our grape must to be within a certain range of pH and TA (both measures of acidity).
So we might need to adjust the acidity levels of our wine must.
We discussed these measurements at length when we explained how to test wine grapes earlier (you can skip back to that here).
It's critically important that we get these values within the desired operating ranges before we start fermentation.
Research has shown that correcting acidity levels now before fermentation starts give our wine much more prominent and pleasing aromas compared to correcting after fermentation.
How to Calculate How Much Sugar is Needed
a) We must first measure the sugar content of our freshly pressed grape juice.
Do you remember what we need to do this?
Some hydrometers can take a few different readings but Specific Gravity (SG) or Brix (°Bx) is what we need.
With your hydrometer, you should also receive a special measuring cylinder. This should be filled with a sample of our fruit juice.
It's important that our juice is at 68 °F (20 °C) because this is usually the temperature a hydrometer is calibrated at. But check your instructions for any variations.
We can usually adjust for +/- 9 °F (5 °C) by +/- 0.25 °Brix or 0.001 SG (source).
The measuring cylinder should be placed on a steady, flat surface.
The hydrometer is then placed carefully into the glass cylinder and allowed to bob around until it becomes perfectly still.
The hydrometer reading at the surface of our juice is what we need.
Write this down and don't lose it!
This reading is very important as it allows us to calculate exactly how much sugar we need to add to create a wine with our desired alcohol strength.
The table below is really helpful for conversions.
Sugar Content (grams/liter)
Sugar Content (Oz/gallon)
Potential ABV %
b) Now, you need to decide exactly how strong (alcoholic) you want your wine to be.
Something in the region of 10.5-13.5% ABV is probably ideal.
We don't want to go any lower because this gives microorganisms the chance to survive and ruin the wine.
A reasonably high ABV kills off anything we don't want and decreases the chances of spoilage.
Most home-winemakers aim for the 'holy grail' of 22 Brix which gives a wine of around ~12.5%.
We'll use these two numbers (the initial hydrometer reading and our target ABV) inn the next section to calculate how much sugar we need to add.
Measuring for Acidity (pH and TA)
TA or Titratable Acidity basically tells us how tart/acidic a wine is.
pH is a measure of the degree of acidity (or alkalinity).
If we can get our wine to fall within certain ranges of pH and TA, we have a much better chance of having a vibrant and fruity wine.
So what are we looking for and how do we measure it?
The Ideal pH for Red Wine Must
Our ideal window is the 3.4 - 3.6 pH range.
If we go lower than this our wine may taste vinegary and we will stress the yeast. If we go higher then our wine may be prone to spoiling and not last long.
To measure the pH of red wine we need a pH meter.
Test strips are an option for white wine but the color of red wine causes interference with the color coded results.
A pH meter typically costs between $10 - $40 and is the most accurate option.
The Ideal TA for Red Wine Must
The ideal Titratable Acidity range for a dry red wine is typically 6.0–7.0 g/L.
We can measure this using a specialist kit available from most wine making stores.
An acid test kit should cost between $10-$15 and it can be used multiple times.
6. Balancing Our Grape Must
What Do I Need?
Before we add the yeast and really get things moving, it's critically important that we get our fruit juice in the correct ranges for sweetness (Brix) and acidity (pH and TA).
We stand a much greater chance of producing a well balanced and enjoyable wine if we make adjustments now.
If you're really lucky, your grape must is already hitting the right notes.
Remember we want:
Our Ideal Red Wine Must Checklist
If you're even slightly out we need to make adjustments.
Making corrections now gives our wine must a much greater chance of transforming into something delicious after fermentation.
How to Balance Sugar
To recap, continuing with the same example as before:
I want my final bottled wine to be 12.5% ABV.
That means we need to raise the sugar content of our grape must to 22 Brix.
Again, our table from before is very useful for conversions.
a) First, we take our initial hydrometer reading (in Brix) and our target value (in Brix).
If we need to raise the sugar level from 14 Brix to 22 Brix, we have a shortfall of 8 Brix per gallon.
b) Second, we multiply our shortfall by the number of gallons of juice we have.
Continuing with the same example and our 5 gallon recipe, we have:
8 Brix * 5 gallons = 40
c) We know that 0.125 pounds of dextrose (corn sugar) raises 1 gallon by 1 Brix.
Therefore, we multiply our answer from (b) by 0.125
0.125 * 40 = 5 pounds of sugar
This gives us the information we need.
We must add 5 pounds of corn sugar (dextrose) to our fruit juice to raise the sugar concentration high enough to make 12.5% ABV wine.
How to Balance Acidity
Increasing the acidity of a wine is definitely easier than decreasing it. But, we can do both.
Changing TA or pH is very much a 'balancing' act as changing one directly affects the other.
It's really important to raise or lower TA or pH incrementally and test the effects on each other as you go.
You can estimate the proposed effects with the simple math below.
We have a problem if we have both high TA and pH. This is because we need to lower the pH (make it more acidic), and in doing so we increase the already high TA.
In this situation you can use calcium sulfate to lower pH and not affect TA too much at the same time.
For low pH and low TA, your best solution is a to blend with a wine that has higher TA.
To raise the TA, we can add tartaric acid directly to our must in a relatively straightforward ratio.
If our wine must measures 4.0g/L and our target is 7.0 g/L then we simply add 3 grams of tartaric acid per liter of wine must to make up the shortfall.
There are 3.78 liters in a gallon (US) so to correct for gallons we have:
3.78*3 = 11.3 grams per gallon.
If we have 5 gallons of wine must then:
5*11.3 = 56.5 grams
Therefore, 56.5 grams of tartaric acid needs to be added to our grape must to raise the TA from 4.0g/L to 7.0 g/L.
To lower the TA, blending with a wine or juice with a lower TA is the probably the best method.
You may also add water but this can make the wine feel thin and dilute the flavor if you add too much.
A final option (and last resort) is to add potassium carbonate or calcium carbonate.
They are added in the same ratios as tartaric acid (like a reverse procedure).
Potassium carbonate only works after the wine is kept in cold storage for a week or two. Calcium carbonate doesn't require cold storage but will probably have a negative affect on the taste of your wine.
You should always mix these with wine must instead of water.
We alter pH using the same methods as we do to change TA.
Adding 1.0 g/L of tartaric acid will lower pH by around 0.1.
In theory, 1.0 g/L of potassium carbonate will raise the pH (make it less acidic) by 0.1 but it's best to test as you go.
Add your required dosage in increments and test the effects on TA as you go.
7. Bringing Our Yeast to Life!
What Do I Need?
Ok, we're finished all the 'prep' work now. It's time to actually start the scientific process that makes wine.
Fermentation is what we need to happen, and the process can be explained a little like this:
Glucose (Sugars) + Yeast
Ethanol (Alcohol) + Carbon Dioxide + Heat Energy
We don't care much for the carbon dioxide and heat energy by-products, but we do care about that precious alcohol (ethanol)!
At this stage, we are going to activate the yeast. It's really important that we treat our yeast with care and respect and give it the ideal conditions to thrive. If not, we won't get that delicious wine at the end.
How to Activate Wine Yeast
You can do this in 3 slightly different ways. Your wine yeast will always come with instructions so you can always follow those too.
1) The Best Method - Make a Yeast Starter
The most effective way to activate wine yeast takes a little bit of extra work. However, it stresses the yeast the least and gives the best conditions for fermentation. If you're a bread-maker you'll be familiar with the concept.
The following instructions are for a 5 gallon batch of wine, but you can multiply the proportions as required for larger batches.
a) Sprinkle one packet of wine yeast and a 1/4 teaspoon yeast nutrient to one pint of wine must. A glass jar (sanitized) is the perfect container. The top should be covered with plastic film wrap and held in place tightly with an elastic band.
b) We need to add a small hole in the plastic film for carbon dioxide to escape.
c) The benefit with this method is that the wine yeast is at its peak when it's added to the rest of the must. Therefore, fermentation starts immediately.
So we want to see it foam up and then after the foaming has reached its peak and begun to slow, it is ready to be added to the rest of the wine batch. You'll need to wait at least 12 hours for this.
We need to get the starter within 10°F of our fruit juice before we add it.
This is just so we don't shock the yeast too much.
2) The Easiest Method - Add it Straight in
This one really is easy and it's the one most people do.
Just sprinkle the wine yeast straight in!
You can give it a gentle stir but it's not really necessary.
This method is easy but the wine yeast won't 'kick in' immediately like the previous method. It might take 6 hours for fermentation to actually begin.
3) The Method on the Instructions - Rehydration
This is the method you'll commonly find on your yeast packet.
Wine yeast has been dehydrated before it is put into packets. This is to stop it becoming active.
Therefore, to 'wake it up' it needs water.
These are the instructions for Red Star wine yeast (5g sachet):
- Pour the wine yeast into a 1/4 cup (50ml) of water at 95-100°F.
- Wait for 20 minutes.
It's really that simple!
The important thing here is to measure the water temperature accurately. If you operate outside of the stated temperature range then you will kill the yeast. So, a thermometer is required for this method.
Ideal Storage Conditions for Fermentation
We need to provide our yeast with its favorite conditions for an effective fermentation to take place.
We need to make sure these three things are taken care of:
- 1Temperature - For red wine we want to keep our wine must between 68-83°F (20-28°C). For white wine we want a maximum of 59°F (15°C).
- 2Sugar - We can't make alcohol without sugar.
- 3Nutrition - we need to keep our yeast healthy by adding yeast nutrients regularly.
It's also important that we don't seal the fermenter. We need to allow carbon dioxide to escape.
Therefore, covering it something like cheesecloth is a great idea. A double layer is perfect. It can be held in place with elastic or string.
8. Primary Fermentation Time!
What Do I Need?
It's time to really kick things into gear and turn that wonderful grape must into beautiful alcohol!
Add the wine yeast starter to the grape must. It doesn't need to be stirred at this point. Just pour it in and let it acclimatize.
It will start bubbling after 8-12 hours usually. This signals the start of fermentation and you can give it a gentle stir at this point. We should also add some yeast nutrient.
It's really important that we monitor the conditions and ensure that our yeast is happy. A happy yeast is well fed with nutrients (and sugar) and is kept at the right temperature.
We want our wine must to be kept within 68 - 83°F (20-28°C) but ideally we want to be bang in the middle at about 75°F.
Some winemakers like to have things on the upper temperature limit for the first few days for better extraction. Then lower to around 75°F for the rest of the time.
To cool the must you can fill it with jugs of frozen water. Just be sure to sanitize them!
Yeast Nutrient Guidelines
We want to add our yeast nutrient at the first sign of fermentation and then again after 1/3 of the sugar has depleted.
Do not feed the yeast when the sugars have reached 10° Brix.
Any residual yeast nutrient that is left by the yeast will provide fuel for microbes that can cause spoilage.
Keep an eye on the state of the fermentation. For red wine, a slow and steady fermentation is ideal. If the fermentation is aggressive then hold back on the nutrients.
As red wine ferments, the solid bits start floating to the surface. This layer of skins, seeds, stems, and pulp is called a 'cap'.
We want these bits integrating with the rest of our wine must so that they impart their color and flavor into the liquid. When they float on the top they don't get that contact time that we desire. They're also more prone to bacterial growth when they're in contact with the air like this.
To combat this we do something called 'punching down'.
This is simply the process of submerging the cap with a potato masher-like device. A punch down tool is like a potato masher with a really long handle.
Of course, you can always improvise with whatever you have lying around (as long as it's sanitized).
We want to start punching down after 24 hours and then continue to do this 2 or 3 times a day.
You want to push the cap right to the bottom and give it a gentle mash (it's important that we don't crush any bitter seeds).
Every time we punch down we should have a good sniff!
The presence of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) indicates an unhappy yeast and a less than ideal fermentation.
Luckily, hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs so it's very easy to identify.
Hydrogen sulfide is caused by a yeast that badly needs nutrients and a yeast that isn't within its ideal temperature range.
So, make sure to feed the yeast and check the temperature.
We can track the stage of our fermentation using our hydrometer. We want to take a reading of the sugar content every 12 hours.
Our red wine fermentation should last between 7-21 days.
Fermentation is finished for a dry wine (all sugar consumed and converted to alcohol) when we get a hydrometer reading of 0 Brix.
What Do I Need?
Next, we use our pressing bag to gently squeeze the juice into a large container like a pan.
We don't squeeze straight into our secondary fermenter because the opening is narrow.
The best way to do this is by avoiding the large pieces of fruit until the end and then squeezing them together.
We don't want any pulp, so don't squeeze too hard!
When we've collected all of the juice, we can use the funnel (or racking cane) to pour it into our secondary fermenter.
Up until this stage a little air contact hasn't been an issue. It's actually helped during the fermentation process.
But from this point onwards air is bad! Really bad!
We want to limit air contact (oxidation) as much as possible. So get that airlock on top of your secondary fermenter as soon as you can.
We want the fermenter to be as full as possible with wine and we only want to open it when absolutely necessary.
If you have air space at the top of your fermenter then you should fill this by adding a decent wine of the same variety.
9. The First Racking
What Do I Need?
Our wine is now sitting in the secondary fermenter, plugged with an airlock.
We want to rack our wine shortly after pressing. Around 24 hours after pressing is the ideal time for our sediment to settle at the bottom.
There will be a noticable layer of what we call the gross lees (the bigger bits) lying at the bottom of the fermenter.
What is Racking?
Racking is basically the process of transferring wine from one vessel to another.
The main reason for doing this is to remove the sediment that settles at the bottom of a fermenter.
The initial sediment mainly contains bits of fruit and dead yeast cells and is called the gross lees.
The gross lees will affect the taste of the wine if left there for too long, so we rack our red wine soon after pressing.
Removing this sediment also helps for clarification purposes.
We can then rack at regular intervals to remove the fine lees (smaller bits of sediment) that will settle.
How often you rack is a personal choice and really depends on what kind of wine you are wanting to end up with.
To rack we use our racking cane (auto-siphon) to suck the grape must out of the fermenter and into another fermenter (carboy).
The destination fermenter should be positioned below the one we are draining.
The hole in the racking cane into which the grape must is sucked, is positioned an inch or two from the end. This means it doesn't sit directly in the sediment.
It's important that the opposite end (where the grape must exits into the new fermenter) sits at the bottom of the new vessel. We want to minimize air contact so we want to feed our wine into the liquid instead of pouring or splashing.
Like before, we fill as close to the top as possible. Your overall volume will be less because we have left some sediment and a little wine behind (it's a loss you're just going to need to accept!).
Top up with a decent wine of the same grape varietal. You can also use a dense gas like argon to blanket your containers and prevent oxygen from reaching your wine.
10. Malolactic Fermentation Time!
What Do I Need?
Our freshly racked wine is now ready to age. But, first there's the small matter of malolactic fermentation.
But, what is it and why do we need it?
If you want to skip MLF you can skip this section.
What is Malolactic Fermentation?
Almost all red wines (and many whites) go through malolactic fermentation (MLF).
It's the process that allows us to get rid of malic acid, which produces sour notes, and replace it with lactic acid, which is associated with more welcome buttery, toasted and caramel notes.
Lactic Bacteria + Malic Acid
Lactic Acid + Carbon Dioxide
Malolactic fermentation is almost always used in dry wine as it is reduces acidity, and gives a more rounded, complex, and softer character.
It reduces the fruitiness so it's never used for sweet or fruity style wines like Riesling.
Our wine may go through MLF naturally but we can add a malolactic culture just to make sure.
There are a few measurements we should take just to make sure we have the right conditions for MLF.
Ideal conditions for MLF are:
Ideal MLF Conditions
If our wine exceeds 16% ABV, has a pH below 3.2, contains residual sugar, or has SO2 levels exceeding 40 mg/L then you should probably skip MLF. Though certain strains of MLF starter culture can withstand high alcohol levels.
Measuring SO2 (Sulphur Dioxide) is a difficult (and expensive) task for red wines so we recommend just leaving that one be.
If we hit all the marks when balancing our grape must earlier, we should be in prime condition for MLF.
How to Perform Malolactic Fermentation
It's best to prepare our malolactic culture with a nutrient blend before adding it to our grape must.
Something like Acti-ML works really well and will give our culture a great start to life.
Once the culture is well-fed and prepared according to the instructions, it's time to add to the grape must.
The malolactic fermentation will take between 1 and 3 months.
We can speed the process up by increasing the temperature and feeding our culture. Conversely, we can slow it down by doing the opposite. A slower MLF will enhance those buttery notes.
If possible, we want to stir the remaining lees once a week. We also want to monitor our pH and keep it in the desired range.
It's important to limit oxidation when performing these tasks though. So, only perform them if you have some inert gas or if your vessel it topped up really close to the top.
We don't want to rack again until the MLF is finished.
We know it's finished when it stops producing CO2 bubbles, but this could also indicate that the fermentation has stalled and not finished completely.
To get a definite result you need to use a test kit like this one.
Upon Completing MLF
When MLF is finished we want to immediately add sulfites to our wine.
Sulfites stabilize our wine and stop any remaining fermentation.
Potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets) can be used for this. One tablet per gallon is needed. You should crush them into powder before adding to the must.
We also want to check our pH and TA again at this stage. Make any adjustments if needed.
Calculating S02 Required (Optional)
We've just added SO2 to stabilize our grape must.
However, we may still be short of the optimal amount.
With the aging process coming soon, we want to make sure we have enough sulfites in our wine to protect it from premature aging and spoiling.
The amount of SO2 we need depends on our pH and also our ABV. If you want to get the amount of sulfites just right then we need to consult a chart.
Here's the chart for 12% ABV and a pH within our range of 3.4 - 3.6.
SO₂ required (mg/L)
SO₂ required (mg/L)
We can measure the amount of free SO2 in our grape must using a few different tests.
The kits made by Accuvin are the most cost effective way to test for SO2. However, they're not as accurate as the more expensive options.
As an example, if we know our grape must has pH of 3.4 then we can see from the table that we require 32 mg/Ln of free SO2.
If we test our grape must and find we have free SO2 of 20 mg/L (20 ppm) then we have a deficit of 32-20 = 12 mg/L
If we currently have 5.5 gallons of wine must then we need to do a bit of converting.
12 mg/L = 0.012 g/L
Potassium metabisulfite is 57% SO2 = 0.57g SO2 in every 1 gram potassium metabisulfite
(Target SO2 * 3.785 * Gallons of wine) / 0.57
(0.012 * 3.785 * 5.5)/0.57 = 0.44 grams
Therefore, to reach 32 mg/L of free SO2 we must add 0.44 grams of potassium. metabisulfite.
For ultimate accuracy you should check again in a couple of days. Our calculation is theoretical and some SO2 will become 'bound' instead of remaining 'free' and useful to us.
11. The Second Racking
What Do I Need?
At this point a second racking is a good idea.
It's been a while since our last racking and it's time to get rid of some of the lees.
Our next stage is aging and we don't want our wine to be sitting on a large pile of lees for a long period of time.
If you don't have a lot of lees (less than 1/3 of an inch) then you could skip this racking.
After racking we can add any oak, if desired.
12. Degassing Your Wine
What Do I Need?
Degassing is the process of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from our wine.
CO2 was produced during fermentation and though most of it escaped, some still remains in our wine.
This step doesn't need to happen right now, but it should happen before bottling.
CO2 is particularly unwelcome in a red wine because it produces 'fizz'. It also stops our wine from clearing properly. Therefore, at some stage after fermentation we must remove it.
It should be said that most commercial wineries don't perform this step and it's not essential for you to either.
Carbon dioxide will naturally disappear if left long enough. Commercial wineries just age their wines for long enough that carbon dioxide disappears naturally. If you plan on letting CO2 disappear on its own like this then it's important to keep racking when you see the lees.
There are a few ways to degas wine, but my favorite method is detailed below.
How to Degas Wine
This is something we only want to do once (if at all) as we are exposing our wine to oxygen while we remove CO2.
It also works best if we can have the temperature above 70°F. Around 75°F is perfect for this. It will take much longer at lower temperatures.
I recommend using something called a 'wine whip' for this. It's a purpose built tool that will gently agitate your wine to remove CO2. It does this in a way that prevents splashing (splashing is really bad for oxygen exposure).
It fits to a standard 3/8" variable speed drill and is designed for use in a carboy.
If you're operating in the optimal temperature window it shouldn't take more than a few minutes to degas the wine.
But, never assume your work is done without doing a test first.
Draw enough wine out of the carboy to 1/2 fill a small water bottle (or anything with an airtight seal). Put the lid on and shake for 15 seconds.
Unscrew the lid. Was there any sign of carbonation remaining? A fizz or a pop? A quick taste is also a good test.
Even if you're not sure then keep degassing for a few minutes longer anyway.
What Do I Need?
It's time to wait. When making red wine, that can be for a long time.
However, you still need to keep a close eye on how your wine is progressing.
I recommend leaving your red wine to age for 12 months minimum but that's just my preference.
Here's what you need to be looking out for over the next 8-12+ months.
Wine Maturation Checklist
How Do I Know When My Wine is Ready?
There's no exact answer. It really depends on each batch of wine.
There are a few tell tale signals that can help you decide though.
- 1Taste - for red wine you are looking for the tannins to start rounding off and the wine to find some balance.
- 2Clarity - you're looking for a crystal clear liquid, free of any suspended particles. This should happen naturally but you can use fining agents too. This can be hard to check with red wine because it's so dark. You can shine a light through to help.
- 3Rate of maturation slowing - if you're finding that the wine has stopped developing at the same rate, then it could be time to bottle.
What Do I Need?
When the wine is sufficiently aged, stable, clear, and free of CO2 it is ready to bottle.
Your first task here is ensuring everything is thoroughly clean and sanitized.
Step #1 - Clean & Sanitize
Rinse everything really well after sanitizing it.
The bottles can have a final rinse with a solution of potassium metabisulfite and citric acid. A quart of distilled water combined with a teaspoon of potassium metabisulfite and a pinch of citric acid should do it.
This solution helps to protect the wine from organisms that want to spoil your wine. It also helps to protect the wine from oxygen in the air (during filling) as the citric acid turns the sulfur into gas. While in its gaseous form it won't absorbed by the wine either.
Step #2 - Prepare the Corks
I always use traditional corks. They are the best option for long time storage. If you plan on drinking your wine within a year then screw tops are just fine.
To use traditional corks you need to treat them first. Cork taint is a real thing and it's more common than you think, even with wines you buy.
Treating them also lubricates them so they're easier to insert into the bottles.
You want to soak your corks in a dilute potassium metabisulfite solution. The tricky bit here is making sure they are submerged. The solution will kill any bacteria that could spoil the wine. Soak them for 30-60 minutes right before corking.
Step #3 - Bottling
Attach the bottle filler to your tubing at one end and to the racking cane (auto-siphon) at the other.
Place the bottle filler into your bottles and the racking can in the carboy.
It's important the bottles fill from the bottom to limit splashing and oxidation.
We want the wine to be filled to about an inch below where the cork will sit. Bottle fillers are designed to fill to this level. So as you remove the bottle filler it will leave the correct headroom.
You can cork each bottle as you go or fill them all up first, it's really up to you. It doesn't take that long to fill them so they won't be getting too much air contact.
Step #4 - Corking
You've got a few options here when it comes to corkers. It really depends on how often you plan on making wine as to which one suits you best.
Hand/mini corkers are fine in combination with a rubber mallet, but it's pretty hard work.
Floor corkers are great and make light work of the task. But, they are expensive and take up lots of room.
Double lever corkers are a good middle ground and can be good value for money.
The bottles should be left upright for 5 days after bottling.
This allows the corks to dry from their soak in step #1. It also allows the pressure inside the bottle to settle.
After a few days the corks will expand into the bottle neck and make that airtight seal that we love them for.
Keep them in a cool, dark place like a cellar. Just as you would with store bought wine.
Now it's in the bottle, red wine really benefits from some more aging. This anaerobic maturation stage involves small, delicate chemical changes that produce complex aromas and flavors.
You should leave it for at least another 3 months before drinking, but it's really up to you how long it matures for.