When you think about wine too much of the time, you get some bizarre ideas. And if, like me, you work at home in a room right off the kitchen, those bizarre ideas often involve kitchen equipment.
Wine + kitchen equipment = drunken mad scientist disaster waiting to happen, right? Occasionally, yes. But this time, I think I’ve got something good.
It occurred to me this week while staring at my Sodastream seltzer maker that I could try carbonating wine in the bottles instead of just filtered water. Not that I expected to make fine sparkling wine or anything, but I thought it might be fun to try. The vast majority of sparkling wine is made from Chardonnay grapes, even in wine regions that grow other grapes. But what about making a sparkling Rhône white, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, or Viognier?
I did the typical lazy-man’s Google search and found a few people who claimed to have carbonated their own wine directly using a Sodastream. I was skeptical, though, because anyone can put anything out there on the intertubes. So I wasn’t going to jump right in without thinking more about it.
The Sodastream instructions are adamant that you not try to carbonate anything except water. They don’t tell you the reasons why not, but it’s pretty simple to figure out. What do you get when you open a bottle of almost any carbonated beverage? Foam. Whether they’re soda or champagne, flavored carbonated beverages foam. But unflavored seltzer? Maybe just a tiny bit of foam for a brief second, otherwise mostly fizz.
What’s happening is that the stuff added to water to make it into another beverage allows the water to create foam, which it wouldn’t do on its own. The technical term for it is lowering the surface tension of the water, which then allows the fizz rising to the liquid’s surface to create foam. Foam is composed of air bubbles that are surrounded by thin films of liquid. Water on its own won’t form those thin films. (Think of putting drops of water on a piece of clean glass – the water forms little beads instead of spreading out.) But lower the surface tension by dissolving any of a number of things in the water, and presto, it will foam.
And you definitely don’t want to make pressurized foam in the bottle that’s on your Sodastream. It’ll go all over the place. Not fun to clean up. That’s why the Sodastream manual tells you to add flavoring to the bottle of seltzer after you carbonate the water.
Alcohol is one of the things that lowers the surface tension of water, and wine contains alcohol, so you have the potential to make a foamy mess in your machine. I decided to start by trying to carbonate a 50/50 mixture of white wine and water, which meant less alcohol to start. I also figured white wine had less foaming potential than red because red wine has a lot more different chemicals in it, and I didn’t know what was really going to happen anyway. Plus it’s summer and I wanted something cool and refreshing.
So I put the wine/water mix in the Sodastream bottle, loaded the bottle on the machine and pushed the carbonation button once. I saw a bit of foam, so I let it settle for a few seconds. Then I pushed it again and got some more foam, which I let settle again. One more push made enough foam to go into the neck of the bottle, so I figured that was the limit. I let the bottle sit on the machine for 10 seconds or so, then quickly unscrewed it from the Sodastream. I got a little foam overflowing the bottle, but no big deal. Two carbonation pushes would probably be enough, or two plus a very short third one (normally you push the button for a second or so).
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just try adding already carbonated seltzer water to some wine. That’s how spritzers are made, after all. I did try that, but a 50/50 mix of wine and seltzer has barely any fizz – most spritzers fizz because they have a lot more seltzer than wine. Of course you could make ultra-fizzy seltzer with your Sodastream, or combine seltzer with sparkling wine, but where’s the fun in that? The 50/50 wine/water mixture that I carbonated on the Sodastream had a nice amount of bubbles. So I think it’s a better way to go.
The water/wine mixture had a nice light flavor, but I thought it would be a better base for other beverages rather than drinking it on its own. So I decided to add some flavorings after carbonation (the way Sodastream instructions tell you to 😉 ). One of my favorite summer drinks is lemonade flavored with rosemary or lavender. I didn’t want to make something that sweet or lemony, though (they’d mask the flavor of the wine), so I thought that adding just a little fresh lemon juice and a bit of simple sugar syrup that had been infused with rosemary or lavender would work. A hint of sweetness and the herb, and a little zing from the lemon juice. Plus the flavor of the wine and the bubbles. After a bit of adjustment, I had a nice combination and a great summer drink.
You can add more lemon juice or herbed simple syrup, or play around with other flavors. Cy and I have some orange blossom water in the house, so I’ll try using that next. Or maybe rosewater. You can also vary the herb in the syrup. The choice of white wine is up to you, but I’d avoid anything aged in oak or that has a buttery flavor and stick to a light- to medium-bodied white. I think Rhône blends work really well here, like Cave la Romaine Côtes du Ventoux Blanc Tradition ($10) or Cave la Vinsobraise Côtes du Rhône Blanc ($12), because they’re not too acidic to start, and adding lemon juice ups the acidity.
A few things to keep in mind before you jump in:
1) I have to reiterate that Sodastream manuals specifically state not to carbonate anything other than water. So if you do this you will be using the machine in a manner not intended by the manufacturer. This can void your warranty. Just sayin’ is all.
2) Every one of these machines is a little different, and you’ll get more or less carbonation per push of the button depending on your machine and how many times the CO2 cartridge has already been used.
3) My Sodastream bottles have a four cup capacity, so these directions are for that amount of wine plus water.
4) Make sure all your ingredients – the wine, filtered water, simple syrup, and lemon juice – are well-chilled. You’re going to drink it right after you make it. And while you could pour it over ice, that would dilute it more than you might like.
Not bad for an afternoon experiment. I hope you’ll give it a try, and please let me know if you find any really interesting combinations!
Summer Wine Fizz with Lemon and Rosemary
Makes 4 large glasses
2 cups chilled white wine (from a freshly-opened bottle)
2 cups chilled filtered water
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 branch of fresh rosemary, rinsed and broken into short pieces
The night before you plan to make the drinks, prepare the lemon peel and make the syrup. Peel the lemon in long strips with a vegetable peeler. You should get 8 slices if you go from end to end. Wrap the slices of peel in plastic and put them in the freezer. Also wrap the lemon in plastic wrap and refrigerate it.
For the syrup, combine the ½ cup each of sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, swirling to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and add the rosemary, and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Remove the rosemary pieces and chill the syrup until cold.
To make the drinks: juice the cold lemon and set the juice aside. Pour the two cups each of chilled wine and water into the Sodastream bottle and attach the bottle to the machine as directed. Press the carbonation button once, a one-second push. Let the foam settle for about 10 seconds. Then give it another one-second press. Again, let the foam settle. Finally, give it one very quick push, shorter than the two you’ve already done. Let the bottle sit for 30 seconds or so, then carefully but quickly remove it from the machine.
Add 1-1/2 teaspoons each of lemon juice and rosemary sugar syrup. Put the lid tightly on the bottle and gently turn it upside down, then right-side up. Taste a little and decide if you want more lemon juice or syrup.
Pour into four highball glasses with some ice, then drop in a piece of frozen lemon peel. Drink and enjoy!