Spike Your Juice.
This fascinating product allows you to turn almost any kind of juice into wine in just 48 hours. It's really simple: It's nothing more than a small 1g packet of yeast and sugar; smaller than a sugar packet you'd add to coffee. That, and a rubber stopper and airlock is all you need to make wine out of basically any juice you can imagine.
It's based on a seasonal German product called Federweisser, the freshly pressed, still-fermenting grape must, only available during harvest. Federweisser is the opposite of shelf-stable, as it changes every hour and cannot be transported for long distances. I've tried it in Germany, and I like the concept more than I liked Federweisser itself. That's also true of Spike Your Juice. This is fizzy fun for the DIY crowd.
Here's what you do: Bring the juice to room temperature and open it (a 64-ounce container is recommended; no artificial sweeteners). Pour in the packet. Close the top with the rubber stopper and airlock, which allows CO2 to escape; this is important, because otherwise your juice bottle might explode. Then, wait two days.
The company sent me a free sample along with a bottle of Welch's Black Cherry Concord Grape Juice, so naturally I tried this first. After 48 hours, I had a pleasantly fizzy, quite sweet concoction that tasted like sparkling Merlot. I gave it another 72 hours, tasting each day, and it got drier and drier as the yeast converted more sugar to alcohol.
I wish I could tell you how much alcohol was in each step, but here's the difference between a wine writer and a winemaker: I don't have a refractometer at home. Silly me! The company claims the yeast can keep converting up to 14% alcohol. Anecdotally, I guess I got the cherry/grape juice up to nearly 10%, and my next experiment possibly a little higher.
You can slow -- but not stop -- the fermentation by putting the juice container in the refrigerator. My advice is to do this sooner rather than later. I thought I wanted the juice drier, but it turned out to be more pleasant sweeter. Or maybe I'm just a typical American wine drinker: Talk dry, drink sweet.
My success was partial with the Black Cherry Concord Grape: I would rather drink a real, non-fizzy Merlot, but my wife, who has a sweet tooth, liked it and nearly finished the bottle, one glass per night, until it got too dry for her. My disdain for it came from the fact that it tasted so much like professional wine, which I prefer.
So I decided to try something really different: orange juice. I sprung $6.50 for a jug of fresh-squeezed unfiltered organic orange juice, figuring you'll only get good results if you start with the best material.
After 48 hours, the taste was amazing. It was like the best mimosa you've ever had, mainly because places that serve mimosas invariably use low quality orange juice and cheap Cava. My DIY version was mildly fizzy, with plenty of orange flavor and a great balance of sweetness and acidity. It was delicious! I should have left well enough alone.
But I just had to see what would develop, so I let it ferment longer. In 24 hours it was much drier, a little fizzier and less pleasant. The next day, it was sharply alcoholic and had no perceptible sweetness, and I had no desire to drink it. If only I'd slowed the fermentation after 48 hours ... well, lesson learned. I eventually poured it down the drain.
I'm not going to say Spike Your Juice is better than a professionally made sparkling wine. But you can't buy professionally made sparkling pomegranate juice or grapefruit juice. Point two: It's a fun little experiment.
And point three: If I'm in prison, I'm going to make the best apple or cranberry or even bread pudding wine in the joint, if I can just get me some Spike Your Juice. (You can order it here.)