Wine Making 101 ~ Red, Red Wine

It’s November and harvest time is really winding down. Now in the vineyards, they’re getting ready for late harvest and in a few areas of the US and Canada (notably Niagara), preparing for Icewine. That’s a topic I’ll delve into more throughly a little later on.

I thought I’d head back to the study hall and focus on red wine making.

Beautiful Grapes [Image via LovetoKnow]The initial process is the same as I described a few posts back with white wines, the difference for reds is the amount of time the juice is left in contact with the skins. Most blue skinned grapes have a colorless juice which contains: water, sugar and acid. Once the mustis placed in a vessel to soak the skins with the liquid juice a very quick separation occurs. Seeds settle to the bottom, skins float to the top and form what’s called a ‘cap’.

The skins contribute the color, flavor, tannin and some aromatics. It makes sense that the skins need to stay in contact with the juice as long as possible to achieve the quality the winemaker is looking to produce. The amount of time that there is skin contact is called maceration. Say that slowly to yourself a couple of times; if you say it fast it sounds like something else.

After the initial separation, the seeds are removed once by straining through a screen. The juice and skins are then reintroduced to one another one of two ways: by pumping the juice over the skins or by punching down the cap. Punching the cap is exactly what it sounds like: the skins are pushed or plunged into the juice to allow for more skin contact, thereby increasing all the qualities we look for in a truly, wonderful red wine.

Punching the Cap [Image via Flickr]The total amount of punching down the cap, pumping over; maceration time depend on the type of grape, the style of wine, equipment and the winemaker, depending on his or her style and philosophy. plunging the cap is generally done every four hours when fermentation is most active. With time and manipulation, the skins become saturated with liquid and the cap drops. The wine is then drained off, leaving the skins to be pressed (since they now contain wine). The wine produced from skins when pressed is called press wine(makes sense) is highly concentrated, more intense and more tannic.

A final step sometimes involves what’s called chaptalization: adding sugar to the must, before fermentation, to yield the desired alcohol in the finished product. I say sometimes because countries such as Australia, Austria, Italy, South Africa and the state of California prohibit the practice. Regions where sugar content in the grapes is low are able to do so.

While all this punching, plunging and pumping is great, it’s a matter of timing that truly makes a great wine. A tight reign must be kept on the temperatures produced by processing; too much heat (caused by too much manipulation) will cause too much fermentation, rendering the end product undrinkable. Colder temperatures prevent excessive fermentation and allow for maximum fruit extraction. When fermentation takes place, so does alcohol production. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, I know, but it’s another factor that that can go against the winemakers vision of how the style of their wine should be.

The whole process takes around 7-21 days to complete depending on the type of red. It’s then transferred to either stainless steel tanks or barrels where it’s stored and then bottled.

A nice leggy Red

A nice leggy Red

I don’t know about you but all this writing about wine is making me thirsty.



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