Wine Words Demystified; Barrel Fermented

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  This week’s phrase is Barrel Fermented..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

Used to describe a wine – usually a white – that has undergone fermentation  in small oak barrels as opposed  to in a more neutral large casks, cement vats, or stainless steel tanks.  Fermentation in a small barrel can impart a richer flavor and creamier texture to some wines, though these characteristics may be acquired at the expense of the wines’ FRUIT.  To mitigate against too intense a barrel-fermented character, winemakers can use older barrels, larger barrels, and/or ferment only a portion of the wine in barrels and then BLEND this portion with the wine that has not been barrel-fermented

In other words, a barrel fermented wine is one where grape juice along with yeast, is put into small (50 gallon) oak barrels.

Red wine fermenting in barrel

Red wine fermenting in barrel (Image courtesy of howtomakegreatwine.com)

The advantage of barrel fermenting wine is that the wines are richer and more complex (there is an assortment of appealing aromas and flavors such as vanilla, spice, and toast) than those fermented in other vessels.

On the other hand, barrel fermentation is a very labor intensive and expensive process because of the number of barrels needed (as opposed to fermenting the wine in much larger stainless steel tanks for instance).  Not only do all the barrels need tending to, it’s expensive to purchase the barrels.  And if new oak is used each year, it’s expensive to replace the barrels. As a consequence, barrel fermented wines are typically more expensive than wines fermented in other vessels.

White wines that are barrel fermented are lighter in color, but typically have a silkier texture than white wine fermented in stainless steel then aged in oak.  White wines fermented in stainless steel, then aged in oak tend to have a darker color because of the phenolic compounds remaining in the wine.

Top Burgundy producers barrel ferment their wines, as do many high-end California wineries.

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Wine Words Demystified: Must

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!  Since harvest is in full effect here in Northern California, I’ll be featuring harvest related terms the next several weeks!

This week’s word is Must...

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The juice and liquidy pulp produced by crushing or pressing grapes before fermentation. 

The solid portion of the must, composed of skins, seeds, and sometimes stems, is called pomace.  Making must is the first step in the winemaking process.

Must

Crushed or pressed grapes create must – Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After the must is created, it is transferred to tanks or fermenting bins to cold soak for a period of time.  The length of time that the pomace stays in the juice is a crucial determinant in the final character of the wine.  It’s a key factor in determining a wine’s color, flavors and aromas. Once the winemaker determines the time is right, the juice is drained off the pomace and fermentation is started. It’s fermentation that turns the juice into wine!

The leftover pomace is typically returned to the vineyard for fertilizer.

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Wine Words Demystified: Cap

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is Cap…

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The crusty layer, up to two feet or more deep, of grape skins, pulp, stems, and seeds that rises and floats to the top of the juice during a red wine’s FERMENTATION.  The cap mus be kept in contact with the juice by one of several methods…Only if the cap is thoroughly in  contact with the ALCOHOL in the fermenting juice can COLOR, AROMAS, flavor and TANNINS be extracted

A cap is created when grape skins, pulp, etc. are  forced by rising carbon dioxide gas to the top of the fermentation vessel during fermentation.  Especially during the making of red wine, contact between juice and skins allows the wine to develop its rich color, aromas, flavors and enhances its tannin complexity.

Here’s a short vid of a wine cap…

There are two generally accepted methods for keeping the cap in contact with the juice during fermentation – “pumping over” and  ”punching down’.

Here’s a short clip of  what the “pumping over” process looks like…

Here’s a short clip of  what the “punching down” process looks like…

A third more modern and efficient method of keeping the cap in contact with the juice during maceration is called the “ pneumatage process” (click here for a video), in which compressed air or gas is sequentially injected into the juice.

Cheers!

Wine Words Demystified: Fermentation

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Fermentation

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 The process during grape fermentation whereby yeasts convert the natural sugar in the grapes to ALCOHOL and CARBON DIOXIDE.  The alcohol will remain a constituent  of the wine that results, but in most cases the carbon dioxide will be allowed to escape as a by-product. 

In other words, it’s how grapes juice gets turned into wine. Essentially yeast, either naturally occurring in the vineyards and the grapes themselves, or cultured yeasts, interact with the sugars present in the grape juice and consume the sugar.  The byproduct of that consumption is ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Image of Cabernet Sauvignon must interacting w...

Image of Cabernet Sauvignon must interacting with the skin during fermentation in the maceration process. Photo taken at Mountain Homebrew in Kirkland, WA on October 14th, 2007 with a Kodak z650 camera Category:Wine-related images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wine Words Demystified: Esters

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Esters

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

Aromatic compounds produced by yeasts and bacteria primarily during FERMENTATION.  Esters may be complimentary or deleterious to the wine

Esters are chemical compounds found in all substances.  They are “smell” compounds.  They are formed by the reaction of acids and alcohol, which both present in wine.

In fruit, the same chemical compounds found in apples, or cherries may be found in certain grape varieties.  In a nutshell, this is why  an apple” is often used to describe the flavors of a Chardonnay, or “cherry” may be used to describe the flavor of a Pinot Noir.

Image courtesy of beersensoryscience.wordpress.com

Wine Words Demystified: Autolysis

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Autolysis

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The decomposition of spent yeast cells by enzymes they contain. When a wine is SUR LIE, or on the LEES, it is left in contact with the spent yeast cells that performed FERMENTATION.  As the yeast cells break down, the impart, for reasons not fully understood, an extra dimension of flavor, VISCOSITY, and complexity to the wine
In other words, yeast cells which may be present on the grapes naturally or introduced by the winemaker, consumes the sugars in  fermenting crushed grapes and converts it to alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2).  When the alcohol reaches a certain level it kills the yeast.  After the yeasts die they begin to decompose.   The dead yeast cells are referred to as lees.  If a wine is left in contact with lees as they decompose, and add aromas, flavors and complexity to the wine.  Depending on the wine, this may be desirable (in the case of Champagne, some Chardonnay, and other white wines) or undesirable.
A bottle of undisgorged Champagne resting on t...

A bottle of undisgorged Champagne resting on the lees. The yeast used in the second fermentation is still in the bottle, which is closed with a crown cap. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)