Tag Archives: fermentation

Today’s Wine Word: Crush Widow

Have you ever heard of a crush widow? Here’s the story:

Maybe you’d like to take a lonely crush widow – or widower – to lunch! Cheers!

Visit A Million Cooks for more brief videos from experts on the food you eat: Where it comes from, where to buy it and how to prepare it.

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September 5, 2013 · 7:50 pm

Today’s Wine Word: Cap Management

Punchdown

Doesn’t sound very winey, does it? Is it about the proper way to arrange your chapeau or ?

Cap management is a term that’s used only during harvest, but it’s an important one.

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins. With very few exceptions the juice of a dark variety runs clear.

TRIVIA! The few varieties with red juice and flesh are called teinturier (ten-toory-AY). The best-known example in the wine world is probably Alicante Bouschet, which is often part of a field blend and can also be used when the winemaker wants to ramp up the color.

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: The thing is that the darned skins keep going up to the top of the tank, buoyed by the carbon-dioxide gas produced by the fermentation. If the “cap” of skins is allowed to stay at the top, color and flavor extraction isn’t good and it also tends to get hot up there. You don’t want it to get so hot that it starts killing the yeast. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Cold Soak

Dry_ice

Lots of that going on in the wine world right now. If you’re picturing yourself in a bathtub full of cold water, you’re not too far off. The term is literal, but there’s no water involved.

The cold soak is a technique that delays the onset of fermentation by keeping the must (crushed grapes) cool (yeast likes it warm).

If the grapes come in at night or on a very chilly morning, it’s just a matter of keeping it that way and with stainless steel tanks, it’s very easily done.

When the grapes come in warm, the most common way to chill the must down is to blanket it with dry ice (the solid form of carbon-dioxide).

The cold soak usually applies to red wine. It’s a good way to get some color, flavor and tannin from the grape skins without extracting bitter seed tannin. There’s no avoiding seed tannin entirely because alcohol is a solvent, so as per a recent post, it’s important that the seeds are mature – not too bitter – before they’re harvested. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Extractive

Cap

Question from Jess: You used the word extractive in a recent post. What do you mean?

Reply: Hi, Jess. Thanks for writing! And shame on me for using wine jargon without taking the time to explain it.

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor, texture and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins. The juice of most any dark grape is clear. So, depending upon how long the juice and skins are in contact you can make white, rose or red wine!

TRIVIA! This great versatility served our wine pioneers well. In the early days of California’s wine history there was only one variety, the Mission grape, available. From the 1500s until the 1800s every style of wine – white, red, brandy and a dessert wine known as Angelica – was made from this one, dark variety.

Anyhoo, when a red wine is described as extractive it means that it’s extremely dense, probably nearly black in color and extremely concentrated in flavor. Often these extractive reds are also accompanied by high alcohol (alcohol is a solvent) and, in recent years, some can seem almost syrupy.

Depending upon who you’re talking to, “extractive” as a descriptor may be interpreted as a compliment or a slam. 

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Today’s Wine Word: Cap Management

Punchdown

Doesn’t sound very winey, does it? Is it about the proper way to arrange your chapeau or ?

Cap management is a term that’s used only during harvest, but it’s an important one. 

As you know, all of the color and most of the flavor and tannin in red wine comes from the grape skins. With very few exceptions the juice of a dark variety runs clear. 

TRIVIA! The few varieties with red juice and flesh are called teinturier (ten-toory-AY). The best-known example in the wine world is probably Alicante Bouschet, which is often part of a field blend and can also be used when the winemaker wants to ramp up the color. 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: The thing is that the darned skins keep going up to the top of the tank, buoyed by the carbon-dioxide gas produced by the fermentation. If the “cap” of skins is allowed to stay at the top, color and flavor extraction isn’t good and it also tends to get hot up there. You don’t want it to get so hot that it starts killing the yeast.

Which introduces two other wine words:

1. Pump over: The most common way to get the cap mixed in is to pump the wine from the bottom of the tank up over the top. The schedule might be anywhere from two to four times a day depending on how active the fermentation is. This is a great technique for tannic wines because the process has an aerating effect, which can soften the tannins. Some winemakers purposely augment the aeration during pump overs.  Continue reading

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What is Dry Wine?

Yeast

Busy little yeasty beasties

In my post a few days ago about the correct order for serving different styles of wine I wrote very briefly about what the term “dry” means. I think it’s worth taking a little more time to dig deeper because our perception of dryness can differ from what the numbers indicate. 

As I said, most of the world agrees that if the wine is about .5% sugar, no one can taste it. So, that, or less, is considered dry.

As a quick review, during the fermentation, yeast consumes the sugar in the grape juice and, as it does, the sugar’s converted to heat, carbon-dioxide gas and alcohol. To make dry wine, the winemaker just lets the yeast run amok and use up every last bit of fermentable sugar. To make sweet wine there are various ways of intervening before the wine goes dry, such as chilling the wine, adding sulfur dioxide, adding alcohol… Or, let the wine go dry and add back grape juice.

But there are other things to consider when it comes to our perception, as opposed to the lab report. Fruitiness can trick our palates into detecting sugar that isn’t there. This is especially true with intensely fruity varieties such as Muscat or Viognier. It just takes practice to be able to differentiate – that is most of the time. I think we all still get fooled from time to time – I know I do. Continue reading

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Is There More than One Kind of Zinfandel?

Question from Sarah: We were at a restaurant and I ordered a glass of Zinfandel. When the wine came it was dark red instead of pink. I decided to go ahead and try it and I didn’t like it at all. It was really bitter and not nice and sweet the way I like it. Luckily my boyfriend liked it okay. Is there more than one kind of Zinfandel? 

Reply: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for writing! I hope they suggested another wine you might enjoy. We don’t want to lose you as a wine lover! 

I guess you could say there’s more than one kind of Zinfandel. Zinfandel is the name of a grape with a dark, nearly black, skin and clear juice – almost every dark-skinned grape has colorless juice. This fact gives the grape great versatility. Depending upon how long the juice and grape skins are in contact, the winemaker can produce white, pink or red wine.

Making White Zinfandel
White Zinfandel, the wine you thought you had ordered, is, strangely enough, pink! Here’s how it works: The winemaker picks the whole cluster of Zinfandel and then runs it through a machine that removes the stems and breaks the grape skins open. Then he transfers this soupy mixture of juice and skins into a fermentation tank and waits awhile. 

At some point he’ll open a valve to see the color of the juice. When he sees something he likes, he drains all of the juice out of the tank and transfers it to another tank. This is very, very sweet juice – absolutely delicious!  Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Concentrate

Yes, it’s important for winemakers to concentrate on what they’re doing, but in the wine business the word, concentrate, has other implications. 

How interesting that in Napa Valley, a region known for warm, sunny weather and generous alcohols, thanks to high grape sugars, right now winemakers are trying to get their hands on grape juice concentrate to supplement the sugar that’s lacking this year. 

Concentrate for wine is unfermented grape juice that’s boiled down to be concentrated to nearly 70% sugar! Wine grapes at harvest usually come in, in the low to high 20s so 70% is extremely sweet and syrupy. The best is boiled in a partial vacuum, which reduces the boiling point so the juice isn’t too cooked in flavor. It can be added to the crushed fruit in the tank to bump up the sweetness which bumps up the alcohol.

I was talking with a grape grower/winemaker at choir rehearsal the other night and he said you can’t buy concentrate for love nor money at this point in this very difficult harvest. The 2011 growing seaon, here, has been extremely cool and the grapes need heat to ripen. We also had considerable rain in October which dilutes the sugar down. For those growers whose grapes didn’t rot in the rain, waiting for th sugar to come up in these cool temperatures is an exercise in frustration. Continue reading

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How is Wine Made?

Question from Roy: How is wine made? 

Reply: Hi, Roy. Thanks for writing! Your question has a, potentially, very long answer but I assume you want the short story.

For anyone who is intimidated by wine, you should know that making it is so simple it was discovered by accident. Making good wine can be quite another matter but someone, yea long ago, thought he put aside a pot of grape juice. Then, after a few days he noticed it bubbling and foaming. If he was brave enough to taste it, he found that it had a very warm, pleasant relaxing effect. So, wine was born and, as you know, goes back thousands and thousands of years. 

All you need to make wine is grape juice and yeast. The yeast is supplied, courtesy of Mother Nature. It’s like bacteria – it’s everywhere. 

The yeast feeds on the sugar in the juice setting off a chemical reaction called fermentation. The yeast converts the sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide gas (thus the foaming) and heat. When the yeast runs out of sugar it dies or goes dormant and you have a dry (not sweet) wine. If the yeast peters out or dies early the wine will be sweet because there’s sugar left over. Continue reading

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Wine Making 101

Well, I seem to have covered sparkling wine 101 without ever explaining how wine is made in the first place! Mea culpa! So, here we go with wine making 101: 

The short course: The most important thing to know is that making wine is so simple it was discovered by accident thousands and thousands of years ago. I like to think of it as the world’s second oldest profession.

Someone, yea long ago, was saving a batch of grape juice. A few days later, he noticed it was getting foamy, and then a few days more and he had a different beverage altogether! Grape juice with a kick!

All you need to make wine is grape juice and yeast. And, yeast is everywhere, like bacteria. So I guess what I’m saying is that grape juice wants to be wine – that’s the good news. The bad news is that wine wants to be vinegar so professional winemaking requires a little intervention.

For red wine:  As you’d guess, red wine is made of dark skinned grapes. All the color and most of the flavor and texture come from the skins – the juice is clear. That makes these dark grapes quite versatile. They can make red, white or pink wine depending upon how long the juice and skins are in contact.

1. On harvest day (preferably), the grape clusters are run through a machine that de-stems them and breaks the berries open. The crushed grapes go into a fermentation tank skins, seeds and all. 

2. These days, most winemakers add reliable, cultured yeast rather than waiting for nature to take its course. 

What is fermentation? It’s a natural chemical reaction. The yeast consumes the sugar in the juice and converts it into alcohol and carbon-dioxide gas. When the sugar’s used up, usually about a week later, for reds, the fermentation ends naturally, resulting in a dry red wine. A little over half of the sugar will convert to alcohol, so if the winemaker wants to make wine that’s around 13% alcohol, he should harvest grapes that are about 24% sugar (although he also needs to monitor the acid, pH and, most importantly, flavor). 

3. The winemaker separates the wine from the skins in a press, which is like a giant strainer with a squeezing mechanism. 

4. Most reds need some barrel age, but it’s optional.

For white wine: The vast majority of white wine is made from white varieties. 

1. For the sake of delicacy, the grapes are crushed and pressed immediately after harvest, leaving only the juice to ferment. 

2. Once the yeast is added, fermentation can take several weeks because the juice is often kept cool to retain fruitiness. 

3. It’s quite common to bottle white wine, even some of the very best, without any barrel aging at all. It’s a question of style.

See how simple that is? Of course there are seemingly endless variables involved each step of the way, but there you have it – bare bones wine 101! 

For those who want to dig a little deeper: 

The harvest: Most winemakers would agree that the harvest decision is the single-most important decision they make in the whole year. Like the best chefs, the winemaker can’t excel unless he uses top quality fruit picked at just the right time. Continue reading

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