Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! As many wine drinkers know, there are typically three colors of wine: red, white and rose. Each type of wine has a slightly different method of production but the most involved method (excluding sparkling wines) is used to make red wine. Since some may not know how wine is made, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the basic procedure used to make red wine and to give some insight as to why each wine can be so different.

Wine is made from grapes which have reached the optimal level and balance of water, sugar, acidity and ripeness (resulting in thicker skins). The skins of the grapes are incredibly important as this is where all the color of wine is found. Once the grapes have reached ripeness, they are transported as quickly as possible to the winery to be pressed. High-quality grapes will often be hand sorted but many wineries now use automated sorting machines which separates grapes into different sizes and also pulls out bad/rotten grapes from the good ones.

Once the grapes have reached the winery, pressing begins with a gentle crush at first. Pressing the grapes slowly ensures that the stems, pips or seeds do not get crushed and subsequently inject unnecessary bitterness into the wine. The first juice to come off the press is prized for its pure quality and is used for higher-end offerings while the remaining juice (which is usually pressed from the skins aka press juice) will sometimes be blended with the first press juice to create the proper balance of fruit flavor and necessary bitterness from the skins.

The color of a wine comes from the skins of the grapes and once the juice (pressed or otherwise) begins to ferment along with the addition of yeast, many methods will be employed to extract color. Some producers pass the juice over the skins floating at the top of the fermenting tank while others might use a method called “punching the cap” which is a process where the “cap” or a covering of grape skins is pushed down into the juice creating movement and extracting color, tannins and flavor (along with antioxidants).

At this point in production, the methods used to make a wine can split into hundreds if not thousands of small decisions. Will the wine rest in oak? How big is the barrel and is it toasted on the inside? Which species of oak is being used? Maybe the wine will rest in stainless steel to be released as a young, affordable option. How heavy is the bottle/packaging? Will we use a funky design on the label or go Classic? Some wine makers may decide to use carbonic maceration which makes an extremely fruity wine like Beaujolais Nouveau and others will stick to classic fermentation methods.

To simplify, you could say that red wine production is split into three distinct stages: pressing the grapes, fermenting the juice and aging/maturing and bottling the wine for sale. Each step contains a myriad of choices and factors and every one of these choices will result in the wine they want to create. A wine like Chianti will have a much different approach to production than a wine from Paso Robles or Napa due to regulations (such as DOCG Chianti) and the chosen style of wine being made. I’ve barely scratched the surface of how intricate the wine-making process is and a lot of information was skipped but one thing to remember about red wine production is the importance of the skins of the grapes. This is what differentiates red wine from the other styles of wine since all the color comes from the pigment found in grape skins. Whether you prefer red, white, sparkling or rose, consider how much work went into making the liquid you hold in your cup! Here are my wine picks of the week!        

Menicucci Governo All’Uso Toscano Chianti 2020: (DOCG Chianti, Italy). Dry red, medium ruby color. The simple red fruit nose hints at sour red cherry, cloves, tingling pepper and licorice. On the palate, the wine is light bodied with a fresh flourish of red cherries, earth, licorice and leather with refreshingly high acidity. This wine will get your tastebuds tingling with its notes of light red fruit and gripping tannins all backed up by lingering cloves and black pepper. The wine is pleasant to taste and fades quite quickly and even though the wine is light, it still contains some flavorful enjoyment. Since the wine is simple, it does lose a point or two but this is still an amazing option to pair with pizza or tomato-based sauces and dishes. Try with lamb meatballs in marinara or pork and beef lasagna. Good! $18, 13.5% ABV

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon 2020: (Paso Robles, California). Off-dry red, deep purple color with a ruby core. The bouquet of this Cali red opens with intense aromas of blackberry, dark cherry, vanilla spice, plums/prunes and boysenberries. The scents from the nose translate immediately on the first sip and I’m impressed that the wine is so well-balanced. The wine is full-bodied and also has a soft and smooth texture in the mouth. There is a decent amount of dark fruit to enjoy with just a touch of residual sugar and medium acidity to lift the flavors. Blackberries, ripe black cherries and lush plum culminate in a tingly pepper finish. The pepper is tangy and doesn’t overpower with spice as it blends with a hint of cigar box (cedar and spice). Tannins are high but beautifully integrated so it leaves a pleasant sensation on the teeth, tongue and cheeks. Some flavors of black tea leaf stick to the palate on the long finish which creates a tasty contrast between ripe fruit and tannin bitterness. Very good! $35, 13.9% ABV  

Cheers and thanks for reading!