Wednesday, March 31, 2021

More Than Grape Skin Deep

Many people think of wine as red or white. Red wine comes from red grapes, and white wine comes from white grapes. While generally true, the pantone palettes of grape colors run the gamut of yellow, green, pink, purple, and even black. Still, the beauty of wine is more than grape skin deep. Let's explore a little more together. 

Wine colors by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

Red Wine

Red grape skin contains anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments, that give the fruit its color. When making red wine, the berries are often crushed lightly and left to soak in the juice, also known as the must. During this process of maceration, the grape skins, flesh, and seeds gently break down, releasing tannins, aroma precursors, and anthocyanins into the must. 

In red winemaking, maceration can happen before and during the alcoholic or primary fermentation. In fact, the winemaker is constantly balancing color, aroma, flavor, and the amount of tannins extracted from the grapes, lengthening or shortening the maceration period as appropriate.

Once the yeast has converted all the sugar in the grapes to alcohol, primary fermentation is deemed complete. The wine is then pressed to remove all grape debris. The day before press, lactic acid bacteria is often pitched into the wine to start a secondary fermentation. In this fermentation, harsh green apple-y malic acid is converted to softer creamier lactic acid to give the wine a fuller mouthfeel.

After malolactic fermentation is complete, the wine is then left to age, usually in oak, for as long as the winemaker pleases before bottling. And that completes the process of red winemaking.

White Wine

While not obvious to the naked eye, anthocyanins are also present in the skin of white grapes. The amount is significantly lower to be detected visibly.

Unlike red wine, white wine is made with nearly no skin contact. Most of the flavor and aroma compounds in white grapes come from the pulp and not the skin. The skin of white grapes adds bitterness and astringency, both of which are undesirable for white wine.

White grapes harvest by Thomas Schaefer on Unsplash

In white winemaking, the grapes are harvested and immediately pressed. The skin is removed, and there is no maceration. Once the the clear juice is extracted, the must is inoculated with yeast, which begins the alcoholic fermentation.

After alcoholic fermentation is complete, depending on the grape variety and the winemaker, the wine may or may not go through malolactic fermentation and then aged in oak, stainless steel or concrete. White wine that has been aged in oak will have a deeper yellow shade to it. Otherwise, it is lightly-colored and crisp.

Pink Wine

Now that we have gone through the difference between red and white winemaking. Let's have some fun and mix it up. What if we use red grapes and make wine via the white winemaking method? 

Hey Presto! Pink wine!

Contrary to popular belief, pink wine or rosé is not made by mixing red wine and white wine together. The exception would be the blending of red and white still wines to be the base for the second (not secondary) fermentation of a pink sparkling wine.

Pink wine or rosé, a sign of summer

Pink wine is made when red grapes go through a very short period of maceration, usually four to forty-eight hours, before being pressed. After the grape skin and other debris are removed, the must is inoculated with yeast, and alcoholic fermentation begins the same way it does for a white wine.

The short maceration gives rosé its blush hue, which is what the English call the wine. Rosé has the flavor profile of a light red wine with a lot of red fruits. However, it is also crisp and bright like a white wine.

Orange Wine

Let's then try the reverse and use white grapes to make wine in the red winemaking method. Instead of removing skin contact upon harvest, macerate the white grapes in the must like you would for red winemaking. 

Viola! You get an orange wine!

Orange wine
While it may seem like a fad, the origin of orange wine goes back 5,000 years in Caucasus. Today, you can still find orange wine in the Republic of Georgia as well as Slovenia and Italy. 

Because the wine is made from white grapes with extended skin contact, it has the aroma of honey and ripe fruit, that is reminiscent of an oxidative wine. But on the palate, it is dry, tannic and tart like a red wine. Orange wine is like a heftier white wine that is served cool but not chilled. When well made, it is super interesting and can take on bold-flavored dishes, like curry or even lamb.

My Verdict: As you see, the color of wine is really more than grape skin deep. So why limit yourself to red and white? Try something different, something new, and let me know what you think.