Perhaps it was the pandemic. Or perhaps I had been in a winemaking rut. Nonetheless I decided to shake things up this year. The outcome? From a single Syrah grape variety, I ended up with three wines: a red, a rosé, and a pétillant-naturel (also known as pét-nat). Let me share my journey.
|One grape, three wines|
An Order of Doble Pasta Please!
After making only red wine for the past five years (along with all the rookie mistakes), I wanted to experiment with doble pasta to give my wine more concentrated flavors and depth. Far from the carb-laden name, doble pasta is really a winemaking technique where the crushed grapes are fermented with extra skins and pulp to extract a higher intensity of flavors, color, and tannins.
Hailed from Spain, doble pasta is practiced in the southeastern wine regions of Alicante, Jumilla, Utiel-Requeña, and Yecla. There, the crushed grapes are traditionally macerated with twice the amount of grape skins and pulp, hence the word doble, while retaining the same amount of juice.
|Free run juice from half the grapes|
My Syrah grapes arrived in mid September, freshly harvested from the vineyard that morning. After the grapes had been de-stemmed and macerated for a couple of hours, I put half the grapes into the basket press and let gravity draw out the free-run juice. I was careful to retain the tannins, anthocyanins, and other flavonoids in the skins and pulp to be added to my other half of the grapes that were macerating in a separate fermenter. My own doble pasta!
It would appear that doble pasta also meant doble cap. Cap refers to the crushed grapes that rise to the top of the juice during alcoholic fermentation. Typically, the winemaker punches the cap down into the juice two to three times a day to extract flavors and prevent bacterial activities. With twice the cap mass, this proved to be quite the workout. I ditched my regular metal paddle and went for a glass gallon jar for punchdown. A genius move if I may say so myself. Even then, the cap was so thick that the gallon jar could just sit on it.
|Glass gallon jar for punchdown|
I also learned that doble pasta also meant more grapes to break down and more sugar to convert to alcohol. I had not accounted for that when I measured out the amount of yeast to use. As a consequence, my red was fermenting several days longer than normal. However, the reward was a rich wine with concentrated flavors. I am excited to see how the wine will further evolve with malolactic fermentation and oak maturation.
No Way, Rosé!
Not to waste the free-run juice, I used it to make my very first rosé. First I watered back the juice to reduce the Brix (or sugar content) to keep the wine at a lower alcohol level. Plus, I wanted to lighten the color but was barely successful as Syrah is a highly pigmented variety. As fermentation went on, the difference in colors for both wines was astounding. The rosé developed a deep pink hue, while the red was inky and dark.
Rosé is made when you ferment red grapes using white winemaking method. It starts with separating the skins and pulp from the juice, which I did as part of doble pasta. I then used a white wine yeast strain known for producing crisp aromatic wine with intense fruit flavors. Like making a white wine, rosé is also fermented at a lower temperature (60°F) than that for a red wine (80°F).
As one might expect, more rookie mistakes were made in the making of the pink wine. Rosé is fermented in a carboy with an airlock to limit exposure to air. At the same time, adequate headspace is needed for the release of carbon dioxide from yeast activity. Getting the right amount of headspace, however, takes some trial and error, and in my case, a rosé eruption (see video below).
Because of the cooler temperature, rosé fermentation could go on for a while. Even with a zero Brix reading on the hydrometer, my rosé continued to bubble, an indication of ongoing yeast activity. I let it go for a few more days before the bubbling slowed down. After which, I racked the wine and topped it up, this time to truly minimize headspace. Sulfur dioxide was then added to inhibit further fermentation, and then the wine was chilled at 50°F to settle out any tartrate crystals (also known as wine diamonds). After a month in the fridge, the wine was finished and bottled. Viola!
What? A Pét-Nat?
While the rosé was bubbling with a zero Brix reading, I had a taste of the wine and really liked it. The thought of ditching the still rosé and bottling the lightly fizzy wine as a pét-nat crossed my mind. Pét-nat is after all a wine that has not completed fermentation, which is exactly what was going on.
That temptation was quickly killed by my fear of glass bottle explosion. That is always a risk when making a pressurized beverage. Being new and ill-equipped to accurately measure the dissolved carbon dioxide and its subsequent pressure in a glass bottle, it seemed prudent to keep the experiment limited. Besides, why choose one over the other when you can have both (or all three if you include the red)?
|Pét-nat securely stored in a bucket|
So I decided to siphon out enough fizzy rosé to fill two previously used beer bottles. That would suffice as my little experiment. I then enclosed the bottles with crown corks, which is very hipster-y, and stored them in bucket with the lid on in case of a bottle explosion.
Que Syrah, Syrah, Syrah
It has been two and a half months since harvest. The pét-nat was the first to be bottled towards the end of September. The rosé followed suit after a month. The red is still in malolactic fermentation, a process often skipped when making white and pink wines. Since the proof of the wine is in the tasting, here are my notes of the three Syrahs as tasted this past Thanksgiving:
Pét-Nat: Foamed over after uncorking as pét-nats sometimes do. Deep pink and hazy. Highly aromatic with pressed sugarcane, cherry, apple cider, and a touch of brioche. Subtle fizz but not sustained. Medium body, dry, and very refreshing with a slight funk. Not bad for a first try!
Rosé: Deep pink in color but clear. Aromatic with rich cherry flavor and a tinge of sweetness. Medium body but refreshing with a lingering finish. Not quite the Bandol rosé, but a wonderful pairing with roast turkey and Thanksgiving sides.
Red (Barrel Tasting): Deep purple in color. Aromatic with cherry Jolly Rancher and white pepper. Full body. Medium plus acidity, a little astringent indicating that malolactic fermentation is not complete. Fine tannins and lingering finish.
My Verdict: Making three wines from a single grape has been a fun experiment and a much needed fresh breath of air. Now which wine shall I pick to drink to your good health this holiday season? Que Syrah, Syrah, Syrah. Whatever will be, will be, will be.