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07 February 2006

Carbonic Macer...Wha?

AndsceneThe Scene:  A Crowded Neighborhood Wine Shop
You have just selected a seemingly innocent bottle of red wine - "Chateau Something-or-other."  The vintage is 2004.  Hoping to learn a bit more about this wine, you rotate the bottle and begin reading the back label..

You [reading to self] : This stunning, bright garnet-coloured wine offers an intense bouquet of red berries coupled to smooth tannins.  Our winemaker utilized two different fermentation methods in producing this wine: 50% carbonic maceration and 50% traditional, temperature controlled fermentation.  The result is a wine with an incredibly rich mouthfeel and intense flavour..

You [stop reading and scan back to the term, "carbonic maceration"] : "Carbonic macer...Wha?  What does that mean?  Maceration sounds a little violent.  What will this wine taste like?" [You look up and every eye in the store is upon you]

Random guy [snickering] : Ha.  You don't know what carbonic maceration is!  Moron.

Attractive woman
[derisively] : I can't respect any man who doesn't understand the carbonic maceration process.

Distinguished older gentleman with pipe [eruditely] : I weep for the uneducated.

Gaggle of school children [laughing loudly] : Look everyone!  There's a dummy in the wine shop.  Dummy, dummy, dummy!

And, scene.

CarbonicNo, you don't need to understand every technical wine term in order to drink and/or enjoy wine.  However, terms like "carbonic maceration" do frequently appear on wine labels and shelf talkers.  It's as if the marketing/PR types feel their wine will garner extra points by bedecking the bottle with technical terminology.  If, like me, you happen to be obsessively curious, then perhaps you want to know what carbonic maceration is.  For the curious Georges amongst us, here's...............carbonic maceration.

The short definition
:  A fermentation technique in which most of the grape juice is fermented while still inside the grape (i.e. the grapes aren't crushed before fermentation).  The result is a wine with less tannins and distinct fruity flavor (I'm often reminded of Hi-C)

The less-short definition
:  A fermentation technique that is most famously (or infamously - depending on your point-of-view) used to produce Beaujolais Nouveau.  A vat or container is filled with uncrushed grapes.  The grapes at the bottom are gradually crushed by the weight of those at the top.  This 'bottom grape juice' is released and begins to ferment.  As yeasts dine on grape sugars, they belch out carbon dioxide gas, which wafts upward and covers the as-yet uncrushed, unfermented top grapes.  Alternatively, and more commonly, the vat is saturated with carbon dioxide gas.  During this time, enzymes soften the grape skins and some of the skin color is taken up by the grape flesh.  The grapes are then pressed and fermented minus skins (i.e. as if it were a white wine).  The resulting wine is quite distinctive - scents of strawberry, raspberry and caramel are common.  Many wine experts maintain that wines made in this fashion are intended to be drunk young, and that they are unsuitable for aging over any extended period of time.

Recently, I was surprised while drinking this Côtes du Rhône (Chusclan La Ferme Gicon).  It possesses the very distinctive C.M. character (like I said, sort of Hi-C-ish).  This wine isn't 100% carbonic; rather it's a 50-50 blend.  I enjoyed it as a nice change of pace.  Give a carbonically macerated wine a test drive and see what you think.


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Great post idea and nice job making it easy to understand.

Your Hi-C descriptor is right on the money too. There is a bit of Cab Franc made with CM here locally.

Perhaps they should call it Hi-CF?

Beau, great article. Don't know if you saw my article: http://www.catavino.net/archives/266/2006/01/11/
on the wines in Spain made with this method. Thought you might enjoy it...Not trying to troll! ;)
Oh and a whole bunch of notes!

Lenn - what's the Cab Fran you are referring to? I'm always looking out for a good one.

Good post, Ryan. I'll link to your Carbonic Maceration post right here.

Eric, I wouldn't recommend any of the ones made via CM...but I can recommend several Long Island CFs for you to try:

- Osprey's Dominion Vineyards
- Corey Creek
- Jamesport Vineyards
- Pellegrini Vineyards
- Waters Crest Winery
- Paumanok Vineyards

You'll notice that the styles can vary greatly form winery to winery...but that's part of the fun, right?

Thanks Lenn, I'll look them up.

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