How to Influence Wine Character: 3 Tips from Underground Cellar
Quality wine is a mystery that connoisseurs learn to unravel through many years of experimentation. These experiments do not simply apply to wine tasting, as there are several other aspects related to growing grapes, vinifying, bottling, sealing and preserving wine which are just as important. For example, did you know that the cork vs screw top debate is about to come to an end soon? An ongoing experiment at the University of California will soon find out how and if corks and screw tops influence wine character over time.
Choice of bottle closure is not the only factor that impacts wine character of course; Underground Cellar points out five others that play a much more significant role during and after harvesting the grapes.
Time Your Harvest
It is true that the climatic conditions, soil and grape variety all play the most crucial roles in determining any wine’s character. Nevertheless, irrespective of what is being grown in the vineyard and where, the wine’s taste will vary widely, depending on when those grapes are harvested.
Grapes lose acidity and become sweeter as they ripen, so the winemaker needs to time each harvest with perfection. The right timing allows winemakers to gain control over the resulting wine’s characteristics, even before the vinification process begins. Artificial acidification to some degree might be used to gain further control and a better tart-sweet balance.
Extract Color and Flavor from the Skin
Cold soaking is an old trick used by traditional winemakers to add more variety, color, and depth of flavor to the ensuing wine’s taste. To bring about the maceration:
- The skin and must of the grapes must stay in contact throughout the process
- The grapes will need to be chilled to a point where fermentation cannot set in
- Inert gases might be introduced to counter any chances of oxidation
- Sulphur dioxide could be used in moderation to prevent rot
A longer maceration period is ideal for strengthening the natural fruity flavor. The main benefit of cold soaking stems from the fact that all flavors and the rich color is extracted before fermentation sets in. Without the presence of alcohol, there is no risk of adding unnecessary tannins and acidity to the wine at this point. The acidity can be adjusted later during the fermentation process, providing winemakers with better control over their wine’s characteristics.
Choose the Right Oak Container for Ageing
American oak – High in lactones, American oak is ideal when the wine can benefit from a strong overtone of vanilla. This is perfect for ageing bolder red wines such as Mourvèdre, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sagrantino to name just a few. American oak barrels are usually known for adding sweetness and a note of roasted coffee/campfire, depending on the toasting level.
French Oak – French oak barrels are costlier, and the results you can get from them are more varied as well. A common element found in all wine aged in French oak containers is the smoother taste. The wine will also reach a better balance between sweetness and acidity by the end of its ageing process.
Depending on what type of ageing container is chosen, it will play a significant role in influencing the wine’s final character. There are more options to choose from today, and a smart winemaker makes the best out of that opportunity. However, American and French Oak are the two best varieties to choose from.
Influencing the character of a wine is a fine art, but these tips are how some of the best wines are made.