I love the back labels on wine bottles. Some are famously informative; Ridge Vineyards' labels, for example, offer a descriptive and virtually complete chronicle of the details of each wine. The extra info wineries provide on the winemaking techniques can really tell you a lot about that wine, as long as you're speaking the same language as the winemaker!
Even I can get confused by the dense and sometimes arcane language used by wineries, and winemakers, for that matter. Folks in the biz tend to forget that the wine world has its own vocabulary, one that many consumers can find confusing, so today I’m going to decipher the snippet quoted above. It’s really pretty explicit, and very telling -- but only if you can read it!
So let’s get at it by breaking down the sentence item by item. Here's the text of a back label from a bottle we recently sampled here in the Snooth offices.
“Whole cluster pressed, settled overnight and racked to barrel for non-inoculated primary and secondary fermentation. Barrel aged 14 months, racked twice, assembled and tank aged for 2 months prior to bottling.”
Whole cluster pressedThis means exactly what it sounds like: The grapes are pressed while still attached to the stems. This is not unusual with very high quality white wines, since the alternative -- destemming the grapes -- can bruise the fruit and leaves it exposed to oxygen for longer, making it more likely to oxidize, if even slightly. This should not be confused with whole cluster fermentation, where entire clusters of berries are allowed to ferment without undergoing prefermentation pressing.
After this whole cluster pressing the winemaker is left with fresh grape juice and a pomace of grape skins, seeds, and stems.
Settled overnightWhen grapes are pressed, even lightly, some bits and pieces of skin, stems, and general debris can find their way into the juice. By allowing the juice to settle over night, these bits and pieces, which can contribute off flavors to a wine, are allowed to settle to the bottom of the tank.
This should not be confused with cold-soaking, which generally refers to red grape juice that is kept at temperatures low enough to prevent fermentation from beginning for several days. This allows for a greater extraction of coloring and flavoring compounds from the skins before alcoholic fermentation actually begins.
RackedThis is a term you’ll find quite often. It simply means that the juice, or wine in barrel, is drained off the solids that drop to the bottom of the barrel. In the case of this "early racking," it’s those solids that slipped through the press. For later rackings the wine is being drained off its lees – the dead yeast cells that allowed for the alcoholic fermentation -- as well as even smaller bits of debris that took longer to settle out of solution.
Well, who would have thought a single sentence could be so complicated? And we're only just halfway through it. Join me next week as we wrap up with the detail about Primary and Malolactic Fermentation, Barrel Aging, Assembly, and Tank Aging.