Beginners Corner

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

The Winemaking Process –Part 2 Rose and Red wines.

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Oct 21, 2008.

The basic wine making process is fundamentally the same for white, rose, and red wines. The difference really lies in the juice that used to make the wine. The steps remain basically unchanged in that here is a progression of alcoholic fermentation, racking off the lees, malolactic fermentation, which is much more prevalent with reds, then ageing, fining and or filtering, and bottling

Since part one of this series has already focused on the steps uses to make wine I will focus this follow-up on the steps that are significantly changed for the red wine making process.

As already stated the fundamental difference between white wine and red wine is the color of the juice. With virtually every grape all of the pigment is contained in the skin of the grape. The longer the grape juice stays in contact with the skins the more pigment is transferred from the skin to the juice. There does come a time when the rate at which the pigment transfer slows to the point that the juice actually begins to lose color as the pigment falls out of a solution faster that it is replaced, but this is a very rare condition that only occurs with extended periods of skin contact one rarely encounters.

Generally grapes are crushed, and then destemmed before fermentation. This allows the skins to be broken, speeding pigment extraction, and the stems to be removed, limiting the addition of tannins. Some producers prefer to add some of the stems into the wine, particularly in ripe years where the risk of the stems having hard, green tannins is reduced. These stems add complexity and structure to the wine and some grapes, in particular Pinot Noir, can certainly benefit from some additional tannin. While the percentage of stem inclusion can run the gamut for little to all there is one fermentation technique that by definition includes all the stems: Whole Berry or Carbonic Maceration.

Whole Berry, or Carbonic Maceration, is exactly what it sounds like. Whole clusters of grapes are left intact and are allowed to begin their fermentation process. As the grapes ferment they create alcohol and release carbon dioxide, which being heavier than air sits in the fermentation vessel, replacing the oxygen as the fermentation proceeds. In this oxygen free atmosphere the grapes ferment while the character of the grape skins change, allowing for the release of pigment and flavoring compounds while preventing any significant extraction of tannin. As you might guess the resultant wine is fresh and fruity with excellent perfumes but not a lot of staying power. The most familiar example of this style of wine might just be the ubiquitous Beaujolais Nouveau.

Roses generally are the product of red grapes. A winemaker can control the amount of pigment released into the juice by controlling the length of skin contact. In some regions there is also a tradition of “bleeding off” some of the juice in a red wine to reduce the ration of juice to skins, resulting in a more concentrated red wines. The wine that is bled off is lightly colored and the basis for many of our roses. One interesting side note here is that some “white” wine grapes have colored skins. The juice of these grapes can be left in contact with the skins to produce wines that range from lightly colored to quite rose colored.

While some Rose remains a by-product of this bleeding technique the vast majority of the rose in the marketplace today are intentionally made. One advantage to the producer of making rose is that yields can be quite high. For red wines the mantra regarding yields is generally the lower the better, but for these light bodied fresh wines high yields may work just fine. That of course gives the growers more juice per acre and since roses are sold very soon after the harvest, when compared to most red wines, they tend to be very cash flow beneficial for the producers!

So roses are made with minimal skin contact, reds with more. Generally the skin contact and pigment extraction occur during the fermentation but many wineries now perform what is known as a “cold soak”. When the juice is kept in contact with the skins more than simple pigments are extracted. In particular during the warmth of the fermentation and with the help of the created alcohol, both tannins, which give the wine structure, and polyphenols, which create some of the aromatics of the wine, are release from the skins. By performing a cold soak winemakers are able to extract the maximum level of pigment and allow the wine to retain a fresh, fruity character.

As with white wines, most red wines follow tightly controlled vinifications, especially when it comes to temperature. Winemakers like to control the temperature of the vinification since excessively high temperatures can have detrimental effects. If the temperature gets too hot the yeast cells can be killed off ,resulting in a stuck fermentation, or a fermentation that has stopped before the wine is dry, before all the sugar has turned into alcohol. In other cases the yeast cells do just fine but the excessively high temperature of the fermentation causes some of the delicate flavors and aromas of the wine to literally be cooked off, resulting in a dull and lifeless wine. Of course not all wines undergo temperature-controlled fermentations and some of the best wines in the world are the results of the great risks some winemakers take allowing the fermentations to enjoy large temperature swings, thus adding additional layers of complexity to the finished wine. In some cases a risk well rewarded, but obviously not without its perils.

When the fermentation has ended, the juice may be left on the skins for as much as 2 months before the “free run” juice is drawn off the lees. The pomace that remains is pressed to extract more juice that will be added back to the “free run” juice. This “press wine” is generally rich in tannin and extract so it is used sparingly to preserve the balance of the “free run” juice.

Once the juice has been pressed the wine undergoes much the same treatment as a white wine, with the one exception that generally red wines are aged for longer than whites. The same choices have to made, will the wine see stainless steel aging vessels, large oak, small oak, new or old, French or American? There are many choices and each play a roll in the development of the flavors and texture of the finished wine.

Stainless steel vessels are generally used for young, fruity wines. They are a neutral place to allow the wine some time to settle. The fine sediment that is in the wines falls out of suspension and the wine “falls clear” without being exposed to any oxygen; thereby retaining it’s freshness. If the wine requires some oxygen exchange it might be put in wood vessels. Due to the porous nature of the wood staves there is a slow interaction between oxygen and the wine, which helps soften some of the tannins and “fix” the color of the wine, making it stay deep and bright. This gentle ageing can make the wine both more approachable and, counter-intuitively, more durable as it’s conditioned to “live” with some oxygen.

The size of the ageing vessel plays a roll in the rate at which oxygen is exchanged. The smaller the vessel the greater the rate of exchange as the ration of juice to wood decreases. The 225-liter French Barrique is probably the most common barrel in winemaking and is also among the smallest. These barrels are ubiquitous in Bordeaux and the finest cellars from Napa Valley to Australia’s Limestone coast.

These barriques are small and so not only have a great affect on the rate of oxygen exchange but also on the absorption of the natural tannins and flavoring compounds found in the wood, as well as the sugars and caramelized compounds that are created when the staves of the barrel are heated to allow them to be bent into shape. When a producer uses new barrels these wood notes: vanilla, coconut, caramel, chocolate, cedar, and toast for example, can have a huge impact on the flavor of the finished wines.

With each subsequent use the barrel has less and less of these compounds to impart to the wine. After about 3 uses the barrels have become fairly neutral, a boon for some producers. Many producers who are looking for the added complexity new oak adds to the wine work on a barrel replacement rotation that introduced new barrels every three years. While this recipe that yields 33% new oak each year is not uncommon, it is also not uncommon to find producers using 100% new barriques each year or only 10%. The end results are different of course but with winemaking styles running the gamut from uber-traditional to uber-modern there is no hard and fast rule for barrel rotation.

Wines are generally aged from a few months to several years and the natural filtering action of time means that wines that have aged in barrel for extended periods of time can be bottled with out fining or filtering. Really these two processes are very similar. With fining, a filtering agent, bentonite, a type of clay, or egg whites for example, are allowed to be drawn by gravity through the wine catching impurities as they settle through the wine. On the other hand, with filtering, the filter, usually a cellulose pad is fixed while the wine is drawn through it. The end results are very similar though filter pads allow for a more thorough filtering of even the smallest particles.

Once the wine is clear it is ready to be bottled and may be allowed to rest in the bottle for a few weeks to a few months before being placed on the market. Many wines suffer from “bottle shock”, a period after bottling during which the wines have either “closed up” or just seem unbalanced. This period of bottle rest allows for the effects of bottling to pass before the wine is presented to the consumer.

Well that pretty much wraps up a not so brief look at the making of red wines. I hope I covered all the bases, but if I didn’t please let me know. I’d love to try and answer any questions you may have.


Reply by Cassis 13260, Apr 1, 2010.

hi, I am suppose to be bilingual, but how would you translate the following? It concerns a rosé of provence where I live:

La robe est limpide et brillante d'un rose franc

Le nez est d'une grande finesse, s'exprimant sur des fruits rouges et des épices douces

A la manière des vins blancs, la bouche est ample et souple

Une discrète acidité lui donne toute sa fraîcheur et son croquant

Thank you, 


Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Apr 1, 2010.

The wine is limpid and brilliant. The nose show real finesse and reveals aromas of red fruits and sweet spices. This is rich and supple, in the style of a great white wine, with well integrated acidity adding freshness and keeping this crisp on the palate.



Reply by Cathy Shore, Apr 1, 2010.

I think you should translate the tasting notes issued by French producers! (which provide much amusement by the way). 

I can't understand why they don't ask a native speaker to check their translations as google just isn't up to the job. 

Reply by dmcker, Apr 1, 2010.

Spend a day in Tokyo, Cathy...

Reply by Cathy Shore, Apr 1, 2010.

LOL - just enjoying a glass of Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc 2008 - cheers

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Apr 2, 2010.

The Italians are intentional "creative" with thir translations.

maybe they just want to be sure we are actually readng them!

Reply by dmcker, Apr 2, 2010.

Or maybe they want to hide behind too-dense verbal defenses... ;-)

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