Getting Creative with Wine
We as South Africans, are definitely blessed when it comes to the availability of good wine. We as Capetonians, landed in the butter, as they say. When it comes to the abundance of wine farms, we are basically living in the wine capital of South Africa. Something we love so much about the wine industry (apart from the multitude of great wine) is the creative processes involved in making wine.
There are hundreds of small processes that can be tweaked and implemented that will ultimately change the end product. Sometimes it is just a small change but it is truly amazing to find out some of the creativity behind the scenes!
Whilst there are certainly some rather technical processes that happen within the wine cellar, there are also some surprisingly simple ideas as well. Before we start making you think you need to enroll in a four-year winemaking course to understand some of these techniques, let’s talk about a few simple things like fining, amphorae, and the use of dry ice.
No, this is not just what happens when you drive too fast in the hopes of making it to your favorite winery before they close. This is a special technique that helps wine become softer and smoother or may help clear a wine that has particles in it, causing it to become cloudy.
There are a few different fining agents that can be used. One of the more common ones would be egg white. What basically happens is the protein from the egg white actually binds to the molecules in wine which can include, tannins and other unwanted particles. They bind these together so that you are able to filter them out, creating a softer or clearer wine. The wine is then filtered to remove the tannins and protein.
The first thing that may come to mind when thinking of dry ice, is buying ice lollies on the roadside when we were kids. Who would have thought that these smoking blocks of ice would have a place in your glass of chardonnay?
Well, they do. Dry ice is used as a kind of protection from oxygen during maceration, which is when the skin of the grapes sits with the juice for a period of time before fermentation. Dry ice releases carbon dioxide, which acts as a barrier between the wine and the air. Some wineries place a small bowl on the top of the cap inside the tank where the skin and the juice are being kept. The gas released from the ice blankets the skin cap and actually stops too much oxygen from being introduced to the wine before fermentation begins. Once fermentation starts, the wine, of course, produces its own carbon dioxide and protects itself. Pretty interesting right!
Ever heard of these? Though they may not sound like the kind of topic of conversation that takes place around your dinner table every day, these are a lot more common than you might think. They were actually used to produce wine way back in the day, thousands of years ago, in places like Georgia, Portugal, and Italy, to name just a few.
Basically, amphora pots are clay vessels of various sizes, that are used for the fermentation or maturation of wine. Instead of the use of wooden barrels, which are of course common practice, a winemaker might make use of these pots. Clay, like oak, is quite porous, and so some oxygen is introduced to the wine, creating a textural mouthfeel and fuller body. But without adding oaky notes to the wine. In the same way, a barrel may impart some oaky character to the wine, the clay pots mostly impart a minerality to the wine, but help maintain a kind of freshness as well. They are also used as an inert vessel, where a wine needs to be matured but a winemaker may not want to introduce any oak character. Amphora pots are used for white and red wines. Most wineries have one or two that they make use of, although you may never hear of them!
All these quirky but surprisingly commonplace techniques always make us appreciate our wine. Next time you pour yourself a glass and put your feet up, take a second to think about the amazingly creative and thought out process that went into your favorite wine!