Carbonic maceration is a fermentation process using a carbon dioxide rich environment to ferment whole grapes on an intracellular level before crushing. Standard alcoholic fermentation crushes the grapes first to free the juice and pulp from the skins, then introducing yeast to convert the sugars to alcohol. Louis Pasteur amongst others discovered the difference between the two processes in 1872 when it was observed that grapes that were in sealed containers started fermenting on their own before crushing. Wine from those grapes was then contrasted with regularly fermented grape wine in an experiment for which I would have gladly volunteered.
Carbonic maceration has actually been around for as long as standard fermentation. Any time grapes are left in a barrel or other container for any length of time, gravity will crush those on the bottom facilitating the release of juice, freeing those sugars to combine with ambient yeasts on grapeskins and elsewhere. Carbon dioxide is released as a by-product of this process and being denser than oxygen, CO2 will displace oxygen in the container forcing it out between barrel staves or some other way creating the anaerobic environment for this kind of fermentation.
Why is this relevant here and now? Being a wine merchant (mercenary?), I sell a lot of Nouveau Beaujolais every November and I placed that order just this week. Nouveau is the quintessential carbonic maceration wine, period. It is a fruity, low tannin wine, lacking in structure for ageing, but important as a harbinger for the greater wines of the vintage to follow. As the Nouveau goes, so goes the quality of the great wines to come. Using carbonic maceration, the producers can turn out a finished product in six weeks just in time for Thanksgiving and, as I just said, perhaps providing a signal to stock up on the great Burgundies to follow.
In California the term "whole berry fermentation" is a synonym for carbonic maceration. Carignan is the most widely planted grape in the world because of its yield. To say it is ordinary, is to flatter the grape. Carbonic maceration is the fermentation technique that makes it palatable and the process is used everywhere.
Back in the late 1960s, Bill Cosby did a routine about his childhood friend, Fat Albert. It was actually two stories with the second one building on the first one. At the midpoint Cosby said, "I just told you that story, so I could tell you this one." I just told you about carbonic maceration in order to tell you about a new and exciting wine making technique called "flash detente".
This Friday Jon Allen with Georgia Crown Distributing will be here (5-7pm) tasting out Adastra N'Oak Chardonnay, Tour Des Gendres Cuvees Des Conti and Bergerac Rouge, Terrasus Du Larzac La Reserve D'Oc, and Primus Red Blend. Please join us.
And get those Beaujolais orders in!