By Mary Jacobson, MD and Lynn Gretkowski, MD
Spring is a relatively quiet time at the winery when most of the organisms have done their job and many of the wines will submit themselves to bottling. For other wines, malolactic bacteria are awakening after the dormancy of the cold winter.
The buds have broken in the vineyard too; the bright green leaves and curling tendrils reach to the sky trying to sun themselves after a long, dark season. Waiting for berry set, soon pedicels will bear clusters of green berries.
Spring can be a quiet and introspective time; the winemaker, pensive, making blending and finishing decisions that will ultimately allow the final product to shine. The goal is to craft something as a whole that will be in total, better than the individual parts. The blend may consist of the same grape varietal or not, from different vineyards, or parts of vineyards, or even a splash from another vintage. Each barrel’s shell may have been formulated and crafted in different ways, quite possibly layering oak and no oak, aged vs. new oak, American vs. French oak.
The key is, all of this matters. The catch is that there is often no easy way to understand this process from winemaker to winemaker. Knowledge of the intimate details of every part of this process would be essentially the enology equivalent of asking your Aunt Millie for her secret pound cake recipe – it’s not going to happen and she is the rock star at every family reunion.
As far as wines completed in the spring season, whites and roses are often the bottling product of last autumn’s vintage. Most of these wines have fermented, finished malolactic fermentation, and are ready for early release and prompt consumption. Most of these wines will not undergo processes that contribute to age-worthiness (neither oak nor malolactic fermentation).
This is not to imply that drinking young wine means not drinking well. As a matter of fact, one can sidestep the sommelier and successfully pair spring vegetables, like asparagus and peas with stainless steel, “no oak” Sauvignon Blanc. Southern hemisphere wines may be held in bottle even three-six months longer to add the small settled bottle bouquet that gives these Sauvignon Blancs the respect that they deserve.
Stainless steel, “no oak” Chardonnays will pair best with the last of the winter’s ‘R’ month shellfish and transition to nice quaffing for spring garden parties. The roses that extract their finished red wine counterparts give a light wine some mistaken association of college days in the 70s based on memories of Mateus and Lancer’s. The pink in rose wines is typically related to the short (usually over a few hours) exposure of the grape’s juice to the skins of the grapes. Most red grapes have white pulp (a notable exception is Labrusca) and therefore, white juice, unless left in contact with the skins. Red wines become red due to anthocyanins that are extracted from skins over one to two weeks as the skins lie submerged in grape juice or are steeped like tea-bags in a pre-fermentation process called cold soak.
Rose is much different. While some less notable makers may add red still wine to white still wine and call it rose, the traditional method is via a process called saignee, or bleeding. Small amounts of tannin that are extracted from the skins give these wines a light, delicate grip not typically seen in white counterparts. Roses will typically be made from the earliest juices of a red fermentation, using varietals traditionally like those of Provence or Languedoc –a Bandol or Tavel rose of Grenache. Winemakers from the Loire Valley region of France may make a rose of Cabernet Franc. New world makers show no limits and may use the gamut, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot to Pinot Noir to Grenache or beyond.
Rose wines are light and delicate, fruity and not sweet, made to be drunk young. They evoke flavors of strawberry and flowers like muted notes of their red varietal counterparts. They are versatile in pairing and not meant to intimidate. As the garden blossoms and flowers emerge everywhere, rose wines are best of show.
Mary Jacobson MD and Lynn Gretkowski MD are the Winedoctors (www.winedoctors.com). They are committed to promoting an understanding of the impact of wine on health by providing transparent, accurate information as it relates to moderate wine consumption. They also produce a line of handcrafted, boutique wines.