By Squire Fridell
Variety vs. varietal
Now that we are well into harvest, I thought it would be interesting to chat a bit about some different grape varieties that we make into varietal wines here at GlenLyon. Incidentally (for you cork dorks or grammar freaks), variety is a noun, whereas varietal is an adjective and should not be used in the plural. I learned this after I gave a wine talk a few years back and used the words incorrectly. A very nice woman (who happened to be the head of the Sonoma County Wine Library) quietly corrected me — and I’ve never confused that noun and adjective since. (She was very kind and even joined our wine club!) The adjective has been misused and pluralized so often (even by wine writers) that it is now sort of acceptable. But if you do hear someone ask, “How many varietals of wine do you make?”, you can gently correct them by saying, “I make wine from six different varieties of grapes and they all have different varietal characteristics.” (But, then again, you can say whatever you want….)
The first wine to discuss is rosé, a fabulous style of winemaking from many different varieties of grapes that results in a perfect wine to begin any evening or afternoon sip. It’s perfect for a couple of reasons: First, it is usually a bit higher in acid, making it a perfect match with almost any appetizer; second, rosé is traditionally lower in alcohol (our Blush ‘O the Boar rosé is only 12.4%). Suzy and I usually enjoy a glass of our chilled rosé while we talk about the evening’s menu. We both love it ice-cold, and, as a matter of fact, often enjoy ours with some ice cubes in the glass. I know that sounds terribly bourgeois, but we like it. I would suggest, however, doing trials with rosé and ice first — one glass with just wine, the other with ice cubes too. If they taste the same, I’d prefer to drink the one with ice cubes. I canhydrate myself, lessen the alcohol, and prevent a headache the next day. Try it with your rosé, white wine, or sparkling wine. From trial and error, we’ve found that if the alcohol in the wine is under approximately 13.4%, the ice doesn’t seem to make the wine bitter and it’s simply refreshing. Try it!
How do you make rosé?
Rosé is not a variety of grape, but a style of making pink wine from different red grape varieties. Rosé can be made in a couple of ways, but here’s how we do it here at GlenLyon: We pick all the fruit in our lower 2.5-acre vineyard (Syrah & Grenache are the two varieties of grapes we use to make our rosé). The fruit is picked a bit earlier than our upper vineyard (Syrah & Cabernet Sauvignon), so there is less sugar and more acid (brix at 21+/- and pH at 3.3, for you enophiles), which translates into a lighter-inalcohol and higher-inacid wine. We pick the fruit in the middle of the night and the full macrobins arrive at the winery door at about 6 a.m. Why that early? Because after they are picked, the grapes might start fermenting in the afternoon sun; it is much easier to make good wine if the grapes arrive cold and we can totally control the fermentation from beginning to end.
After the clusters of beautiful red Syrah and Grenache grapes arrive in our winery, we weigh each macrobin (860-960 net lbs. each) and then load the fruit into an elevator hopper, which takes the clusters up to our bladder press. After the press is loaded with whole clusters of red fruit, we close the press trap door and begin the press cycle.
The press’ job is simply to squeeze the clusters many times to separate the solids from the liquid, which we then pump into a covered stainless-steel tank. In almost all red grape varieties, the pulp and juice are clear. The color of the juice comes from the skins, so the amount of time spent on the skins will determine how pigmented the rosé will be. We usually toss a cup of dry ice into the press pan to replace any oxygen, as CO2 is very heavy.
It looks very mystical as the dense fog covers the juice. (It should be noted that breathing too much CO2 is very dangerous; too much of it makes you dizzy and you could pass out, so be very careful using it.) After the grapes have all been pressed and the now-pink juice is safely in our covered tank, we then begin the process of turning that juice into wine.
How does the juice get transformed into wine?
As soon as the pink juice goes into the tank, there are many steps involved in testing and adjusting, which will happen several times a day. The moment the juice is in the tank, we send out a sample to a local lab for analysis. Those results will dictate which products (and how much) we might add to the juice before and during fermentation. One early addition is a special yeast that consumes the glucose and fructose (sugars) in the fruit, creating CO2 and alcohol. If everything goes correctly, the entire process will take anywhere from seven days to two weeks. And then, voila! The sugars have been transformed into alcohol and the juice has been magically transformed into a young rosé! Next we remove the wine from the lees (what’s left over at the bottom of the tank). We’ll put those leftover cloudy lees into plastic carboys, let them sit for a day, then siphon off the clear rosé and, if it tastes fresh, add it to the bulk of the wine. Then we add a miniscule amount of our preservative, sulfur dioxide. (We’ll chat about the oft-misunderstood sulfur dioxide later.)
We choose to rest our young rosé in neutral (used) French oak barrels to allow the wine to “micro-ox,” which will smooth out any rough edges over time. There will be a few rackings (removing any additional sediment from the barrels, blending the wine in a tank, and putting the wine back into those same sterilized barrels), and the wine will be tested and adjusted multiple times for levels of SO2. We will constantly smell and taste the wine to evaluate. We bottle our rosé during March, the following year.
A rosé by any other name is still a rosé
Rosé is a magical light wine preferably consumed within 18 months after bottling. It is a unique wine because it can be made from any number of red grapes. If you travel to Tuscany, the vino rosato is most likely made from Sangiovese; in Burgundy, the grape will be Pinot Noir; in Northern Rhone Valley, it’s made from Syrah; in Southern Rhone, it’s most likely Grenache. They all make terrific rosés, and it’s fun to compare a style of wine across many different grape varieties. Here in Sonoma Valley, we are lucky enough to find rosés made from all of the above grape varieties, so you don’t have to travel all the way to Europe.
“In wine there is wisdom; in water there is bacteria!”—Benjamin Franklin
It takes a long time to grow an old friend.