Wine 101: What Makes Red Wine Red?

You probably know a little about how wine is made, but if you don’t, here’s a primer. There is one big difference between making white wine and making red wine: for red wine, the juice needs to sit with the grape skins, seeds and stems for a while to get colour, flavour, and tannins. Maceration is another word for this. In this article, we’ll look at a few of the ways that winemakers macerate their wines. Or to give red wine its colour.

Where Does the Color Come From in Wine?

If you squeeze a red grape, the clear juice that comes out is a good example. And yes, red grapes can be used to make white wine. There are a few grape varieties with red flesh, called centuries, but they are scarce.

Why Is White Wine White And Red Wine Red?

The skins are often only left in contact with the liquid before pressing while making white wine. Therefore, the tannins, flavouring agents, and anthocyanins (which give red wine its colour) must be extracted by maceration from the grape skins, seeds, and stems. This is often done during and after fermentation, but sometimes earlier.

Knowing which procedure to use for a particular red grape variety and wine style is crucial for a winemaker. They don’t want to over-extract since it might make the wine taste harsh or bitter. Wines that have been over-extracted contain a lot of colours but also a lot of tannins, which gives them an astringent and uneven flavour.

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During fermentation, extraction

The extraction process occurs most often during the fermentation of alcoholic beverages when the alcohol and heat are created to serve as a solvent. However, when grape skins, seeds, and stems come into contact with grape “must” (grape juice), the carbon dioxide created during fermentation forces these solids to the top of the vat, where they float to the surface and form a cap. In addition to extraction, this cap has to be handled carefully to avoid drying out (and spoiling!). Dissolving the cap also aids in removing some of the heat produced during fermentation.

The two most popular methods of cap management are:

  • striking down

Using a unique tool, the cap is disassembled and dipped. Several times a day, this “pigéage,” or punching down, is usually performed by hand.

  • Inflating Over

This process is known as “montage” in French. The tank’s bottom is pumped out of the red wine and spilled back over the lid.

  • Returning and Racking

The French refer to it as a two-step procedure called “délestage.” It entails separating the solids from the wine must (racking). The sediments are then given another soak in the liquid before being reintroduced to the fermentation jar. By oxygenating it, the wine becomes less astringent. It is possible to remove a lot of colour and flavour at once by rack and returning.

The kind of wine often influences the selection method (and frequency). For example, pump-overs produce more robust, more extracted wines, whereas punch-downs are used to make lighter wine varieties.

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How does cold soak maceration work?

Before fermentation, some winemakers choose to remove colour, aromas, and flavour. Cold soaking or cold maceration are terms used to describe this process.

After the grapes have been crushed, they must be kept at a low temperature to prevent fermentation. To stop microbial activity, winemakers often inject sulphur dioxide at this stage while using chilled fermenters or dry ice.

The theory behind the method is that tannin extraction, which often occurs during alcoholic extraction, may be avoided by improved aqueous extraction of anthocyanins (colour), as well as fragrance and flavour components before any alcohol is generated. The range of cold soaking temperatures is 5 to 10 C. Depending on the grape type and the winemaker’s desired style; the process might take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Since Pinot Noir produces little colour during maceration, it undergoes a lot of cold soaking.

The “cold soaking” method has its roots in the production of white wine, which is used to remove certain aromas and flavours from the skins without removing phenolics and bitterness.

Some claim that this method isn’t particularly successful or efficient, but it appears that there are as many diverse viewpoints as winemakers. For example, they claim that punch-downs or violent pump-overs are far more successful in extracting colour.

But Stomping Grapes Is Also Extraction, Right?

Another method that you could think of as “making red wine red” is the age-old practice of grape stomping. Grape treading, commonly referred to as barefoot grape crushing, is an ancient custom. This method is still used to produce some of the most important ports in the Douro area of northern Portugal. Port wine demands a rigorous yet meticulous extraction process that is challenging for robots to accomplish. Foot-treading is a labour-intensive technique that is both dirty and demanding; therefore, nowadays, wine festivals and fairs are the most probable places to find it as an enjoyable sport.

So now you know: the next time you pour yourself an almost inky Malbec, you’ll be aware that it likely underwent a few pump-overs. Or you can confidently explain what “cold soak” on a California Pinot Noir label means to everyone who asks (and doesn’t).

Learn more about viticulture, grape types, and wine regions, or keep checking back for additional intriguing insights into the winemaking process. And why not become a member of WineCollective? Nothing compares to eating what you’ve just learnt, after all!