Carbonic Macer...What?

There it is...another one of those odd wine terms that gets tossed out there in wine descriptions with no explanation, seemingly with the assumption that of course you know what it is and why it matters. Carbonic Maceration? What's that?

It's possible, even likely, that if you've encountered the term before it was in connection to Beaujolais, where it is used most famously in the production of Beaujolais Nouveau but also that of many other wines. But it is a winemaking method that is now being used to one extent or another by winemakers all over the world because of the unique characteristics it imparts to the wines in produces. As a result, there is an increasing number of wines available that are made using this method, and this Wednesday, May 1 from 4pm to 7pm We're going to see how several of these wines stack up against more conventional wines made from the same varietals. Should be fun, delicious, and maybe even a little bit educational. Join us!

So what is it? Carbonic maceration is an alternative method of alcohol production that takes advantage of a peculiar feature of the intracellular chemistry of grapes. When intact grapes are placed in a tank that is then flooded with carbon dioxide, the gas initiates a process whereby the cells of the grapes themselves begin converting their sugar into alcohol. As this goes on, the grapes swell and eventually burst, once the alcohol level reaches about 2%. After that, conventional alcoholic fermentation takes over to finish the wine. This is "full carbonic maceration." You will also sometimes see the term "semi-carbonic maceration." In this case, the carbon dioxide for carbonic maceration is generated by the conventional alcoholic fermentation of grapes at the bottom of the tank that have been bruised or crushed by the weight of grapes above them.

But why does it matter? What difference does it make? The process of carbonic maceration extracts some color from the grape, but not a lot of tannin, it also breaks down a lot of the naturally-occuring malic acid in the grape, resulting in wines that are light, soft, and approachable. In addition, it produces a different balance of aromatic compounds than does alcoholic fermentation, resulting in a higher proportion of compounds giving flavors of strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. Also, the process of carbonic maceration slows the release of sugars, drawing out fermentation, and increasing the production of glycerol, which adds texture without significantly increasing the weight and body of the resulting wine. All of this adds up to wines that are uniquely light, fresh, fruity, and gluggable.

Tickets for our regular Wednesday tastings are $15, and the wines in the lineup are all 10% off during the tasting.