Tuesday, April 23 2013
A Matter of Some GravityNebbiolo grapes looking ripe. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Oh my, this is some kind of record. I'm going to talk about Winexpert products for the third time this year. Wow, you'd swear they paid me or something.
But I'd talk about our Limited Edition wines even if they weren't my baby: top quality grapes from extremely cool regions and viticultural areas, varietals and styles that can be unfamiliar (at first!) and the opportunity to make a vintage wine to age and enjoy in the coming years--what's not to love? This year was totally cool because it was the first time we included a grapeskin pack in one of our LE 2012 wine kits.
For those fuzzy on the whole 'wine kit' thingy (how did you wind up here?), Winexpert produces consumer winemaking products. We take beautifully ripe grapes from growing regions around the world and process them in our winery. We do every last thing to them that a winery would need to do to make wine for commercial sale, but for one tiny detail: we don't add any yeast. Instead, we flash-pasteurise them to make them shelf-stable, package them in bag-in-box containers and sell them to you--along with a packet of yeast. You take the box of juice home, make a few additions according the (clearly and beautifully written) instructions and then pitch that yeast. In 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the type and style of wine, you can bottle it and when it ages you've got an excellent wine that you made, with no muss or fuss or squishing of grapes, that can stand up proudly to wines you can buy in the store.
Fine and dandy, and every year we make a line-up of kits that are very special, each with its own story, terroir and style. We make a limited number and take pre-orders for them (when we're out of grapes, we're out of kits) and it makes a lot of people very happy (including me: I haven't missed an LE in 14 years).
The LE2012 April release was the one with the skins. It's an Italian Nebbiolo from Reggio Emilia. I'm stoked on this, as the grapes came from a wonderful vineyard, the specs were great, and Reggio Emilia is where everything good happens in Italy. Seriously, check it out: Parma, where Parma ham (Prosciutto) comes from, along with Parmigiano Reggiano, wonderful Italian Mortadella, along with hundreds of different regional cheeses, preserved meats and wines, brilliant produce and some of the best cooks in the world . . . keep Tuscany, you can have Rome and the Piedmont, I'm for Reggio Emilia.
That's it: in my next life I want to come back as an Italian mouse
But there's a mistake in the kit's instructions. And, like many things in this life, it's my fault. So I want to explain.
The instructions list the starting specific gravity (take after adding the grape skins) as 1.090-1.100. The SG before adding grape skins is between 1.065 – 1.070. The reason for this is that the skin pack is incredibly dense in fermentable solids (grape sugars), and it contributes very heavily to the starting gravity and to the finished alcohol content. But that incredibly sticky, sugary grape pack is very slow to dissolve. Lab trials show that it can take between 1 and 2 hours for the gravity to rise to its final level at 24C/75F, and it takes longer than that at lower must temperatures. The problem is, the instructions don't mention the extra time needed for the gravity to rise, which is confusing for some winemakers.
Kali Ma! Kali Ma! Kali Ma Shakti de! No, just kidding: that's the grape pack from my kit, not Indiana Jone's ticker.
This can be more confusing for consumers who have previously made Winexpert grapeskin wines such as Eclipse and Selection with skins. These start with a broader stated SG range (1.080-1.100), which appear to be in the correct range immediately, without stirring, even though the gravity will continue to rise as the fermentable sugars in the pack dissolve over a 24 hour period.
So if you've started your Nebbiolo and and didn't measure the gravity, what should you do? Don't do anything: even if your must temperature was lower than the lowest level we recommend (22C/72F) the grape pack will still release all of its sugars in 24 hours. Poke the muslin sack holding your grapes once a day like it says in the instructions, and that will be more than enough to disperse all the good stuff into the must. I made two of my LE2012 Nebbiolo kits last week, one at 22C/75F and another at 18C/65F (don't try this at home: I am a trained professional who gets his experimental kits for free) and I used a very sensitive refractometer to measure the sugar content in the centre of the pack, and while the warm one went down in less than four hours (probably quicker, but I got distracted and didn't check it until I was leaving the office for home) even the cold one gave up all the good stuff by the third day, with plenty of time left for the yeast to work on it.
I'd like to thank my stunt-double for doing this picture--thanks Ryan Gosling!
To recap, other than egg on my face for not getting my stuff together and getting the instructions right the first time, no worries about the wine: it's going to be great. If the preliminary taste I took at racking, even before I added the toasted oak cubes for the post-fermentation hit of tannin and structure is any guide, this is going to be one of the best Limited Edition red wines we've ever done. It's exactly the right colour and hue (deep, deep ruby with garnet highlights, pure Nebbiolo fruit, firm-but-not-swingeing tannin and a bright acidity and pleasant red-fruit aroma. I am really glad I did two of this one because I'm going to age it out for a decade or so to watch it evolve (the joys of a giant cellar). I'll try my first bottle in November, so I can talk about the grapeskin experience during the LE2013 events, but my bet is that in about 18 months it will show pretty well and at three to five years it's going to rock out.
Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blogs not about wine kits. Whew!
|Posted by Tim AT 11:16AM||3 Comments||Post A Comment|