Many Ways To Make A Great Wine
Wednesday - September 21, 2011
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” I honestly don’t know where that saying came from. I personally am not fond of cats, but I never wanted to skin one. I’m not sure why anyone would want to. A similar saying is applicable in wine. There is more than one way to make great wine.
Everyone will agree that there are great wines made in many places. But there is no single recipe for creating truly great wines. One could argue that if you just put a great winemaker together with great terroir, you would have great wine. There is much more complexity and nuance than that.
Let’s take a look at Champagne, for instance. No one will argue that Krug and Pol Roger are two of the great houses in all of Champagne. They also happen to be two of my favorites. At Krug, the wines undergo the initial fermentation in old oak casks. Krug does not encourage malo-lactic fermentation in its wines in order to retain the bright acidity that is required for age ability. At Pol Roger, the initial fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks and malo-lactic fermentation is done in all of its wines.
Krug’s Grande Cuvee is a blend of perhaps a dozen or more vintages with all three major Champagne grapes.
Pol Roger’s Tete de Cuvee (Best of the best) is Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, which is only made with one single vintage and with only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
They are so different in production as well as vineyard sources. Yet both of these exemplify the greatness of Champagne.
In Burgundy there are no blends of grapes, it is either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. But what each Domaine does with those grapes is entirely different. Domaine Armand Rousseau and Domaine de la Romanee Conti are at the top of anyone’s list of Burgundy’s best, and both take extreme measures in the vineyard to grow the absolute best possible grapes. But one of the glowing differences in their winemaking techniques is that Rousseau completely de-stems all its grape bunches whereas DRC chooses to retain the stems in its grape bunches.
Some winemakers believe that stems only add bitterness and harsh tannins, whereas others believe it assists in aeration during fermentation and lends an aromatic spiciness that cannot be denied. They are completely different chains of thought, yet both of these domaines produce some of the greatest wines in the world.
My recent visit to Napa Valley, where some seem to think that Cabernets are made like “one size fits all,” or that “cookie cutter” is the norm, Cult Cabernet producers Colgin and Harlan Estate reveal to me some major differences in their respective winemaking techniques. Colgin prefers 30to 35-day maceration for its Cabernets, whereas Harlan Estate goes 40-50 days for a difference of about two weeks. They share barrel makers, but the proportions of new oak and the forests that they come from also are different. Yet both of these wineries would be considered as First Growths of Napa Valley.
In the end, there is no single recipe for great wines. This is what makes great wines so elusive and worthy of greatness.
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