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Carbonic Maceration

The Skeleton Wine Key: Helping You Unlock the Secrets of the Bottle

By: OCI Instructor Raul Gonzalez

One can always find an excuse to geek out about wine terms for its own sake. But when it comes to carbonic maceration, the subject is well worth exploring not solely for the knowledge, but because of the wine itself.

Probably the most well-known wine region that produces wine with this technique is Beaujolais. If you have ever had a primeur, or Beaujolais Nouveau, you have had a wine made with carbonic maceration. Primeur is the wine that may be sold the same year the grapes that made the wine were harvested. Traditionally, the date of release is 00:01 on the third Thursday of November. This became standard practice in the 1950s to give these producers a boost in cash flow. The marketing involved something similar to a holiday. Essentially it invites people to libate and revel. Only about 55 AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Controllé) in France are allowed to do this (there are over 360 wine AOC’s).

So what exactly is carbonic maceration?

It is a type of fermentation (which is essentially turning sugars to alcohol) that occurs in an anaerobic environment and without yeasts involved. The grapes are harvested in whole clusters by hand. The clusters are then thrown inside a stainless steel tank and sealed and pressurized with CO2. This environment causes the grapes to release an enzyme that acts like yeast and begins transforming sugar into alcohol, all happening inside the unbroken, unpressed grapes!

Once alcohol is introduced to this environment, the grapes begin to break down which happens at above 2% alcohol. At this point, the grapes are pressed and the must undergoes the aerobic, yeast induced fermentation when oxygen is introduced and the rest of the sugars are transformed to alcohol. This is the reason why a lot of wine folks call this process semi-carbonic fermentation.

Wine Characteristics

Carbonic? Semi-carbonic? Enzymatic? Whatever you choose to call it, one thing is for certain: the wines produced with this method have a very unique personality. The tannins, those compounds in wine that make your mouth feel parched, come from the skins and pips. With this process there is minimal exposure to these compounds, therefore producing a wine that is fairly light, supple and fruity and it is very typical to find aromas of bubblegum and banana. It is by no means the most serious of wines, but it is hands-down delicious and fun, and it loves food.

Carbonic Maceration in Oregon

The use of semi-carbonic maceration is proliferating, becoming quickly an identifiable trend in the industry, making these tasty wines even more readily available to us mere mortals. The trend is certainly catching on in Oregon, where I have tasted several “carbonic” Pinot Noirs. Most recently, I had Hawk’s View Winery’s 2018 version of this wine and it did not disappoint. Classic fruity flavors combined with expressive minerality gave the wine depth and complexity.

I hope you’ll feel embolden to go out to the battlefield at the wine shop and explore this great wine which, I forgot to mention, it is normally very affordable. To your health!

Wine & Food at OCI

If you have a passion for wine and its role in the culinary world, the Oregon Culinary Institute offers a Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management AOS Degree that includes courses such as Oenology & Viticulture and Wine Regions of the World.

Learn more about crafting an unforgettable dining experience with wine and food— discover the OCI approach.