April 14, 2014

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Frontenac Gris Rosé

I realize I am WAY behind in updating this blog. I will try to remedy this in the coming weeks.

I have a lot to write about, as we recently finished our tasting evaluations of our 2011 wines. Although the majority of the wines we evaluated are Minnesota selections that haven’t been released, we were also able to do some evaluations of our trials with Minnesota cultivars. Today I’ll talk about one of our trials: Frontenac gris rosé.

There are two methods one can employ to make a rosé wine. The first, which I mentioned in my Marquette vinification trial post last year, is the saignee method or “tank bleeding.” Essentially you fill your tank with red grapes, and do a cold soak for anywhere between 6 and 24 hours. This allows time for some of the color from the skin of the grapes to seep into the colorless juice. The longer you let them soak, the darker the color. After the desired soaking time has passed, you open the racking valve at the bottom of your tank (with a hose attached, of course), and pump 5-10% of the volume of your tank into another tank. Then, you ferment your red grapes to make a red wine, and your saignee juice is fermented as a rosé. Of course, this method is typically employed with Vitis vinifera grapes, of which most have colorless  pulp. Most of our hybrid grapes have colored pulp and skin, so this maceration step is unnecessary if you wish to make a rosé from Frontenac or Marquette. Often the problem with Frontenac rosé especially is that its color is more of a claret rather than a rosé – even without any skin contact!

So that brings me to the second method of making a rosé. The French would argue that this is the only way to make a rosé (unless you’re in Champagne). It’s the direct press method. This how I would recommend rosé made from Frontenac or Marquette should be done. With the saignee method, it may be difficult to achieve a lighter-colored wine. With the direct-press method you essentially treat the red grapes as if they were white grapes.  You press the grapes right after harvest and can crush/de-stem, or press them whole-cluster. If you whole-cluster press you may be able to achieve a lighter color because of adsorption of anthocyanins to the stems.  Of course if you were using Vitis vinifera like they do in Provence, you would need a short maceration time to achieve some color extraction. Traditionally, the grapes would be crushed, de-stemmed, and macerated for a short period of time. Maceration often takes place directly in press.

Although I mentioned Frontenac and Marquette as two red grapes that can be used to make a rosé, there is a third option: Frontenac Gris. Frontenac Gris does not contain anthocyanins (red pigments) in the pulp like Frontenac. However, it still retains some red color in the skin. If you press the grapes immediately after harvest, it yields a gold to amber-colored juice. But, if you allow a certain amount of skin contact (or if you over-extract during pressing), you can extract some of the color from the skins. Thus, it is really the only grape we have that can be handled as one would handle V. vinifera when making a rosé.

Knowing that Frontenac Gris isn’t as highly colored as a red grape, our skin contact time needed to be longer than the 6-24 hours traditionally needed for making a rosé from red (vinifera) grapes. We decided to do two trials: a 3-day pre-fermentation maceration, and a second where we actually fermented the grapes on the skins. We already knew that fermenting Frontenac Gris on the skins (when we made a FG port last year) gave us a really pretty dark pink wine, so I wasn’t too worried about too much color. The idea was to see what we could achieve with maximum anthocyanin extraction during alcoholic fermentation. It’s important to remember that a certain percentage of color will be lost immediately after fermentation. Another percentage is lost with sulfur addition. So, if the color of your wine doesn’t resemble the color of your juice, then this is why.

So here’s a picture of the color difference between our two trials. See if you can pick out which was a 3-day cold soak prior to fermentation and which was fermented on the skins:

If you couldn’t figure it out, the wine on the left was macerated (cold soaked) on the skins for 3 days, while the wine on the right had a 3-day cold soak plus spent a week on the skins during alcoholic fermentation. While the color from a photograph isn’t always indicative of what it looks like in real life, it gives you a good indication of the final color difference in the wines. The 3-day cold soak was more of an orange/salmon color. It wasn’t exactly rosé, but it wasn’t terribly unattractive either. It all depends on what the winemaker is looking for in their final color.

While Frontenac Gris doesn’t have anthocyanins in the pulp, there still tends to be a high amount of other colored molecules. I think the high quantities of these yellow/gold pigments mixed with a small amount of red yielded a wine that had more of an orange/salmon color.

Another great thing about using Frontenac Gris to make a rosé wine is that there are almost no tannins in the grape, thus by fermenting on the skins you don’t extract heavy amounts of tannins. Nonetheless, there can be bitter and herbaceous elements that are extracted from the seeds, or from the skin of fruit that is underripe.

Here’s the breakdown of the chemistry in the finished wine

TA  (g/L )                  pH                  Alc. %

Frontenac Gris – AF on skin

            9.20

            3.50

       15.4

Frontenac Gris – 3-day

          10.45

            3.41

       15.4

An interesting note from the fermentation on skins is the decrease in total acidity and the increase in pH. This could be due to some excess potassium extracted from the skins that may have facilitated tartrate precipitation as well as increasing the pH. Since we didn’t measure potassium, this is only a guess. However, the final chemistry of the two wines is pretty close.

As for how the wines taste, I’ll leave you with some of the tasting notes from our evaluation. The wines were tasted blind by our viticulture and enology crew.  Both of these wines were fermented to dryness and no adjustments were made post-fermentation. This was to ensure that they followed our standard protocol for winemaking. Some slight adjustments to the acidity or sweetness may have yielded wines that were a bit more balanced on the palate. You can see that there was some herbaceous character noted in the grapes fermented on the skins. Some tasters found it off-putting, while others enjoyed it. It is also possible that some fining could help remove some of these bitter compounds. In the end, I hope this trial at least gives you some tools to use in your own wineriess.  Cheers to some tasty rosé wines… just in time for summer!

 

Color (3-day cold soak pre-fermentation) salmon/orange
Aroma white chocolate, apricot, fruity, red fruit, artificial cherry, strawberry, berry, banana, hybrid, plum, soapy, some bakers spice, dried apricot, concentrated raisin, petrol/chemical
Palate acid, good citrus/peach flavors, some bitterness, tart, hot, different, red fruit, tart, berry, nutty, sour, peachy, berry, cloves

 

Color (Fermented on skins) dark pink, vibrant red, rose, pretty garnet
Aroma cherry, oregano, more riparia, lots of red hybrid, Frontenac flavors, herbaceous, blackberry, camphor, green pepper, cherry Robitussin, raspberry, cherry
Palate acid, hot, chemical, cherry, bitter, takes on more hybrid flavors, blackberry, black currant, herbaceous, thin, hybrid, underripe, red currants, cherry, plum, chokecherry, some bitterness, hot, cherry, raspberry, spice