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Perfect Winter Whites

Perfect Winter Whites

While our instincts may veer towards red wine when the temperature drops, there are many whites that can uplift winter’s rich and hearty flavours with their texture, acidity and complex character. It is the skill of the winemaker that brings out these characteristics with the use of winemaking techniques, such as lees or oak ageing, the use of amphorae and skin contact.

Oak fermentation and ageing

Using oak barrels is a well-established part of the process of modern winemaking and its effects are three-fold:

1)    It adds flavour complexity, such as notes of vanilla, clove, smoke, buttered toast.

2)    It allows a slow diffusion of oxygen into the wine which softens tannins and lowers astringency.

3)    It promotes malolactic fermentation, which softens acidity.

The size and age of the barrels, as well as the time the wine spends in them, affects how strongly the wine is altered and picks up oak flavours.  Barriques hold 225 litres and impart more flavour and increase the oxidation of the wine compared to the much larger 2,000+ litre botti (French: foudres).

The type of oak and its origin can also affect the flavour profile of the wine, as different species impart different flavours. Quercus alba (American white oak) is used for bolder wines as it gives stronger flavour and increases the oxidation rate. European white oak (Quercus petrea) is subtler with slower oxidative action making it well-suited for more delicate varieties, such as Chardonnay.

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Our Top oak fermented and aged whites

Pieropan, La Rocca

After gentle, whole-bunch pressing, there was a short period of maceration on the skins followed by fermentation at 20ºC in stainless steel tanks and 500 litre oak casks, because Pieropan feels Garganega is too delicate for fermentation in barrique. 60% of the wine then remained in 500 litre oak casks and the remaining 40% was aged in 2,000 litre 'botti' or large barrels for one year. The wine stayed in bottle for a further four months before release.

'La Rocca' is golden yellow in the glass, with intense, concentrated perfumes that follow through to the palate. Classic La Rocca aromas of almond essence and honey lead to an elegant and beautifully balanced palate, with notes of vanilla and almond kernel, ripe apricots and exotic fruit. The long finish has a light mineral edge.

 

By Farr, ‘Three Oaks Vineyard’ Geelong Chardonnay

Fruit was hand picked then whole bunch pressed. The solids were chilled before being put into barrel, 30% of which was new French oak. A natural fermentation occurred over the next two to three weeks at cool temperatures. Once fermentation had finished a small amount of stirring was used to help start malolactic fermentation which finished mid spring. The wine was then racked, fined and lightly filtered before bottling 11 months after picking.

It is bright gold in colour, with a trademark mineral note on the nose and hints of integrated French oak. A fine but firm palate with great acidity, texture and length.

 

Domaine Robert-Denogent, Macon-Villages ‘Les Sardines'

The grapes were hand harvested and pressed directly into 228 litre French oak barrels for fermentation and malolactic fermentation. The wine spent around 18 to 30 months ageing in barrel, with 12-15% in new oak and the rest in one- to two-year-old barrels. No bâttonage was required.

‘Les Sardines’ has aromas of red apple intertwined with toasty oak and brioche. The palate is precise with superb definition and intensity. It has racy acidity and a long finish.

Amphorae Winemaking

The Amphora, a living, breathing vessel to nurture and cradle the living liquid. Just as the soils shapes the vine, the clay shapes the wineZorah

 

Using clay vessels to ferment grapes is not a revolutionary new idea’., The practice began in Georgia over 8,000 years ago where it is still extensively employed today, using clay pots known as qvervi and karas. Its resurgence in modern winemaking is part of the artisanal movement in wine and spirits, with winemakers looking for a traditionalyet practical  way to ferment and age their wine.

Seen as a less aggressive way to make wine, clay amphorae protect the wine from oxidation, limiting the use of sulphur, and can aid wine stabilisation with prolonged ageing. Burying these terracotta vessels in earth with only the tops showing helps to regulate the fermentation temperature and minimises the impact of outside temperature fluctuations.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact differences in flavour profile that come from using amphorae due to the winemaking techniques employed alongside them, such as  native yeasts, fermentation on the skins, no sulphur additions and no fining or filtering. Suffice to say, it can produce fine, elegant and distinctive wines, showcasing new and unique flavour profiles of noble grape varieties.

 

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Our top amphorae produced white

Cullen, Amber

The idea behind this wine was to make a white wine like a red wine. The grapes were left on skins and fermented partially before being pressed. The skin contact went from two days to one month depending on the grape/parcel. The fruit was fermented in different vessels: open fermenters, closed tank as well as amphora which explains the many layers and complexity in this wine. 79% of the wine spent four months in new Tonnellerie Bordelaise and Louis Latour barrels.

This is an intensely complex wine, with lemon, kumquat, orange blossom and hints of honey on the nose. It is textured and concentrated on the palate, with great length and persistence. Flavours of figs, dried pears, cream and orange are supported by a gentle saltiness on the finish.

 

Lees ageing

At the end of fermentation, leftover yeast particles – the lees - are broken down by enzymes that the yeast produces during fermentation. This process of cell breakdown is known as autolysis and releases trace amounts of amino acids and sugars from within the yeast cell. When these compounds are detected in wine, they add texture, increase body and make the wine taste richer and more complex on the palate.

Lees ageing can last for as little (3-4 months) or as long (several years) as the winemaker deems appropriate. Bâtonnage (lees stirring) is also employed to help extract more of the beneficial compounds from the yeast cells.

 

Lees

Our top lees aged whites

Domaine Corrine Perchaud, Chablis

The grapes were pressed immediately with a Bucher pneumatic press and no skin contact. The must was fermented between 19-23ºC in temperature-controlled stainless steel followed by six months on the lees, during which malolactic fermentation took place. The vinification and maturation of the wine took place in tank, taking around 15 months in total. After gentle filtration the wine was bottled.

The 2015 is expressive and vivacious, fruity and powerful on the nose and lively in the mouth with good minerality. It is well balanced, with great aromatic purity and breadth of flavour.

 

Domaine Corsin Saint-Veran Tirage Precocé

The ‘Tirage Précoce’ Saint Veran, which means “early racking”, is unique to Domaine Corsin. The grapes are harvested by hand before being gently pressed, cold fermented and aged on the lees in stainless steel tanks. It is unoaked and matures on fine lees until it is ready for bottling, which takes place earlier than usual – at the end of winter - to preserve its freshness and bright fruit character.

It is shiny pale gold in colour with youthful, green tints. The bouquet is fine and delicate, with fresh fruit aromas and a touch of stony minerality. The palate is full and complex, with a harmonious balance of citrus fruit, steely minerality and refreshing acidity.

 

Skin Contact

Also referred to as ‘maceration’ and ‘cold soaking’, this process involves the juice of white grapes spending time on the skins prior to fermentation. It aids the extraction of colour, aromas, and flavours into the juice. Keeping temperatures low during this process is crucial to minimise the extraction of bitter tannins and prevent fermentation starting.

The longer the maceration, the more flavours, aromas and colour will be extracted. For white wines, this period is kept shorter than for reds so as to not over extract bitter and astringent flavours. Once this period is complete, the juice is immediately pressed off the skins before fermentation begins.

Certain white varieties benefit from a period of cold soaking more than others, especially more aromatic varieties. It can also bring out delicate nuances of colour, such as the pink tones of Pinot Grigio skins.

 

Our top cold macerated whites

Specogna, Pinot Grigio ‘Ramato’

The grapes were crushed and cooled immediately to 7-8ºC. Cool maceration on the skins took place for 48 hours prior to fermentation on the skins for six days in stainless steel tanks. 80% of the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks with lees stirring every 20 days, while 20% was aged in 1,500 litre oak barrels, with lees stirring every 10 days. After eight months, the components were blended together and bottled.

The wine is a soft pink colour with copper highlights, a characteristic of this variety. It is fresh and floral on the nose, with aromas of apples, pears and elderflower. On the palate, it has an apple and pineapple character with a lively, lifted finish and hints of freshly-baked bread.

 

Loimer, ‘Lenz’ Riesling

The grapes were hand-harvested and brought to the cellar in 20kg crates. Depending on the quality, they were either whole-bunch pressed or crushed and then macerated on the skins for 12 hours. After spontaneous fermentation at 20°C over 4-12 weeks, ‘Lenz’ was matured on its fine lees in steel tanks for four months and then bottled in February 2017, retaining its freshness and primary flavours..

The fruity, youthful nose is full of juicy white peach notes. Light-bodied and crisp with lovely tension on the palate, this Riesling has mouth-watering acidity and clean fruit flavours. Perfect as an aperitif.