Skin-Contact and Macerated Wine Explained

Skin-Contact & Maceration

What is skin-contact wine? What is maceration? Are skin-contact and maceration the same thing?

The Overview:

First things first, skin-contact and maceration are the same thing-- seeds, skins, and/or stems are left in contact for an extended period of time with grape juice. The goal is to enhance color, aromas, flavors, and tannins. 

Think of maceration in terms of making tea: when you dip that tea bag into hot water, you are macerating the tea in hot water. What happens to the water? It gets darker and darker while the tea sits submerged in the hot water. But the water also gets thicker, more robust, and more tannic (yes, tea has tannins too). And when you remove the tea bag, the water remains dark, robust, and (ever so slightly) tannic/thick. 

On the most basic level, skin-contact is responsible for the wine's color. But now that you're practically a winemaker and maceration pro from making tea, what's the color of the wine telling you? Let's use Pinot Noir as an example. You can have Blanc de Noir Champagne (sparkling white wine made from the red-skinned grape; ignore the sparkling part for the sake of this exercise), rose of Pinot Noir, or just regular ol' red Pinot Noir. 

  • Blanc de Noir = no skin-contact at all
  • Rose of Pinot Noir = some skin contact (anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days)
  • Red Pinot Noir = anywhere from 2-100 days! 

So a white wine will have no tannins because the grapes are pressed to release juice, and then the juice is never in contact with tannin sources (skins, seeds, stems). Rose of Pinot might have the slightest bit of tannins... 2 hours of maceration will add a small amount of pigment to the wine, enhance aromas/flavors, but will not impart much tannin (if any at all), while 2 days will add noticeable color, enhance aromas/flavors even more, and small amounts of tannin may be apparent. Once you start macerating for days, you'll start to see dense colors of purple, high intensity of aromas/flavors, and tannins will be gripping to your gums.

 

There are Two Main Types of Maceration:

 

Cold-soaking: extended maceration is applied to unfermented grape juice

  • Increases pigment extraction
  • Popular for thin-skinned grapes (Pinot Noir, Grenache. etc.)
  • Right when grapes are crushed, juice is stored at cold temps for several days → cool temps prevent the juice from fermenting, allowing the skins/seeds/stems to macerate in grape juice
  • Time frame: up to 5 days
From our nerdy friends over at wine folly

 Thank you Wine Folly!

 

Extended Maceration: extended maceration is applied after the grape juice has been fermented into wine

  • Makes richer, plusher wines with better aging potential, and more mature / less bitter tannins
  • Time frame: 3-100+ days

Thank you Wine Folly!

Thank you Wine Folly

 

Have you ever noticed the correlation between color and tannins? Rarely do you see a light colored red with kung fu grip tannins, robust flavors, and a rich mouthfeel. And you'll never encounter a rose with overwhelming or even noticeable tannins. Those big Napa Cab's, Barolo's, Brunello's, Shirazes, etc. all have LONG Extended Maceration periods. This is why these types of wines need more bottle age. Those intense aromas, flavors, tannins, etc. need time to mature and mellow out. The same goes for orange wines-- some are more of a rose style, and some are so big and grippy that they need to be decanted, served pretty much at room temp, and paired with rich meaty foods. 

When you drink your next few glasses, try to make the connection between the color of your wine and the texture you feel in your mouth. I bet you'll start connecting the dots. And the more dots you connect, the more addicting wine becomes. A blessing or a curse?

Thanks for reading!

Cheers,

Charlie O'Leary - Founder - Rampant Wine Co. 


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