Everything is Coming Up Roses
“Rose is on everybody’s lips,” according to our Illinois distribution partners. But then I can’t blame the good people of Chicago’s wind-battered tundra for pining after a whiff of spring. Even our Texas distribution partners are taking pre-orders for their pink provisions from Provence. I recently read about the “Brose” phenomenon, jettisoning pink wine into the clichéd lexicon of buddy cop movies and barf gags. Dudes that swill rose together, stay together. Rose appears to be basking in a renaissance of sorts, slipping from the shadow of boxed white zinfandel into its own well-deserved limelight. When you don’t know what to pair with dinner, rose is always the correct choice. From roast chicken to pork, chacuterie, salads, pasta, and even that creamy cheese platter (or Thanksgiving dinner), rose hits all the marks. It’s light, zippy, strawberry flecked and infinitely quaffable. Rose rocks, expect for us winemakers.
Rose should be sparklingly clear. After all, it’s that fetching pink color that beckons even the fussiest wine lover. But achieving that end result isn’t always so easy. Rose’s in-between status of more tannin than white wine but less than reds can make protein stabilization challenging. We call this “heat stability.” And preventing “wine diamonds” requires cold stabilization, too.
Seasoned wine drinkers know that tartrate crystals are perfectly harmless. They are, in fact, the natural by-products of the acids already present in wine. But unsuspecting consumers may find these glass-like, crystalline shards dispiriting. To nip an obvious wine deterrent in the bud, we cold stabilize the wine before bottling. This process encourages the tartrate salt to form before we bottle, preventing their formation in your refrigerator. The finicky consumer demands it.
Wine diamonds are a salt, of the same composition of cream of tartar, an indispensible friend if you’ve ever whipped up meringue cookies. Tartaric acid is one of our two primary grape acids, and potassium ions are ubiquitous. When negatively charged tartrate ions bind to positive potassium, you get potassium bitartrate, KTa. It’s supersaturated in grape juice (i.e. mixed in), but as the juice ferments to alcohol, its saturation decreases. This means that over time the crystals can’t stay dissolved in solution anymore, and they precipitate out as wine diamonds (salts at the bottom of the barrel). If you get the wine really, really cold (3.9 °C x 2 weeks) you can force the crystals to precipitate faster and more completely. The next step involves filtering the wine away from the crystals, before the wine warms up. Otherwise the crystals will dissolve back into solution. Think of boiling water and sugar to make syrup; hot water dissolves the sugar crystals faster.
Chilling is a fine way to cold stabilize your vino, if you’re OK with near-freezing your wine. If you have big lots in big glycol-jacketed tanks, you can cool down your wine and keep it cold until you’re done. If you own solar panels, kudos, since otherwise this can be a costly proposition. As a small rose producer, cold stability eluded me. I lacked an effective way to get my little stainless steel barrels cold enough to make the process work. In fact, you may recall a blog post many years ago, where I advised consumers to avoid overheating or over-chilling my “unstable” rose. Luckily, some nifty new products now make cold stabilization possible.
Wine innovators observed that chardonnay fermented sur lies (mixed in with the dead yeast) threw fewer wine diamonds. It appeared that yeast-derived mannoproteins (components of dead yeast walls and yeast guts) inhibited tartrate crystallization. Voila. Bien sur. A French wine company (Laffort) exploited this phenomenon to the mass market. It’s such a clever trick and recent innovation that even my best-est wine mentor didn’t know about “Mannostab.” In short, Mannostab, an extraction of natural yeast mannoproteins, forces the tartrate crystals into a particular orientation and holds them there. The KTa is forced into solution and paralyzed (so to speak). In other words, the wine diamonds will never precipitate as crystals in the bottle.
Lots of wine companies make lots of products with similar riffs on mannoproteins and vegetable-derived polymers. Each has specific pros and cons. But Mannostab has worked well for me.
My 2015 rose of pinot noir smells delicious and tastes great. The color is lighter than the 2014, since this year I saigneed the juice as soon as I dumped to tank. This is in contrast to years past, when I waited 24 hours before bleeding off the juice. But given the teeny berries of the meager 2015 harvest, I knew color extraction would be sick! This year I didn’t need to wait. The 2015 is awfully pretty, and it will have my signature, sparkly wax dollop up top.
Here’s to rose, El Nino April showers, and spring tulips, too.