11 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Concentration.

(Image via Ivao83's flickr)

 Here's a word you'll sometime see in tasting notes. "Palate exhibits a good concentration of berry flavors." That's fairly self-explanatory, in that you expect the wine to have very deep and full fruit flavors. Concentration in wine is like pixels on your computer screen; you want more pixels, the sharper the the picture and the more detail you can see. In a wine you want more stuff, less water.

But how does concentration happen? Is it just luck or can a wine be manipulated into those concentrated flavors. Turns out, it can be both, but much of it is in the wine makers sights.

First, in the vineyard, vine pruning and selective reduction is crucial. Growers have the difficult task of selectively pruning away fruit early in the season. While this reduction of berries reduces they overall crop yield, the nutrients and sunshine have fewer berries to "feed". This increased energy improves the fruit overall. So while the grower may have fewer grapes to harvest, each one of those grapes as greater potential for producing really great wine.

Secondly, deprive the wine of water. The best grapes are grown under stressful conditions and one of those stressful conditions is low rainfall. While it is true in the most arid regions irrigation is common, the grapes must have some water, after all. But too much water will dilute the flavor of the grapes. Think of it as adding too much water to tea or coffee, the more water, the lower the concentration of coffee flavor. The same is true of grape, especially at harvest. Growers are always watching out for a big rain near harvest. If the grapes are still on the vine during a rain storm all that water will go straight to the grape, plumping them up and eventually diluting the wine.

Lastly, a wine maker can remove water from the grapes or the juice in a variety of methods. You may already be familiar with a couple of the techniques even though you don't know it. In the Veneto region of Italy, grapes are dried after harvest, letting them become raisinated. The dried fruit is then fermented and pressed resulting in Amarone. In Canada, grapes are frozen on the vine, which reduces their water content and then they're processed into ice wine. Water can also be removed from grape juice. Routinely in Australia, grapes become very ripe in the warm sunny conditions. Using a centrifuge, water can be removed from the juice resulting in those inky Shirazs (not to mention high alcohol Shiraz!).

So next time you're tasting a wine, pay special attention to the flavors, do you think they've been concentrated? or are they weak and diluted?


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