“Working by Hand” (Winemaking)
- Most common styles
- Still, sparkling
- Winemaker choices and option
- Virtually all winemakers make use of available options (skin contact, malolactic, lees-stirring, choice of fermentation vessel, etc.)
- All options used, from stainless steel to concrete and oak (barrels, vats, barriques, oak alternatives). Most sparkling wine ferments are done in stainless steel
- Aging potential (yes/no). If “yes,” give range
- Enjoyed young, while the best bottlings have the potential to age over 30 years
- Presented solo or frequently blended with
- Often sings solo, but traditionally blends are made predominantly with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and at times co-fermented with Viognier.
Working by Hand
Leaving fermenting wine must (grape pulp and solids) in contact with the skins during and/or after fermentation.
What it does
With Syrah, cold soaking pre-fermentation increases color levels when coupled with lower subsequent fermentation temperatures (59°-68°F/15°-20°C), but minimally when compared to those fermented temperatures. Syrah is less delicate than Pinot Noir and also benefits from occasional pump-overs during cold soaking to achieve wines with saturated, lasting color and rounder tannins -- typically done only with destemmed fruit.
There is no real difference in the peppery elements (rotundone) being more or less expressive when implementing cold soaking. Post-ferment maceration is widely practiced with Syrah, as it is with many ample red wine varieties.
What it does
Proponents of wild yeast embrace the unique flavors attributed to “place,” including savory and matchstick-like aromas that many love and associate with the Northern Rhône. Cultivated yeasts are more predictable and can be selected/customized to contribute specific flavors and aromas.
Some winemakers blend the two, sometimes starting with native yeast and reserving use of commercial yeast only if something does not go right (e.g. fixing a stuck fermentation). Others may create cuvées/cocktails of specific commercial yeasts to achieve a desired flavor profile, since each strain contributes something different. More and more producers are embracing native ferments, with the exception of sparkling wine where the use of commercial yeast still prevails.
What it does
During the early stages of fermentation, open-top fermenters allow for increased oxygen contact which can help the yeast build a strong population. Open-top fermenters also facilitate access to the cap (the grape skins that rise to the top) and allow it to be punched down into the fermenting must easily. Heat generated during fermentation can easily escape the vessel, and an open-top can help better manage the fermentation temperatures.
Open-top fermentations are only practical for relatively small volumes of wine and are mainly used for red wines (or orange wines), as white wines tend to be fermented in the absence of grape skins.
What it does
Proponents of stem retention (literally leaving a percentage of the stems and stalks of the fruit in the fermentation vessel rather than using exclusively destemmed fruit), cite several factors: paler color (stems absorb color), lower acidity (stems contain potassium, which combines with tartaric acid in the wine and precipitates, reducing the overall acidity level) and increased tannins (about 15% more depending on what percentage is used in concert with the fruit).
If this is done, winemakers insist that the stems must be ripe/brown (lignified) or they will contribute a green, bitter, hard, and astringent character to the wine, making it quite unpleasant.
What it does
Co-fermentation is the winemaking process of fermenting at least two varieties of grapes at the same time. This traditional practice is more common for red wines than white, with the combination of small amounts of Viognier being combined with Syrah being the most heralded example, first established in the Northern Rhône area of Côte Rôtie long ago. Emulating this rationale, other producers globally now implement co-fermentation for their own interpretations and wine styles.
Primary reasons for this practice are having the white grapes “pop” and perfume the red fruit and amplify the flavors, and stabilizing the pigmentation, leading to a generally darker wine.
The wood employed for most wine barrels, used for aging the wine or actual fermentation of the wine in the barrel. Barrel decisions include the type of wood, the amount of toast (when the staves of the barrels are bent over an open flame), size (smaller = higher ratio of wood to wine = stronger oak influence) and the age of the barrels.
What it does:
- Myriad spice flavors that many identify with Syrah come not from the grape but from the oak aging.
- Heavily toasted barrels impart more intense roasted torrified flavors (caramel, molasses, coffee, and burnt sugar).
- Oak bestows a waxy, velvety texture and can add a sweet toffee flavor to the wine.
- New oak contributes much more flavor than older, previously used oak which, depending on the wine and the grapes, may be a better choice.
- Small (barrique-sized) barrel fermentation, at warmer temperatures than those in stainless steel and over shorter increments of time, also imparts a richer and smoother texture to the wine than one that is not fermented in barrel
Today, there is a movement toward keeping the oak in check, i.e. minimizing “over-oaking,” or using no oak at all. Unoaked wines (fermented in stainless steel, concrete or other neutral vessels) are increasingly popular, allowing the “purity” of the fruit to shine through. In spite of its varietal girth, Syrah does not always take too well to new oak and too much of it; many producers favor mostly large, older wood.
Fining and filtration are both used to help clarify and also “stabilize” a wine. Fining, a practice as old as winemaking itself, specifically removes tannins and proteins, ensuring future clarity. Filtration, a technique used for clarification and microbiological stability is a technology with an advantage in that it can clarify a young, cloudy wine faster and more efficiently than fining.
What it does
Fining agents are used to clarify a red wine to the point where only a light filtration or no filtration at all is needed prior to bottling. Filtration not only clarifies visually, but through the removal of suspended particles makes the fruit characteristics of a wine sharper and more vibrant. Filtration plays an important role in the “microbiological” stability of a wine by eliminating the risk that these microbes will ferment undetectable quantities of sugar.
Producers often refuse to filter as they feel it strips away the soul of the wine. Many who do not filter will do a light fining. That said, some eschew both practices, with those who opt not to fine believing that racking off a well-rested clear wine suffices.