Many of us are hoping for a little skin contact on Valentine’s Day. The question is: should your wine get some too?
Skin contact is the distinguishing winemaking characteristic between the vast majority of red and white wines. White wines are made with grape juice, avoiding skin contact. Red wines are made using must (a mixture of grape juice with skins, stems and fruit), which ferments in a vat until drained. Their red color comes from pigments in the skin called anthocyanins. Not only do grape skins impart color, they also impart flavor, tannin structure, and phenolics. Without the skins, red grapes make white wines! (Like this one we’re pouring Thursday.)
The amount of skin contact varies greatly in reds. The vintner decides when to drain off the pomace (the solid components in must). They have the touch, if you will. Unsurprisingly, there are techniques designed to optimize desirable characteristics found in skin. Extended maceration, for example, is a technique in which skins and seeds are left in contact with a wine for an extended period of time, typically between 3-100 days. This process extracts flavor and tannins and makes wines age worthy. Like steeping a tea, the flavor intensifies with time. This is where the term “extracted” comes from.
Rosé lives in the middle ground between red and white. There are three different methods for producing rosé. The first is the maceration method in which grapes are pressed and sit on their skins for 2-24 hours (like a one night stand). The saignee (French for bled) method is when juice is drained during the first few hours of a red wine’s production. This method produces a lovely pink wine and with some of the more intense flavors of a red wine. In rare cases, vintners blend a small amount of red wine with white wine to make a rosé; it generally turns out much better than similar experiments you may have tried at home.
White grapes fermented with skins are known as orange wines (this has nothing to do with the citrus fruit and everything to do with the color). This technique has experienced a renaissance in recent years, particularly among low intervention winemakers. Skins are typically left in anywhere between 4 days up to a full year. Orange wines are more robust than white wines and have tannins like a red wine. They tend to be tart and dry.
Whether your wine has received no skin contact or has undergone extended maceration has little bearing on the stated goal of skin contact on the day in question. Any bottle is certain to help. If you need some suggestions on a wine for your mission check out our earlier post on Valentine’s Day wines. You got this.