‘Skin contact’ to help the aroma of white wines

The Domaine Gerovassiliou vineyard grows Assyrtiko and two types of Malagousia, one with plump fruit and the other with smaller grapes which produce a more aromatic wine. Today’s piece deals with the method used to make the white Domaine Gerovassiliou wine which won a gold medal at the Bordeaux Challenge 2001 competition and, according to Decanter magazine, is one of the wines of the future. Skin-deep Grapes used in making white wine are usually crushed in machines which separate off the pips. The remaining mass goes to the wine press where mechanical pressure on the grapes separates the juice from the skins and pulp. The juice, or must, is then separated from the sediment and put into tanks or barrels to ferment. The action of yeasts breaks up the sugars, mainly into alcohol and carbon dioxide. White wine is made from grape juice, unlike red wine, which is made by fermenting grape juice and the solid parts of the grape together. The aromatic substances in grapes are located chiefly in the skins, so the method of making white wine involves a significant loss of aromatic potential. This is why red wines develop a more complex bouquet as they age. But grape skins and pulp, containing substances like phenols, which help form organoleptic features in red wines, make white wines turn brown and taste rough and bitter. Wineries prefer to sacrifice some of the aroma by excluding the pulp, than to make wines that oxidize easily and taste unpleasant. Besides, not all grape varieties have aromatic skins. A fairly new technique known as skin contact is used on white wines which are aromatic or which contain substances that are aromatic forerunners. When this technique is employed, the must remains in contact with the grape skins for some hours at a low temperature so that it is enriched by their aromatic substances without forming phenol compounds and without oxidizing. This happens at the prefermentation stage. The success of the technique depends on various factors: The grapes must be strong and have been picked at the absolutely right stage of ripeness. There must be no air present and there must be no fermentation while the pulp is in contact with the skins. When the harvest begins at Domaine Gerovassiliou they fill two 10-ton tanks with carbon dioxide so as to expel all the air. Then they harvest enough grapes each day to fill both tanks with pulp from which the pips have been removed. The harvest begins with the Malagousia grapes, which reach maturity some eight days before the Assyrtiko variety. The pulp remains in the tanks at a temperature of 12-15 C for 12-14 hours, during which a small stream of carbon dioxide passes through the tanks. Since their skins contain more phenols, the Assyrtiko grapes only stay in the tanks for four to five hours. When this prefermentation stage is complete, the pulp is pressed lightly in a pneumatic press so that the skins, which have become very fragile, do not tear. The must then goes into stainless steel tanks which have bands with double walls containing a coolant liquid that keeps the must temperature below 18 C throughout the fermentation period. When fermentation is complete, the new wine is not separated from the sediment immediately, as is the usually practice. Instead it remains unstrained for three months. As they old saying has it: The sediment feeds the wine. And in fact, various enzymes and, above all, the yeast cells, which have undergone osmosis, continue to add amino acids and other substances to the new wine, enriching its aroma and flavor. Once a week, the stirring mechanism which is contained in the tank is set into operation to mix the wine and the sediment. This prevents the formation of hydrogen sulfide odors. Then the wine is separated from the sediment and transferred to storage tanks. Following chemical analysis and tasting of the wine in all the tanks, winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou mixes the Assyrtiko and Malagousia in proportions which bring out the virtues of each variety, so their components complement each other and combine to make an impressive wine. Long-lasting In the year following the harvest, when the wine is still young, the dominant aromas are of jasmine and green pepper, which derive from the Malagousia grape and harmonize with the typical citrus aroma of Assyrtiko. But the wine has a rich, long-lasting aromatic substructure which develops over time, acquiring the fragrance and flavor of vanilla, apricot and cream. This is why even though the wine is soft with a full fruity flavor based on a pleasing acidity in its first year, I only drink two or three bottles of it, and cellar the rest at 14 C, opening a couple every six months. I enjoy following the impressive development of this white wine, made with care from Greek grapes, over a four-year period. Although Malagousia is becoming a star variety, Gerovassiliou does not put its name on the label. He is not selling varietal wine, because the quality of his wine does not come exclusively from the Malagousia and Assyrtiko varieties, but also from the way he grows them and makes then into wine. Others sell Malagousia wine, but there is only one Domaine Gerovassiliou, just as the whole world sells Merlot, but there is only one Chateau Petri. First, a fast and qualitative change in living standards in our country by building up the market economy according to the criteria for accession to the European Union and an increase in the inflow of foreign investment. I am prepared to propose a package of economic measures and a system of social and economic partnership through which the well-known diligence and initiative of Bulgarians will change your lives in no more than 800 days.

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