I did excitedly entertain the notion of making raisin wine after not finding any more suitable grapes in the field for traditional fermentation. My friend, Roberta, sent me a link elucidating the history of raisin wine in ancient Greece. Further investigation led me to the study of “Straw” wines made in Italy, so named because the grapes were dried after harvest on straw mats. My heart sank as I realized it was not simply a matter of culling any odd variety of wrinkled raisins left in the vineyard and putting them through the fermentation methods I had so eagerly learned and applied this year. This highly prized and labor intensive wine-style has been utilized in a few regions since pre-Roman times and involves specific varietals and quite a bit of aging. These robust wines are not meant to be consumed young. They generally are aged for three to ten years in order to turn out these irresistible elixirs.
My palate is keen to discover Amarone, Recioto and Passito …. dense, highly concentrated, aromatic and sometimes sweet wines better known in their native homes of Veneto, Valpolicella and the island of Pantelleria (located halfway between Sicily and Tunisia). So I was delighted to discover that my friend, Alex Acevedo, Sommelier at L.A. Cetto has experience with these wines. Alex whet my appetite and my imagination with his winetasting tales. Aahhhhhh, Amarone sounds like a heaven sent nectar of Bacchus and his denizens. What distinguishes Amarone from the other raisin wines that I’ve been studying is that it is dry with no residual sugars, exhibits spicy dark fruit and is noted for its velvety mouth feel and finesse. I am dying to understand the process. And my investigations continue ….
One of the things that I love about wine culture is how convivial it is. The other day I ventured over to Vinícola Torres Alegre in my little neighborhood of Porvenir and caught up with Leo Torres. My purpose was to see if they knew of any corrections for salty wine. Naturally a glass of wine was offered and we sat and chatted at length about sourcing out good grapes, new projects at the winery and the innovative methods they utilize for their premium wines. I didn’t find a correction for my wine but I left feeling thoroughly edified and grateful to have made so many genuine and generous friends in the wine making industry here.
A week or so ago I took samples of my wines to Barón Balché. Winemaker, Jesús Rivera was one of the first friends I made in the valley. I bought my Grenache fruit from him and he has been extraordinarily helpful with practical advice about wine making methods and procedures whenever I catch up with him. I passed by to see the results of the analyses the other day and he informed me that all of my wines have completed malolactic fermentation! Woo hoooo! Malolactic is the secondary “fermentation” that occurs after yeast has converted all the available sugar to alcohol. MLF involves a bacteria which converts the tart green-apple malic acid into rounder, smoother, sometimes buttery lactic acids, which lends complexity and also helps to stabilize the wine. Now it’s time to rack the wine off its lees. Do what to its whose-it, whats-it? Lees is just fancy wine-makery vocab referring to sediment which is composed of dead yeast and other particles which settles to the bottom of the tank or barrel during fermentation. And racking means separating the wine from the sediment. This is desirable to avoid off flavors and aromas which might be lurking in the lees.
In my case, racking the wine is a festive and convivial occasion which includes a borrowed wine pump and my friend José Morfín who has been working with wine his entire adult life here in the Valley. We’ll take the window out of my “cava” so that the empty barrels can be hauled out and washed real good before returning the wine to them. We’ll share libations and a few victuals, listen to music, talk shop and get the job done. Perhaps we’ll talk about how to make raisin wine ….. I can always dream, right?
Thanks for setting me on the raisin wine path, Roberta. There’ll be more on this subject down the road!