First racking of 2013

Last night Garagistes Mark, Barabara and Greg convened in the basement with me to mess with the heads of our Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Or in other words, racking — moving a wine from one vessel to another to variously fine by leaving sediment behind, soften tannins, and add a touch of oxygen to nudge the wine a bit further toward maturity.

First up was the Merlot, which I’d been snuggling in an electric blanket in order to move malolactic fermentation along. Aside from turning the malic acid in a wine to lactic acid (which works to soften the overall je ne sais quoi), malo also produces a bit of CO2, creating a thin blanket of protection from evil-doers like bacteria and over-exposure to oxygen. The problem is that malo starts so close to winter, it usually doesn’t have much time to bask and thrive in the coveted 55-degree-and-up weather window. As a result, it often goes into hibernation, job unfinished, until things warm up in the spring. So, because you can’t protect the wine with sulfite (which would hobble the malo even more than the temperature), that means the wine’s unprotected until the birds start to sing again.

To get around this, I’ve been moving the blanket around the cellar in order to keep malo from slacking off and refreshing its Facebook page until April. Then, as soon as a wine’s done, I can zap it with a little sulfite and all bacterial boarders will be repelled.

So when we went to rack, the Merlot sounded nearly through malolactic fermentation. To confirm this, you’d need to run the wine through paper chromatography, or send it to a professional lab. But assuming the wine’s over 55 degrees, you’ll get a ballpark idea of malo progress just by sticking your ear on the bunghole (note: not legal in some parts of Utah and Mississippi). If you hear a crackling of tiny bubbles popping, malo’s still going; if it’s faint, it’s either beginning or near the end. (As a bonus, this really impresses people into thinking you’re some kind of wine whisperer.)

The Merlot tasted good and clean, and it reminded me what a great harvest we had this year. This baby’s going to be a pretty damn good wine, even if it must struggle under the weight of its LOLcat of a reputation.

Next we tackled the Cab Franc, which was also clean, but definitely still slumbering and from the taste of it, only just in the early stages of malo before shuttering its windows for the winter — still angular and a bit hard. The all-important Cab Franc nose was fine, though it seemed to me there might be a hint of sulfur dioxide lurking in the background. Malo can often present as SO2 in the nose, so hopefully that’s what it is. But I’ll be putting the blanket on this baby and keeping an eye on it, absolutely.

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