Maceration is most often associated with strawberries. Sugar is added to strawberries and allowed to sit to help them release their juices.
However, maceration also extends to winemaking.
What Does Maceration Mean in Wine?
In short, maceration in winemaking means leeching phenolic compounds from the grape skins, seeds, and stems into freshly crushed grape juice or must. The phenolic materials include tannins, coloring agents, or flavor compounds.
Macerating means softening food by soaking it. For example, ninety-nine percent of all grape juice has a clear-grayish color. So, maceration gives red wine its color.
Some winemakers don’t macerate white wines. Others macerate white wine for a short time. In this instance, the juice is allowed to macerate with the skins before it is pressed.
Maceration is reserved for varietal white wines like Sauvignon blanc and Sémillon. In contrast, red grapes are macerated between skins and must for Rose wine. However, they are not macerated as long as red wine.
Maceration can also be used for drinks such as crème de cassis, Campari, and Lambic. Maceration can also be used for steeping unflavored spirits with herbs for absinthe.
Types of Maceration
Typically, maceration involves crushing red grapes and adding sulfates. The mixture is allowed to sit overnight before the yeast is pitched.
After fermentation, the wine and grapes are placed into a press. The press separates the wine from the pulp.
However, not all winemakers use this technique. They use other types of maceration.
A cold soak maceration occurs before fermentation occurs. Cold soaking is used for grapes with a lower phenolic profile like Pinot Noir.
The maceration takes place at 40°F–50°F. These cold temperatures keep bacteria levels and oxidative interactions to a minimum.
Cold soaks usually last for 4 days. However, some winemakers cold soak for up to 2 weeks.
Furthermore, some winemakers are against cold soaking. They argue that it could have negative effects that are greater than any benefits gained by cold soaking. So it is a highly debated topic in the wine world.
Extended maceration happens after fermentation. The wine is macerated with the grapes to extract more phenolic compounds and stabilize the final product.
Experienced winemakers know when to press the wine. The grape skins and the pulp will gather at the bottom of the fermenter.
Nevertheless, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine with extended maceration. The biggest drawback is the fight against oxidation reactions. Luckily, winemakers found a way around oxidation.
They add a layer of inert gas, such as carbon dioxide or argon, on top of the wine. The inert gas acts like a barrier and staves off oxidation.
Carbonic maceration is a unique technique used to develop wines with a strong fruity profile. Wines such as Gamay grape or Beaujolais wines with low levels of phenolic compounds are associated with carbonic maceration.
Wines made using this technique are known for their light viscosity and fruity scent. They are also best when they are served young.
Unlike other types of maceration, grapes are not crushed in carbonic maceration. They are allowed macerate in tanks filled with carbon dioxide.
Yeast is not needed in carbonic maceration. Enzymes start fermentation within the grapes. After 1 week, the amount of alcohol inside the grapes reaches 2%, and the grapes will burst.
Most winemakers will transfer the mixture to a press and add yeast so the wine can continue to ferment. However, since the juice and grape skins don’t have enough time to macerate, the wine will have a light feel.
Some recommend using a quarter to half of your grapes for carbonic maceration for this reason. The remaining grapes can be macerated the traditional way.
What Is the Difference Between Fermentation and Maceration?
Fermentation is biological. In short, fermentation is a reaction produced by yeast that turns grape must into wine.
In contrast, maceration is physiochemical. Maceration requires extracting phenolic compounds such as tannins or anthocyanins, which give red wine its color and structure.
How Long Does Wine Maceration Last
It depends on the kind of wine being macerated. Red wine can macerate for as little as one week or up to one month. It depends on the type of red wine the winemaker is making.
In contrast, red wines are macerated for a shorter time. So, maceration can be as short as a few hours or for 1-2 days to create aromatic white wines.
Maceration no longer extends to food. It also extends to drinks such as wine. Macerating wine gives it a rich red color and a light body which makes wine much more delicious.