A New Kind of Wine that is a Fusion of Red and White winegrapes
La Robe : the French word for the color of red wine.
In 2009 we invented a new category of wine: Enrobed wines!
Enrobed wine is a way to combine Red and White grape varieties into a single wine that does justice to and fully expresses the flavors of each variety. The French term for the color of red wine is “La Robe”. In enrobed winemaking, the unfermented skins (color) of red grapes are used to enrobe white grape juice and transform it into a red wine by fermentation.
Red wine is made by maximally extracting the phenolic components of red grape skins (anthocyanins, flavonoids and tannins), and dissolving it into the colorless juice, prior to and during fermentation. Various methods are used to aid extraction (punching down, pumping-over), warm temperatures facilitate this process (over to 7-21 days).
By contrast, in White wine-making, extraction from the phenolics in the white grape skins is minimized. Some skin contact is required to give the wine sufficient flavor and varietal characteristics. But too much extraction, and a delicate white wine will be bitter, and prone to chill haze. Skin contact after crushing is limited to only a matter of hours, and is always done at cold temperatures.
To make an Enrobed wine, any combination of red and white grape varieties can be used. The grapes are crushed, and all the red grape’s juice is removed from the skins and fermented like a white wine, to produce a pink rose wine. The white grapes are given more skin contact than usual, to extract more flavor and varietal characteristics. Then the white must is pressed, the skins discarded, and the white juice is added to the red skins, and together, fermented like a red wine. The higher levels of phenols from the white grapes will integrate nicely into the richly phenolic red must, and each phenolic component will contribute to create a wine with a unique color and flavor profile. White and red grape varieties are already combined in wines - Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Champagne for example, but the wine is almost devoid of each grape’s true varietal flavors. An Enrobed Pinot Noir/Chardonnay would express each grape’s flavors much more fully.
Enrobed winemaking is a new method to combine red and white grape varietal flavors into a red wine - by replacing the liquid component of red wine must with (an entirely liquid) white wine must, and fermenting it as a red wine. Through fermentation, the flavors and phenolics of the red grape skins dissolve into the white juice, and transform it into a red wine. The possible new combinations of grapes and styles is unlimited!
Phenolics: The color and tannins of red wine. Largely responsible for its appearance and mouth feel. Consisting of anthocyanins (pigments) and flavonoids (non-pigmented) phenolics. Red wine anthocyanins include pelargonidin, cyanidin, delphhinidin, peonidin, petunidin, malvidin - all common pigments in flowers and other fruits and other plants, but only red wine grapes have them all six in large concentrations.
The Origin of Enrobed Wine
I first thought of making enrobed wines (I think I called it Fusion Wine then) sometime in the early 1990’s, probably in discussion over wine with my friend and co-amateur winemaker Andrew Teitzen. I remember being struck by the thought that such a simple alteration could open the door to a new world of possible wines of possible flavors. I imagined the possibilities: Cabernet Sauvignon skins fermenting in Sauvignon Blanc must – what would that be like? An explosion of Pyrazine! What about a red wine that would pair well with Asian cuisines – a Gewürztraminer enrobed with dark Lemberger! What about the grapes of Champagne – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with their roles reversed – ripened Pinot skins dissolving into luxuriant Chardonnay! What about a combination of the greatest wines in the world Romanee-Conte skins fermenting in Mersault must – how much would that fetch a bottle? - Or the rosé for that matter? My mind spun.
I think I abandoned the idea when I thought of how expensive it would be to make a wine that required double the amount of two kinds of premium wine grapes to make a given wine.
But I really didn’t think it through - because the same amount of wine is produced, nothing is wasted – one is just diverting juice from your red grapes to make rosé. Rosé is typically inexpensive (but so is most white) – so to balance that the enrobed wine, which has more value added to it (it could be argued) should capture more than your red wine.
By 2009, the recession had hit our winery hard – our distribution channels were drying up and we were looking for a way to shake things up and make something new. Low on money for grapes, we decided to devote our 2009 vintage to a single grand experiment in enrobed wine.
Without knowing for certain what grapes I would be getting, I left for Elephant Mountain Vineyards, with Ken Peck of Dakota Creek Winery, to pick-up a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon and some white grape that hopefully still remained on the vine. Serendipitously, they still had Marsanne and Rousanne available. These white varieties, the backbone of Rhone white wines, are late ripeners, and they were just achieving perfection at the same time as the Cabernet Sauvignon! I went for the Marsanne, believing that it is more textural and has more aging potential than Rousanne. The name immediately came to me – Mars, short for Marsanne, and of course famous for being red – and emblematic of the new world of wine that we were about to explore.
What is Enrobed Wine?
The French word for the color of red wine is “la robe”: the robe. To me it is a very intelligent metaphor, to see the color of red wine as a phenolic cloak. That cloak is put onto the colorless, liquid body that underlies any red (or white) wine – the wine matrix.
The wine matrix is a term that the Australian wine scientist Chris Somers* coined, to describe the liquid component of wine must – which is a solution of water, sugar, acids and traces of other substances. The color, tannin and most flavor and aroma is contributed to this base matrix, from the skins of red grapes, during maceration and fermentation.
In addition to the liquid wine matrix, the other component of red wine is what Somers calls the wine spectrum - the "phenolic display", the total phenolics that give red wine its appearance, feel and much of its flavor. Somers' choice of the term "phenolic display" to describe the wine spectrum, is apt - as this is precisely why wild grapevines evolved brightly colored grapes - to attract birds and small mammals to eat the fruit and distribute the seeds. The color of red wine grapes is especially attractive in the UV spectrum, which birds and many mammals can see into. It is this same UV light that is used to measure phenolic concentration in wine - the Color Index.
Wine experts will talk about a red wine having a backbone of tannins – this is a backwards way of looking at wine. The matrix of water, acid and alcohol (which used to be sugar prior to fermentation) is the real backbone of any wine – the phenolics in red wine are draped over this backbone or base structure. Though visually dramatic, the total contribution of phenolics to red wine is less than .5% of the wine, by weight.
I was already sold on this way of looking at the liquid (matrix) and phenolic (skins) components of wine must, from doing a saignier (French: to bleed) to my red wines, starting in 1991. This is the process of removing (or bleeding-off) a percentage (typically 20% - 50%) of the matrix from red wine musts. This concentrates the red, vastly improving depth of color, mouth feel, and viscosity. The only downside (other than the reduction in red wine quantity) is a slight increase in volatile acidity. Another bonus is the small amount of rosé must, that with the addition of a little tartaric acid, can be made into a delightful rosé wine.
In red wine production the extraction of phenolics from the skins and their subsequent partial dissolution into the matrix is maximized. In white wine making extraction from the skin is minimized, typically only enough to ensure adequate varietal characteristics – typical aromas, flavors and colors.
The wine matrix of both red and white wines are largely similar – both solutions of water, sugar, acids and traces of other substances. They look the same – and of course any red grape can be made into a white wine – a blanc de noir. They differ, because whites are typically picked sooner - at lower sugars and higher acidity, than reds. The higher acidity of white wine matrices is an important element in my argument for making enrobed wines. Reds are picked later at higher sugar levels, to allow the phenolics in red grape skins to fully mature. This, in most wine regions of the world leads, to red wine matrices that are typically deficient in acidity, and that require acid amelioration. An enrobed wine, by substituting a higher-acid white wine matrix, for the lower-acid red, we can improve naturally the acid balance of the resulting wine.
This leads to the ultimate point of making enrobed wine – to make new wine flavors by combining the flavorful phenolics of both red and white grape varieties. This important to note that the enrobed wine must will have all the phenolics of a white grape, with addition of all of the phenolics and flavors of a red grape. After fermentation the young wine's new phenolic cloak will have a unique hue and appearance, and a unique aroma and flavor profile.
As I mentioned above, phenolic extraction is minimized in white wine production – by limiting white grape skin contact to only minutes or hours of time, always at cold temperatures. Because an enrobed wine is red, rich in phenolics, we can allow for some extra phenolic contribution from the white grapes, and so give the white matrix 24-48 hours of skin contact. The more phenolics extracted from the white grapes, means that there is less room for red phenolics to dissolve into the matrix, so this should be borne in mind. This illustrates that the wine maker has an wide new color range to play with – all dependent on how much influence of the white or red grapes is chosen. The more white phenolics allowed into the must, the more yellow or greenish pigments will be contributed to shift the red-purple colors. Some color combinations should create dramatic results, especially as the wine ages. Non-oxidative, vibrant orange hues or new shades of red are possible in older wines. Because white wine becomes darker as it ages, and red wine lighter, an enrobed wine combining both, should create new color possibilities. This illustrates another point that Somers makes about red wines - that the wine matrix is continually in flux, and that as it changes, the matrix changes the phenolic display.
*Recommended Reading: The Wine Spectrum: An Approach Towards Objective Definition of Wine Quality, Chris Somers, 1998, Winetitles
Invented in 2007...but not by us!
As far as I know I thought this up sometime in the 90's, but I never tried making an enrobed wine until 2009. I searched the internet and found nothing, until I searched for Red Chardonnay.
A North Carolina winery, Green Creek Winery, made a Chardonnay Rosso in 2007, and for a few years afterward. Here's the link to the article:
I find it humorous that the author confused the basic concept, in what must be a mis-quote of the winemaker:
"We picked the Chambourcin (red grapes) and pressed it, then we picked the Chardonnay (grapes) and pressed it and then put the Chambourcin juice on the Chardonnay skin to get the (red) color,"
I think we are developing the concept of Enrobed wine to its potential, rather than making a gimmick, but hats off to Alvin Pack of Green Creek Winery for making perhaps the first Enrobed wine!