Happenings from the vineyards, wineries and roads travelled between.

Flavour ripeness vs Phenolic ripeness-its a winemaking choice

I wrote this article a couple of years ago for Dry River but it has great relevance to all fine wines of the world bottled under cork closure.

We are often asked what sets our wines apart from the majority of wines produced in New Zealand.  The simple answer to a complex question is: our wines are grown and picked at a point where we believe the majority of phenolic compounds are fully ripe-we call this phenolic ripeness.  Once we have determined what we see as optimal phenolic ripeness in the vineyard, we then seek to preserve those grape phenolic compounds in the wine, right through the winemaking process, so they are still present in their basic forms when the wines are bottled.   The presence of these phenolic compounds gives the young wine colour, structure and texture and to some extent flavour.  As the wine ages, these phenolic compounds assist the wines development in the cellar.

Most wine made in New Zealand could loosely be described as flavour wine.  That is, the fruit is grown in such a way as to provide the winemaker with the best opportunity to pick the grapes at a point that he or she determines are the most flavoursome.  Site, nutrient availability and use of irrigation are all used to manipulate flavours in grapes.  These wines may, in some cases, have phenolic ripeness but it wasn’t the main winemaking objective.  The best and most obvious example of a flavour wine is Marlborough Sauvignon blanc.

Continuing the theme of capturing the best flavour in the vineyard, various techniques exist in the winery to either preserve or add to those flavours.  These techniques are often very sophisticated, and more akin to food technology, than traditional winemaking.  Some of the modern techniques involve grape flavour conversion via yeast, bacteria and various enzymes or perhaps advancing or retarding flavour development through the judicious use of oxygen.  Not all flavour enhancing techniques are modern, traditional choices such as fermentation vessel shape and aging wines in barrels could be seen as influencing or introducing flavours to wine.

The theatre for appreciating flavour wines is the wine show.  The successful exhibitors are the best producers of capturing a popular flavour and preserving and presenting that flavour in a blind tasting.  The best way of preserving bottled flavour is by bottling the wine under an inert closure like a screw-cap.  A useful analogy in the food industry might be how supermarket vegetables are presented as a single variety or clone, individually packaged, uniform size, vacuum packed and nitrogen flushed to preserve flavour.  As a consumer, drinking these wines early is the best guarantee that the flavours-chosen by the viticulturist and winemaker-are as intended.

At Dry River our philosophy is to focus on growing the fruit based on optimising particular phenolic compounds (which do contribute colour, flavour, weight and anti-oxidant potential) that ensure the wine is set up for evolving in the bottle under a cork closure.  Once in the bottle, the wine slowly changes (the softening of palate texture and perceived acidity, a diminishing of colour and ‘fruitiness’ along with the creation of bottle developed ‘complexity’) to a stage when the wine lover determines it is right for them to enjoy.  Some people enjoy their wines in the flush of youth, others wise old age: with wines that are made with grapes that have ripe phenolics, you get the choice.