Altered Carbon: Carbonic maceration and the wines that will drive you wild
Crushable, electric, sexy. When I find a wine that has all these things going for me I know I am going to enjoy it. Wines that race through your mind with acidity, and as exciting as they are crushable are the calling cards of a wine thats made for thirst, for friends, and for good times. I love these wines and I cannot get enough of them.
So how do you go about looking for such an electric treat? A wine that makes you want to sing electro-pop songs in your head and dance around like a mad person. How do I find a wine that lifts my spirits, that widens my eyes, and gets to the heart of a fun summer night with my best friends. What if I told you that hundreds of super cool winemakers have been working with a style of winemaking that makes insane wines from the most unsuspecting grapes. Carbonic maceration is a process that makes a wine crushable, fun, and changes it from a thinker to a dancer. Its an altered state of wine that toys with your senses and makes you rethink what you thought you knew about wine.
Carbonic maceration is a method of winemaking that results in juicy, refreshing, and more often lighter wines that are higher in acidity and lower in tannins. Basically you let the grapes crush themselves under a layer of carbon dioxide and let them burst with bright, refreshing awesomeness. Though this method of making wine has been used for a long tine in Beaujolais in the making of Gamay, more experimental winemakers around the world have used this method with all sorts of different grape varietals and make some pretty crunchy wines.
Carbonic maceration as a process has been able to shed some light on a whole bunch of grapes (ha!) that all used to be looked at in the same light. Good and delicious maybe, but a little bit stuffy. The Love You Bunches Sangiovese by Stolpman Vineyards is one such wine. Sangiovese is a hearty wine when done using traditional methods, but Love You Bunches is anything but traditional. The acidity in this wine would cut out your tongue and still have enough juice and tannins to dry it up and leave you wanting more. It is sharp, but holy crap is it fun. A slight chill reveals an addictive summer wine that is as entrancing as it is refreshing. It is a wine that would be insanely good with a slice of New York pepperoni pizza and one of those rare red wines that you could have with fish if that is what you are craving.
Taking unassuming grapes and putting them through this process can yield some super exciting results, but it is not all about releasing something that is going to frighten your older neighbors. When done right you can end up with a wine that has a tremendous amount of complexity and bring out some characteristics that you never thought existed. Martha Stoumen’s cuvée Post Flirtation Red is a blend of Zinfandel and Carignan, but this lighter approach to winemaking combined with an earlier harvest brings out floral and spice notes that feel as if you are being introduced to a new varietal on its own. Its not Zin in the traditional sense, but it is layered and structured better than any full blown heavy wine could do.
Critics will say that wines put through the carbonic process will all taste the same, that they fail to extract the real character of the grapes. While there are underlying characteristics from this style, this could not be further from the truth. Instead you notice that everybody seems to have their own spin on things and does something a little different.
Inspired by the Beaujolais Nouveau releases every year, as well as a desire to actually make a good wine using this approach, some winemakers have taken the carbonic approach, made it light, and released their wines super early. Samantha Sheehan’d POE has released a Pinot Nouveau, a Pinot Noir done in the Beajolais Nouveau approach. While traditionalists with a hatred of Georges Dubeouf will immediately thumb their noses at it, those with open minds are rewarded with a wine that is fresh, crunchy, and packed with the smell and tastes of super fresh strawberries that have just been picked.
In 2020 it has felt as if carbonic Pinot Noir has become all the rage, with crazy releases from Las Jaras, Deux Punx, the Marigny all being soon after their release. There are a few bottles lying around here and there, from odd, off the beaten path places, but those in the know got their hands on this shit pretty damn quick in a way that it has become its own super hot sub category. Carbonic Pinot Noir was so hot you could have sworn it was a Supreme drop. Whether we will see this level of excitement in 2021 remains to be seen, but you could bet that the delicious success of these wines will be replicated further in the coming years and stretch a little farther than the natty wine bars and shops.
There are so many carbonic wines in the market at the moment that it is hard to keep track. In writing this article I either tasted or spoke to someone who had tasted carbonic Syrah, Tempranillo, Valdiguie, Gamay, Mission, Alicante Bouchet, and heard rumors of an attempt at carbonic Cabernet Sauvignon. But its easy to see why. In this world that we look for ways to escape more than ever, whether thats the music we listen to, the shows we stream, or the wines we drink. We search for moments where we don’t want to think but we still want to enjoy something awesome rather than become totally lost. Carbonic macerated wines can do that and be super fun and delicious when we share with our friends