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Pressing & Malolatic

Once fermentation is complete, red wines must undergo a process to separate skins and juice. “Free-run” juice—the best quality juice often used for top wines—is drained away from the skins. Winemakers then press the remaining thick concentration of juice and skins in a first pressing that delivers better quality juices than the subsequent pressings. Skins, seeds and pips release stronger and potentially bitter tannins with the increasing intensity of the press. Winemakers may use the final “press wine” for value-priced selections or keep it in reserve for blending.

Various technologies help winemakers press the wine gently and extract as much juice as possible without also releasing too much tannin. Traditionally, many used a “basket press,” where a rotating disk presses downward into a basket containing the must. Today’s more modern horizontal press winds and presses sideways; a pneumatic press uses a balloon-like bladder that inflates and more gently presses the must against cylinder walls; and a tank press encapsulates the entire press inside a tank to prevent oxidation during pressing.

After pressing, all red and some white wines undergo another biological process called “malolactic fermentation.” This process uses bacteria rather than yeast to convert tart acids—similar to those found in juice—into softer, rounder lactic acids, such as those found in milk. For white wines, malolactic fermentation is a stylistic decision for the winemaker. Without it, fermentation can produce fresh, fruity, crisp white wines, whereas use of this technique produces creamy, rounder and even buttery notes in white wines. This process is commonly applied to Chardonnay wines, but certainly not all of them.

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