A good wine is any wine made from good grapes and with oenological discipline. A big wine is an interesting and specific wine. A wine of individuality and unique character. Multi- layered, compelling, with an opulence of aromas, flavours and colours. Expressing at most the variety and the origin of the grapes.
1. Grapes. They must be healthy and ripe, grown on a suitable terrain under optimum conditions and harvested at the right time. When is it? Sugars begin to accumulate rapidly in the last stage of ripening, the acids decrease. A balance between them should be reached, which depends on the variety, terrain, age of the vineyard and the farming methods. The optimal sugar content is 24-25%, but it is not the only determinant. The ingredients that together with alcohol and acids make red wines are found in the skin and seeds. Maceration is the process in which they transfuse into the grape juice. It is the big secret of the best red wines. The anthocyanins, tannins, flavours, nitrogenous substances, minerals, polysaccharides and in particular pectins form the colour, aroma, flavour and texture of the wine. Therefore, the maturity of the skin is monitored, it darkens as total phenolics (anthocyanins and tannins) increase, the seed ripens and turns brown, the stem starts to harden and turn brown... It is time to harvest.
2. Sorting. The grapes for big wines should be selected still in the vineyard and then in the cellar. Clusters that are visibly unripe, damaged by mechanical impact or diseases are removed as well as any other casual impurities in the crates. It is followed by a mechanical destemming and selection of berries on a second sorting table. The parts of the cluster that remained after the destemming and damaged or green berries are removed. The grape must enters the fermentation tanks after very slight crushing.
3. Pre-fermentation maceration. Cold, hot or Flash-détente? The choice depends on the technical equipment and the decision of the oenologist for the style of wine. The action of the three methods is directed to destructure the skin of the crushed berries before alcoholic fermentation has started. The main extracts are colour compound, other phenolic com- pounds, aromas and precursors. At the same time, there is no alcohol to extract tannins from the seeds. The aim is to extract more colour and greater complexity of the aromas.
4. Alcoholic fermentation - temperature regime. Lighter wines with fruity style, designed for quick consumption ferment at lower temperatures. Big wines ferment at higher temperatures (25-30 °C) which facilitates the extraction of more colour, more complex flavour and a bigger structure.
5. Removal of seeds. Grape pips are a source of tannins. They are extracted by the action of alcohol during fermentation. The more unripe seeds are, the more green tannins will pass into the wine. Therefore, the separation of the greatest possible part of them at the beginning of the fermentation eliminates the possibility to extract in the wine green and harsh tannins during fermentation. This favours the production of softer wines with better structure. Normally up to 40% of the seeds are removed depending on the technical conditions.
6. Extraction techniques. The enzyme treatment of grape must dissolves skins and facilitates the extraction of their ingredients. The frequency and duration of pumping over the cap determine the degree of extraction. Délestage (separating the fermenting juice and pumping it back over the drained cap) is a technique that increases the degree of extraction. One should always bear in mind that the insufficient ripeness of the skin leads to extraction of green notes that give herbaceous character to the wines.
7. The moment of separating red must from pomace. It depends on the concept of the wine. Red wines intended to be consumed as young are aromatic and fruity. Their maceration is short and mild. The few phenols make their bodies lighter, the taste is soft and tender, and their life is short. The matured wines are rich in tannins, with a powerful structure and great complexity. Preferring one or the other is subjective. The choice of grape variety, region and producer are a matter of personal choice. Great body, powerful structure and more complexity are achieved by a longer contact of the wine with skins. Postfermentation maceration is highly creative and very responsible moment. There is a risk for the wine to become harsh. How- ever, if the grape is well-ripen and the oenological practices are carried out properly, the effect on quality of the flavour and aroma of the wine is remarkable.
8. Malolactic fermentation. The conversion of malic acid, which gives a sharp and unpleasant tart acid taste of wine to lactic acid, is an irrevocable process. The wine becomes soft and round.
9. Aging in barrels. Barrel selection. Batonage. The harmony between thermally treated oak barrel and the wine is indispensable for the creation of big wines. The process of polymerization and condensation takes place during maturation, the phenolic structure of the wine changes, the tannins soften, the colour and clarity stabilize. The wines develop complex bouquet in the barrels, which add aromas of vanilla, coconut, nuts, toasted bread, cocoa, coffee, chocolate. The taste becomes balanced, the wine acquires good finish and softness, it becomes warmer, tastes velvety in the mouth, and when barrel maturation is combined with fine lees contact and batonage, the taste becomes round and full, acquiring more body and length, with longer aging potential. The choice of barrels (French or American oak), new or used, depends on the style of wine. The aging time can vary from several months up to several years.
10. Treatments. The less treatments a wine undergoes the better. Each treatment “undresses” to some extent the wine. Barrels act as a natural stabilizer of colour and other components, giving the wine a finish. Therefore, a final and very measured treatment with albumin or gelatin to eliminate the irritating and harsh tannins is enough. If filtration is necessary, it must be carried out carefully and consciously. Bottled wines are kept at a controlled temperature in the cellars of the winery for a few months for good wines up to a few years for big wines before starting their way to the market, in order to achieve complete harmony and optimal condition.
Stoicho Stoev, oenologist