It has been a long and tough winter here in the Hudson Valley. Lots of cold and snow. Another record breaking cold through the month of February, brought to us courtesy of the Polar Vortex. But now the snow has melted, the temperatures are more moderate, and the trees are starting to show their buds. All great indicators that spring has sprung! This is the time for us to all break our cabin fever and get out and breath deeply and decompress. It is also time to degas. I'm referring, of course, to your dry red wines that have been bulk aging happily over the winter in your wine cellar.
As an update to those that have been following along with my blog, I have completed pruning my vineyard and the vines are poised for a hopefully fruitful 2015 vintage. As all farmers do, my fingers are crossed. But back to the wine cellar. One of the final processes a winemaker must do prior to bottling their dry red wines is degas them. Now if you bulk age your wines in oak barrels, this isn't necessary. Oak barrels breath and exchange gasses with the atmosphere at a very slow rate. This physical feature of a barrel does two things. When there is excess carbon dioxide in your wine from the fermentation process, it allows it to escape through the barrel pores allowing the wine to become still naturally. It also allows a small amount of oxygen in. This is known as micro-oxygenation and it helps to mellow the wine, as this small amount of air helps to break down tannins and enhance other reactions in the wines development. Sounds great right? Well there are a number of downsides to oak barrels like cost, cleaning, and general maintenance that steer some home winemakers, as well as commercial ones, away from their use.
So if you bulk age your dry reds in carboys, demijohns, or variable capacity stainless steel tanks, you will need to degas them. Why did I wait till spring? Well the wine cellar has warmed up a bit; as has the wine. Gases come out of solution more readily at warmer temperatures. So to ensure all that carbon dioxide is no longer in my wine, I wait till it warms up a bit to make the job a little easier and more effective. So how do you do this? Well you could take the top off your storage vessel and start mixing with a long, properly sanitized spoon. In about two hours you'll hopefully get the bulk of the carbon dioxide out of solution. You'll then need to make an appointment with your physical therapist to help you work through all the pain that your arm and shoulder will be in.
Luckily there are other methods. There are a few different degassing whips that are available on the market. These food grade plastic devices attach to your drill and provide the stirring action for you. I've tried a couple of these and to be honest I have only found them partially effective. They definitely get a large portion of the carbon dioxide out of solution, but you also must be careful not to over agitate your wines and cause oxidation. Luckily, young red wines can typically take quite a bit of this without too much worry. But since the wine is at the tail end of its pre-bottle aging development, some caution needs to be exercised....