Ask Wine Wizard

Carbonic Maceration


Cynthia Cosco — Sonoma, California asks,

What is carbonic maceration? How do you perform it and what does it do for a wine?

Carbonic maceration is a 19th-century technique (which was probably practiced in some amount, or in a hybrid style, much earlier) currently enjoying an en vogue resurgence in some parts of the US wine industry. It is defined by a zero or limited-oxygen fermentation, in the presence of at least a portion of whole grape berries (i.e. not destemmed). Typically associated with Gamay reds from the Beaujolais region of France, carbonic maceration yields very distinctive fragrances and mouthfeel effects. In my experience, the results are low-tannin, lower-color, and highly aromatic wine (veering into the rarefied world for still red wines, at least) with some artificial strawberry, cherry candy, and even notes of fake banana flavor. In fact, amyl acetate, which is often used in commercial food production as an artificial banana flavor, is often naturally produced by yeast under carbonic maceration conditions. So why would you want to do it if it’s so, well, odd? A lot of the winemakers who use it, myself included, do one or two carbonic lots every year so we end up with some lower-tannin, fruitier
Response by Alison Crowe.