What is Carbonic Wine and Why is it Suddenly so Popular?
Anish Patel @ 2022-07-21 08:28:41 -0700
Carbonic wine is trending right now and there’s a good reason why: they’re delicious! These red wines are fresh and easy to drink, making them the perfect choice for summertime. But what exactly is carbonic wine? If it sounds scientific to you, that’s because there is some pretty complex science behind what makes these crushable wines. The style has become very popular, especially among natural wine lovers. And once you get to know it, you’ll start to recognize its signature traits.
Here’s the short story: carbonic wine is fruity and fresh with high acidity and low tannins. And fans of the wine love to lightly chill them. If you love red wine in the warmer months, carbonic wine is right up your alley. In this guide, we’re going to define carbonic wine for you and break down the fascinating science behind these unique, fruity wines.
What is carbonic wine?
Carbonic wine is a wine that is made by a process called carbonic maceration, as opposed to traditional fermentation. The result is a drastically different style of wine. To understand how carbonic maceration makes a different wine with the same grape, we need to go over some basics of how red wine is normally made.
Here’s how you make red wine, in a nutshell: First, you pick the grapes off of their stems and crush them in a vat or tank so that the skins split open. Crushing the grapes allows the yeast to access the sugar contained in the pulp of the grapes. Next, the yeast interacts with oxygen and eats that sugar, converts it into alcohol, and in the process, releases carbon dioxide.
Got that? The CO2 escapes out of the fermentation vat and voila! Red wine is made.
For carbonic maceration to occur, you have to introduce CO2 to the tank, which pushes the oxygen out of the tank. Instead of crushing the grapes, you place them carefully in a CO2-filled vessel completely intact. It’s important that the yeast doesn’t get access to the sugar quite yet.
This creates what is called an anaerobic environment, also known as an environment without oxygen. Fermentation begins to occur within each individual grape, and the grapes begin to create alcohol inside of themselves. Eventually, the grapes are crushed before being placed in barrels or tanks to complete the rest of the fermentation in a standard way. But the time spent in carbonic produces a host of unique flavors.
The difference comes down to the lack of oxygen.
The lack of oxygen in the tank triggers a very unique kind of fermentation inside each individual grape. You might remember that in traditional fermentation, the grapes are split open and ferment together. In carbonic maceration, fermentation happens within each grape before they are crushed, simultaneously.
Why is this important? Well, this intracellular fermentation produces unique aromas you wouldn’t normally find: candy, pear, raspberry, bubblegum, cranberry, and even banana characterize the final wine. But it also makes a wine that is light and endlessly fruity. Because the skins don’t get tossed around in fermentation, tannin levels are low, and this makes for a chillable red wine.
It was actually French chemist, Louis Pasteur who discovered that grapes held in a vat with oxygen and grapes held in a vat with CO2 create two completely different wines. And as you’ll see in a moment, the original carbonic wines are made from Gamay from a French region called Beaujolais.
How carbonic wine got to be so famous.
Carbonic maceration originates in the Beaujolais wine region of France. Beaujolais, just south of Burgundy, is responsible for making carbonic maceration famous. Here, red wines are made from a grape called Gamay. Gamay is the perfect grape for a light, easy-drinking style with notes of red fruit, strawberry, and bubblegum.
The philosophy behind the wines of Beaujolais is one of ease and pleasure. Winemakers here insist that their wines are not meant to be analyzed or picked apart. Instead, they’re meant to be enjoyed. After all, isn’t that what wine is for?
While Beaujolais has been making wine since the dawn of time, they really picked up momentum in the 14th century. At the time, non-local wine was heavily taxed, and even though the red wines of Burgundy, to the North, were much more famous, they were expensive and just not realistic for common people to afford. Gamay was considered a “peasant’s grape” because it was much easier and affordable to grow, tend, and buy.
So the people of Beaujolais started an unconventional tradition of drinking their fruity local wine within the first year of making it. Who needs to wait? When the railway expanded, Parisians fell in love with the crushable style of wine and drinking the wine “en primeur” became so fashionable that they created an annual festival around the youthful, carbonic reds of Beaujolais.
The Beaujolais Nouveau Festival is still celebrated around the world every November.
What does carbonic wine taste like?
Carbonic wines are still considered “people’s wine” of the sort. They contrast the complex, outlandishly expensive bottles of wine that have to sit in a cellar for years before they’re ready to drink. The beauty of carbonic wine is that it’s ready to drink now. It is the kind of wine that lets you seize the moment.
They’re also an excellent approachable option for people wanting to get into wine for the first time. They are soft, fresh, light, and fruity. They don’t have earthy flavors or rough tannins. Instead, the tannins are low and the acidity is high, making them very refreshing. These wines can and should be chilled before drinking, making them even more approachable and pleasant. Although approachable there are many examples of very high quality wines.
They often have notes of candy, pear, banana, strawberry, bubblegum, and even floral, perfumed aromas.
What kind of grapes are used to make carbonic wine?
Carbonic and the Beaujolais Nouveau styles have taken the world by storm. Gamay is the grape that started it all, and it still makes excellent carbonic wine to this day. But natural winemakers have become curious about what other grapes might taste like when done in a carbonic style. How would they differ from their traditional flavor profile? As it turns out, curiosity makes great wine.
Here are the four main grapes that winemakers use to make carbonic wine.
This is the OG carbonic grape, and it lends itself perfectly to a youthful, fresh, uncomplicated wine. The reds of Beaujolais are made traditionally as well as carbonically, and you can spot the carbonic ones by their label that reads Beaujolais Nouveau. These wines are soft and light with red berry fruit, rose petals, and candy.
From southern France, this grape is often blended with other grapes like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. But it also makes an excellent carbonic wine. The wines made from this grape will be more structured with berry fruit, and a little bramble and spice.
One of Italy’s most prized grapes, Sangiovese is the grape that makes Chianti. Traditionally, it makes a highly structured wine that tastes of red cherry, plum, dried herbs, and game. Many of these wines need to age in the bottle for years before they’re ready to drink. But a carbonic Sangiovese is fresh, and fruity, with low tannins and a high acidity that makes it a perfect wine for food.
Other grapes that winemakers like to use to make carbonic wine are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo.
Are you drinking the kool-aid?
Now that you understand carbonic maceration, you probably have an idea of whether this is the style of wine for you or not. Once you taste enough of these wines, you’ll start to notice repetitive flavors and characteristics. You might even find yourself guessing that the wine is carbonic without even knowing.
For us, carbonic wine is the perfect solution for red wine lovers in the summertime. Traditionally made red wine can be quite heavy and alcoholic, making it a less than ideal option for hot days. But carbonic is red and refreshing at the same time. What’s not to love?
Want to try carbonic wine? Get Jajaja in your fridge, an organic carbonic wine made from Zinfandel in California.