Words with a threatening aura. Today: malolactic fermentation

For most of us, Latin was a negligible subject in school. As a result, the root “mal-” tends to manifest its meanings transmitted through French, leading us to correlations with “bad”, “stupid”, „unpleasant”, traceable to the Romanian language in words such as evil or dishonest, most people forgetting that the latin “malum” also meant “apple.” Now, that the connection between apple and evil is welded for eternity from the first pages of the Bible, that is another topic for another day. Today we are only interested in that expression that scares the audience at tastings and makes people imagine that they will never taste a wine professionally, until they finish a chemistry faculty: malolactic fermentation.

I found out, throughout hundreds of tastings that told stories about Segarcea wines throughout the country, that “malolactic fermentation” sounds bad. That makes you think of sour milk or to other alike. And there are other words from the wine world (like unctuous, barrique, tanninous, etc.) that seem from another world, so we promise to return to them.

Vardo - Puterea VointeiIn short: in raw form, as soon as the yeasts finish breaking down the sugars in the stum and turn them into alcohol (a process called alcoholic fermentation), many red wines contain malic acid – a bitter substance, reminiscent of the taste of an apple kernel. This acid can be further transformed – either by bacteria that naturally exist in the air of the winery, or by the voluntary addition of such bacteria – into lactic acid, which has a much friendlier taste and helps give birth to a more complex wine, with more pleasant aromas (of yogurt with berries in the beginning, butter or nuts as time takes its toll), “creamier” and more structured. Malic acid – lactic acid, so “malolactic”. And no, it does not appear exclusively in red wines, but in a small part of white wines as well, depending on the oenologist’s intentions. Varieties that can give consistent, denser wines, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon blanc can go through this process, the result consisting of a wine defined by less freshness and more complexity.

Why did I tell you about this process today? Because we are happy to announce that our Fetească Neagră has already finished its alcoholic fermentation and passes today to the second stage of its life, to malolactic fermentation. To rounding, as they say. After this, we will divide it between barrels (the one for the Vardo range) and vessels for maturing on fine yeasts (for Fetească Neagră Marama). Yes, you’re right, ripening on fine yeasts also sounds like something out of this world. We shall return with explanations on that, in future articles!

Survival and rebirth of the Tămâioasă Roză

Without going in too deep into the history of the Segarcea vineyards, we must mention that almost 50 years (1950-2000, approximately) had passed since vineyards not only here, but throughout the country – were exploited exclusively for quantity, not for quality, guided by the principle of “record production per hectare”. Thus, between 2002 and 2010, after taking over the remains of the former IAS and returning it to the name of Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea, we were forced to clear the vineyards of hybrids and varieties with high production, in order to replant quality varieties.

That was one of the first miracles that Segarcea presented to us: in a corner of the vineyard, more precisely in the farthest possible corner of the vineyard, we discovered a strange grape, grown on stems that looked very old. Somehow, in all the madness of those years, the taste of the nomenclature for semi-sweet and sweet wines had saved a corner of the original vineyard, planted between 1906 and 1908. We had found about a thousand surviving stumps, spread little over a hectare, of a variety that according to the scriptures, could only be Muscat Frontignan.

The problem with this “Frontignan” was, however, that it was not well defined even at home. Under the same name there were, in fact, three variations, generically called “Muscat au petits grains” – Muscat with small gapes – white, pink and red. To make matters worse, in the first French ampelographies, some had named the variations as above (white, pink, red), others had called them white, red and black. So, pink and red and red and black overlapped, so that no one knew what was sent to other countries for the plantations made after the phylloxera attack… So they were all called “Frontignan”. In order to eliminate the confusions, but also because the grapes and the wine had already acquired a unique expression in Segarcea, the Romanian Academy decided to change their name into Tămâioasă Roză.

The surviving stumps we discovered became a source of sprouts and today we have 12 hectares planted with this variety. It is hard to talk about this wine – it’s the kind of wine that produces lightning passions, but that lasts over time. It is suitable for any age, it is as good for men as it is for women, it is suitable for any season and any time of the day. The aromas of roses (another symbol of Domeniul Coroanei, those who visited us know!), dried petals and white cherries are as delicate as they are complex and elegant.

This year we also recorded a premiere – the harvest of grapes for the semi-sweet wine in a single “pass”. So far, in order to harvest the grapes at optimal time and at a certain degree of ripeness, it was necessary to pass between rows at least two or three times, choosing only those grapes that had reached the desired maturity. This year, ripening took place in a uniform manner, which makes us hope that we will have a memorable edition of Tămâioasă Roză. Keep an eye on the shelves (or on our online store) to find out when the 2020 wine will be launched!

Pinot noir – the problem child, the genius child

Pinot Noir is one of the essential grapes of the wine world. It is the father of varieties such as Chardonnay, Aligote, Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc. Without him, we would not have the bubbles of Champagne today, nor the treasures of Chambertin.

Unfortunately, however, Pinot noir has two problems – it is a difficult grape and it is not (anymore) a fashionable grape, except among connoisseurs. Andrey Viktorovich Chelishchev, one of the pioneers of post-prohibition viticulture in the United States, said that “God made Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Devil made Pinot Noir.” Let’s see why…

First, Pinot noir vines have much less vigor than those of other varieties, including those of direct descendants. Then the grapes are extremely delicate, being susceptible to almost all soil diseases. Worse, the leaves are quite small, which is why managing the amount of sun that reaches the grapes becomes an extremely delicate issue. Last but not least, Pinot noir stums react immediately to almost any kind of yeast found naturally in the cellar, which can radically change the taste of the wine. And these are just some of the problems that make this variety  a difficult one.

As for fashion – the last two decades have marked the invasion of New World wines – juicy, dense, heavy – while Pinot noir produces “thin” or medium-bodied wines with much less color and much less tannins (the compounds that give roughness and weight to the wine). So far from the general taste of the market!

However, Pinot noir is a grape loved by the vineyard people who want high quality wines, wines with a long life expectancy and that evolve remarkably from one aromatic spectrum to another. A young Pinot Noir can express itself in a modern way – with intense aromas of cherries, strawberries and wild berries – in its first years of life. The same wine, however, after 8, 10, 15 years can greet you with notes of mushrooms, dried leaves, white truffles, rose petals, tanned hides…

Pinot Noir is the torment and satisfaction of any winemaker because it is his sensitivity that gives him a fantastic power to express where he comes from and the way he was treated. In no other variety (because they all have, to varying degrees, this capacity) it is not so obvious whether it has been produced more or less, carefully or “in droves”, if the winery is pharmacy-clean or just barely, if the producer has done his homework about his land and plots or just mixed them without any particular reasons. Pinot Noir is a business card containing all the possible details…

And yes, it is not a fashionable variety. It does not make dense jams, but supple and elegant wines. And that’s why we love it. For heavy wines, we have other grapes that store all the hotness of Oltenia. We see the Pinot as the noon sun in a cool breeze. 

Manual vs. mechanic. Controversies and facts

Up until 20 years ago, mechanical harvesting had an unfortunate reputation. From picking all the grapes, without discrimination, to the remnants of leaves and even strings that arrived with the grapes at the destemming stage, a number of possible disadvantages had to be considered upon harvesting grapes with combine harvesters, all these  unwanted “ingredients” affecting the taste of the stum.

mechanical harvesting night 1Today, however, the technology has advanced so much that extremely fine adjustments can be made, so that the harvesting is done practically grape by grape, being selected only the ones that have reached the exact level of maturity desired by the oenologist. A well-made adjustment ensures that the grapes affected by rot or the too green ones with an insufficient sugar content, are not harvested. 

Another drawback of the mechanical harvesting is that stum would form during the gathering of the grains in the dump bin, which would lead (by oxidation or souring) to the damage of the grapes and, implicitly, of the stum in the press. Again, this is according to the technology type used. The two harvesting combines used at Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea collect 5 tons of grapes in half an hour and they subsequently reach the winery in just a few minutes, insufficient time for the stum to oxidize or sour. Instead, when picked manually, even when using crates, harvesting an equal amount would take at least three hours (even longer at night) and any stum (which is inevitable), even if it were a significantly smaller amount, would already be oxidized by the time the grapes reach the cellar.

But the overwhelming advantage of technology is not only the speed, but especially the fact that, once the adjustments are made, harvesting can be done at night, which is a fundamental element for keeping the flavours intact throughout the process, from picking to pressing. Harvested during the day, grapes can lose up to 25% of their aromatic components just because they have spent too much time in crates/dump bins. Moreover, human error in picking at night occurs much more often than in mechanized harvesting – sometimes you only have to distinguish between subtle shades of green or yellow, which is difficult in the light of flashlights or spotlights. Finally, with the widespread loss of labour in agriculture, even if we find enough resources for harvesting in the morning and evening (to avoid the hot hours, in which, as I wrote above, flavours are lost), finding people to work at night is downright impossible.

mechanical harvesting 2Obviously, technology is an answer for absolutely all situations. At Domeniul coroanei Segarcea, I discovered after almost 20 years of continuous work, that the ideal recipe is to use people where they are needed and to complete their work with that of machinery.

For example, in some varieties we have had sour grapes for several years – the second grape of the year, which can be very similar to the first grapes, but never reach the same quality and the same concentration of sugars as normal grapes. The sour grapes are cut off by hand and left on the ground, together with other insufficiently ripen grapes, just a few days before harvest, so that there is no risk of them reaching the stum.

Obviously, for some varieties or for some special wines, the harvest can only be done manually. A simple example consists of the Tămâioasă Roză grapes for the semi-sweet wine, which are harvested when they begin to wither. Given that not all grapes reach the same maturity at exactly the same time, these plots are traversed several times (usually three times) and only the grapes that have reached their withering stage are harvested by hand.

In conclusion, manual harvesting can be, under certain conditions – night, professionalism, large workforce – the desired solution, especially for small areas in which the grapes to be harvested can even be marked during the day. Upon larger areas, however, mechanical picking at night has many more advantages than disadvantages. But only when investing in technology without restraint, without looking for the cheapest option and only using this technology, bearing in mind the concern for quality wines. Otherwise, yes, those who are afraid of branches and leaves reaching the press, they have a right for concern…

The Segarcea Wines – Diamond Shine at Monaco

The Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea wines won four diamond medals at the 14th edition of the annual Femmes et Vins du Monde competition in Monaco (https://www.femmesetvinsdumonde.com), one of the winning wines even earning a place on the podium, with the third note in the ranking.

With a jury made up exclusively of women – experts in oenology, wine criticism, gastronomy or viticulture – Femmes et Vins du Monde has established itself as one of the most important wine competitions in Europe, primarily for the strictness and objectivity of the jury, which follows the structure of the score established by the International Organization of Vine and Wine, being at the same time recognized by the International Union of Oenologists.

This year, the wines that won the admiration of the jurors were:

– Minima Moralia Honour 2018 – Chardonnay blend (barrique and non-barrique), Sauvignon Blanc, Fetească albă and Pinot Gris – 95 points and 3rd place in the competition, Diamond Nova with the mention “Memorable”;

– Princess Margareta 2018 – Viognier blend (barrique and non-barrique, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris – 92 points, Diamond Nova with the mention “Memorable”;

– Minima Moralia Gratitude 2017 – Cabernet Sauvignon – 91 points, Diamond Nova with the mention “Memorable”;

– Fetească Regală Marama 2018 – 88 points, Diamond Nova with the mention “Admirable”.

Apart from the Royal Fetească Marama, which is part of a range launched in June 2019, all the award-winning wines have won similar prizes and scores with other occasions, for wines from other years of harvest, at previous editions of the Femmes et Vins du Monde competition. This year’s results are a confirmation and a new guarantee of the quality level of the Domeniul Coroanei Segarcea collections.

The 24th of June – Celebration Day at ”Domeniul Coroanei” Segarcea

We like to choose our important historical dates according to the significance of the calendar days. We chose the 24th of June, a day when we celebrate the Universal Day of the Romanian Traditional Blouse, ”Ie” to also celebrate the launch day of our latest collection, ”Marama”. The collection dedicated to Queen Maria, the one who consecrated the invaluable habit of wearing the traditional Romanian Shawl, was launched last year, on the 24th of June, at the Royal Palace in a sublime and solemn atmosphere that we remember with emotion. 

Today we add a new meaning to the day of June 24th and we are happy to launch the new and improved version of our site. The new and digital garments of the Domain aim to accompany you throughout your journey in getting to know our story and the wines we bring to life with so much passion and dedication.

Thus, we welcome you to the lands of exceptional wines!

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