What the #@&% is Carbonic Maceration?!

We keep seeing the word “carbonic” everywhere in regards to wine, but what does it mean and how does it affect the wine that we’re drinking? Usually we see Carbonic Maceration associated with light to medium bodied red wines that are a little more fruit forward than your average bottle. These are usually red wines that you would want to get nice and chilly. But how does the style of maceration actually result in these tasty wines? Read on, my friend! 


Carbonic Maceration is an important and widely used winemaking technique that has been around for a looooong time. It is incredibly interesting because the first stage of fermentation happens within the grapes themselves, not because of yeast. The fermentation happens ~intracellularly~. So, the grapes aren’t crushed at first, allowing the juices to hang with the yeast. They’re left to just do their thing in an “oxygen free zone.” A large vat is sealed off, with a lot of carbon dioxide floating around (which is why some of these wines are a little effervescent) and then the whole grape clusters (berries, stems, all of it) are placed into the tank to relax for a little while. Which is important, because they earned it! Once the alcohol within the berries reaches a certain percentage, usually around 2%, the berries pop from their own weight and release the juice. Then, the fermentation goes even further with the help of the yeast that is found on the grape skins. 


Some winemakers choose to have their grapes go through partial Carbonic Maceration, called Semi-Carbonic. This is where the grapes are put into an even bigger tank and are fermented without the help of carbon dioxide. So, the grapes in the bottom of the tank are crushed by the weight of the grapes at the top. They begin to go through fermentation with the help of yeast, while the grapes in the top half of the tank carry on through carbonic fermentation. Winemakers may also do regular fermentation in one tank, carbonic in another and blend the two.


You may have also heard of “Whole Cluster Fermentation” and are wondering if this is the same thing? It is different from Carbonic Maceration, but not entirely. This is where clusters are set aside to ferment ~intracellularly~, are not oxygen deprived and are not given help from CO2. Instead, they make friends with native yeast floating in the area. This gives it a more noticeable regional specific taste profile, or terroir. 


These wines should be consumed young. Take notes from the Beaujolais region of France. This is where modern carbonic fermentation first took place in the 1930’s, a French scientist discovered that CO2 could be used as a wine preservative. Then Beaujolais Nouveau, made from Gamay, went through carbonic and everyone in Beaujolais was like “omg, c’est bon.” The wines were then released a few weeks after fermentation and everyone had a huge party to celebrate (this is all v loosely based on real life events)...

At the end of the day, when the fermentation is all said and done, wine that is slightly acidic, low in tannins, is juicy and fruit forward are ready to be enjoyed by you and your friends. All because of this cool fermentation process. Who knew fermentation could be THIS cool? I mean, maybe Brad Leone did, but he’s a nerd for this stuff. I digress. Enjoy!

By: Kirsten McLaren


Old Westminster Carbonic Red Can

 A tasty Cab Franc with notes of red cherry, red raspberry, pomegranate juice.

Fresh Wine Co. Carbonic Primitivo

100% dry farmed Primitivo, a twin sister of Zinfandel, from Sonoma County. This fruit-forward beauty is a medium bodied sipper just screaming for a pizza and a lazy summer night. And it's a bottle to feel good about.

Gearhead Sticky Old Vine Carignan

105 year old vines of Carignan grapes go through carbonic maceration to make a nice and juicy chillable red with some great character.