The Deeper Side of Pink

The Deeper Side of Pink

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The Deeper Side of Pink

Juicy co-ferments, wines made from red and white grapes fermented together, deliver intensely satisfying and wholly craveable flavors—as well as the full potential of a place.


Over the last decade, compellingly downable wines in hues from the pink-but-not-too-pink, red-but-not-too-red section of the Pantone color bridge have found undeniable popularity. First, there were pale Yes Way Rosés, then chilled light reds, and more recently, an in-between category of dark rosés. And while examples of these styles will endure in the hearts of many, “co-ferments,” a slightly nerdier category of wines made from more than one grape variety fermented together, are having their moment in the sun, offering a whole new take on what these gem-toned bottles can tell us.

Truth be told, there’s nothing new about this manner of winemaking. Producers have been loading more than one variety of grape into fermentation vats since winemaking began. Some of this was circumstantial. In many regions of the world varieties were, for a long time, planted intermixed in vineyards, harvested all together—regardless of ripeness—and turned into what’s called a field blend wine. This is still widely practiced (although, with a bit more intention when it comes picking ripe grapes) in areas like France’s Alsace, Portugal’s Dão, and parts of Austria. And other times, fermenting different grape varieties together was a deliberate move to develop certain flavor or texture qualities in a wine from the outset, rather than blending separate batches later. In the Côte Rôtie appellation of northern Rhône, for example, producers have long added a percentage of white Viognier to the region’s intense, brooding Syrah, giving the wines more acidity and levity. For centuries, winemakers in Italy’s Chianti region have blended Sangiovese with red Colorino and Canaiolo to boost the grape’s ordinarily pale color and chill out harsh tannins. Looking even further back, white varieties Trebbiano and Malvasia were pulled in for even more balance.

Photos: Subject To Change Wine Co.

"A really cool way to capture a vineyard is to put it all in." -Alex Pomerantz

Today, this practice is finding adopters from California to the Czech Republic. And a certain faction of these co-ferments made from both red and white grapes—bringing bouncy berried juiciness that’s matched by a tangy mouthwatering quality—have found a real following. “A lot of these wines taste like a fruit salad, which is what we’re trying to achieve … because fruit salad is delicious,” says Alex Pomerantz, winemaker at California’s Subject To Change Wine Co.

Pomerantz buys grapes from growers in several regions, seeking out curious, characterful plots farmed in responsible ways. One such vineyard is Open Hand Ranch in Mendocino, the source for his FKA!, a co-ferment of red Pinotage and white Chardonnay, with Merlot blended in. “It’s weird how much we think wine has to be variety-driven,” Pomerantz says. “We make single-vineyard wines, so if we come across a vineyard we love and it has three or six [varieties], a really cool way to capture a vineyard is to put it all in. Our wines are vineyard-driven.”

This is a philosophy that resonates with Milan Nestarec, a winemaker in the Czech Republic’s Moravia region who was surprised to hear that co-ferments are trending. After all, winemakers in his area had a legacy of co-fermenting grapes until around 80 years ago when it fell out of fashion. And now, Nestarec is one of a few winemakers bringing it back. “We want to highlight a place, terroir, or genius loci,” he explains. “If I’m fermenting multiple varieties together, I’ll suppress the variety and emphasize the location.” He uses varying co-fermentation methods, as certain varieties are ripe before others. But he's so faithful to the practice, that he never includes variety names on his bottlings, for him, it isn’t about that.

“We want to highlight a place … If I’m fermenting multiple varieties together, I’ll suppress the variety and emphasize the location.”-Milan Nestarec

In France’s southern Languedoc region, where Anne Paillet-Leclerc makes her Autour de l’Anne wines, it’s still the norm. “When I first came to Languedoc and decided to ferment separately, the neighbors thought I was weird. They said, that’s very Loire—the Languedoc is mostly co-ferments,” she recalls. While she makes single-variety wines from Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan, she also produces red or white co-ferments from them. “I like how they respond to each other when they co-ferment,” she admits, adding that “If you assemble them at the end, you have to wait a long time until they get to know each other. When they co-ferment it’s more of a real blend.”

But it wasn’t until a friend came to her with an idea for a new wine name, “Lethal Weapanne,” that she decided to heap all of her grape varieties—red and white—into one tank. “It was complicated because it’s seven varieties,” she remembers. “I wanted to make a wine that is like a film with a lot of action and a lot of characters, all with different roles. [Here,] the star is Merlot, like Mel Gibson because the cuvée is 40 to 45% Merlot. The second big one, Danny Glover, is Syrah and then you have all the other characters—Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Colombard, and Vermentino; they all bring a little hint into the thing.”

“I like how grapes respond to each other when they co-ferment … If you assemble them at the end, you have to wait a long time until they get to know each other. When they co-ferment it’s more of a real blend.” -Anne Paillet-Leclerc

For his Sleepless Nights bottling, Pomerantz purchases fruit—a nine-variety field blend—from SunHawk Farms, also in Mendocino. He’ll harvest this vineyard twice, getting whatever’s ripe on the first pass, then return again later for the rest. And while his mission is to show off the property’s eight acres in their entirety, there’s also a bit of pragmatism when it comes to fermenting all together to avoid, for example, making just half a barrel of Roussanne. “For us there’s a practicality to the whole thing and with that there’s this old school mentality of back in the day people didn’t even know what varieties they had, they were just shoving sticks in the ground.” And it just so happened that these sticks produced fruit that co-exists wonderfully together.

Any decision a producer makes will alter the path of a wine, be it pressing red grapes off their juice after a couple hours to make a pale blush rosé or leaving them on a bit longer to make something Barbie convertible pink. Some winemakers choose to co-ferment grapes so that mixed varietals from one area can serve as a support structure for one another. A study in the early 2000s by Roger Boulton at the University of California, Davis revealed that certain white grapes will bolster the pigmentation of paler red varieties, which means that in some cases the color of a co-fermentation is made that much stronger because of this combination.

“I used to mix varietal wines in different proportions, depending on how I liked it and how I thought the resulting wine should look,” admits Nestarec. “In today's eyes, I see it as bullshit. Nature is always smarter.”

Photo: Anne Paillet-Leclerc

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