Monday, August 9, 2010

Concentration vs. Extraction

Concentration and extraction are two terms that are bandied about a bit with wine. They are often related, but are not necessarily correlated. To be honest, this isn't something I've fully appreciated until recently.

Concentration is largely in my mind the intensity of flavor. White wines, which by definition tend to be lightly extracted as there is little to no pigment, tannin or flavor extracted from the skin, can still be incredibly concentrated. I've noticed this most consistently with Loire Chenin Blancs, though this is by no means exclusive. They aren't big or alcoholic--they just have a lot of flavor. And it's actually not that hard to find very ripe, alcoholic wines that lack concentration even though they have good body. Concentration is always good, at least in my book, and is a byproduct of nature.

Extraction is the amount of material taken from the grape skins as well as the seeds and stems. This is a little bit trickier as it seems to rely on taste and experience of the winemaker. Depending on variety, vintage and vineyard, fruit will lend itself to less or more extraction. There are all sorts of tools at a winemaker's fingertips to manage extraction: pre fermentation cold soaks, post fermentation macerations, enzymes, punch downs, pump overs, rotary fermenters and other techniques with which I am unfamiliar. While I doubt this is an exact science, the winemaker is the biggest factor in terms of extraction.

A highly concentrated wine would be "bold" in my book. I have a hard time thinking of a wine as overly concentrated. But over-extraction is another story. Dry extract can add body and a mouth-coating quality to a wine. But if it brings harsh, bitter, vegetal or medicinal flavors with it, that is a negative. Extraction is not intrinsically good or bad; it's about context. A very ripe wine high in alcohol and soft tannin can and probably should carry a lot of extract, though at a certain point the tannin likely still will overpower everything else. A less ripe wine probably should be less extracted to avoid excessive green flavors and hard tannins. Generally I favor less extraction as heavy extraction seems to create a sameness of texture and flavor in many wines even if it does not result in unpleasant flavors.

Enough bloviation, though. Concentration is good. Extraction, well, it depends. Nature gives you the former, nurture the latter. A good parent knows when to be hard on a kid or to back off a bit.


Matt Mauldin said...

To further your point, I tend to think of concentration in wine as flavors that penetrate or even transcend the palate. Good description of the variables of extraction.

Anonymous said...

When first learning about wine and studying with Karen MacNeil, she would offer great Riesling as an example of flavor concentration with austerity of body (and presumably, without "extraction.")

My latest confusion centers around "density" versus "concentration."