When I began visiting wineries professionally 30 years ago, it was hard to find satisfactory sanitation or modern, temperature-controlled fermenters. Today, virtually every serious estate in the world has some kind of temperature control in place, and sanitary conditions are far more meticulous. These two developments alone have resulted in significantly better wines with fewer defects, sweeter fruit, riper tannins and generally lower acidity. Most serious estates also now employ a “sorting table” that may be manned by as many as 50 to 60 people performing “triage” on harvested grapes, i.e., sorting out leaves and rotten, unripe or blemished fruit. (It isn’t surprising that the producers with the most severe triage often produce the best wines.)
There have been major changes in winemaking, too, including cold soaks of the grapes pre-fermentation (to intensify the aromatic character of the wines) and cooler, gentler macerations than those of the past. Of course, there has been an increase in technical winemaking, too, as some producers resort to reverse-osmosis machines to remove alcohol or water and vacuum systems to remove the water from the wine and concentrate the grape must. Such practices must be approached with caution, but practiced carefully, they can improve the wine.
Other changes advocated by Émile Peynaud and his protégé Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon—progenitors of the so-called soft approach to winemaking—called for aging in the bottle, not the barrel, resulting in wines that are less tired, with brighter flavors and more vibrant fruit. Less-frequent racking (brutally moving wines from one barrel to the next) has also been a focus, as producers have been concerned about accelerating a wine’s development. And finally, producers have moved away from industrial-style fining and filtration, resulting in wines with more intense flavors, textures, aromatics and character.
Robert Parker: 30 Years of Wine Trends
- The Rise of the Winemaking Consultant
- The World’s Most Influential Wine Consultants
- The Rise of the Wine Critic
- The Culinary Revolution
- The Explosion of Diversity in Wine
- Exciting New Wine Regions
- The New Philosophy of Winemaking
- The Creation of Healthier Vineyards
- Wine Is Now Number One
- Huge Increases in Popularity and High Prices