What is a “Cold Soak?”

Cold comes in many varieties: the cold shoulder, a cold shower, even cold turkey. As a wine lover, have you ever wondered about a special kind of cold: the cold soak?

Wine making terms tend to be opaque, like “on the lees” but “cold soak” actually makes sense. There is soaking going on, and it is cold at the time, so the term is pretty on the nose.

maceration in progress
Maceration in progress

To be totally, technically accurate, a cold soak is “pre-fermentation cold maceration.” Let’s dissect that a bit. Pre-fermentation means that the cold soak takes place before yeast has started to convert sugar into alcohol. Cold maceration refers to having freshly-harvested grapes and grape juice sit together at a reduced temperature prior to pressing. Why is this a thing?

Allowing grape juice and grape skins to mingle transfers flavor from the skins to the juice. Keeping the mixture cold (usually between 40 and 60 degrees) prevents the start of fermentation. A longer maceration can deliver deeper color and richer flavor. Without alcohol in the juice, tannins are not transfered from the skins to the juice. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Dry ice
Dry ice makes it all possible!

Cold soaking transformed the production of Pinot Noir. Before the advent of the cold soak, Pinot Noir wine was pale, bitter and acidic. When the cost of food-grade dry ice made cold soaking practical, the varietal was able to display its color, flavor and nuance as never before. With the increased acceptance of Pinot Noir, the cold soak approach spread to other white and red wines, any time a softer flavor and more rounded mouth feel is desired.

The next time you are enjoying the subtle, layered flavors in your favorite Pinot Noir, consider the contribution that inexpensive dry ice has made. It might just become your favorite kind of cold!

 

 


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