Definition - What does Carbonic Maceration mean?
Carbonic maceration is a technique used to ferment red wine grapes without using yeast. It involves fermenting whole grapes in a closed tank that has been pumped full of carbon dioxide. The small amounts of sugars within the grapes are transformed into ethanol, yielding light, fruity reds that are ready for early consumption.
WineFrog explains Carbonic Maceration
Carbonic maceration works by creating an anaerobic fermentation environment. Most often, this consists of pumping carbon dioxide into sealed containers filled with whole grape clusters. Natural sugars in the grapes respond to the carbon dioxide by fermenting into ethanol.
Other fermentation processes are also uniquely affected by carbonic maceration. Since tannins are found primarily in the grape skins, wines that are fermented through carbonic maceration tend to have less tannins than bolder red varietals whose skins are crushed before traditional barrel fermentations. Also, the pigments that give red wines their color are also located in the skin. These pigments, known as Anthocyanins, are not as readily released into the juices during carbonic maceration as they would be if the skins were first crushed into the juice. This produces wines that tend to be a lighter red than their traditional counterparts. Also, wines fermented through carbonic maceration attain proper acidity at an earlier point in the process, making these wines quickly available for drinking. However, they usually do not contain the structure that is suitable for extending aging.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a perfect example of a wine crafted through carbonic maceration. It is light, fruity and ready to drink in as little as six weeks. Other examples of successful carbonic maceration include Tempranillo wines from Spain and Nouveau style Gamay varietals of California and Australia.