April 11th, 2006

What’s the skinny on stirring?

We just completed a quick tasting of a stirring trial. One lot received our typical post-malolactic stirring of once a week for 6 weeks, while one lot received an additional 6 weeks of stirring. Both of us were able to pick out the extra stirring because the oak was more pronounced (or should I say the fruit character was diminished?) and the wine richer. The ‘regular’ stirring allowed for a better expression of our fruit characters and appeared to contain a firmer, tart structure and yet did not lack in viscosity or richness. We both preferred the ‘regular’ treatment (though I should note that both are excellent wines).

Why do we stir? The party line is that stirring increases the richness of the mouth feel by improving the infiltration of the products of yeast autolysis into your wine. Zoecklein notes that “stirring generates an oxidative process which increases the acetaldehyde content and which may increase the acetic acid concentration. Stirring also changes the sensory balance between fruit, yeast and wood by enhancing the yeast component, reducing the fruit, and, to a lesser degree, the wood component.”

As a matter or style, how much do we need here in California? Typically our Chardonnay is going to average about 1-2% more alcohol than our French counterparts from whom we are borrowing the practice. Riper flavors in combination with higher alcohols and partial to full malolactic fermentation are all going to enhance the perception of ‘richness’, no? So is there a risk of over stirring? Well, there might be if it really enhances the perception of oak beyond what one finds acceptable. I am not sure there can be too much stirring (unless you begin to oxidize your wine), but I wonder when the law of diminishing returns kicks in? For those who believe terroir has little to do with man’s intervention, why is it that many of the best ‘terroir driven’ Chardonnay’s in the world have loads of new oak, 100% malolacatic fermentation, and uber stirring? Where’s the fruit? As it stands I like our regime of stirring once a week for 6 weeks post-malolactic fermentation; it adds an extra dimension to our wines without compromising our flavors or distinct minerality.

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