What does extended maceration do for a wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Does extended maceration add more actual flavor to wine or is it used mostly for tannin and color?

—Kristi, Salt Lake City

Dear Kristi,

Maceration is the process during the fermentation of red wine when the grape skins and solids are being leached of color, tannins and aromas. Think of all that stuff like a tea bag steeping. Typically, when fermentation is done, the wine is pressed off (or “free run” off) of those solids. But if you wanted to continue to leave your “tea bag” of grape solids in there, that’s called extended maceration.

Most winemakers who employ extended maceration will do so not only to extract additional color, but also for flavor and to improve a wine’s texture. Not every winemaker is a fan of extended maceration; in fact, some winemakers prefer to press the wine even before the fermentation is complete. I’ve had wines where extended maceration made them more complex and delicious. But I’ve also had examples where it leads to wines that were overly tannic, astringent or harsh.

—Dr. Vinny

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