Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I like to drink Pinot Noir. The wine consultant at the local shop refers to a lower-price Pinot Noir with a good rating as an entry level and a higher-price Pinot Noir as a premium wine. He even mentions that the entry level may be a “first pressing.” I don’t think that it’s logical to have a first pressing and a second pressing. I’m a new wine drinker, and I’m not sure if it’s true. What do you think?
—Duc T., Northridge, Calif.
First off, welcome to the Pinot Noir fan club. You’ll find us a passionate lot of wine lovers. As far as hearing a lower-price Pinot Noir described as an “entry” wine, I cringe because when I first fell in love with Pinot Noir, it was with some of the greatest Burgundies and examples from Oregon, California and elsewhere. There are some terrific Pinot Noirs at every price range, but please don’t think that just because you’re new to the club that you wouldn’t appreciate or enjoy the premium examples.
Now, about the pressings. Your instincts are right on. After red wine is done fermenting, the solids need to be separated from the juice. In general, the “free run” wine is considered the best, highest-quality juice. “Free run” is what it sounds like—if you simply drained the juice off, or lifted out the solids like a tea bag, that’s the free-run stuff.
Some winemakers stop right there, but others might press the grapes as well. Pressing will bring more tannins, and possibly more flavor. Too much pressing and a wine can start to take on harsh or oxidized notes. I’ve never heard of counting the pressings, as in “first” or “second” pressings—one of my favorite winemakers called the pressing process a “continuum.”
Winemakers could choose to bottle just the free-run juice, or bottle a mix of the free run and press, and I suppose just bottle the press juice if they want. Some winemakers might keep the free run and press juice together, and others might keep the lots or barrels separate until they blend them together later. Anything is possible—even a winemaker who bottles the press separate from the free run, but I doubt that happens very often.