Niki Antadze of Manavi, showing off his version of infusion.
I continued to encounter the phrase, “I make wine more by infusion than extraction.” But what does it actually mean?
Tomoko Kuriyama of the Savigny-based Chanterêves--a new crush of mine--and coming to the TFLWS in a month or two-- works in this way with her husband Guillaume Bott.
Her wines are both expressive and ethereal. Exactly the essence of infusion, so I asked her for her definition of the practice. In a message, she wrote, “That means whole cluster where there is practically no physical method of extraction, so the berries ideally should stay intact up to the end of fermentation. I remember François Millet of Vogüé telling me that he practices pigeage for Bonne Mares because its terroir calls for interaction with the vinificateur, whereas their Musigny is wholly an infusion.”
The Feiring Line Newsletter resident consulting winemaker Éric Texier wondered if he might have been the first to use the term to describe “the opposite of extraction.” Extraction for him is the process of trying to glean as much color and flavor from a grape as it can feasibly give. Instead of routinely punching the grape skins down during fermentation to get as much texture and color out of them, infusion is more passive. He does the Beaujolais trick of submerging the cap during the early days of fermentation to keep it safe from insects and the elements. That way the crushed grapes are just held under the juice.
Texier likens the technique to making tea—or to the trend toward lighter roasted coffees, which combine an intensity of citrus and floral flavors without the bombast and girth of a darker roast. “Over-extracted tea,” he says, “leads to a lack of definition and finesse.” Similarly, according to Texier, “Great grapes don’t need extraction in order to give the best they have to give,” he says. “Rayas [the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer] is a perfect example: it’s a wine of insane complexity and deepness without volume.”
Basically it’s a shift in concept, from the bigger-the- better super-extraction methods of the past 20–30 years to a relaxation into finesse, on more terroirs than just Bonne Mares. It has come down to code: I stay away from extraction and handle the grapes truly as little
as is possible. And taste? Lighter for sure, ephemeral, sometimes, but not with out plenty of charm.
Some wines to taste that are infusions: Pierre Fenals, Domaine Chamonard in the Beaujolais. The region of the Jura probably does this most consistently. The most extreme example might be the almost evanescent Domaine de Mirroirs.
So the next time someone turns their nose up at the wine you give them and they say, “This is thin.” And you know it’s excellent, just say, “It’s just the result of an infusion philosophy of winemaking. Everything is there, but it washes over you like a breeze instead of a heat blast.”