The idea of selecting grapes for quality isn’t a new one. It can be done in the vineyard (choosing which grapes to pick, or going through before harvest and getting rid of the bad ones), or in the winery, or both. It’s just that now there seems to be a lot of what I term ‘hyperselection’ going on. Does this lead to better quality wines, or is it a waste of effort?
I recently wrote up a dinner with the Credit Agricole Grand Crus Bordeaux properties. They have purchased an infrared grape sorter, which is used at the two top estates (Grand Puy Ducasse and Meyney). This can sort perfectly ripe grapes from less ripe ones, even though the two are visually indistinguishable. This tool will be very useful in a vintage like 2013, where there is a high degree of variation in ripeness.
There’s also the mistral machine, which I saw in action in the Douro. Berries are destemmed and then pass over a jet of air, strong enough to blow away debris and raisined berries, but not strong enough to blow healthy, appropriately ripe berries away. This is a great idea, because raisins just add sugar and nothing else, and so eliminating them could be a way to bring the alcohol level down a little.
And this week I went to a Remirez de Ganuza lunch. This top Rioja estate does something quite unusal. Each bunch is split in two on the selection line. The shoulders go to the top wine, while the bottom of the bunch goes to the next level down, because the ripeness in this part of the bunch is a little less consistent. It’s a lot of work, but they have done the trials and think that it’s worth it.
For red wines, it’s clear that you don’t want over-ripe, ripe and unripe grapes in same vat. That doesn’t produce complex wine; it produces bad wine. Sweetness and greenness don’t work well together. And you don’t want rotten grapes in the same vat. But if you iron out any inconsistency at all, removing even the slightest greenness, is this going to produce a great wine? How much selection is too much, or is it a case of as much as possible?