Whole bunch reds?
By Campbell Mattinson
29 October, 2015
Whole bunches. Rarely has such a simple concept inspired such passion, and such loathing. When you pick a bunch of grapes and place them in a tub to ferment them into wine, you have a simple choice. Take the grapes off the stalks that held them on the vine, and ferment just the grapes themselves. Or ferment the grapes as bunches, still attached to their stalks.
That’s it. But one day – and I hope I’m wrong – a war is going to break out over this.
And it will because this decision changes the flavour, fragrance and mouthfeel of any given wine. And when you do that, it stops being just wine, and enters the world of philosophy.
Or so you might think. Ten years ago I heard a winemaker argue, passionately, that fermenting grapes as whole bunches, rather than as simple grapes, was “ego-driven and interventionist, and wine is best when ego is parked at the door, and shows minimal intervention.”
Which is a ridiculous thing to say, but it just goes to show how hot under the collar people get over this.
The truth is that “whole bunches” in wine is not the norm, and therefore sounds trendy and new. It’s actually though the opposite. Once upon a time pretty much all (red) wine would have been made using whole bunches of grapes, and it’s clearly the most ‘natural’ way. If a bunch of grapes drops to the ground and ferments without any human intervention, then – just before it spoils – it’d be a whole bunch number. More or less.
The good news for all of us rational, normal, wise, considered, switched-on folk is that we don’t need to ‘buy in’ to the whole bunch/no whole bunch argument. It’s not either/or. A lot of (red) wines now will include a small amount of whole bunches in their ferment. It might be 10% of the ferment, it might be 20%, it might be 70%, or it mightn’t even be a round number at all. Inclusion of whole bunches tends to add herbal, spicy, leafy, meaty fragrance and flavour. They add lift. They string out the tannin. In short, whole bunches help make simple wines seem more complex.
Which is why, typically, whole bunches work so well with the cuddly fruitiness of shiraz, and with the tangy brightness of pinot noir, but not so well with, say, cabernet sauvignon – which already has a herbal element, and rarely needs it reinforced.
The take home message is though: when you see ‘whole bunches’ mentioned, there’s a good chance the wine will taste of more than just fruit/oak. Its savouriness will have been heightened. Which might just be a good indicator of whether or not it’s your kettle of fish.
“Whole Bunch” reds worth trying
Fikkers Two Bricks Pinot Meunier 2015 ($26)
Yangarra Estate Shiraz 2013 ($28)
Moorooduc Garden Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 ($55)
Orange Mountain 1397 Shiraz Viognier 2012 ($42)
Amato Vino Nero d’Avola 2014 ($25)
Three Dark Horses Shiraz 2014 ($24)
Airlie Bank Franc 2015 ($22)
Simao & Co Old Vine Shiraz 2014 ($29)
Mayer Syrah 2014 ($55)
Out of Step Syme on Yarra Shiraz 2014 ($30)