Hang time. Michael Jordan had great hang time. His hang time often lead to winning games. What does this have to do with wine? When grapes are given a long hang time, they, too, often lead to winning. Winning wines, that is. But how long a grape cluster gets to hang on the vine depends on certain variables, most importantly, the weather, the grape variety, and the style of wine being produced.
In an ideal situation, grapes would get lots of hang time because the growing season was perfect. How long is ideal depends on which varieties are planted and where they are growing, so there is no perfect answer to define perfect hang time. A Riesling vineyard in California will have a longer hang time than a Riesling vineyard in Germany, where the growing season is shorter and the average day time temperatures cooler. Even in the same state, Pinot Noir from a cooler growing region along the North Coast will be a different wine than a Pinot Noir from the Central Valley.
Why is hang time important? It allows not only for perfect ripeness, but a longer hang time will also give the fruit a chance to perfect it’s tannin levels and adjust it’s acidity. In most white wines, a certain amount of acidity is desirable, so those grapes would be given a shorter hang time. Sparkling wines will also want a certain amount of acidity in the grapes.
A late-harvest wine is just what the name implies – wine from grapes that are harvested late in the season – and those grapes will be allowed the longest possible time on the vine. Both white and red wines can be done in a late-harvest style, displaying sweet, sometimes syrupy, port-like qualities, but lacking the fortification step of a port. These grapes are given the greatest amount of time allowed on the vine, and can usually only be granted this extra time in the most exceptional of long, hot growing seasons.
Every variety of grape has it’s own “ideal” length of time it needs to hang on the vine to be perfect. Whether or not Mother Nature (and so much of it really does depend on her!) decides to play nice is the key to an exceptional vineyard crop. Even Icewine depends on the perfect conditions for extended hang time, for a true Icewine can only be made when the grapes ripen perfectly and the frost comes at the “perfect” time. We’ll talk about that in the next Wine A to Z article.