It all began with trial and error. Every country that produces wines has developed its own techniques and traditions; every wine maker since then has had the benefit of this collective knowledge to assist him in creating a drinkable and enjoyable wine.

Grapes

Everyone knows there is both white wine and red wine (rose is a form of red, in my opinion). We all have heard of most of the common wines: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.  These wines are named after the varietal of grape from which they’re made. For a more complete and overwhelming  list of vitis vinifera, here’s the entry on wikipedia

White GrapesRed Grapes
  • Chardonnay
  • Reisling
  • Sauvingon Blanc
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Pinot Noir

These are just a few as an example. The variety of grapes produced in any region is dependent upon the growing conditions we explored in the first part of this series. You’d not want to snack on wine-making grapes.  Traditional ‘table grapes’ are far to high in naturally-occurring sugar to make wine.

How Wine is Made

A wine maker faces many decisions between the grape and the  glass. Every harvest brings a new crop of grapes and new challenges. No two vintages are ever exactly alike; the art of winemaking is very much a ‘right choice at the right time’ deal.

Harvesting

The eventual quality of the finished wine is all represented in the grapes when they have reached their perfect ripeness. This level of ripeness is measured in a scaled called Brix. This brix measurement is unique to each varietal and even unique to the specific region, so its hard to explicitly say what exact brix is the Chardonnay grape supposed to be.

Crushing & Pressing

To this day, harvesting is done by hand; with workers carefully snipping the bunches of fruit from the vines.  The stems are usually removed as the grapes are crushed in a machine. The stems contain a bitter quality that isn’t exactly desired at this point of the process. Now we have a product that is called ‘must‘.  For both green/white grapes and purple/red grapes, the must is white; in order to make the red wine from this white must, the colored skins are kept in the mixture as it heads to fermentation. White wine must heads straight to the press.  Modern technology is much more efficient at completely (and GENTLY!!)  ‘wringing out’ all the available juice from the must.

Fermenting

White Wine

Once the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and pressed, the juice for white wine goes for fermentation. This is a biochemical process that transforms the sugars in the juice into almost equal parts of alcohol by the action of yeast. The yeast cells gobble up the sugar until there is no more- at which point they starve and die; halting fermentation. Fermentation can also be stopped before this point if the wine maker wishes to retain some level of sugar. Some strains of yeast cannot handle too much alcohol, so when the level reaches a certain point, they either go dormant or simply die.  A rich, full flavored white wine is slowly and coolly fermented at around 14°C for 7-10 days

Red Wine

Once the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, the must for a red wine goes for its first fermentation.  In order to make this red wine red, the color from the skins is leeched into the wine at this stage.  The winemaker must be vigilant as the skins, stems and pips(seeds) all contain bitter qualities that impart themselves into the wine. The yeast is added and allowed to do its thing at around 25°C for around 7-15 days.  The must is mixed from time to time to ensure as much color as possible is extracted from the skins as the varietal and winemaker decides.  Once fermentation stops, the red wine is pressed.

Rose or Blush wine, like red wine, has the must ferment on the skins for a shorter period of time. This imparts a pinkish hue to the finished product and allows the wine to retain a level of sweetness complimentary  to its varietal.

Clarification

After fermentation and pressing, the wine is still rather unstable and may contain all sorts stuff: bits of stalks, the occasional seed, and husks of yeasts (lees). Most of this flotsam will settle of its own accord. The wine can then be racked or drawn from one container to another, leaving this settled-out schmutz behind.  Some particulate in wines is neutrally buoyant and will follow along as the wine gets racked. The winemaker may choose to employ organic products like isinglass to remove any small particulate (fining). (The isinglass bonds to the tiny particulate and forms a semi-solid mass that can be scooped out.) Filtering is also an option- but the winemaker has to remember that anything he does to the unfinished wine can and may strip it of valuable flavors.

Ageing

The winemaker must decide how long he intends to hold the wine at the winery and in what sort of vessel before it is bottled.  This is the ageing process. Depending on its type and quality, a wine can remain in a stainless steel tank or in an oak barrel for just a couple of weeks to many years(!). For stainless steel, the wine will mellow in tannin for reds or deepen in complexity for white. Some whites are inappropriate for oak, such as Sauv. Blanc or Riesling. On the other hand, whites like Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer become full-bodied and luscious when aged in light to medium oak. Red wine and oak barrel ageing are pretty much synonymous except for maybe Beaujolais or Gamay. Some of the flavors a wine can develop in various oak barrels are shown below:

Lightly ToastedMedium ToastedDark Toasted
  • Coconut
  • Ginger
  • Baked Apple
  • Vanilla
  • Cedar
  • Molasses
  • Butterscotch
  • Honey
  • Chocolate
  • Smoke

Bottling

The last step in the process before it finds its way to your glass is bottling.  This may seem like a simple stage, but it can be rather complex and involve quite a few steps. Not only does the bottle give conveyance from the winery to you, it protects the finished wine from excess sunlight/UV rays, and protects it from oxygen and bacteria. White wines of a light to medium body are able to go into clear glass bottles. They’re stable and not easily affected by ultraviolet. Some winemakers argue that  light and delicate wines should be kept in opaque black bottles for the very same reason. Most white wines we find at the liquor store are in bottles of various shades of green. The wine is shaded from the ultraviolet and this type of glass recycles easily. Inexpensive red wines often come in clear bottles, sturdy reds are in green and full-bodied mature reds are in bottles that are almost black. Not that a sturdy red is volatile, its just the desire of the winemaker to bring to your lips the truest of the finished red as it left the winery.

Cork

The humble cork. Images of celebration and family and the cherished memories of those special times can be summed up in one instant. The popping of a cork. Indeed I laugh as i recall the difficulty my father had with his simple T-shaped corkscrew, grunting and straining and the various positions he held the bottle so the table wouldn’t be drenched when the cork finally released. Aha! So now we come to one of the more contentious issues in this whole process. Purists maintain that the only true stopper for a wine bottle is the bark of the Quercus suber tree. I could write an entire essay on this small detail and still not cover all aspects.  I will leave the study of the cork up to you by offering a few resources here and here.

And finally…

The Glass

Once you’ve chosen your particular wine, its presentation to your nostrils and lips is impacted greatly by the type of glass in which it is served. The ideal wine glass should clear and smooth- no color, no frosting, no etching etc; be narrower at its rim than its bowl to keep the valuable esters within rather than escaping; a decent stem by which to hold the glass – we can’t have the heat from one’s hands affecting the wine; and have a foot large enough in diameter to prevent the glass from accidentally tipping over. A wine glass shouldn’t be overly thick either.  Its difficult to get a sip of vino with your mouth already half full of a thick crystal goblet.

The Selection and Storage of Wine

The next part of this ongoing treatise will outline the choosing and cellaring of your selected vinos. I’ll also be covering wine styles, wine serving and some basic food/wine paring techniques.

I really enjoy sharing my wine knowledge.  If you have any questions at all, drop me a note

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***a formal bibliography will be published when all parts of this essay are complete and posted.  If you’d like references clarified for any statement presented in this dissertation, email thevinoboy@thevinoboy.com

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~tvb

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***a formal bibliography will be published when all parts of this essay are complete and posted.  If you’d like references clarified for any statement presented in this dissertation, email thevinoboy@thevinoboy.com

—–

~tvb