How Wine is Made

Wine is essentially liquid, fermented fruit. After grapes are gathered from a vineyard's grapevines and crushed, yeasts (tiny one-celled organisms that exist naturally in vineyards) come into contact with the sugar in the grapes’ juice and gradually convert that sugar into alcohol. Yeasts also produce carbon dioxide, which evaporates into the air.

The basic recipe for turning fruit into wine goes something like this:

  1. Pick a large quantity of ripe grapes from grapevines.

    You could substitute raspberries or any other fruit, but 99.9 percent of all the wine in the world is made from grapes, because they make the best wines.

  2. Put the grapes into a clean container that doesn’t leak.

  3. Crush the grapes to release their juice.

    Once upon a time, feet performed this step. Nowadays, machines handle this task.

  4. Wait.

The process of fermentation

When the yeasts are done working, your grape juice is wine. The sugar that was in the juice is no longer there — alcohol is present instead. (The riper and sweeter the grapes, the more alcohol the wine will have.) This process is called fermentation.

Those who make wine can control the type of container they use for the fermentation process (stainless steel and oak are the two main materials), as well as the size of the container and the temperature of the juice during fermentation — and every one of these choices can make a big difference in the taste of the wine. After fermentation, they can choose how long to let the wine mature and in what kind of container. Fermentation can last three days or three months, and the wine can then mature for a couple of weeks or a couple of years or anything in between.

The local flavor of wine

One of the biggest factors in making one wine different from the next is the nature of the raw material, the grape juice. Besides the fact that riper, sweeter grapes make a more alcoholic wine, different varieties of grapes (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Merlot, for example) make different wines.

Where grapes grow — the soil and climate of each wine region, as well as the traditions and goals of the people who grow the grapes and make the wine — affects the nature of the ripe grapes, and the taste of the wine made from those grapes. That’s why so much of the information there is to learn about wine revolves around the countries and the regions where wine is made.

Knowing a lot of information about wine isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying wine. But familiarity with certain aspects of wine can make choosing wines a lot easier, enhance your enjoyment of wine, and increase your comfort level.

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