Wine Basics - Everything You Need to Know About Wine

Learn about all types of wines. Whether you are a new wine drinker or a wine connoisseur, here is a round-up of info about wine.

Red Wine

Red winemaking kitsRed wine is made from a large variety of red grapes. There are hundreds of different kinds of red grapes used for winemaking, some are indigenous to the place where they grow, while others have been cultivated specifically for the environment in which they will be. While the actual juice from red grapes is light in color, the tannins and color come from the skin and stem of the grape. This adds complexity and character to the wine, making it more abrasive than white wine. Tannins soften with age and paired with high acidity, usually make a wine a good candidate for aging.

Red wine has been growing and being made for thousands of years. Most places are now making wine mechanically and in higher amounts. After grapes are harvested and sorted, they are then destemmed and crushed where it is common to see sulfur dioxide added to the wine to delay oxidation. From here, the must (or juice) can be chilled or sent straight to the fermentation process. While wild yeast is present in the grapes already and will eventually start the fermentation process, modern wineries now have specially cultivated yeast that helps to control fermentation and the byproducts that are produced during this process. There are now hundreds of yeasts winemakers can choose from commercially. The type of yeast used is important because of the byproducts it gives off. Flavors, acidity, and structure can be affected by this.

After the juice is done fermenting, the skins and stems are then pressed from the juice. The wine now goes through a process called malolactic fermentation, which is universally done when making red wines. Malic acid, a tart and harsh acid, is converted to lactic acid, giving the wine a softer feel and taste. From here, fermentation is complete, and the dead yeast are separated from the wine. The wine then goes into oak barrels or stainless-steel vats with oak chips or staves. The wine is now aged for anywhere between a few days (rare) up to two years. After aging the wine, it is now ready to filter and bottle, where it can be aged longer or ready for consumption. It is recommended that you store red wines in a dark and slightly cool place, out of direct sunlight, and never chilled before drinking.

White Wine

White wines color, taste, aromas, age ability, winemaking process, and structure vary greatly from red wine. White wine ranges from almost clear in color to a deep honey color. This has to do with the thickness of the grape skin, the amount of time it took to press the grapes, the varietal of grape, and the age of the wine. Besides wines that are aged in oak like some Chardonnays and Roussannes, which accumulate small amounts of tannin from the barrels, white wine is not tannic. Typically, they are higher in acidity and lower in alcohol comparatively.

White wines are known for being fruit forward, acidic, and enjoyed soon after bottling. The process of making white wines is quicker and more straight forward than other styles. After harvesting and sorting, the grapes are sometimes chilled before being pressed. Once pressed and separated from the skins, the juice goes straight into a stainless-steel vat where the juice is settled. Once the sediment and particles have settled to the bottom, the clear juice can be pumped into stainless steel tanks to go through fermentation. The winemaker may choose to oak certain whites, which can include Chardonnay, Roussanne, or a Sauvignon Blanc to make Fumé Blanc. In this case, the wine is then sent to oak barrels to go through the malolactic fermentation process. Next, the wine is bottled and typically it is recommended to consume most whites within a year or two of bottling. It is not recommended to age most white wines because they do not have the right structure to do so. It is recommended that you store and serve white wines at a cooler temperature.

Rose Wine

Rosé wine is essentially red wine that has been made in the process of white wine. After harvest, the grapes are destemmed, pressed, and sometimes chilled. Once pressed, the juice will continue to be with the skins for a period, typically from a few hours up to a day. This will determine the color of your rosé, along with the thickness of the skin of that grape. Rosés can range from a very light salmon color, to bright pink, to a very light red.

The juice is then separated from the skins and placed in stainless steel tanks to complete fermentation and stabilization before bottling. It is recommended that rosés be drank within a year or two of bottling because they do not have the tannic structure to age well. Rosés are known for their high acidity and unique combination of flavors such as strawberry, melons, rhubarb, citrus, and flowers.

Rosés are made all over the world and can essentially be made from any red grape. Popular varietals include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is recommended that you store and serve rosés at a cooler temperature, keeping them out of direct sunlight, and essentially treating them like you would a white wine.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is a complex wine that is technical to make. There are a few different ways to make it based on tradition and technology. The process to make sparkling wine can also be quite expensive. The wine goes through two separate fermentation. The first is to convert sugar into alcohol and the second is to create bubbles. There are three may methods to making sparkling wine: Traditional or Champenoise method (ie Champagne, Cava), Tank or Charmat method (ie Prosecco), and Carbonation (ie value wines).

Sparkling wines can be made with any grapes and is often made with multiple varietals of indigenous grapes to the region of production. Sparkling wines have a wide range of sweetness levels as well, from bone dry to very sweet.

Traditional Method: Expensive to make but producing high quality sparkling wines. Wine is picked and fermented into a dry wine before blending into a cuvée (the blend of wines used). More sugar and yeast are then added into this blend in order to start a secondary fermentation to create the bubbles. After the yeast and sugar is added, the mixture is then bottled in order to create the bubbles inside the bottle. Now the wines will age for up to three years. The dead yeast that accumulate in the bottle after fermentation give the wine a unique bready flavor. Now the bottles are placed upside down and ‘riddled’. Up until recently this was done by placing the bottles in dirt or sand upside down and riddled by hand, but it is now done by machine. This creates a cap of dead yeast and sediment that collect at the neck of the bottle where it is then frozen before being essentially popped off by the pressure. The final step is to add in a dosage, which is just a wine and sugar mixture to top of the bottle before labeling and selling.

Tank Method: Also known as Charmat method, this is how wines such as Prosecco and Lambrusco are made. With modern technology, winemakers have essentially taken the traditional method to a larger, faster scale. Instead of having the wines go through secondary fermentation individually in the bottles, the secondary fermentation is done all together in one stainless steel tank. The wines are also not aged like they are in the traditional method. You will see this method used often in New World regions. This method will produce bigger bubbles than the traditional method.

Carbonation Method: Also known as gas injection, this method takes still wine and adds in carbonation to create a sparkling wine. Much like how they make sparkling water. The wines do not go through secondary fermentation. This is typically only seen in large production wineries for bulk, less expensive wines.

Fortified Wine

Fortified wine is often considered a dessert wine and is lumped in that category because it contains higher amounts of alcohol and can be sweet. Fortified wines are made when grape brandy is added, creating a wine that is sometimes up to 20% alcohol.

The main types of fortified wines are Port, Sherry, and Madeira.

Port: Made in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal, numerous indigenous grapes are fermented together before stopping fermentation with a very high alcohol liquid. This preserves some of the sugar levels of the wine but adds additional alcohol. Port can be made in a variety of styles including white ports. Ports range from dry (Ruby Port) to very sweet (Tawny Port). Much like Champagne, the name Port is limited to the wines of Portugal. While many wineries across the world have opted to make this style of wine, they can call it Port-Style Wine or a Vin Doux.

Sherry: Made in Spain, this is a unique wine that ranges from dry to very sweet. Three main grapes are used that are native to Spain; Pedro Ximénez, Palomino, and Moscatel, along with other varietals in small amounts. This wine is also highly oxidized, giving it a signature nut flavor. This is also a popular cooking wine. This wine is made using the Solera system. Barrels are stacked on top of each other in a sort of pyramid. Wines are bottled from the bottom barrels while new wines are pours into the top barrels. The barrels are connected, so as the bottom barrels are being bottled, the newest wines are replacing it, so there are not vintages on sherries.

Madeira: Also, a popular cooking wine, this is produced solely on the island of Madeira. Using native grapes, the wine is oxidized and heated by the sun, producing a nuttiness like that of Sherry. These wines range from dry to sweet and are often used as an aperitif.

Level of Sweetness for Both White and Red Wines

Levels of sweetness in wine are determined by the residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation by the grams per liter. Below are the grams per liter range for that style of wine, along with examples of both red and white wines that are traditionally in that category. Keep in mind that some countries have their own sweetness scale, and the levels can vary among wines. This is for still wines. Sparkling wines have their own sweetness level system, that allows for more g/L RS.

Very Dry to Dry

  • 1-10 g/L RS
  • Red wines- Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Barbera
  • White wines- Chablis, Albarino, Vinho Verde

Off-Dry

  • 11 to 20 g/L RS
  • Red wines- Malbec, Zinfandel, Shiraz
  • White wines- Riesling, Chenin Blanc

Semi-Sweet (Medium)

  • 21 to 35 g/L RS
  • Red wines- Lambrusco, Reciotta Della Valpolicella
  • White wines- Gewürztraminer, Moscato

Sweet

  • 36 to 75 g/L RS
  • Red wines- Port, Sherry
  • White wines- Sauternes, Ice Wines, Late Harvest

Very Sweet

  • 76 and above g/L RS
  • Red wines- Tawny Port
  • White wines- White Port, Muscatel Dessert Wine

1 comment


  • Jose Pedrotti

    I would like to try making a fruity, semi sweet red or white wine! Are there any possibilities?


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