Wine is a fermented juice of grapes.
Once harvested, grapes are conveyed through a machine, the berry stripping machine for grapes, that separates the berries from the stalks of grapes.
Next, they go through the wine press in order to have their must extracted. To the juice, will be added yeasts, that during the fermentation process transform the natural sugar of the grapes into alcohol and liberate carbonic gas.
In accordance with the fermentation process, different types of wines will be obtained:
- Dry or sweet red wines
- Dry or sweet white wines
- Rosé wines
- Sparkling wines
- Fortified wines
Sweet red wines are not usual, and can be identified by the sugar content found during the degustation.
Grapes that produce quality wines belong to the Vitis vinifera species. The most famous among hundreds of varieties are the red Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,Pinot Noir, Syrah, Gamay, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese and the whiteChardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Malvasia. These are not tasty to be consumed as table grapes.
On the other side, the tasty table grapes of the Vitis labrusca species do not produce quality wines. The most well known ones are the Niagara and Isabella.
During the production of a red wine, the fermentation of the must occurs in contact with the grape peels, from where is derived the color and extracted the largest number of organic compounds.
Red wines can only be made from red grapes.
To produce a sweet red wine, it is necessary to use grapes with a higher sugar content and interrupt their fermentation before finishing the transformation of sugar into alcohol.
In the vinification of white wine, fermentation has to be processed with the pure must, without any contact with the peels.
It can be produced either with white grapes (Blanc de Blancs), or with red grapes (Blanc de Noirs).
To produce a sweet white wine, it is necessary to use grapes with a higher sugar content and interrupt their fermentation before finishing the transformation of sugar into alcohol.
Rosé wine is produced from red grapes.
Grape peels stay in contact with must for a short time only, until a desirable color is achieved.
Sparkling wine starts its life as an ordinary quite wine to which is added a mixture called liqueur de tirage, composed by cane sugar and yeast diluted in wine.
The addition of this component will result in a second fermentation of the original wine, that may take place inside the bottle (champenoise method), or inside stainless steel vats (charmat method). This second fermentation will be responsible for the increase of carbonic gas within the wine, transforming it into sparkling wine.
During the production process, the amount of sugar used in the liqueur d’expedition (a mixture of wine and sugar added to each bottle) will define the type of sparkling wine produced:
Brut naturel: up to 3 g/l
Extra-brut: up to 5 g/l
Brut: up to 15 g/l
Extra-sec: from 12 to 20 g/l
Sec: from 17 to 35 g/l
Demi-sec: from 25 to 50 g/l
Doux: above 50 g/l
According to the Champenoise method, when the wine is being bottled, it is put together the liqueur de tirage, which will start a second fermentation inside the bottle. Since the bottle is closed, the carbonic gas resulting from second fermentation will be withheld, diluted in the sparkling wine.
The Champenoise method is expensive and long lasting, since the second fermentation creates within the bottle a deposit that needs to be excluded. It is necessary to proceed to the remuage, that consists in a slow decantation. Each day, during several weeks, the cellar master turns round the bottles close to one fourth of their complete turn while, at the same time, gradually inclines them until they stay upside down with all sediments depositing near the stopple. Nowadays, several wineries are replacing manual work with machines called gyropalettes.
In that way, wine becomes limpid clear, but it is still necessary to remove the sediments deposited at the bottleneck. That is accomplished by means of a process called dégorgement, that consists in freezing the sediments accumulated near the bottleneck and then expelling them when the transitory lid is removed thanks to the pressure existing in the bottle. Before installing the definitive cork, the amount or wine expelled through the dégorgement must be completed by adding the liqueur d’expedition.
Through the Charmat method, wine is transferred to an autoclave in which it receives the liqueur de tirage, which will trigger a second fermentation under a temperature kept between 50ºF (10ºC) and 57ºF (14ºC).
The wine is then submitted to the decantation and filtration processes and subsequently bottled under pressure and at a low temperature together with the liqueur de expedition. Next, the definitive and characteristic sparkling wine cork, as well as a wire cage, are put on the bottle.
Fortified wines, also called generous wines, are so named due to the fact that they have been added winy brandy, which raises their alcohol content.
The addition of brandy may occur before or after the transformation of all sugar into alcohol. In the first case, fermentation is interrupted, remaining some residual sugar in the wine, forming thus a fortified sweet wine. If all sugar is transformed, it becomes a fortified dry wine.
The average and most usual size of bottles is that of 750ml, produced in different shapes.
It is possible to buy wine in bottles of different sizes, some of which named with peculiar denominations.
- 375 ml – half bottle
- 400 ml
- 500 ml
- Clavelin – 620 ml
- 750 ml – 1 bottle
- Magnum -1,500 ml – 2 bottles
- Jéroboam – 3,000 ml – 4 bottles
- Réhoboam – 4,500 ml – 6 bottles
- Mathusalem – 6,000 ml – 8 bottles
- Salmanazar – 9,000 ml – 12 bottles
- Baltazar – 12,000 ml – 16 bottles
- Nabucodonosor – 15,000 ml – 20 bottles
It is advisable to keep at home a good assortment of wines in order to be prepared for all kinds of events. It is important to have in your cellar several types of wines: whites and reds, champagne and other sparkling ones; fortified and sweet.
It is very difficult to recommend to any person which wines he/she should keep in his/her cellar, since taste is a very personal matter. It is important to diversify and not to be afraid of daring to experiment new wines. Otherwise, if we stick to the celebrated ones only or to certain varietals, we will certainly miss the opportunity of getting to know other excellent wines.
There are wines which improve very much with time, and others that start soon losing their qualities. So, the statement that all wines improve with age proves to be deceitful. At present, most wines are being made to be consumed earlier; only the great wines evolve and substantially improve through aging. It should be established a relationship between the vintage of the wine one intend to buy and its probable lifespan.
There is a time and a place for each wine. On certain occasions, drinking a good matured or full-bodied wine would be a waste. On the other hand, it may be extremely pleasant to drink a great wine still young even if it still has a good aging potential. Not in all occasions, a great mature wine will be the best on certain specific occasions.
Selecting the producer
It is very important to learn how to read a label when buying wine. The label is the main available source of information when we are deciding whether or not a certain wine should be bought, particularly if we do not know its producer. See illustration 1.
A well designed label – as well as the whole aspect of the bottle – can indicate whether or not a wine is good. If a producer does not take good care of his/her wine, he/she will not also invest in its presentation. It is important to check whether the name of producer is written in the label, since normally, no producer would put his/her name in a product of unreliable quality.
One must observe also the capsule to notice any leak of its contents. A good indicator is the distance between the wine and the cork: if longer than normal, it is an indication of leakage. In case of observing any abnormality, leave the bottle on the shelf.
Wine conservation is absolute important to avoid unpleasant surprises when opening a bottle.
The bottle must be kept in a horizontal position in order to keep its cork in contact with liquid at all times. Thus, the cork can be prevented from shrivelling. A shrivelled cork may admit air into the bottle and that would be of fatal consequences to the wine.
We must put the wines in an environment where the temperature oscillation is the least possible, and its variations do not occur abruptly. The ideal place is a room where the temperature is kept constant at around 59ºF (15ºC), under humidity conditions of approximately 75%, to prevent the cork from shrivelling.
Clarity, as well as external and strong noises and aromas that might contaminate the wines should be avoided.
Wines not made to last a long period of time should not be kept very long. It is not true that all wines improve with age. A light white wine should be consumed as soon as possible; a better structured white wine ages well and some can be left ageing during 10 or more years.
Most reds must be consumed between two and six years. A few exceptional ones may be kept for over 20 years.
If the wine is turbid or with deposits at the bottom, it must be kept still during a length of time sufficient to allow all material in suspension to deposit at the bottom of the bottle.
Next, it must be poured forth in another clean and dry flask, against the light of a candle, so as to see when the sediments start approaching the bottleneck. Then, one must stop pouring the wine and let the sediments remain in the former bottle, together with the remaining wine, which must be disposed of.
Temperature is a key factor for a wine to be degusted showing its best characteristics with regard to aroma and flavor. As a general rule, white wines are served cold, but not ice cold. As to red wines, service temperature should increase according to their tannin strength; it is important to keep in mind that above 68ºF (20ºC) no wine keeps its qualities.
Suggested temperatures to enhance aromas and flavors:
- Simple: 45°F to 48°F (7°C to 9°C)
- Champagnes: 46°F to 50°F (8°C to 10°C)
- Dry: 50°F to 54°F (10°C to 12°C)
- Sweet simple: 46°F to 50°F (8°C to 10°C)
- Fine sweet: 52°F to 55°F (11°C to 13°C) – Sauternes, Germany, Tokaji
- All: 50°F to 54°F (10°C to 12°C)
- Light and young: 50°F to 54°F (10°C to 12°C) – Beaujolais and Bardolino
- Young: 57°F to 59°F (14°C to 15°C)
- Mature: 61°F to 63°F (16°C to 17°C) – Burgundy, Italy and Spain
- Slightly aged: 64°F to 68°F (18°C to 20°C) – Bordeaux and New World Cabernets
- Dry: 48°F to 52°F (9°C to 11°C) – Sherry
- Sweet: 59°F to 61°F (15°C to 16°C) – Madeira and Port
- Fine sweet: 61°F to 64°F (16°C to 18°C) – Vintage Port
The shelf life of a wine cannot be determined. Good wines, if very well kept, may have a lifespan between 50 to 70 years, or even more. Other wines may have a lifespan shorter than one year.
In general, white wines have a lifespan shorter than that of reds. With few exceptions, a white wine should be consumed as young as possible, so that the consumer might enjoy all its freshness, which will fade away with time.
With a white wine, four years old or older, we run the risk of having it become stale. A few white ones, however, like those produced in Bourgogne, that undergo fermentation in oak and present an structure that allows them to age properly, may have a lifespan much longer than 10 years.
The lifespan of reds varies considerably. The Beaujolais Nouveau and other Primeur type wines are made to be consumed within six months, at most.
Most reds can last without any problem around five years. However, it is their structure that makes it possible for them to grow older than that. A well structured wine may have a long lifespan.
Sparkling wines should be consumed as soon as released, since their ageing takes place in the cellar, after being bottled. In general, they must be enjoyed as early as possible. With rare exceptions, a few millésime champagnes may improve with time.