Winemaking

Grapes

Wines are made from hundreds of different grape varieties. Some grapes thrive in sun-drenched terrains while others flourish in flinty, mineral-depleted soils. Some are small and yellow, others plump and green, and still others so dark and blue they appear almost black. Each grape variety imparts specific characteristics that help make each wine so delightfully special.

A grape's skin determines the color of a wine. A wine made from "red" grapes could actually be "white" in color if the juice was separated from the skins quickly after crushing. The longer the grape skin stays in contact with the juice, the more color the wine will receive.

A varietal wine is one that is named for the grape that makes up at least 75% of its content. Varietals include Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon to name a few.

Aging

Some wines appreciate with age more than others. In general, most wines are made to be consumed when you buy them, having already been aged at the winery. To determine the age of a wine, look at the vintage date printed on the label. This will tell you the year the grapes were harvested and pressed. All wine needs to age to a certain degree, so most of the wines you see will have a vintage of at least one year.

Very few wines are actually meant to age for decades. In fact, if it weren't for tannins, they wouldn't need much aging at all. Tannins are natural chemicals in wine that give it an astringent, dry taste. Wine with a higher amount of tannins, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, will mellow with aging and often improve with time.

Sulfites

Winemakers historically added sulfur or sulfites to wine to help stabilize it and improve its longevity. Sulfites have both fungicidal and antioxidant properties as well. A small amount of sulfites, about 10 parts per million, occurs naturally in all young wines, since they are a byproduct of fermentation.

Making White Wine

White wine is typically made from light-colored grapes. First the grapes are crushed and de-stemmed. Then pressing occurs to separate the liquid from the solids. In most white wines this happens before the juice is fermented, so that excessive skin contact doesn't turn the juice dark and impart bitter flavors into the wine.

Yeast is then added to the juice and fermentation takes place as the liquid is stored in stainless steel tanks or wooden barrels. Once the wine is contained in a tank or barrel and the sediment is given a chance to settle to the bottom, the wine is "racked" in an effort to move clear wine into another container and leave the sediment behind. This takes place at least once and sometimes twice. Finally the wine is aged in a barrel (or in the bottle) until it is ready to be bottled, labeled and sent to market. Most white wines should be consumed within a few years to enjoy them at their peak.

Making Red Wine

Red wine is typically made from dark grapes. The grapes are crushed and fermented before the skins, seeds and stems have been strained. In red wines, these additional elements add flavor. Red wines are usually fermented at room temperature and are exposed to oxygen during winemaking, which also adds to their aroma and flavor. Finally, the solids are strained before bottling.

Red wines tend to age better than whites in bottles, which is why you are more likely to find them gathering dust in cellars.

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