It’s time to talk about wine.
Wine is an incredibly popular alcoholic beverage made from the fermented juice of grapes. Technically, wine can be made from any type of fermented fruit (apples, cranberries, cherries etc..) but the vast majority of wines are made with wine grapes. We’ll go into more detail on the difference between wine and table grapes later. Wine and beer are both ancient beverages thought to have been created around 4000 B.C. or earlier and have been ingrained in the human diet ever since. The variety and quantity of wine produced around the globe can be mind-boggling, but for now, we are going to cover the basics of what wine really is.
What are wine grapes?
Wine grapes are much smaller than the grapes you’d find in your fruit salad. They also have lots of tiny seeds, and a much higher sugar content. The original species of wine grape, Vitis vinifera, originated in the Caucasus region- first fermented by ancient Armenians, and then spread to Egypt and Phoenicia. The most common wine grape grown worldwide is Cabernet Sauvignon.
The ‘vintage’ of a given wine is the year in which the grapes were harvested and made into wine. Because grapes take an entire season to mature and ripen, wine can only be made once per year. The harvest season in the northern hemisphere (Europe, US) is from August to September and the southern hemisphere (Argentina, Australia) season lasts February to April. Wine can vary greatly from year to year and can impact the price and availability of a certain wine as well.
**Some wines are listed as ‘NV’ or non-vintage, meaning that there are various vintage grapes in the blend. Champagne is almost always NV.
Single varietal wines
You probably guessed it, but single varietal wines are made with one type of grape. The wine will likely be labeled with that grape’s name (like Reisling), but you should know that although it is implied that one single type of grape is used, there are laws dictating how much of that ONE grape needs to be present to be classified as a single varietal wine. The percentages are as follows:
- 75% USA (Oregon requires 90%), Chile, South Africa, Australia, Greece
- 80% Argentina
- 85% Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand
A wine blend is made from a blend of several grape varieties. Blending is traditional to winemaking, and there are several famous wine blends produced in classic regions worldwide. Further, the majority of blended wines are mixed together after the fermentation and aging process is complete. The alternative, blending and fermenting the different grapes together is called a field blend. A common example of a field blend is Port wine.
Each wine has a unique taste, which is made up of nuances in acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannins, and aromatic compounds.
Acidity: wine typically lies on the acidic end of the Ph scale which ranges from a low of 2.5 (lemon juice) to 4.5 (bananas). Wine tastes tart.
Sweetness: some wines can be totally un-sweet (or, ‘dry’) or as sweet as breakfast syrup. Sugar content in the grape variety contributes to this factor.
Alcohol: the actual flavor of alcohol is spicy and warm, coats the throat and palate. There is no set amount of alcohol in wine, and can range from 5.5% to 20%. Experts average the %ABV to 10%.
Tannins: found in the skins of the grapes, tannins add an astringent quality to wine. Black tea, chocolate and berries are all high in tannin and if you’ve ever had unsweetened black tea- you know the unforgettable taste of tannin.
Aromatic Compounds: in the very smallest group of wine’s ingredients (phenols, esters, higher alcohols, acids) is where you’ll find the vast complexities to wine flavors and aromas. Wine grape varieties exhibit different aroma compounds at different levels. Another large contributing factor to wine aroma is aging. Nearly all red wines (and lots of white varieties too) are aged in oak barrels; which not only contributes flavor compounds like vanillan, but also exposes the wine to oxygen. Oxidation and aging produce a range of unique flavors and soften the tannins.
In conclusion, wine is a beverage that can be enjoyed by anyone. There are a million and one different flavors to be experienced- so there is surely a wine for all of us. To know about wine is to be privy to lots of scientific, historical, and artistic facts; but the even better thing is that wine can be enjoyed without being an expert, so get out there and try some wine!