WHAT IS WINE – A SIMPLE AND BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION
Wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world. The earliest known reference to wine was found on a cuneiform tablet from ancient Babylonia, which dates back to 4,000 BC. This was part of what has been called the Epic of Gilgamesh – a story about two friends who are searching for immortality and find it at last with their love for each other.
It speaks eloquently of that first sip taken after a tiring day’s work: “I will drink again and forget my sorrows.” Wine has long since been associated with celebrations, good times and happiness – think weddings! So, join us as we explore this old but ever-young beverage…
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but wine has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts in recent years. With more and more people drinking wine on the regular, it’s no wonder that demand for knowledge about this fermented grape juice is at an all-time high. However, it can be difficult to know where to start when seeking out information about what makes one type of wine better than another.
WHAT IS WINE
Wine is made from the juice of crushed grapes; it is primarily composed of water (about 90%) with a small amount of ethanol present. The ethanol percentage can be affected by many factors including grape variety used, winemaking process, and aging conditions.
Water is important to wine as it helps reduce the harsh tannins found in grapes and adds to the overall flavor profile and mouthfeel. A number of other compounds are also present in wine such as polyphenols (responsible for the color), esters (responsible for aroma), furans (toasty notes) and lactones – although their role isn’t well understood yet (see here).
HOW MUCH ALCOHOL DOES WINE CONTAIN?
The amount of alcohol wine contains depends on the amount of sugar in the juice from which it is made. Specially cultivated grapes have a high sugar content, and this gives a high level of alcohol when they are fermented to make wine.
The amount of alcohol varies according to grape type and blends but usually ranges between 10% and 14%. The added bonus is that each glass of wine can provide around 0.5g fibre, making it an excellent accompaniment for food.
HISTORY OF WINE
The history of winemaking stretches back millennia. The earliest archaeological evidence of grape wine, dating to 6000 BC in Georgia and the South Caucasus, was discovered in 2015. It is possible that this represents rather late exploitation of wild vines for fruit and/or wine. In any case it is clear that by 3000 BC, agriculture had firmly taken root in the fertile crescent, with domestic cultivation becoming widespread and standardised.
Wine figured prominently during the flourishing of Minoan civilization in Crete (ca. 2700 – 1400 BCE), according to archaeological recovery at sites such as Knossos. Perhaps more importantly, however, were recovered jars containing sealed units for storing liquids (which may have been red or white) indicating a sizeable trade in wine between Crete and Asia Minor. Wine found in this bota jar is estimated to be about 2400 years old.
Evidence suggests that sometime toward the end of the 4th millennium BC, the peoples of the Caucasus region began cultivating and domesticating wild grapes. Wine produced from these wild grapes is also thought to have been a contributing factor in the development of viticulture.
Cultivation of the vine began in early Neolithic villages, before domestication of other food crops such as wheat, barley and legumes. The history of cultivation has left traces in soil chemistry, pottery fragments, artifacts, and ancient writings These traces include pollen grains, phytoliths (from plant stems) or tartaric acid (from wine jars).
Commentators on the Book of Genesis pointed out that it would not be possible for Noah’s Ark to contain two male specimens (pandrogynes) each fitting a vine with all its cuttings, especially for a new world species, and that the grapes of the Bible in fact were likely wine. The observation of tartaric acid (which derives from grape tannins) in pottery jars dating to the 6th or 7th century BC provides some indication that Greek vines had been cultivated on Crete.
Similarly, corkscrews perforated as if they were sewing needles indicate that wine was being made somewhere from about 1000 BC onwards.
By 500 BCE, evidence of grape domestication is firmly established across the Mediterranean region. Although wild grapes are abundant throughout Europe, their harvest always poses problems because of clusters with seeds and varying levels of sweetness; therefore, cultivation gave rise to two distinct forms: one for eating fresh, and one for wine production.
By 400 BCE, the ancient Greeks had found improved ways of cultivating vineyards with implements such as plows, large bucket-like containers to collect condensed grape must called lagars , woven straw mats or reed screens. In fact, their planting methods led to an increased availability of affordable and pleasurable wine on a global scale in addition to providing a major contribution towards biogeochemical cycles.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINES
1. Red Wine
This is a natural product obtained from the fermentation of the juice of grapes. It is produced in several varieties, such as dry red, semi-dry red and sweet red. Fine wines are also classified based on their origin, with labels like Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.
2. White Wine
White wines are produced from white grape varieties and must be produced with no skin contact to create this type of drink; (i.e.: Chardonnay, Riesling). Grapes that have been left in contact with their skins for some time during the process will give more color deposits to the product.
3. Rose Wine
This variety has recently begun to return to fashion and is made by adding a small amount of red wine to white. For example: Macabeo or Moscatel.
4. Fortified Wine
Wine fortified with brandy. This drink is also called “Aged” or “Vintage”.
5. Dessert Wines
The later stages of the wine process receive its name because they are usually sweeter than normal wines (Malaga, Port, Sherry) and they can be consumed after meals.
6. Sparkling Wines
These are obtained through a secondary fermentation process that produces bubbles, which gives them their special snap in the mouth sensation. Although it is produced in Spain using different grape varieties (such as Monastrell, Garnacha, Chardonnay …). They have an alcohol content of between 9% and 24%.
Wines that have been aged for a long time in small barrels called “bastidas.”
A fortified wine made from white grapes, with protection from oxidation.
9. Non-Alcoholic Wines
Produced by using the same technology as alcoholic wine, but without fermentation. During the process they are heated to allow stabilization processes and conservation until consumption. In Spain we have some examples such as Ermitaño, Santa Cruz …
10. Wine Vinegar
Is obtained when all or part of the alcohol is removed from grape must and thus it becomes a natural way to add flavor to different dishes. It has an acidity of 7% volume.
A sparkling wine obtained by the second fermentation process. One of the most representative varieties is Chardonnay.
WINE ETIQUETTE AND HOW TO PAIR WINES WITH FOOD
Anyone who has ever taken a wine tasting course, or even just tasted wine once or twice quickly learns that the enjoyment of tasting wine and food can be greatly enhanced by some knowledge of what we call oenology or vinology. This is the science which deals with understanding how wines are produced and why they taste as they do.
For those already familiar with the names of grapes and know something about wine, this article will give you some ideas on how to match wines with different kinds of foods. And for those who don’t care much for wine but would like to enjoy it more often, our information will help to shed light on one of its mysteries: How should I choose my wines?
With good reasoning and easy-to-follow rules, you should be able to improve your enjoyment of wine. Remember that it is an art as well as a science, therefore there are no hard and fast rules on how to do it; rather there are guidelines based either on experience or on tradition.
HOW DO FOODS AFFECT THE TASTE OF WINES?
The first consideration is whether or not a particular food brings out the best in a given wine. The idea behind this may seem obvious but we need to keep in mind that every single thing we eat provides our body with both energy and taste sensations. Foods can increase or decrease the amount of saliva which we produce when drinking wine, thereby increasing or lowering its perception. However, the overall effect depends upon what we are drinking as well.
Here is a brief summary of the three stages in tasting wine along with some simple, practical advice on what to eat with each type of wine:
1) Sourness and acidity – increase salivation (good matches: beef tartare, oysters, caviar).
2) Pleasant astringency – increase saliva; slightly bitter taste (good matches: barbecued meat or poultry, smoked salmon, cheese fondue).
3) Sweetness – decrease saliva and bitterness (good matches: fruit desserts such as melons, strawberries and nectarines).
The food you choose for each stage must be compatible with the tastes already present in the wine. To illustrate this point, let us take a wine which is slightly acid and astringent.
Epernay Champagne (Rouge de Noir) – Here we have a good example of an acidic wine; it is also slightly tannic and fruity, with the final taste being dry and long-lasting on the tongue. The following drinks effectively complement its characteristics:
Sourness – Good matches here are the typical sour European cheeses such as Limburger (Germany), Munster or Tete de Moigne (France), Bonda or Tvarušky in Slovakia, that kind of cheese often being served with fruit syrups for dessert at the end of meals. These wines may even be served as digestifs, that is, drinks to be taken after meals to help digestion.
Astringency – The classic combination here is the one between barbecued meat or poultry (a good example in Slovakia would be chicken with grappa) and German Riesling wines, as well as those from Hungary and Austria which are often called “grilll” wines. Another more general type of food that makes these types of wine taste even better is smoked salmon. (By the way, we recommend that you not drink any wine during this meal.) In France there is also a tradition of eating pork grilled over coals with Champagne.
Sweetness – This is something else again: sweet fruits (melons, strawberries, raspberries) go well with this type of wine; it also goes well with desserts such as sweet pastries and cakes.
THE STAGES IN THE MAKING OF WINE
1. Grape Harvesting
Laboratory testing and grape sorting. Wine vats are cleaned and disinfected to prevent any bacterial contamination in the wine making process. Red wines from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Zinfandel etc. are fermented with skins for a period of 7–14 days at 28-30 degrees Celsius; white wines from Chardonnay etc. are fermented without skins for 6–12 days at 20-23 degrees Celsius.
It is important to keep checking temperature and density of the fermentation process daily because it has a direct impact on the phenolic aromas in the resulting wine. During this time yeast cells convert sugar into alcohol which rises up to 15% (mass%) Original Gravity (OG). As the sugar in wine is converted into alcohol and CO2 (carbon dioxide), yeast cells burst releasing more flavor compounds.
The next process is ‘Racking’ which occurs once fermentation starts to slow down at around 15-17 days. The wine is transferred from fermenting vats to other tanks/barrels leaving a layer of sediment called ‘lees’ behind. This helps the red grape wines from oxidizing and any harsh tannin flavors getting into the wine, making it too dry.
At this stage you can also decide on your final blend according to a ratio which suits your taste. If you are starting with 100 liters of grapes then ideally, make a 25:75 ratio of white/red.
The next stage before bottling is ‘Sparkling’ which adds bubbles to the wine. For sparkling wines like Prosecco or Champagne, yeast is added to bottle in a second fermentation process called ‘Méthode Champenoise’. This can be done, but it is more of an expensive and time-consuming process.
It involves adding sugar to make a secondary yeast fermentation happen in the bottles at low temperatures with high pressure. If you are making still (non-sparkling) red or white wines, then this second step of transferring into barrels/new vats for ageing will happen now.
Now we prepare our wine for bottling: We need ‘barrels’ or ‘bottles’. To make wine in barrels, you need a winery with the capacity to store your wine safely and at low temperatures for at least one year.
With the recent trend of home brewing having increased exponentially, there is also an increase in awareness about the process needed to make quality wine. If you are patient enough and take a good care of your grapes, you can get an excitingly good result from home winemaking as well!
TYPES OF GRAPES AND FRUITS USED IN WINEMAKING
A large variety of grapes and fruits are used in winemaking. The juice from each fruit provides a different flavor profile when fermented into wine, and some varieties can impart tannin to the wine through their skins or seeds. Grapes also differ because some of them have been genetically altered for stronger flavors or disease resistance. One year these grapes might be more popular than others, but overall, they all provide unique variations in both white and red wines.
Most fruit that is used for the production of champagne must be “climacteric” (meaning it has a tendency to develop sweetness due to sugar content). They are also usually juicy enough, so they create effervescence in response to carbon dioxide pressure.
1. Types Of Grapes Used In Winemaking
There are over 100 types of grapes on the market today. Some of them include Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese.
In terms of quantity produced each year, some popular varieties are: The top 10 best-selling cultivated varieties in 2016 were:
- Cabernet sauvignon (17% – 26.6 million hectoliters)
- Chardonnay (7.8 million – 18%)
- Sauvignon blanc (16.9 – 12%)
- Red wine (14%–13%)
- Pinot noir (13% – 12.5%)
- Merlot (11.3 million – 10.9%)
- White wine (10% — 4%)
- Muscat / Moscato (4%-6%)
- Pinot gris (<1-3)
- Rose wine (<1-2)
Some of the most popular grapes for red wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sangiovese. For white wines, the top three varieties produced are Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
2. Types Of Fruits Used In Winemaking
Fruit also makes up a significant portion of the market of wines produced today, especially white wine where fermented fruit juice is most common.
Some examples that are popular varieties include: apples, cherries, grapes, lemons and oranges. The main difference between fruit wines and grape wines is that fruit wines use whole pieces of fruit instead of just the juice. They also have higher levels of sugar and fruit acids, which add to the fermentation process.
3. Types Of Flavors Used In Winemaking
The addition of other flavorings is another way that wine can be changed. These flavors can either come from natural sources or added artificially later on after fermentation has occurred. An example would be the mint flavored sauce poured over lamb before it is served at a Greek restaurant. The cucumber flavor in those little green bottles, “Oh so Good” comes from natural flavoring–the seeds inside a lime.
Both kinds of wines are produced because they add different properties and qualities to standard wine. Different types of honey produce varying tints on the wine color.
INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT VINEYARDS, GRAPE VINES, AND WINE PRODUCTION
1. Vineyard In the Bible
The Bible has several references to wine (it’s a running theme throughout the Old Testament). God even planted a vineyard, and he himself made the very first batch of wine! Wines that are produced according to Biblical standards use only natural ingredients—no chemicals, additives, or preservatives. Some winemakers have even gone so far as to adopt organic growing methods for their grapes and wine production.
2. Wine Grape
The correct term is “wine grape.” It’s not called a “grape,” because it doesn’t produce grapes like we think of them; it produces berries instead of actual fruit.
There are hundreds of types of grapes used in making wines worldwide; the most popular ones are: Vitis vinifera, used to make white wine; Vitis labrusca and hybrids, used to make both red and white wines; the Concord grape (V. labrusca), which is typically only made into juice; and the Niagara grapes (V. riparia), which are mainly grown for wine production in Canada.
3. Known All Types Of Wines?
There are a lot of types of wines… probably hundreds all told! From sparkling wines (like champagne) or fortified wines (like sherry or port); to sweet wines like Riesling or Muscat, and dry whites like chardonnay.
There’s rose wine made from red grapes, light-bodied rosé from black grapes—and these are just scratching the surface. The diversity of wine is just astounding.
4. Red and White Wines
There’s really no such thing as red and white wines. These terms are gone over with a magnifying glass, which is understandable given that everyone notices the different color of the wine’s juice (fermentation alters it from its original hue).
Yet, although these descriptors tend to favor one region or another, they aren’t entirely true: The color can vary quite considerably across the board depending on how much time has passed since the grapes were harvested; how long they’ve been in contact with their skins during maceration; whether there was any added sweetener like sugar or honey; etc.
5. Is There Color or Style of Wine?
White wine doesn’t have to be light-bodied, while red doesn’t have to be hearty. There’s no color or style of wine that is inherently better than others—it all depends on the grapes used, and the winemaker himself. Don’t let history make you think that there’s only one way to enjoy a glass of red or white.
6. All wines can serve as food pairings
Some are better for certain meals at various times of the year; but ultimately, any wine will go with anything that has been prepared properly and expertly seasoned. Wine isn’t limited to Mexican, Indian, Asian, or Mediterranean cuisine… it goes well with sweet desserts like chocolate cake! Or steak frites (steak and French fries), grilled fish tacos, pizza—you name it!
Also: Beer doesn’t have to be paired with only barbeque or chipotle chicken! Wine pairs well with everything, and beer is just another option for carnivores.
7. There are wine labels that don’t mean anything
They’re all branded in a special way to make us believe they have higher quality, but don’t go into any purchase thinking that you’ll get more for your money—you won’t! A wine’s taste only comes from its fruit (or herbs or spices), the place it was grown/made, and how long it’s aged. Any other label means nothing… unless it says “kosher,” which also doesn’t always guarantee quality.
8. Alcohol Content
All wines can be considered equal in their alcohol content (14-15% ABV), meaning that they are all about the same in terms of potency. The only difference is whether it’s a dry wine or a sweet one, the actual alcohol content might vary anywhere from 12-17%.
WINE TASTING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
For many people, wine is a confusing subject. There are terms to learn and etiquette to understand before you can even begin to taste the wine. Here are some great tips that will help bring novice wine tasters up-to-speed.
1. Taste With Your Nose First!
Your sense of smell is your biggest asset when it comes to smelling out good wines. If you want to start enjoying wine more, focus on developing your olfactory skills until they become second nature. You will be surprised by how much this helps develop your palate.
There are plenty of wines out there, and they are all distinct from one another, even if the grapes used to make them come from similar varieties. Once you develop a sense for smelling wine and know what is appealing to you, it will be easier to choose which bottles you want to drink.
2. Don’t Think About How Much Money Or Effort Went Into Making The Wine!
It’s common to feel like a novice wine taster because in most cases you truly are still learning how this all works. So don’t let that get you down (we are all amateurs when we start), just learn as much as possible about wine and try not to compare your experience with anyone else’s.
Especially if you are at a wine tasting event, it is easy to get nervous about how you will do and what everyone else in the room is thinking of you. Rather than worrying about your fellow tasters, take a deep breath and enjoy yourself! If anything, bad happens (you slurp or burp after thinking you were done), just muddle through it like most people do when they are learning new things. Have fun with this hobby so that you can learn as much as possible without getting discouraged by others’ expectations.
WRAP IT UP ON THIS INTERESTING TOPIC “WHAT IS WINE”
Wine is a drink that has been around for centuries. It can be made from any kind of fruit, but most commonly grape wine is what people are referring to when they say “wine”. There are many varieties of wines and not all types taste the same or have the same effects on you which may depend on how much alcohol percentage it contains.
Whether you want to know more about wine in general or need help choosing an appropriate type of wine for your occasion, we hope this post will provide some insight into what makes up this familiar beverage!