Ask a wine merchant: How is wine made?!

know about it? How is it made, for example? And how did it first come to be? Well, fear not! Your very own expert wine merchant is here to tell you!

What is wine?

Most of you will know that wine is an alcoholic beverage made from grapes. These grapes will generally be Vitis vinifera, fermented without the addition of sugars, acids, enzymes, water, or other nutrients. Yeast consumes the sugar in the grapes and converts it to ethanol and carbon dioxide.  This raw, very simple version of wine is referred to in the commercial world as “natural wine”.

How is wine made?

Harvest – The grapes are harvested, either with machines or by hand. Juice – For red wine, the grapes are then crushed to form a pulp. For white wine, the grapes are crushed and the juice is extracted. For rosé, the juice is again extracted but this time some pulp is added. Fermentation – natural or added yeast. Pressing – This isn’t the same as crushing. Not all wine is pressed and, unlike crushing, the method does not depend on the colour. A wine that is not pressed is made from ‘free run’ juice. Pressing increases the yield from the harvest and can increase the volume of juice by anywhere between 15 and 30%. Filtration / Clarification – This removes particles from the wine. This can be done through temperature control, paper filters, or additives, such as gelatine. Gelatine is the oldest and most traditional method. Generally speaking, no gelatin remains in the wine because it reacts with the wine components, as it clarifies, and forms sediment which is removed by filtration prior to bottling.  Other additives that can be used are: egg whites, egg albumin, bone char, bull’s blood, isinglass (sturgeon bladder), PVPP (a synthetic compound), lysozyme, and skimmed milk powder. A common non-animal-based agent is a bentonite (a volcanic clay-based filter). Preservatives – The most common preservative used in winemaking is sulphur dioxide (SO2). This is rumoured to be the cause of the dreaded post-wine hangover! Contrary to this, most of the bottles of wine that contain SO2 contain less than the amount used in producing a single dried apricot. Wines with no added preservatives once bottled and corked are best kept at 5°C to minimize detrition. Ageing (the magical stage) – The vast majority of wine is not aged, and even wine that is aged is rarely aged for long; it is estimated that 90% of the wine is meant to be consumed within a year of production, and 99% of wine within 5 years. Wine is aged to allow the tannins in the wine to improve its taste. Bottling – Generally speaking, when a wine is bottled it is ready to drink. As a rule of thumb, if the winemaker thinks the wine is ready to drink they will use a screw top if they think the wine will benefit from secondary ageing in the bottle they will use natural cork.  Be warned, though, some winemakers will use a cork to add a level of perceived authenticity to a wine. Another myth about bottling is that the quality of the wine can be judged by how far your thumb will enter the base of a wine bottle. The theory behind this is that, before modern glass-making techniques, all glass bottles were made by hand and the stronger/thicker the glass was made, the more turns it required during blowing, thus resulting in a deeper indent at the base. The stronger or thicker the glass was, the more expensive the bottle was to produce. This leads to the thought that you would only put decent wine in an expensive bottle. Be warned, there have been many unscrupulous winemakers in the past and I am sure there are many more to come! Consumption – Somehow I don’t think you’ll need this step explaining!

Common terms

Dosage – This is a stage in sparkling wine production that takes place between disgorging and final corking. It involves topping off the wine with a mixture of the base wine, sugar, 0.02 to 0.03 grams of sulphur dioxide (as a preservative) and sometimes alcohol. The mixture is called a liqueur d’expédition. Some bulk winemakers may add sugar to a still wine to improve taste or increase alcohol strength. They claim this is a normal practice of dosage! Tannins – These are naturally occurring compounds that exist inside grape skins, seeds and stems. The scientific word for these compounds is polyphenols. Polyphenols release from the skins, seeds and stem when they soak in the grape juice just after the grapes have been pressed and are what give certain wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, their characteristic dryness or astringency. Any time you drink a wine that creates a drying sensation in your mouth, you are experiencing the effect of tannins. Lees – Lees is dead yeast. Basically, tiny one-celled organisms that creep around in the bottom of a vat of wine. So letting a wine, or Champagne, sit on the lees (age “sur lie”) is basically a way for a winemaker to extract more flavour from the wine.

What is Brandy?

Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling grapes. Brandy generally contains 35–60% ABV (alcohol by volume). Varieties of wine brandy can be found throughout the winemaking world. Brandy production is similar to whisky production, just with a different starting point – grape rather than grain. Like whisky, there are many famed or renowned regions and producers. The most well-known are Cognac (Remy-Marten) and Armagnac (Janneau) from southwestern France.

What is fortified wine?

Fortified wine is a wine to which a distilled spirit, usual brandy, is added. Many different styles of fortified wine have been developed, including Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala and the aromatised wine Vermouth.

Port (ruby or Tawney)

Ruby is brighter and tends to be sweeter as a result of the wine spending less time in the barrel. Tawney is darker and tends to have more tannin in the taste, due to spending more time in oak barrels.

Viva Vino – your expert wine merchant

Chris at Viva Vino is your very own expert wine merchant and he knows everything there is to know about wine. To find out more about ordering a box, you can give him a call on 07889 757660, or browse the full wine list on our website.