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  • Writer's pictureuncorked

The making of red wine

Red and white wines are actually made a bit differently. The same basic principles are in place, converting grapes into alcohol, but it does differ.

Knowing how wine is made will help you savor each sip and enjoy your favorite red even more.

Basic steps:

  • Grow the grapes

  • Harvest them

  • Ferment - Sugar and yeast combined make alcohol and CO2

  • Press this combo

  • Age in large containers

  • Filter & Fine

  • Bottle

  • Store

Simple, right?

Let's look into a bit more detail.

Growing: This is where it all starts. The better the grape the better the wine. Soil, sun, temperatures, watering practices and some much more go into each vine. Grapes are a funny fruit, they love to be abused.

Harvesting: Grapes used to make red wine always have dark skins. The best wines comes from grapes pick at their peak of ripeness. Too early and the wine will be thin and tart. Too late and the wine will taste over ripe, just like an individual grape. Wine makers consider when to pick the most critical part of making great wine. A vineyard can also choose to pick grapes by hand or by machine and whether to pick during the day or at night. All making a big difference in the grape that goes into your wine.

Preparing the grapes: A winemaker now decides whether to remove the stems or not. Stems add tannins to the wine but also reduce sour flavors. At this point sulfur dioxide is added to stop spoilage before fermentation begins.

Fermentation: Yeast must be added to the grapes to start fermentation. There are natural yeasts and commercial yeasts. For many this is an easy choice, however it comes with challenges. Natural yeasts are harder to provide a consistent wine with, while commercial yeasts are much more consistent. The yeast now begins to take the sugars in the grapes and turn them into alcohol. The first days of fermentation are the most vigorous, about 70% of the total alcohol produced happens within three to seven days. As alcohol increases the yeast levels reduce and the fermentation slows down.

Fermentation: There are many varying methods used during fermentation. Some winemakers choose to stir the skins back into the juice (they like to float on top), by pumping the juice from the bottom back over the top. This method extracts more flavors from the skins, making a richer red. Another method is to punch the skins down into the juice. This results in a more delicate subtle red. Fermentation time varies a lot from 5 days to 50 days, and some take years to fully ferment.

Second Fermentation or Malolactic Fermentation: As the juice settles in the vessel, little microbes eat the wine acids and converts malic acid into lactic acid. Malic acid give the wine a sharp taste. The lactic acid provides the wine with a creamier taste. Almost all red wines go through this second fermentation (only a few white wines do).

Pressing: After the juice is fermented to a winemakers desire, the juice is drained and the remaining skins are pressed. Pressing the skins contributes around 15 percent more wine.

Aging: The container used at this point adds to the flavor profile of the wine. Storage vessels can be anything from stainless steel , concrete, clay, glass or the well-known barrel. Oak barrels add smells and flavors of vanilla; concrete or clay can soften the wine by reducing the acids. Now it sits and ages. Time is a big factor in red wine. The longer it sits the more chemical reaction happen, making the wine smoother.

Blending: A winemaker blends the juice. Sometimes this is simply with another barrel of juice from the same grape plot and sometime it is blended with another variety of grape.

Clarifying or fining & filtering: This is done because proteins are left in the wine making it cloudy. Fining agents can be egg whites, and even bentonite clay. The wine also is filtered for sanitation, this reduces the likelihood of bacterial spoilage.

Bottling and labeling: Bottling reduces the exposure to oxygen which starts to break down and spoil the juice.

Bottle aging: Now many wines are cellared for years before being made available to the marketplace.

So sit back and savor that glass of your favorite red wine a bit more with your new found knowledge.

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