Wine has been made for centuries without too much fuss. The basic process is quite simple: you take ripe grapes, ferment them, and filter them into the appropriate vessels.
The chemical equation for fermentation looks something like this:
Sugar + Yeast = Alcohol + CO2
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Reduced to its most basic, it is quite simple. But the techniques used to make red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, and rosé wine are remarkably different and have a significant effect on the finished product.
Today we’ll provide a brief overview of how these wines are made, but we’ll save the minutia of each method for future articles.
How White Wine is Made
White grapes, like chardonnay, pinot gris, or sauvignon blanc, are picked when ripe and sent straight to a crusher-destemmer, which separates the grapes from their stems. The grapes are then immediately put into a press, which gently squeezes the juice from the fruit. The resulting juice is then transferred to a vessel of some sort—stainless steel tanks, t-bins, carboys, or barrels—to ferment.
The winemaker may choose to add yeast or use natural wild yeasts. Adding yeast generally makes the process more predictable. Once the yeast has converted all the sugar to alcohol, the wine is transferred into another vessel to settle before bottling. It may go through a secondary, malolactic fermentation, but not always. The wine will rest until the winemaker considers it ready to be bottled.
How Red Wine is Made
Red grapes are also sent to the crusher-destemmer, but not always. Occasionally the winemaker will choose to destem only a portion of the crop and leave the rest on the stems. The wine is then transferred to a tank for fermentation (note that it does not get pressed just yet). Yeast is added (or not), and the wine is punched down and pumped over to extract as much color and tannin as possible during fermentation.
Once the red wine is finished fermenting, it is pressed and then transferred to another vessel, where it goes through secondary malolactic fermentation. Almost all red wines go through malolactic, but there are a few notable exceptions. Malic acid is incredibly harsh, and malolactic converts those acids into softer lactic acid, making the wine more pleasant to drink. Finally, the wine is finished according to the winemaker’s preference. It may go into a barrel, have oak chips or staves added, or if the intention is to be unoaked, it will rest for a while before being filtered and bottled.
How Rose Wine is Made
There are several methods of making rosé:
The saignée method bleeds juice off the top of a tank filled with red wine grapes. The juice has had minimal skin contact, so the color is not as deep as a finished red wine. The remaining wine is made as a typical red. Saignée rosé is often richer and more full-bodied than other types of rosé.
Rosé wine made using this method is left on skins only for a short time (compared to red wine). The juice remains on skins for up to 48 hours and is then pressed and racked off into another vessel. The short time it spends on the skins imparts less color.
Many rosé’s are made by blending red and white wines together. This gives winemakers a more complex palette to work with in terms of color and flavor profiles. You won’t often find old-world rosé wines made in this method as appellation laws do not allow it.
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