Have you ever wondered how white, red, or rosé wine is made? Keep reading and you’ll find the answer and much more!
I’ve organized the content below in small sections to make it easy to read. I must confess I’m quite happy with the research and work done. I hope you’ll find it useful too.
The winemaking process is where all the magic happens and that’s where a lot of “ah-ha” moments happened for me. From the grape juice, alcohol is produced. Aromas and flavors that cannot be perceived directly from the grapes, i.e. primary and secondary, manifest in the fermentation and post fermentation process. Others, i.e. tertiary flavors, can be added as part of the oak maturation.
To me, the winemaker is a wizard. His ability is really a mix of science and art combined together to create that wonderful juice we all love. After all, it’s about awareness. Now that you are about to be initiated to some of the wine-making secrets, your wine tasting experience will be brought to the next level!
Use the table of content below to jump straight to the section. In this article you’ll learn more about:
Are you ready? Let’s begin!
The 6 Common Techniques of The Winemaking Process
These are the typical common techniques of the winemaking process. The order will vary depending on the type of wine.
- Alcoholic Fermentation
#1 – Harvesting
There’s a common say that goes: “the wine is made in the vineyard”. There’s a good reason for it, as a lot of choices need to be made to ensure the right level of acidity, flavor, and sweetness. Some of these are harvesting time, manual or mechanical harvesting, and day or night harvesting to preserve the grapes from the heat.
#2 – Crushing
The juice is liberated by gently squeezing the grapes. Stems are usually removed as well during this phase.
#3 – Pressing
The grapes previously crushed are now pressed to extract as much juice as possible. The timing of the Pressing changes depending on red or white wines.
#4 – Alcoholic Fermentation
This is one of the magic moments in the winemaking process. Primary aromas and flavors such as floral, herbal, and fruity notes to mention some, develop in this phase.
Microorganisms called yeast transformed the sugar in the juice into alcohol. As a result of this transformation CO2 (carbon dioxide gas) and heat is produced. Once all sugar is transformed, the fermentation stops, and dry wine is the result. A typical ABV for dry wine is between 11.5%-16.5%.
After the alcoholic fermentation, a second fermentation called malolactic fermentation usually happens. Bacteria are responsible for it and the aim is to reduce the level of acidity in wine. Butter is a typical flavor produced by malolactic fermentation. Secondary aromas and flavors such as butter and cream develop from this process.
This process is very common for red wines and adds complexity to them. For white wines only certain wines undergo this process, as high acidity, it’s usually needed. Some examples are Riesling and certain styles of Chardonnay.
#5 – Storage/Maturation
The choice now is between a short few months of storage before bottling or long maturation. The maturation will refine the wine structure and taste profile by adding the so-called tertiary flavors. This generally happens in oak.
Three common vessels are used in this phase: Stainless Steel or Concrete and Oak.
- Stainless Steel or Concrete
These vessels do not add any flavors to the wine and can be used for both storage and maturation. Oxygen can have a negative impact on wine. To prevent that, these vessels can be made airtight.
Oak or Barrell adds tertiary flavors to the wine and allows the wine to evolve as it interacts with a limited amount of oxygen during the maturation.
The size, the age, the contact length, and the heat applied to the barrel, are all factors that will determine the tertiary flavors of the wine. These can vary from vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, and spice.
Oxygen plays a role too as the barrels are not airtight. The oxygen helps soften the tannins and can be responsible for flavors like nuts, caramel, and dry fruit.
# 6 – Bottling
That’s the last phase, but not the least important. A lot of things can go wrong here. Once the wine is bottled, no more changes can be made. So it’s paramount that no mistakes or errors are made during this phase, including potential bacteria infections.
Be aware that only certain wines continue to improve in the bottle. For the rest, the flavors start to fade. High acidity, a high level of tannins for the red wines, and a high residual of sugars for the sweet wines all help to preserve the wine and improve over time.
How Is Dry Red Wine Made?
What gives the color to the red wine? The grape’s skin! That’s also where the tannin level is from. The ability to extract these two components is key for the end result.
The main difference with white wines is that the alcoholic fermentation happens between the Crushing and Pressing phase. After the Harvesting phase, these are the common steps to make a dry red wine:
- Alcoholic Fermentation
The below processes, that happen during the Alcoholic Fermentation of red wines, are quite important:
- Color and Tannins extraction
The heat generated from the fermentation, roughly between 68°F to 90°F (20°C to 30C) is not enough to properly extract color and tannins. This is because the skins float to the top and form a thick layer called the cap.
To help this process various techniques. The most commons are:
- Pumping Over: The juice at the bottom of the fermentation vessel is pumped up and sprayed over the cap through a hose.
- Pushing Down: The cap is manually pushed down and mixed via a plunger.
At the end of the alcoholic fermentation red wines are typically drained off the skins.
- Malolactic Fermentation
The wine keeps evolving even after the Bottling phase. Over time the color will lighten and change from ruby to garnet to tawny. Tannins will soften as well and deposits might create. Typical tertiary flavors are fig, wet leaves, and prune.
How Is Dry White Wine Made?
White wines are usually made from white grapes. The key difference with red wines is that the Alcoholic Fermentation happens after the Crushing and Pressing phase and not in between the two. After the Harvesting phase, these are the common steps to make a dry white wine:
- Alcoholic Fermentation
The below processes, that happen during the Alcoholic Fermentation of white wines, are quite important:
- Fermentation Temperature
The temperature during the fermentation is generally between 54°F and 72°F (12°C to 22°C). Intense fruity aromas are generally the result of fermentation towards the low-temperature range.
- Contact with the “lees”
This is an option that the winemaker has to increase the body of the wine and give it secondary aromas and flavors of bread and biscuits for example. The “lees” are nothing else but dead yeast that has deposited at the bottom of the fermentation vessels. The contact length between the wine and the “lees” is part of the wine-making art.
- Malolactic Fermentation
Only certain white wines undergo this process. Common examples are Riseling and Chardonnay.
The wine keeps evolving even after the Bottling phase. Over time the color will deepen and change from lemon to gold to amber. Typical tertiary flavors are honey, nut, dried apricot, and spice.
How Is Dry Rosé Wine Made?
Dry rosé wine can be made in various ways. The two most common are:
- Short Maceration
It follows the process of the red wine up to the fermentation, which lasts only a few hours. This determines the color and tannic structure. The wine is then drained and continues fermentation at white wine temperature.
Simply by mixing white and red wine you can get a rosé wine. This practice is though not permitted in many parts of Europe.
What else can influence the style of the wine?
Winemakers have many options available to them to define the style of their wine. Some common examples are:
- Sugar adjustments
Sugar is usually added to grapes with low sugar levels to increase ABV or the body. That’s common in cool climates or cool vintage.
- Acid adjustments
Too high (cool climate) or too low (warm climate) acidity levels are a common problem caused by the ripening of the grapes. Winemakers can therefore neutralize or add acidity to give balance.
Blending has a direct effect on the style of the wine and it can happen at many stages during the wine-making process. Why is blending used you might wonder? One reason is to ensure consistency over time to satisfy clients’ expectations. Another one can be to get a wine that is more complex than the individual grapes.
- Oak alternatives
Oak is expensive and for cheaper wines, the budget alternatives are oak chips or oak staves to achieve some tertiary flavors.