What’s the difference between a rosé and a white wine? What gives red wine its bitter taste, and what give white wine its cool, crisp flavor profile?
People have been practicing and perfecting the wine-making process for centuries, and today we have hundreds of varieties that each have their own specific flavor. Above it all, though, there are six major categories of wine that each use different processes to create the final product.
Here are the basics of wine-making and how each major type of wine is made!
How different wines are made
How is wine made?
Although there are many kinds of wine to choose from, nearly all of them follow a similar manufacturing process. It’s just like tea, actually, which is all made from one type of tea bush but is refined with different processing techniques.
The majority of wine is made from grapes, which are grown in vineyards in many warm, dry regions of the world. Farmers watch the grapes closely to determine their ripeness and the best time for picking, ensuring that only the finest of grapes reach the wine cellars. Many harvesters prefer to harvest the grapes by hand so as not to bruise or damage them with machinery, and any rotten or under-ripe grapes are sorted out of the batch before moving on to the next step.
Once harvested and sorted, machines then crush and press the grapes to release the juices from the skins. It’s here that the processes for creating red and white wine deviate, but we’ll get to that later.
Grape juice naturally starts to ferment a few hours after pressing, thanks to naturally occurring bacteria in the air reacting to the sugars in the juice. Winemakers can alter and refine this process, though, by introducing their own specific brand of yeast to move the fermentation along a more predictable path. Essentially, the yeast converts the natural sugars in grape juice into alcohol, so the longer the fermentation process, the higher the alcohol level.
Fermentation processes can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the type of wine and the winemaker’s personal tastes.
Once fermented, wine goes through a clarification process through which any debris or large chunks are filtered out of the liquid. This can be done by either introducing binding agents into the juice to clump debris together, making it easier to remove, or by passing the wine through a complex system of filters.
Once filtered, the wine is sent to be aged and bottled. Many wineries immediately bottle their wines as not all wines need to be aged, but aging wine can alter the flavors and strength of a wine significantly. In the end, though, it all comes down to the winemaker’s personal tastes and preference.
What factors make wines taste different?
The two biggest factors in differentiating the six main types of wine is the type of grape used (either red grapes or white grapes) and the amount of contact the pressed juice has with the grape skins. These differences play a large role in determining a host of factors that ultimately determine the profile of the finished product.
Here are some of the terms and factors that you’ll likely encounter when looking at how wine can differ from type to type and variety to variety:
- Tannins: Tannins are what give wine (especially red wine) their bitter taste. Tannins are found in grape stems, seeds and stalks, as well as in additives like cinnamon, cloves, chocolate and nuts. If you brewed a cup of extremely strong black tea and added nothing to it, that strong bitter taste comes from the high concentration of tannins in the tea leaves.
- Sweetness/dryness: Contrary to popular belief, sugar is not usually added to wine to create sweetness. Rather, the sweetness in wine depends on how long the grapes have been left on the vine and how long the fermentation process is. Leaving grapes on the vine results in higher sugar content, and since fermentation is done by converting sugar to alcohol, shorter fermentation times result in sweeter wines. Dry wines are made by picking grapes earlier or by allowing the fermentation process to devour all the sugar in the wine.
- Acidity: Acidity is what can make one wine taste tart and crisp and another taste smooth and soft; the difference between a crisp, sweet white wine and a full-bodied red. A wine’s acidity is determined by the fruit’s pH balance, which itself is determined by the soil’s chemical structure, the alkalinity of the grapes during the ripening process, the amount of sunshine in the region and even the winemaker’s adjustments to the fermentation process.
There’s a lot more that goes into winemaking and the factors that influence the final taste, but these are a good start to understanding the differences between the six main types of wine.
The 6 main types of wine
Red wines are made with red grapes that are fermented with the grape skins, giving the wine the dark red color and the higher tannin concentration. Red wines are darker when first fermented, then lighten up as the tannins soften over time. Older red wines are lighter in color and softer in taste than newer reds.
Fun fact: red wines are usually served and kept at room temperature, but did you know why? Cold temperatures affect the tannins and make them taste bitter, so stick to room temp for the best results!
White wine can be made with both red and white grapes! The reason this wine is so clear is because the wine is separated from the skins as soon as possible, preventing the skins and tannins from darkening the wine.
White wines are usually more acidic than reds because there are no tannins to balance the flavor out, giving them the cool, crisp taste they are so famous for.
Fun fact: white wines are acidic and tart by nature, so they pair well with fresh and smooth meals with lighter flavors like fish, chicken, salads, seafood and light snacks.
Rosé wine is the little cousin to red wine, as it’s made in a similar fashion but over a shorter period of time.
This type of wine is fermented using red grapes and their skins, just like red wine, but the fermentation process is cut short when the liquid reaches the desired color. This usually means that rather than fermenting for a few weeks or months, rosé is fermented for just a few hours to a couple of days.
Fun fact: rosé is one of the oldest known kinds of wine in the world, as its process is also the most simple.
Sparkling wines can be made from red, white or rosé wines that have been through a second fermentation process that adds carbonation to the wine. This can either be done by directly adding carbon dioxide to the wine (usually done for cheaper wines), by adding sugar and aging the wine horizontally for 15-36 months (for higher-end wines like champagne) or by pressurizing the wine in a large tank with yeast and sugar until the desired level of carbonation is reached (for mid-range wines like Prosecco).
Fun fact: sparkling wines are served in tall glasses to preserve the carbonation and temperature!
Dessert wines have high levels of sugar and can be made using either red or white grapes. The fermentation process is cut short in order to preserve the natural sweetness in the grape juices, making them perfect additions to sweet desserts.
Fun fact: fortified wines, which are regular wines with a spirit added to it, fall under the dessert wines category because they are also much sweeter than most. They have a higher alcohol content than regular dessert wines, though, because of the spirits added to them.
Orange wines follow the same production process as red wines, but are instead made with white grapes. The white skins that ferment with the liquid give the wine a slightly amber color, as well as infuse the flavor with tannins.
Fun fact: National Orange Wine Day is celebrated each year on October 6!
So, there you have it! Within each type of wine there are dozens of varieties that tweak the wine-making process a little to create slight changes to the recipes, but in the end, each variety will follow the same overall process as other wines in its type.
Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/kaboompics