Last week I detailed the complexities of growing ripe fruit through the summer and into the grape harvest for making wine. Once that fruit gets back to the winery, it's an equally involved, complex and labour-intensive effort by numerous workers to get the juices flowing and then fermenting.
Here's how it works it works for most wines, keeping in mind there are many variations based on what you're making that couldn't possibly fit in this space.
Many wineries employ a crushing and de-stemming machine to take care of two jobs at once, especially for red grapes. A crusher is a big machine with a rotating drum; once crushed, the juice and skins of red grapes (called must) are taken from the crusher and placed in airtight, stainless steel fermentation tanks. The must for white wine, meanwhile, goes to a press, which separates the juice from everything else. Some winemakers use more traditional (and typically gentler) basket presses, while others employ a mechanical press.
Once pressed, the white grape juice is placed in fermentation tanks -- this is where yeast converts the sugar in the juice into carbon dioxide and alcohol. And while some winemakers opt to use the yeast native to the grapes to cultivate fermentation, most add the more predictable cultured yeast.
This primary fermentation usually takes a couple of weeks at least, and in the process winemakers monitor pH levels and acidity. Once the primary fermentation is done, the red wine must is sent to the press to separate the juice from the skins and stems with which it has been fermenting.
At this point, the winemaker has to decide on what type of aging the wine should undergo, and in what kind of vessel it should take place. Lighter, crisp white wines are typically sent back to stainless steel tanks, while more complex whites and many reds are sent to oak barrels for maturation. Oak imparts woody, vanilla and spice flavours to a wine while allowing minute levels of oxygen to come into contact with the wine, which softens it up.
For a more intense oak flavour, winemakers use new barrels made from either French or American oak, while other wines might spend time barrels that have been used a couple times or more. Larger and older barrels are more neutral, impacting the flavour of the wine only slightly. Oak barrels aren't cheap, and some wineries get around investing in them by adding oak staves or chips into a stainless steel fermentation tank.
Some wines also undergo a secondary fermentation. Called malolactic fermentation, the process converts harsher malic acid to the softer lactic acid via the introduction of a specific bacteria. This is more common in reds but is sometimes employed to get richer, creamier textures in whites like Chardonnay.
As the wine ages, either in stainless steel tanks or barrels, winemakers continue to monitor pH, acid, alcohol and residual sugar levels -- usually in labs. These levels can be adjusted slightly along the way if needed. Of course, there's constant tasting that happens as well, as in the end it's the flavours that are most important.
Some wines are then fined and filtered to remove yeast cells and other particles as well as to clarify a wine. From there, wines made from a single grape variety can then be bottled; if a winemaker is creating a wine from a combination of different grapes (or one kind of grape from multiple sites), blending tests take place until it's just how they want it.
Like I said, this doesn't account for additional steps involved in making wines such as port, sherry, bubbly, icewine, and many more.
So while making wine involves long periods of farming, there's an incredible amount of chemistry, biology, instinct and artistry that goes into what ends up in a bottle on your favourite shop -- and then in your glass.
- Whitehaven 2011 Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand -- $22.96, Liquor Marts and beyond)
New Zealand Pinot Noir often has this cola aroma I can pick out, and while it's there in the Whitehaven it wasn't as apparent as the complex mushroom, raspberry and cherry notes. It's a light-plus bodied Pinot Noir, with the raspberry and cherry notes out front on the palate and rhubarb, earth and light vegetal notes underneath. 3/5
- Torres 2012 Viña Esmerelda (Catalunya, Spain -- $13.80, Liquor Marts and beyond)
A blend of Moscatel de Alejandríaand Gewürztraminer, this white continues to be an outstanding value. Ripe peach aromas work so well with spice, floral and lemon zest notes on the nose. It's a light-bodied, off-dry, crisp white, with peach and apricot complemented by spice notes. It's an intense yet delicate wine that would excel with seafood or Thai fare. 4/5
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