A recent study by The Wine and Spirit Association revealed that 60% of UK adults drink wine - that’s 30 million people!!
Whether you’re a complete newbie or a wine aficionado, our three part guide is sure to have something for you. If you haven’t got the time to take a professional wine tasting course, this handy guide will have you clued up in no time!
- Picking the grapes
- Crushing the grapes
- Fermenting the grapes into wine
- Ageing the wine
- Bottling the wine
Racking – The process of siphoning wine from one container to another, intended to remove any sediment left over from the crushing process
Tannin – A textural element which gives wine its dryness
Must – Freshly crushed juice which contains the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes
New World – Wine growing areas outside of the traditional winemaking regions
Mouthfeel – The sensation of wine in the mouth
Punt – Dimple at the bottom of a wine bottle
Noble grapes – varieties of grapes famous for producing top quality wines
While methods will vary from vineyard to vineyard depending on the kind of grapes and wine being produced, the wine making process consist of 5 vine-to-wine steps:
Picking the grapes
It’s all in the timing – harvesting the perfect grapes requires a touch of science!
Winemakers traditionally harvest white grapes first and move on the red varieties later on in the year, with many choosing traditional hand picking methods over automated harvesting. Picking the grapes by hand is gentler and preserves the quality of the valuable grapes; this method allows trained pickers to ensure only the best grapes are picked for production.
Many wineries choose to harvest at night to take advantage of the cooler temperatures; not only does this benefit the staff - meaning they avoid toiling in the mid-day sun; picking the grapes when cold intensifies the aromas and flavours, giving winemakers more control over the fermentation process. Particularly important for white and rose wines, grapes harvested at cooler temperatures produce a crispness difficult to replicate using other methods.
Fact: A hand-picker can collect up to 2 tonnes of grapes in an 8 hour day while a machine can collect 80-200 tonnes!
Crushing the grapes
Once the grapes have been picked, it’s time to extract the juice! The grapes are de-stemmed, usually by machine and quality checked before being crushed. Traditionally, grapes were crushed by foot and celebrated the end of the harvest, although these days the work is mostly completed by machines.
Once crushed, the grapes used for white wine are transferred into a press, where the must is extracted and they are separated from their skins; this is a key part of the white wine making process as it prevents any unwanted colour or tannins leaking into the wine! The extracted juice is transferred into settling tanks before being racked. During the racking process, the must is filtered to ensure any sediment has gone before the fermentation process begins.
Fermenting the grapes
Fermentation is the process which converts the must into the wine we all know and love. The two basic ingredients required for the fermenting process are sugar and yeast. The yeast is added to consume the naturally occurring sugar found in the grapes and produces the alcohol and carbon dioxide which contributes to the taste and smell of the end product.
The wine is usually fermented in steel tanks or oak casks, and the vessel in which the wine is fermented has a huge impact on the taste and mouthfeel of the wine!
Oak barrels allow the slow ingress of oxygen which provides the wine with a smooth and silky feel. Oaked wines typically have strong vanilla and smoke-like flavours and aromas. During the 1950s, steel barrels revolutionised winemaking, allowing winemakers to produce their product on a larger scale and providing them with greater control over the fermentation process. Steel tanks are considered to be more durable (oak barrels only last 2-3 years!), impart no additional flavour to the wine and limit the amount of wine lost during the fermentation process. Win fermented in steel is typically zesty, refreshing and juicer than its oak aged counterparts.
Fermentation continues until all of the sugar is converted into alcohol, and can take anywhere from 10 days to several months to complete.
Ageing the wine
Once fermentation is complete, the freshly made wine is transferred ageing vats. During the ageing process, the acidity in the wine decreases, undesirable substances left over from fermentation are expelled and complex compounds affecting flavour and aroma are formed – basically ageing is what makes it tasty!
Some wines are ready for bottling after just a few months, while some dry reds need ageing for up to two years before they are ready to be bottled.
Bottling the wine
The final step in the wine making process is the bottling! Once the wine has been sufficiently aged and the bottles sterilised, the wine is prepared for bottling.
Wine bottles vary widely based on the kind of wine inside them, the most common being the Bordeaux-style bottle. Originating (perhaps not surprisingly!) from the Bordeaux wine region of France, the Bordeaux is a tall bottle with straight sides, high defined shoulders and a deep punt in the base. The punt is intended to catch any remaining sediment left over from the winemaking process. These bottles are traditionally dark green when used for red wines, light green for dry whites and clear for sweeter, white wines.
Similarly, Burgundy-style bottles are also used for wines produced in other parts of the world, although they were originally used to bottle the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines traditionally made in the region. Usually green and wide at the base, Burgundy-style bottles have a shorter neck and gentle sloping sides that create the iconic silhouette synonymous with the region.
Alsace or Mosel-style bottles are tall and thin with a long sloping neck, and are nearly always made from green glass. Historically used to bottle wines from the Mosel area of Germany and Alsace in France, today these bottles are used for a wide variety of wines, but most commonly for Riesling and variations upon it. Makers of New World wines use this bottle exclusively for sweet wines, favouring a variety of other shapes for drier wines.
Red Wine Glasses
The large, rounded body of the Burgundy glass allows aromas of more delicate wines to accumulate in the bowl while also enhancing the acidity and intensity of fuller-bodied red wines.
The thin rim makes it easy to drink from while the narrow opening guides the wine to the tip of the tongue, allowing the drinker to fully appreciate the flavour variations between acidity and fruity notes.
Also suitable for: Beaujolais
Wines to avoid: Bordeaux red
Possessing many similar qualities to the Burgundy glass, the Pinot Noir glass is somewhat of a chameleon and as such can be used for any light-bodied red wines. The large bowl provides ample space for the wine to come into contact with the air, triggering the oxidation process and subsequently improving flavour and enhancing aromas.
A tapered rim targets the wine at the front of the mouth, directing the flavours straight to the nose and tip of the tongue to accentuate the dry, tannic characteristics of Pinot wines.
Also suitable for: Grenache, Zinfandel
Wines to avoid: Cabernet Sauvignon
The tallest of all red wine glasses, the Bordeaux has a long stem and slightly narrower bowl than other red wine glasses. The height of the glass creates distance between the wine and the mouth, enabling the wine to aerate, softening the tannin and creating a smoother finish.
Crafted for full bodied red wines, the Bordeaux directs the wine to the back of the mouth to minimise bitterness and emphasise the full spectrum of flavours within the wine.
Also suitable for: Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Syrah
Wines to avoid: New Zealand Pinot Noir
Widely regarded as a universal wine glass, the Cabernet glass has a broad bowl which concentrates the intense aromas of the wine near the narrow mouth of the glass.
Specifically created to moderate acidity by sending wine directly to the back of the mouth, the large surface area of the bowl allows ample space for the oxidation process, lessening the tannins and enhancing the fruit flavours within the wine.
Also suitable for: Malbec, Merlot
White Wine Glasses
White wines are traditionally served in wine glasses with a smaller bowl and narrow opening in order to conserve floral aromas and to exaggerate the acidity in the wine.
Shallower than your average white wine glass, the Chardonnay glass has a wide mouth and large rounded bowl similar to traditional red wine glasses. The large bowl provides sufficient space for the oxidation process, while the wide opening balances out sweetness and acidity in the wine.
The large opening directs wine to the tip and sides of the tongue, allowing the palate to detect complex layers of spice and fruit flavours in Chardonnay wines.
Also suitable for: Pinot Noir, Burgundy
Wines to avoid: Whites from Southern Portugal
A petit glass, the Sauvignon Blanc glass is short with a slender bowl that captures delicate floral and fruity aromas, and a tapered opening that directs these aromas directly to the nose.
The shape of this glass causes the tongue to naturally form a ‘U’ shape which guides the wine to the centre of the palate, avoiding the sides to reduce acidity and create a smooth finish.
Also suitable for: Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Bordeaux
Look through the Grape Varieties:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Syrah (Shiraz)
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
A firm favourite, Merlot is the most widely planted grape in France, and the second most planted grape in the world.
Historically only grown in the Bordeaux region, Merlot makes a mild wine with a smooth, red fruit flavour and mouthfeel. One of three varieties of noble grapes, Merlot is often blended with other grapes to soften bolder and more austere wines.
Produced in: France, Italy, California, Australia, Argentina, Chile
Serve at: Room temp 16 – 20oc
Glass type: Bordeaux
Notable wines: Saint-Emilion, Pomerol
Meat – Beef, Lamb, Duck, Turkey, Chicken
Pinot Noir is one of the few red grapes that are made into red, white, rose and sparkling wines!
Produced in: France, California, Germany, Argentina, Italy, New Zealand
Serve: Cellar temp 13 – 16oc
Glass type: Pinot Noir
Notable wines: Nuits-Saint-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin
Meat – Duck, Chicken, Pork, Salmon, Tuna
Produced in: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, California
Serve: Cold; 7 – 13oc
Glass type: Sauvignon Blanc
Notable wines: Sancerre
Meat – Oysters, Crab, Sole
Produced in: France, Australia, Chile, Argentina
Serve: Cold; 7 – 13oc
Glass type: Sauvignon Blanc
Notable wines: Sauternes
Meat - Chicken, Pork, Turkey, Duck, Trout, Catfish, Cod, Halibut