For many of us wine is something of a mystery and when we are buying wine it comes down to a simple choice between red and white and what our local supermarket has available in its “special offer” bin. But wine really isn’t such a mystery at all and, in this area at least, a little knowledge can get you a very long way.
The starting point is to understand the different types of wine available and here we can divide wines into five main groups.
Red wine is fermented from what many people would refer to as red grapes but which are in fact more correctly named black grapes. In the case of red wine the grapes are used whole for fermentation, that is to say complete with skin and pips, and it is the skin which gives the wine its red color.
There are a wide variety of black grapes available each with its own distinctive flavor which is derived principally from the soil and climate in the region where the grapes are grown. This, together with the winemaker’s art of mixing, allows us to enjoy a range of red wines from the deep blackcurrant color of the full-bodied and intensely flavored wines produced from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape to the lighter cherry and raspberry taste gained from the Pinot Noir grape.
RosÈ wines are again produced from black grapes but, in this case, the juice is separated off part way through the fermentation process and at the point at which the winemaker determines that the juice contains sufficient color to give the finished wine the pink color that he is looking for.
Once again the flavor of the finished wine depends very much on the grape used for fermentation and some of the finest rosÈ wines are produced from the Grenache grape. Often thought of as a French grape, Grenache noir is the world’s most widely planted grape and probably originates from Spain. As well as often being used to produce rosÈ wines, it is also commonly used as a base for many blended wines including such well known names as Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du RhÙne.
Blush wine is sometimes referred to as California’s version of rosÈ wine and is produced in much the same way as rosÈ wine. In this case however the grape most often used is the Zinfandal grape which produces a slightly sweet pink wine which also shows a somewhat blue color. The Zinfandal grape originates in Croatia but has been grown widely in the US for more than 150 years now and is considered indigenous to California.
Believe it or not white wine can be made from either white or black grapes, as the juice from either grape is colorless and it is only the skin of the black grape that gives red wine its color.
The flavors available across the range of white wines vary tremendously according to the grape used, the winemaker’s art and the degree to which different juices are blended to create the finished wine.
Dry white wines often come from grapes such as Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc while richer fruit-flavored wines are more likely to be based upon the Chardonnay grape.
Sparkling wines, of which Champagne is clearly the best known example, are based upon a dry white wine. Here the wine is bottled and a solution of sugar and yeast is added before the bottle is sealed. The sugar and yeast solution causes a secondary fermentation and sealing the bottles at the start of this process traps the gas produced by this fermentation within the wine to give it its sparkle when the bottle is opened.