Wine 101 – What is Wine? – Part 1

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What is Wine?

The first known wines date back to 6,000BC and are thought to have originated in what is now Israel, Georgia and Iran. Making its first European debut approx 4,500BC in what is now Greece wine quickly became a common drink in ancient Greece and Rome with the modern word wine deriving from “winam”, an early borrowing from the Latin “vinum” meaning wine or grape.

Wine is made from fermented grape juice. The chemical balance of grapes allows for fermentation without any nutrients or sugars, acids or enzymes being added.

Various types of yeast consume the sugars found in the grapes and convert them into alcohol. Different grape varieties are combined with different yeast strains to produce different kinds of wine. It’s not just grapes that are used either. Fruits like apples and berries can also be fermented, and the “wines” that result are normally named after the fruit they come from and are generically known as “fruit wines”.

Red, white and sparkling wines are known as light wines. They are the most popular partially because they are only 10-14% alcohol-content by volume. Aperitif and dessert wines contain 14-20% alcohol. They are sometimes fortified to make them richer and sweeter.

Varietals – A wine made principally from one variety of grape and carrying the name of that grape.

Wine is usually made from one or more Varietal of Vitis Vinifera, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Merlot. When the predominant grape is one of these varieties in a mixture defined by law as a minimum of 75% or 85%, the result is a Varietal. This is different from a blended wine. Blended wines are not considered inferior; in fact, some of the world’s most valued and expensive wines that come from regions like Bordeaux and Tuscany are blended from different grape varieties of the same Vintage.

Vintages

Vintage wines are made from grapes that are exclusively grown in a specific year, and they are labeled this way. A vintage wine’s character can vary yearly with subtle differences in colour, palate, nose, body and development. A high-quality red table wine’s flavour improves with age if properly stored. Consequently, it’s common for wine enthusiasts and traders to save bottles of an especially good vintage wine.

Vintage wines are generally bottled in single batches so that each bottle will have a similar taste. Climate can also impact the character of a wine. Different vintages from the same vineyard can vary dramatically in flavour and quality. Thus, vintage wines are individually characteristic of the vintage and serve as the producer’s flagship wine. Superior vintages, from reputable producers and regions, will often fetch much higher prices than their average counterparts. Some vintage wines, like Brunello, are only made in better-than-average years.

For consistency, non-vintage wines can be blended from more than one vintage. This process allows wine makers to maintain a reliable market image and sales even in bad years.

Terrois or Terreni (territory) refer to specific areas. It’s a concept that includes several items like the grape varieties, elevation and shape of the vineyard, the nature of the soil, climate and seasonal conditions as well as the local yeast cultures.

Regulations

The classification and sale of wine is governed all over the world. European wines tend to be classified by region (e.g. Bordeaux and Chianti), while others are often classified by grape (e.g. Merlot, Chardonnay). However, regional recognition is leading to increased prominence for some wine labels. Some blended wine names also double as marketing terms, and these names are governed by trademark or copyright laws rather than by specific wine laws.

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