Wine Basics

For a wine novice there are some very basic aspects that it would help to know. Some basic terms I will define, as well as an understanding of what goes into the making of wine. But, the first thing I will tell you is that wine is all about enjoyment. The best wines are the ones that you enjoy the most, with a caution that this is an alcoholic drink. Moderation is all-important in your enjoyment.

Simply put, wine is the fermented juice of grapes. Sugar from the ripe grapes with yeast added becomes alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Fermentation starts with pressing the grapes to get the juice from them, adding yeast, then allowing the mix to sit under specific conditions until the sugar has been converted to alcohol, or the alcohol level reaches 15%. This is the point where the alcohol kills off the yeast. Basically speaking, the wine is ready to bottle.

The carbon dioxide is allowed to dissipate in still wines, while it is contained in sparkling wines.

There are 3 basic types of wine:

  • Table wine: 8 – 15% alcohol
  • Sparkling wine: 8 – 12% alcohol plus CO2
  • Fortified wine: 17 – 22% alcohol

Red grapes can produce white wine and but white grapes have no red color pigment to make red wine. All the red coloration comes from the skin of the grapes. In the wine-making process, the crushed grapes are pressed to remove the skin. For white wine, the pressing happens before the juice is fermented so no red pigments get into the wine. But with red wine the pressing does not happen until after the fermentation. With rosés, the most common way to achieve the color is to allow the skin to remain in contact with the juice for a short time, then pressing occurs and the pink color results.

The differences in taste of wine occurs because of the grapes. There are two major species of grapes used for wine production: Vitis vinifera and Vitis labrusca. Hybrids are starting to show up that combine both varieties. The growing conditions of grape vines are the single most important factor in getting great wine. Growers spend a good deal of time and worry over the weather conditions for their vineyards.

Every wine has a vintage. That just means the year the grapes were harvested. This is important because of the weather conditions while the grapes were growing. Ideal weather conditions result in great wines. By contrast, bad weather conditions like a late frost, too much or too little rain, will result in lesser wines.

By reading a wine bottle label, you can gain a lot of information about the wine itself. Every label will show the winemaker’s name, the name of the wine, the vintage (year), the location of where the grapes were grown, and the variety of grapes used. When you put together the types of grapes, where they were grown and year the grapes were harvested, you can learn about those weather conditions. Therefore, learn more about the quality of the wine itself.

In every major wine-producing country, winemaking (vinification) is carefully controlled and regulated by government agencies. Minimum standards as set that must be observed. This helps insure that what you consume is safe. Still remembering that this is an alcoholic drink that may not be safe in any form for some people.

So, what is the best wine? It is simply the wine that you enjoy best.


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