How is Red Wine Made?
And who can blame them? Paired with a delicious steak, matched with a gorgeous dessert, or simply enjoyed on its own at the end of a long day, red wine enthusiasts know a good red can take all your worries away! But how is the nectar of the gods concocted?
While wine is made through a natural process called winemaking, winemakers still use specific techniques to enhance the final product.
In this article, we’ll talk you through the red winemaking process and reveal the secrets behind its production.
1. Harvesting and Sorting
While knowing exactly when to harvest the grapes is never an easy decision, red wine grapes are usually harvested at the end of summer or at the beginning of fall, depending on the grape variety and the region they’re growing in. To pick the right time, winegrowers start analyzing the grapes in the middle of summer, looking at their color, pH levels, and weight over the course of several weeks.
Every plot of a vineyard is then thoroughly assessed. Once the acidity and sugar levels are optimal, the winegrowers taste the grapes to evaluate different criteria such as the skin’s thickness or the varietal flavors. Besides, wine experts also need to time the harvest based on the weather to ensure ideal harvesting conditions. The harvest can be done either manually or mechanically, depending on regions, estates, and vintages.
After the harvest, the grapes must be sorted to remove any unwanted berries. This tedious process has traditionally been done by hand, but in recent years, technological advancements have made it possible to use mechanical sorting to sort grapes in an incredibly accurate way.
2. Crushing and Fermentation
Once the grapes have been sorted, they’re usually destemmed (removing the stems they’re attached to) in order to reduce harsh tannins and vegetative flavors that could affect the finished wine. They’re then transferred into stainless steel vats or oak barrels to undergo the fermentation process.
They can either be crushed before being transferred into the vats or placed in the vats as whole berries. Then, the maceration process begins, extracting the color, flavors, and tannins from the grape skin and pips.
During the maceration process, alcoholic fermentation will occur either naturally or by adding yeast to the vats. Indeed, the yeast will consume the grapes’ sugar giving the juice its alcohol content. During the fermentation process, winemakers can also choose to increase the extraction of colors and tannins by pushing the grape skins down into the liquid (cap punching). This technique will give the wine richer flavors and tannins.
3. Blending, Fining, and Racking
After maceration, the existing juice is removed from the skin, and the skin goes through a pressing process to extract any additional juice. Winemakers can then choose to blend different grapes. Wine experts will identify attributes and decide on the final blend after a very labor-intensive process.
Once blended, the wine might be cloudy, and some winemakers will add a clarifying agent such as gelatin or egg white to remove any remaining sediments, including yeast lees. This process is known as fining. Note that some winemakers refuse to use fining as they believe it alters the wine’s natural flavors. As a result, they prefer to leave the wine to settle on its own over time.
The wine will then be transferred into fresh stainless still tanks or oak barrels during a process called racking. Once in the new tank, malolactic fermentation will take place, meaning microorganisms naturally present in grape juice will transform tart malic acid into soft lactic acid, giving the wine a smoother texture. Note that some winemakers prefer to use oak barrels as opposed to stainless steel tanks for the maturation process, as the tiny pores in the wood allow for micro-oxygenation to develop a finer wine.
4. Aging and Bottling
Red wine can be aged between a few weeks and up to a few years. The optimum aging significantly varies based on the grape variety. Aging wine in oak barrels is sometimes preferred to aging wine in stainless steel vats. Indeed, barrel aging allows for vanilla, caramel, and baking spices flavors to develop, and as mentioned above, it can also make the wine smoother.
Before bottling the wine, some winemakers will also use a filtering process to remove any unwanted particles. Once this is done, the wine can be bottled and labeled. And it’s finally ready to enjoy!
We hope this article gave you a better understanding of the red winemaking process. Do you have a favorite red wine? If so, don’t hesitate to share in the comment section below!
If you’ve ever gone wine tasting and heard all these different wine terms, words and phrases, but had no idea what any of it meant, don’t worry about it,