Every step of how a wine is made directly influences its taste. Quick question, will a wine bottle with a cork or screw top taste better? Normally, when I present two bottles of wine to a customer, they’ll see the twist off plastic bottle cap and assume it’s cheaper or lower in quality. In actuality, screw top wine bottles are on track to become the primary packaging style by the end of the decade. This is because the wine is better sealed with the twisting mechanism. Meaning that the wine lasts longer and stays fresher. To push this example even further, canned wine is technically the absolute best option for storing wine because it keeps out any air pollution. Wine is all about the variables that go into its production. So, if you want to know wine, you have to know how it’s made.
Without further ado, let’s break down the major steps in transforming a grape into wine:
Fermentation and Varietals
Fermentation is the process of turning grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. In its essence, this process is all about yeast molecules converting glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide. To really understand this process though, let’s begin just a little earlier. Wine varietals is a fancy term for different types of grapes. There aren’t just red grapes and green grapes. There are hundreds of different species of grapes. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and so many more. Most vineyards breed three or four grape species and therefore, distribute three or four wine types each year.
Wine and Chemistry
Now then, the vineyard will collect all of the cabernet sauvignon grapes into big buckets and bring them to a massive machine that will handle the fermentation process. So, let’s get back to that yeast, glucose, ethanol, and carbon dioxide. I know that when chemistry terms start getting thrown out brains immediately turn off. My does the same, but it’s genuinely not as complicated as most experts make the fermentation process seem. At its core, grapes are smooshed up, placed in a large oven, and left to simmer for an extended period of time. At the end of that process, the bacteria yeast has turned the grape juices into alcohol.
So, if yeast has turned the grape juice into alcohol, where do the tasting notes of blackberry, cherry, almond, and all the rest come from? In truth, those tasting notes are a trick of the imagination. The human brain is built to make associations and notice patterns. Pattern recognition is used in wine tasting to draw correlations between various foods and the wine itself. Rather than create a million new words to express flavors within wine, we associate the presented flavors with tastes that are slightly similar. A cabernet sauvignon is often described as having notes of blackberry, not because blackberry was used to create the wine, but because a cab sauv is tart and acidic.
While most fruit tasting notes are simply expressions of the grapes flavor interacting with the fermented alcohol, tastes of oakiness are all about the storage process. Centuries ago, tin and other metals weren’t common resources for civilizations to use. Instead, communities used wood. This led to nearly every ounce of wine being stored in large wooden casks. The thing about wood though, is that its molecular structure is weaker than metals. Meaning that aromas and notes of wood will saturate their way into wines. This has led to a shift in the modern wine market as many vineyards have switched from oak aging to metal or tin containers.
Wine is a mix between art and science. Every bottle contains centuries of history and experimentation. Knowing how wine is created is an entry point into the culture of wine. When every little step in the process directly affects the overall taste, it’s vital to understand the ins and outs. In other words, the next time you drink a bottle of pinot noir, you won’t just think about whether it tastes like cherry, you’ll think about the thousands of grapes, the yeast, carbon dioxide, glucose, tannins, aged barrels, and everything else that went into that one tasting experience. Or you’ll just taste cherry, the journeys really up to you.