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Wine Basics

What is Wine?

Wine is a drink that is normally made from the juice of grapes, but wines are also made from fruits, vegetables and other sources of sugar and starch. For example, wine can be made from apples, blackberries, elderberries, cherries, parsnips, rice.

When the word 'wine' is used alone, usually the intended meaning is wine made from grapes.

How is Wine Made?

Wine is produced by a process of fermentation, which is the growth of yeasts on sugars or starches, in the absence of air. Yeasts are a type of single celled organism, from the kingdom of fungi. These organisms have the ability to convert sugar or starch into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol produced is the chemical 'ethanol'.

Fermentation continues for a period of up to a few weeks until it slows down and stops either because all the sugar or starch has been consumed, or because the concentration of alcohol exceeds about 15%. Alcohol in the wine at this concentration stops the yeast from converting further sugar to alcohol.

In most wines, the carbon dioxide is allowed to bubble off during the fermentation process. When these wines are bottled, the fermentation has been completed, and they are still (not bubbly) when opened.

How is Bubbly Wine Produced?

Bubbly wine (sparkling wine) is produced when the fermentation continues after the wine has been sealed in a bottle. Further carbon dioxide is produced from the fermentation of the remaining sugar.

The carbon dioxide continues to be produced by the yeast, but because of the seal on the bottle, it cannot escape, so the pressure in the bottle gradually increases. Due to this increased pressure, the carbon dioxide remains dissolved in solution in the wine liquid. However, the carbon dioxide comes out of solution, forming bubbles, when the seal on the bottle is released and the pressure in the bottle is lowered to atmospheric pressure.

Some History of Wine Making

Wine has been produced for the last several thousand years. Possibly first during the Neolithic period, which extended from approximately 9500 BC to 4000 BC, and originated in communities in the Middle East in what is modern day Iran and the West Bank of the Jordan river. This period is considered by some academics as the likely origin of wine production. During this period there was a change from hunting gathering for food, to the first established agricultural farming of crops on cultivated land.

The earliest tangible archaeological evidence attributed to wine production is the pottery jar discovered at Shulaveri in Georgia, Europe by Professor Patrick McGovern's team at the University of Pennsylvania. Another jar, possibly thought to have been used for wine storage, was discovered at Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran by Mary M. Voight and is dated to circa 5400-5000 B.C.

Wine making spread from this area into Egypt, Greece and more widely in Europe around 4500 B.C.

The earliest mention of wine in the Bible is in the book of Genesis Ch. 9, which says that Noah planted a vineyard, drank a bit too much of the wine from it and fell asleep naked. This early story illustrates both the pleasures and pitfalls of wine.

Why Does Wine Have Different Colours?

Wine typically has the following major colour types: red, rosé, yellow, white.

The differing colours of wine are caused by the skin of the grapes. Most grapes have a central flesh and juice that is colourless, or slightly yellow.

When red grapes are left in long contact with the grape juice during fermentation, the red pigments from the grape skin stains the grape juice, giving the wine its red colour.

White grapes don't colour the wine, because there is no skin pigment. However, white wines can also be produced from red grapes, but only if the skins are quickly separated from the juice.

Rosé wines are normally produced by allowing contact with red grape skins for only a short time. Rosé wines are also produced as a by product in the production of stronger coloured red wine and less often, by blending some red wine into a largely white must.

The age of the wine is also a factor in the colour.

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