Whether you’re a serious home winemaker or just having a go for fun, knowing a bit about wine will expand your horizons. It will also help you decide what you’re aiming for in your own wine making efforts.
The most fundamental distinction is probably simply between red and white wine. The color of wine comes from the skin. Include the skin of red grapes in the pressing and your wine will be red. White grapes make white wines. However, some white wines are also made using red grapes with the skin removed. Rosé or ‘blush wines’ are created by limiting the time the skins stay in the mix during the process.
Wines are either sparkling or still. Only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne. There are several ways of making sparkling wines. The traditional method uses a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the bubbles. An inferior method is simply to add carbon dioxide, as in soda drinks.
Another key criterion when classifying wine is whether it is dry or sweet. Though sugar content determines dryness or sweetness, how sweet or dry it is also depends on acidity and tannin levels. Grapes picked late in the season (late harvest) produce sweeter wines.
Dessert wines are sweet wines, though their sugar content can vary enormously. Fortified wines like port and sherry are also sweet, but technically they are not pure wine. They are made by the addition of a distilled spirit such as brandy.
For wine aficionados, the type of grape is the most important consideration, since it is this that gives a wine its distinctive taste, bouquet and character. The personality of a wine is heavily dependent on the grape and the wine region where it grows, since soil and climate also powerfully influence the wine’s identity.
Some of the most famous varieties of grape used in white wines include Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. Big names in the world of red wine are Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Many wines are not in fact made purely from one type of grape. Blending is commonplace. It does not detract from the quality and is usually done to balance and enhance a wine’s flavor.
Knowing a bit about estate wines, and perhaps a bit of sampling to heighten appreciation, will help the home winemaker to appreciate the range of wines it is possible to produce, and the factors involved.
If you want a particular type of wine, you may also consider buying a wine kit for that particular type of wine. It may cost you a bit extra but you will have a bit of extra control over the process, so you end up with exactly what you want. Wine kits typically include the grape concentrate that will produce the wine type you want, and a ready-made set of ingredients.
With the recipe created by experts, it’s a simple matter to just follow the instructions in order to create your own Chardonnay, Merlot or even festive bubbly!
Growing your own grapes
If you’re thinking of home wine making, then growing your own grapes is something well worth considering. Using your own produce brings the cost per bottle of your finished product down to a fraction of the retail price of an average wine.
The quality of the grape is crucial to the quality of the wine that is made from it. The type of grape is what endows any wine with its particular character, and it’s the skin that provides all-important color and flavor. The other secret of making really good grape wines is picking the fruit at the right time, when the sugar content is optimal.
Using grapes from your own vine (or vines) is ideal for serious home winemakers who want maximum control over the end product. If you’re thinking of growing your own grapes, the important thing to remember is this: climate is the key.
Before you start, do your research on what varieties are naturally suited to your local weather conditions. You may not be able to grow your ideal grape variety in your area, but if cold is a problem, note that vines can flourish in a greenhouse. Humidity can be another vine-grower’s nightmare, since grapevines can be very susceptible to mildew and other.
If you have warm, dry summers, then you are in luck if you have ambitions to grow wine grapes for home wine making. One way to find a good variety for your purposes is to see what types of grape are used by wineries in your area. If your dream is to produce a chardonnay or a Merlot, bear in mind that you will have to adapt your ideals to the possibilities of local conditions.
Different types of grape also have very different yields. There are a lot of grapes in that glass of wine and it’s easy to underestimate. About ten pounds (4.5 kilograms) of grapes will yield around a gallon of wine (about 3.8 liters). Unless you’re planning to drench your grapes in pesticides and poisons, also be prepared to lose some to birds, bugs and other creatures.
If you do take the trouble to start your own vineyard, or even just grow a few vines for wine grapes on a trellis, the good news is that a happy, disease-free vine will yield for many years. Vines need pruning and careful, regular inspection for bugs and blights, but they can also generously provide you with the ingredients for your very own home-made wine.
Whether you have a small vineyard or a few vines over a trellis, growing and using your own grapes adds another dimension to the satisfaction and rewards of home wine making.