Wine 101: How Is Red Wine Made?

This Week In Wine 101: How Red Wine Is Made?

We’ve all had the pleasure of enjoying different red wine varietals but have you ever wondered how they’re made? Let’s take a closer look!

 

Grapes Used To Produce Red Wines:

There are a significant number of red grape varietals used to produce red wine. Unlike white wines, red wine can only be made from red grapes – with shades of red that vary, from bright or dull red to purple and black grapes. Some of the more common red wine varietals include, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Grenache/Grenacha, Malbec, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, Syrah/Shiraz, and Zinfandel. But how are they turned into wine?

 

The Process

The process of producing red wine begins with harvesting the grapes. This can take place either in early September or November. Depending on the layout of the vineyard, grapes can be harvested either by hand or machine. Once picked, the grapes are brought to the winery where they are de-stemmed and crushed. Often times, sulphur dioxide is added to the grapes to serve as a preservative to prevent oxidation, while delaying the initial phase of fermentation.

 

The Crush or Stomp

There are two ways to “crush” the grapes, either by a mechanical spiraled steel roller or by a more traditional practice known as “stomp.” You may remember an “I Love Lucy” episode where she gets into a large basin full of red grapes and is told to stomp or crush them with her feet. At first, she is reluctant but by the end she is dancing, jumping and stomping her way all around the large basin, having a good ol’ time. Some vineyards still offer their guests the chance to join in the fun by allowing them to stomp grapes when they visit their winery.

Once the grapes have been de-stemmed and crushed, the subsequent mixture (known as the “must”) of grapes, skins and seeds, is then transferred into stainless steel tanks. Once the must has been placed into a fermentation vessel the natural yeast from the grapes kick starts the alcoholic fermentation. This is also where the grape juice sugars are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide along with heat. The heat helps to bring out darker hues of red and gives the wine more depth and complexity. In fact, this is one of the key differences between the white wine making process and the red wine making process. To see how white wines are made read, How Is White Wine Made?

 

Fermentation

Fermentation for red wines can take place in oak barrels, stainless steel tanks or large vats. Maceration helps to contribute the red color, tannins and flavor components to the wine. The more contact the wine has with the grape skins, the stronger its character will likely be.

After the primary fermentation and crushing process, pressing of the grapes take place. This involves squeezing the left over pieces of grapes, which helps enhance the color and flavors of the wine. A process known as Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), which helps to soften harsh malic acids into soft, appealing flavors, follows this.

Following malolactic fermentation, Racking proceeds. This involves moving the juice from one vessel to another. The juice is separated from the leftover sediment and the wine goes through an aeration process that allows the aromas and flavors to develop. The next step in the winemaking process for red wine is aging.

 

Aging

Usually winemakers will use French or American oak to age the wine. Aging the red wine in oak barrels offers several benefits:

  • It helps to protect the integrity of the wine.
  • It passes on oaky aromas and flavors.
  • It allows small amounts of oxygen in to help develop the wine’s flavors while building complexity.

However, some New World wineries have started to invest in stainless steel and concrete tanks to age their wine because they do not need to be replaced as frequently as oak barrels. To compensate for the oaky undertones, winemakers add oak chips to the grape juice.

 

Fining

Fining is used to remove unwanted particles that are left in the wine. Winemakers use egg whites and gelatin to remove tiny floaters in the wine. Then they filter and remove bigger particles left from dead yeast cells and other unwanted pieces. Once all unwanted remains have been removed they can decide to bottle and cap the wine or blend it with other vintages or varietals.

 

Blending

Blending takes great skill and experience from the winemaker and can play a vital role in the production of red wine. There are several reasons why red wines are blended:

  • To soften harsh tannins.
  • To adjust alcohol, pH and/or acidity levels.
  • To enhance a wine’s color, aromas, and flavors.

Usually, Cabernet Franc is blended with varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlots and tends bring a nice balance to the wine.

 

Rosé Wines

As for rosé wines, winemakers start off with the steps for producing red wine but use only a little grape skin contact to produce that pretty blush, rosé or pink color. Halfway through the process of producing rosé wine the winemakers switch gears and ferment the rosé wine at cooler temperatures instead of warmer to preserve the aromas and flavors, which also ensures the rosé wine maintains its gorgeous color.

Lastly, the wines are bottled and capped, either with a cork or screw cap, and voila red or rose wine is made!

We hope you found this article informative. Be sure to check out our articles on How Is White Wine Made? and How Are Dessert Wines Made? Next time you’re enjoying a red or rosé wine see if you can detect distinctive aromas and flavors that were imparted on the wine during its journey to becoming a wine. Cheers!

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