12 Aug How Is White Wine Made?
Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice glass of white wine and wondered how it was made? Well, you no longer have to wonder. In this article we’ll talk about which grapes are used to produce white wines and take you on a brief journey to discover how these wines come to fruition!
White Wine Grape Varietals
There are many different varietals used to produce white wine. However, the more common white grape varietals you might be familiar with are:
- Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio/Gris.
- Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Semillon.
- Verdejo, Torrontes, Grüner Vetliner and Muller-Thurgau.
But it doesn’t stop there. The red wine grape, Pinot Noir, is also known to produce white wines. This black grape not only produces some really incredible white wines, it’s also a key ingredient in Champagne and sparkling wines. So, how can these dark grapes produce white wines? The juice from the Pinot Noir grape is actually clear and when it is used to make white wine, the skins are removed to prevent them from altering the color to a darker hue.
Harvesting & Sorting Grapes
The winemaker starts by monitoring the grape vines while using a combination of technical and practical methods to confirm whether or not the grapes are ready to harvest. This includes tasting the grapes and using special tools to analyze them. The longer the grapes spend on the vine; the more sugar accumulates within them. Most winemakers harvest their grapes during the months of September and November. After the grapes have been harvested they are sorted and placed into different batches. Grapes that do not meet quality standards are removed, while the rest are used to make champagne, sparkling wine or other styles.
Once the grapes are sorted, the stems are removed and the grapes are gently crushed. This process allows the winemaker to squeeze out more juice from the grapes. Afterwards, the pressing of the grape skins produces the juice known as must. Next, because the white grape skins are no longer needed, they are removed and the must is ready to begin the initial stage of fermentation.
During the first stage of fermentation natural yeast from the vineyard may be used to influence the wine’s character and showcase the terroir the wine hails from – or yeast may be added to the juice. After one to two weeks, the yeast converts the sugars in the grape juice into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (however, eventually the carbon dioxide dissipates into the atmosphere and is no longer present). When the yeasts have transformed all the sugars into alcohol, usually the fermentation is over and the result is a dry wine. Depending on the type of style (e.g. semi-dry, very dry, sweet, etc.) the winemaker may stop the fermentation before all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, leaving only the desired amount of residual sugar.
Oak Barrels vs. Stainless Steel Tanks
The vessels used for the fermentation process of the wine can be conducted in stainless steel, French oak or oak barrels. Chardonnays are usually fermented in oak barrels. That’s what gives them an oaky aroma and/or flavor, while other white wine varietals, like Rieslings, are fermented in Stainless steel tanks. Usually white wines are fermented at cooler temperatures to help preserve the wines fruity aromas and flavors.
Sometimes white wines (usually fuller white wines) go through a process called Malolactic Fermentation (MLF). This process occurs after the alcohol fermentation has completed and is used to help improve the taste of the wine. During the winemaking process the wine can inhabit high levels of malic acid, which causes harsh bitter taste-like sensations on the palate. Lactic acid (found in dairy products) is used to tone down those harsh, tart, bitter flavors and create a softer, buttery sensation – which is a characteristic often manifested in Chardonnays.
Once the wine has gone through the Malolactic Fermentation it goes through an ageing process where it spends time resting on “lees” (dead yeasts cells). This process can last for weeks, months and even years, and it’s what adds complexity, texture and palate weight to the wine.
If the winemaker chooses to use a mixture of different varietals (e.g. Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurztraminer or a mixture of Rieslings from different vineyards) it undergoes a process known as blending. When the wine is blended with other varietals or similar grape varietals from different vineyards, it gives the wine a smoother taste. The end result is “Quelque chose de remarquable,” (something remarkable!).
So the next time you’re sipping a glass of white wine, see if you can tell how the wine was made? Without reading the back of the bottle’s label, test yourself. Is the wine, semi-dry, dry, very dry, tart, or sweet? Does the wine coat your palate like milk – or does it light and watery? Perhaps the wine went through malolactic fermentation… or not. The more you learn and discover about wine the more you can appreciate the finer details and learn what styles you prefer. Enjoy!