Where would the world be without red wine? From a simple mid-week glass to the elaborate Christmas meal, red wine has become the favourite tipple of many. Red wine is actually produced from black grapes and the colour of red wine can range from pale violet to dark almost black and change colour as they age. Black grape flesh has very little colour and tend to be a greenish-white. Most of the colour of red wines is extracted from the grape’s skins during winemaking. This allows a winemaker to control aspects of the finished wine including colour and tannin. The main stages of making red wine are:
Grapes are picked when the desired ripeness has been reached
Stems and leaves are removed either by hand of mechanically
The grapes are then crushed. The level of crushing will depend upon the desired final red wine style. The juice along with the crushed grapes, seeds and skins is referred to as the must. This must is transferred to a vessel to start fermentation. These fermentation vats are made from either stainless steel, oak or concrete.
At this stage winemakers will either allow fermentation to start spontaneously due to naturally occurring yeasts or they will add specific yeasts to enable them to control fermentation more precisely.
At this stage, solids and liquids will begin to separate and a cap of grape skins will begin to form at the top of the tank. As many of the final flavour of red wine are derived from the skins, as well as almost all of the colour, this cap needs to be agitated. This is done by either plunging down the cap, submerging it, pumping juice from the bottom of the tank over the top of it or by emptying the tank and then refilling it on top of the cap.
Once fermentation is complete, the must is then pressed.
This process is almost universal for red wines and often occurs naturally. The process transforms malic acid into the softer lactic acid.
The wine can now be racked off its lees (the solid matter that remains) and preservative sulphur may be added. Not all wines are racked.
The grapes are then crushed or pressed. The level of crushing will depend upon the desired final red wine style.
Nearly all red wine is then aged prior to bottling. Aging can take place in stainless steel or concrete vats as well as oak barrels. This process allows the wine to settle and harmonise before bottling.
Fining, filtration and bottling
Once aging is complete the red wine can be bottled. Before this happens some winemakers will fine and filter the wine to remove any microscopic particles that may remain. Many winemakers no longer do this as they feel it removes flavour from the finished red wine.
Red wine is made from a multitude of grape varieties from all over the world and certain grape varieties grown in particular places can produce highly distinctive and desirable wines. Famous examples include: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines from Bordeaux, Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Syrah from the Rhône Valley, Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Shiraz from Barossa Valley, Tempranillo from Rioja and Cabernet Sauvignon from California.