‘Wine is one of the most civilised things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.’ Ernest Hemingway.
Types of Wine
There are three types of wine.
The majority of wines fall into this category. These are what you would normally think of when someone says, ‘wine.’ They are still, that is not sparkling and are between 8% and 15% abc. The majority are between 11.5% and 14% abc. Many still wines are named after the region in which they are produced. Examples include Sacerre and Burgundy from France, Rioja from Spain and Chianti from Italy. Other wines are named after the grape variety used to make them. An example is Pinot Grigio.
These are wines that are bubbly or fizzy. The fizz is caused by carbon dioxide gas that is produced by fermentation and trapped in the wine. The best-known example of this type of wine is Champagne from France. Other well-known examples are Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy. Sparkling wines are made all over the world.
These wines have had extra alcohol added to them and they therefore have higher levels of alcohol ranging from 15% to 22% abc. Examples of fortified wines include Sherry from Spain and Port from Portugal.
Styles of Wine
Any of these three types of wine can come in a variety of different styles. The style of a wine is generally a combination of its colour, structural characteristics, and aromas and flavours.
The colour of a wine can be determined by the grape variety used as well as the way the wine is made.
White – White wines are typically made using white grapes. Examples of white wines include Chablis from France and wines made from the resiling grape.
It’s possible to make a white wine from black grapes. The colour in black grapes is in the skins. Therefore, if the skins are separated from the juice before fermentation, a white wine can be made.
Red – Red wines must be made using black grapes. The coloured grape skins stay with the grape juice during fermentation, bringing colour to the wine. Examples of red wines include Rioja from Spain and wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
Rose – Rose wines are made from black grapes. The grape juice is left in contact with the grape skins for a short period before the juice is drained. The juice is only lightly coloured by the skins as a result. White Zinfandel is an example of rose wine.
Notable Structural Characteristics
Sweetness – Sweetness is caused by the presence of sugar in the wine. DSry wines have no sugar, or very low levels. Sweet wines have high levels of sugar.
Dry – The majority of wines are dry. In order to make a dry wine, the yeast need to convert all of the sugar in the grape juice into alcohol. Examples of dry white wines include Chablis from France, and wines made from Sauvignon Blnac. Examples of dry reds include Cotes du Rhone from France, Chianti from Italy and wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Medium – Most wines that have a medium level of sweetness are either white or rose. There are two key ways of making a wine with medium level sweetness.
- The yeast are removed before all of the sugar is converted into alcohol.
- Unfermented grape juice is added to a dry wine.
Examples of wines with a medium level of sweetness include some Reisling wines from Germany, some Sherries, and White Zinfandel (rose) from California.
Sweet – Sweet wines have so much sugar in them that they can feel thick and syrupy. There are two key ways of making a sweet wine.
- The grapes are so high in sugar the yeast stop fermenting before they eat all of the sugar.
- In the case of fortified wines, the yeast are killed by the addition of high-strength distilled alcohol before they have eaten all of the sugar.
Examples of sweet wines include Sauternes from France and some Riesling wines from Germany. Sweet fortified wines include Port and some Sherries.
Acidity – Acidity in wine comes directly from the grape juice. It’s important because it gives wines a refreshing characteristic. It’s easy to recognise acidity because it makes your mouth water. Too much acidity can make a wine taste unpleasantly acidic. If there is too little acidity, a wine loses its refreshing characteristic.
Examples os wines with high acidity include Chablis, Chianti and wines made from the grape varieties Sauvignon Blanc, Reisling, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. Acid is very important in sweet wines. It balances out the sweetness, stopping wine from being unpleasantly sweet.
Tanin – Tanin is a characteristic of red wines that come from the skins of the grapes. The level of tannin in a wine depends on the grape variety that is used and how the wine is made.
Tanins can taste bitter, but mostly they are a structural characteristic of a wine that you feel rather than taste. Tannins cause your mouth to feel dry.
Examples of red wine with high tannin levels include red Bordeaux from France, and Chianti from Italy. Examples of red wines with low tannin levels are Beaujolais from France and wines made from Pinot Noir.
Alcohol – The majority of still and sparkling wines have a level of alcohol that is between 11.5% and 14% abc. However, some wines can reach as high as 15%abv. Others can be as low as 8%abv.
An example of a wine with a high level of alcohol is Chateauneuf-duPape from France. an example of a wine with a low level of alcohol is White Zinfandel from California.
Body – Body is a term that is widely used to describe the overall feel of a wine in your mouth. There are many factors that contribute towards this effect and so it’s easier to ask yourself how mouth-filling the wine is. Full-bodied wines feel vicious and mouth-filling. Light-bodied wines feel more delicate.
Examples of light-bodied wines include Pinot Grigio from Italy, and Beaujolais. Examples of medium bodied wines include Sancerre, and Cotes du Rhone. Examples of full bodied wines include Cabernet Sauvignon from California, and Sauternes.
The aromas and flavours of wines can come from a variety of source. Some come from the grapes themselves; others develop during winemaking and maturation. Describing the aromas and flavours of wine can be difficult at first, but it’s a skill that comes with practice.
Fruit – The vast majority of wines will have aromas and flavours of fruit. The type of fruit will depend on the grape variety, for example, wines made from the grape variety Cabernet Sauvignon have blackcurrant aromas. It will also be influenced by the ripeness of the grapes. For example, Chardonnay grown in a cool climate shows aromas and flavours of green fruits (apple) and citrus fruits (lemon). Chardonnay grapes grown in a warm climate show stone fruits (peach) and tropical fruits (pineapple).
Oak – Wine can be fermented and/or matured in oak barrels. Sometimes this will be stated on the label. Oak gives wine flavours such as cedar, cloves, coconut and vanilla.
Other – The variety of aromas and flavours that can be found in different wines is part of what makes them so interesting. These ‘other’ aromas and flavours can include grass, flowers, herbs, vegetables, earth, mushroom and leather.