Wine: Back to Basics
A basic description of wine is that it is an alcoholic beverage produced through the fermentation of fruits containing sugars. Yeasts carry out fermentation, converting sugars into alcohols, primarily ethanol, and other chemicals that add to the wine’s character. Grapes are richly flavoured, sometimes coloured and high in fermentable sugars, making them ideal for producing wines.
The formula would be:
SUGAR (fructose) + YEAST (wild or cultured) = ALCOHOL + CO2 (gas)
This is an accurate summation of what makes up wine, but there is naturally a whole lot more to it than this. Wine can be both surprisingly simple and devilishly complex, the subtleties and nuances that go into creating an intriguing bottle of wine requiring a great deal of variables and expertise.
The simplicity of wine comes when you consider that very few ingredients are required to create it. Ultimately, wine is glorified fermented fruit juice, as the above description of the process hints at. Of course, wine is universally known as coming from grapes, but in fact wine can be made using lots of different types of fruit, including blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, pineapple and cherries, as well as dandelion, elderflower and more.
Grapes became the predominant fruit for wine making for a couple of main reasons. Perhaps most important is the fact that grapes possess a certain acid – not found in other types of fruit – that gives wine the preservative quality so that bottles last for years, and indeed improve over time. As well as this, there is significantly more sugar in grapes than other fruits – this allows for the alcoholic strength of wine, as it is the sugar content that turns to alcohol in the fermentation process.
As mentioned, lots of factors go into deciding the nature of a single batch of wine. These include: the variety of grape, which varieties may be blended together, time spent fermenting, the container used for fermenting (wood or steel can alter the flavour), maturation time and the maturation container. Then there are the variables of the grapes themselves, such as type of soil, topography, weather conditions and techniques of farming.
Then there is the yeast factor. Fermentation is where yeast turns sugar into alcohol. Yeast is produced naturally by grapes, but often wine makers add yeast to the fermentation stage in order to have more control of the process – how much yeast is added is another way wines differ around the world.