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In Good Taste

Basics of Winemaking

Basics of Winemaking

Folks of legal drinking age, it is time to discuss one of the most magical things on this Earth. No, we aren’t talking about a breathtaking sunset, the Grand Canyon, the birth of a child, or the magnificent Aurora Borealis. Our topic is even more fascinating. Today, we will talk about the winemaking process — from grape to glass and every step in between. 

Winemaking (also called vinification by those in the biz) is a time-honored tradition that dates back thousands of years. While much of the process has been modernized by larger wine producers, it may surprise you to learn that many estates still prefer to do certain steps the old-fashioned way. So without further ado, let’s look at what it takes to make one of the world’s most beloved beverages. 

Harvesting and Picking

Without grapes, there can be no wine. So naturally, harvesting grapes is the first step in the winemaking process. 

Harvesting can be done either mechanically or by hand, and both methods have pros and cons. Mechanical harvesting is much faster and more efficient, but machines often pick extraneous materials such as leaves and twigs, all of which need to be removed before pressing. This method is more popular in regions such as Australia and New Zealand, where there is not enough labor to justify the economics of hand-picking grapes. 

Winemaking Basics: Harvesting & Picking

Generally, harvesting by hand is the preferred method. The human element increases the likelihood that only the best grapes get selected, and there is less of a chance that unwanted materials will find their way into the harvest. Experienced harvesters are knowledgeable about grapes and know what to look for and which bunches to avoid.

The timing of harvesting depends on various factors, including the pH of the grapes, their sugar content, ripeness, flavor, and tannin development. Some winemakers prefer specific characteristics, and they pick their grapes at specific intervals to ensure they achieve the right flavor profiles in their wines.

Crushing and Pressing

After the grapes are harvested, they are either crushed or pressed. This is the point in the winemaking process where red and white wines differ significantly, so let’s talk about what happens with each. 

Red Wine & Rosé

Grapes that are destined to become red wine are crushed, squeezed just enough to break the skin, and release some of the juice prior to fermentation. Small-scale and traditional wineries complete this process with a small crusher or, in a far more traditional method, trampling barefoot on the grapes in a wooden vat. Larger wineries use mechanical crushers to accomplish the same task on a much larger scale. 

After crushing, the grapes are pressed to extract the juice from the grape, but this step happens after the fermentation stage for red wines. Since the grape skins are present during the fermentation, this gives red wine its coloring. Rosé wine is made similarly, but the grape skins are removed earlier in the process, which results in a lighter body and a subtle pink color.

White Wine

White and green grapes used for making white wine are pressed immediately after harvest, and the skins are removed before fermentation. This step ensures that the wine has minimal contact with grape skins, which can make the end product fuller-bodied and more tannic, qualities that are celebrated in red wine but less popular for whites.

Winemaking Basics: Crushing & Pressing

Fermentation

After all of that crushing and pressing, the grapes then go through the fermentation process — the step where the real magic happens. 

During fermentation, native or cultured yeast is added to the extracted grape juice. Yeast eats the naturally occurring sugars in the grapes and produces two byproducts, alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yes, friends, this is the crucial step where wine becomes an alcoholic beverage. Before fermentation, white wine must be racked, which is a step where the juice is filtered out of a settling tank to remove any sediment. 

Winemaking Basics: Fermentation

During pre-fermentation, some red wine grapes go through a process called cold-soaking. During the cold-soaking step, crushed grapes are soaked for five days in water that is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Some winemakers swear by this method for their reds, claiming that it extracts more color and flavor from the grape skins. 

Sparkling wines, Champagne, Lambrusco, Prosecco, and Cava go through an extra step in the fermentation process that is aptly named secondary fermentation. This process takes fermented wine and ferments it a second time in a bottle or a large vat. This extra step produces the bubbles that give these wines their distinctive effervescence. 

Aging

Once the wine gets its kick from fermentation, it’s time to let it age. There are many techniques for aging wine, but no matter how it’s done, aging is an essential step where wines become differentiated from one another. 

The type of container that the wine is aged in plays an important role in determining the wine’s body and tasting notes. Wine can be aged in stainless steel vats, oak barrels, cement cisterns, or clay vessels. Each of these container choices provides a different flavor profile. 

Winemaking Basics: Aging

For instance, wines aged in steel are in a nonoxidative environment, so the wine has no interaction with oxygen. This is a good aging choice for fruit-driven wines, as this enhances that flavor. Stainless steel is also typically used for white wines, and less often for red wines. 

On the other hand, oak barrels provide an oxidative environment, meaning that the wine is exposed to trace levels of oxygen as it ages. This allows the wine to develop different textures and mouthfeels. Oaked wines tend to take on different flavor notes, including vanilla, spice, and smoke. Most reds age in oak barrels, as do select whites like full-bodied Chardonnays

Clarification/Filtration

After the wine ages, clarification and filtration remove the cloudiness and sediment that set in during the aging process. These critical steps can be done with a variety of agents that help to coagulate the solids in the wine so that they can be removed more easily. Popular clarification additives include milk, egg white, or clay. 

Winemaking Basics: Clarification/Filtration

Because this step is not necessary for the flavor of the wine and sediment removal is primarily done for aesthetic appeal, some winemakers choose to skip this step altogether — especially those who practice biodynamic, organic, and natural winemaking processes. 

Bottling

After harvesting, crushing, pressing, fermenting, aging, and clarifying the wine, bottling is the final step for preparing this beautiful, delicious creation. Once the bottles are filled with the finished wine, they are sealed (with either a cork or a screw top), labeled, and packaged. For many red wines, aging continues in the bottle. Others, like light-bodied whites and sparkling wines, are better enjoyed soon after bottling. Either way, the freshly packaged bottle of wine is a beautiful sight to behold — and a delicious experience waiting to happen!

Winemaking Basics: Bottling

And there you have it! The mystery behind your favorite drink has been revealed. The next time you pop the cork on a bottle of wine, take a moment to appreciate its journey to get there. Years of trial and error, labor, knowledge, and expertise went into that one little bottle just for you to enjoy, which makes it all the more special. Cheers!

Rosé of Sangiovese

Andiamo

Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.

$19.99

Montepulciano

Andiamo

Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

$20.99

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

$19.99

Pinot Noir

Unprecedented

We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

$25.99

Coteaux Bourguignons

Passport

The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.

$25.99

Verdicchio

Andiamo

A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.

$23.99

Côtes du Rhône White

Passport

This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.

$23.99

Bordeaux Rouge

Passport

When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.

$21.99

Ventoux Rosé

Passport

You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.

$21.99

Grenache

La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.

$27.99

Barbera

Andiamo

We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.

$21.99

Vermentino

Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.

$23.99

Viognier

Unprecedented

For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.

$24.99

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