Wine Basics

The law

A drink made from the juice of the grape, the sugar in the fruit being converted into alcohol by the action of yeasts in the process of fermentation.

According to the definition of the Wine & Spirit Association of Great Britain, wine is: The alcoholic beverage obtained from the juice of freshly gathered grapes, the fermentation of which has been carried through in the district of its origin and according to the local tradition and practice.

This means that drinks made from fruits other than grapes are not, strictly speaking, wines in the UK these are categorised as country wines.

The Making of Wine


  • plantation (or grafting) of a vine stock
  • growing of the grape-bunch
  • harvesting the grapes
  • de-stemming* and crushing the grapes
  • alcoholic fermentation of the liquid
  • maceration*
  • raking the wine
  • malolactic fermentation
  • maturation of the wine
  • bottling the wine
  • tasting the wine

*only for red wine, normally

Must: it is the grape-juice produced by crushing.

Alcoholic fermentation: the juice becomes wine under the natural action of yeast which changes sugar in alcohol.

Maceration: the pomace (skin, pips and stems) impregnate the must giving body and color.

Raking: pomace and must are separated. The must becomes “vin de goutte”, the pomace becomes “vin de presse”

Malolactic fermentation: under the action of natural bacteria, the harsh malic acid changes itself in lactic acid supple and stable.

Maturation: the wine is clarified and put in casks/barrels to stabilize and perfects itself.

The making of red wine

Crushing and destemming the grapes. The grapes just arriving in the cellar are crushed and destemmed to release their juice and pulp.

The must obtained that way is put in a tank to go trough the process of fermentation.

Alcoholic fermentation

Fermentation is a natural process. Yeasts living in the grapes – the addition of selected yeasts is generalizing – change the sugar contained in the must in alcohol and carbonic gas (see also the composition of wine).

The winemaker assist the action of the yeasts by maintaining the temperature around 25 to 30°C and by ventilating the must regularly. Under 25°C the wine will not have enough body, above 30°C, the wine will be to tannic. The fermentation process goes on for 4 to 10 days until the maceration and then the malolactic fermentation.


It is the period when the tannic elements and the color of the skin diffuse in the fermented juice. The contact between the liquid (must) and the solids elements (skin, pips and sometimes stem) will give body and color to the wine.

At this stage, complex operation will prove the talent of the winemaker: dissolution, extraction, excretion, diffusion, decoction, infusion.

For new wines ( “Vins primeurs” or “Vins nouveaux”) the maceration is very short. The vines are supple and contain little tannin. Wines destined to be kept long need a lot of tannin, so the maceration needs to be long. The wine will macerate for several days, maybe several weeks.


The wine is separated from the solids, the pomace. The wine obtained by raking is called “free run wine” (vin de goutte). Sometimes, the pomace is pressed in order to extract the juice it still contains. This wine is called “press wine” (vin de presse). It is richer in tannin. Depending on the winemaker taste or the local habit, free run wine and press wine are blended or treated separately.

Malolactic fermentation

It is the process during which the malic acid of wine changes into lactic acid and carbonic gas under the action of bacteria living in the wine. Malic acid is harsh, it is changed into lactic acid supple and stable. This fermentation is obtained in a tank during a few weeks at a temperature between 18° and 20°C.


The wine making process is finished but the wine is not. To be able to age and to improve the wine must be clarified again. After that the beverage will be put in oak casks where it will stabilize. The diversity of red wine is such that it can match any type of food. But you must absolutely not conclude from this that all red wines taste the same.

The making of white wine

White wine is not really white but, in fact yellow. But the expression being universal one says of a yellow wine that it is white. Vinification of white wine is more delicate than vinification of red wine.

Two methods coexist to make white wine:

1. The first one is to use white grape ( which is in fact green, greenish yellow, golden yellow or pinkish yellow!). That way the white wine is the result of the fermentation of the juice of white grapes juice only.

2. The second method is more complex. One uses the juice of red grape-variety cleared of it skin and pips, with which it must absolutely not get in contact as they contain the coloring substances. It is possible to get white wine that way but it is seldom done.

Time is counted

Immediately after their arrival in the cellar, the grapes are crushed but not destemed. The juice (free run must) is sent to settle in containers. The rest of the grapes is pressed as quickly as possible. Air is the enemy of white wine. At its contact the wine oxidizes or becomes colored. The must from pressing is added to the free run must.

Preparation of the must

After six to twelve hours the particles and impurity of the grape separate from the must and float on the surface. They are removed by the raking of must. The must is ready to be clarified. The clarified juice is poured in a tank, ready to ferment.

Alcoholic fermentation

White wine results of the fermentation of must only.

No solid (stem, skin, pips…) intervenes. The control of the temperature is essential. It has to be maintained around 18° C. The winemaker regularly cools the must to allow the yeast to work correctly. The fermentation goes on for two to three weeks. The winemaker daily checks the evolution of the process.

When fermentation is over, the wine is put in cask and raked, just like a red wine then it is bottled.

Winemakers often choose oak casks which gives the wine the tannin it needs. But it will not be sufficient, tannin is the essential element for aging. It is why white wine does not keep as long as red wine.

On the other hand white wines present a larger variety of tastes: very dry, dry, semi-dry, mellow, syrupy, petillant, sparkling, madeirized…

White wine can be drunk on any occasion: before, with or after a meal, and even between meals.

White wines are often considered as aperitif wines, sometimes as desert wines. Many people like to drink white wine in hot weather. Its refreshing qualities are very well known. White wine is served fresh but not chilled.

The making of rosé wine

First of all Rosé wine is not a blending of red and white wines (abstraction made of the exceptional case of the Rosé de Champagne).

Rosé wine is made from red grape-varieties. And, nowadays, many winemakers mix a certain amount of white grapes with the red.

The elaboration of rosé wine is delicate. It is probably why the amateur is sometimes disappointed by the quality of a rosé. Particularity, European rosé is “dry”. On the contrary, American rosé is sweet and similar to white wine.

There are at least three methods of making rosé wine:

Gray or pale rosé wine

The grapes are pressed as soon as they arrive in the cellar. It allows a quicker diffusion of the color in the must. The juice is left a very short time in contact with the skin. No more than a few hours! That way the must is delicately colored.

Rosé wine is then made in the same way as a white wine, fermentation of the must cleared of solid elements with out any more maceration. The winemaker obtains a gray or pale rosé wine (for Gris de Bourgogne or Rosé de Loire).

Colored pink wine

To obtain a colored pink wine the grapes are put in the fermentation tank after having been crushed. The juice quickly enriches itself in alcohol with the temperature going up (in the tank). At the contact of the solid element the color quickly diffuses. The winemaker chooses the intensity of the color by controlling a sample every hour. When he is satisfied he devattes. The wine is evacuated in another tank to finish fermenting. The must left in the original tank is evacuated and not used for rosé any more.

The bleeding

To obtain an even more intense color, once an hour, during the initial fermentation the winemaker takes out of the tank a certain amount of juice. When the color is satisfying, the wine making process goes on as for a white wine. Rosé de Provence are obtain by that method.

Faults in Wine

As methods of winemaking have evolved, the greater understanding of wine science has meant that fewer problems are derived in the winery. Most faulty wines will be caused by cork taint or poor methods of storage either in transportation or prior to service.

Mould under the wine capsule

This is common with older bottles and is not a problem. It should be removed with a napkin.

Old wine

These can smell slightly unpleasant just after opening, due to the old air trapped under the cork. This will disappear given a few moments breathing time.

Crystals in wine or the inner end of the cork

These are crystallised compounds of tartaric acidity (cream or tartare), which can occur naturally in all wine if it reaches too low a temperature. Many wineries will remove these crystals before bottling, though some prefer not to as other qualities can be lost in the process. Crystals do not affect the taste of wine, though care should e taken when serving, so as not to allow them into the glass.

Oxidation / wine

This occurs if air has been allowed to come into contact with the wine over a prolonged period, either prematurely via a faulty cork or naturally when the wine becomes too old.


Almost all wine is made with addition of sulphur, and where used it is an essential preservative and anti-oxidant. It will be mainly un-noticeable in a wine though can be sometimes apparent if wine is being tasted shortly after bottling. This characterised by a burnt match smell and should dissipate after airing.

Blown cork

A bottle with a “blown” cork indicates the same fault as a cork that leaks; the sign is where a cork has raised above the lip of the bottle.

Leaking cork

A sticky or smeared bottle where wine has passed under the capsule indicates a storage problem, and the wine has been affected by excess heat or light. The wine may not be served, though care should be taken not to store any other wines in the same area.

Cloudy wine

There are number of reasons for cloudy wine:

  1. A contaminant from the winemaking process, or secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle is possible, though now unlikely.
  2. Old white wine may be caused by sediment disturbed in transportation. If the bottle is left to settle for 24 hours and remains cloudy, it is best not served.
  3. A cloudy red may be caused y sediment disturbed in transportation. If the bottle is left to settle for 24 hours and remains cloudy, it is best not served.

Volatile wine

Also called impulsive wine. Bacteria can alter the wine’s acidity eventually turning it to vinegar. This will happen if a bottle is left open for too long, or the wine is too old, as the bacteria needs air to work.