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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 21, Summer 2004   
Production of Red WineProduction of Red Wine  Contents 
Issue 20, June 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 22, September 2004

Production of Red Wine

Full bodied and robust, but also delicate and light, red wines have always been considered the par excellence wines, the ones - at least in these times - which are getting most of the success

 Every time one thinks about red wine - at least in most of the cases - the common idea is always about an important wine, capable of giving wonderful emotions, and among wine lovers it is frequently thought that red wine is most of the times the only one worth of high consideration. Maybe this is because of the historical and traditional notoriety of many wines - in most of the cases are red - or because of its mysterious and impenetrable appearance, it seems in its inside is hidden a precious secret. There certainly are lots of excellent red wines but - to tell the truth - there also are many red wines that would be ashamed in front of so many white wines or other types of wine. However the magic originating from red wine is the fruit of a truly ancient history which begins, as far as men can recall, in that place of France which was capable of creating around wine its lucks since Roman times: Bordeaux. The famous French region was certainly not the only one to contribute to the notoriety and importance of red wines - it is enough to think about the many places mentioned by Pliny the Elder - however it is right Bordeaux red wine to keep still today, unchanged with time, a high charm.


Not Only a Matter of Color

 The color in red wines frequently represents a discriminant factor - as well as a prejudice - in the evaluation of its quality. For many the color is a sign of high quality in case it is dark, intense and impenetrable to light, for others it simply represents one of the many factors allowing the assessment of a red wine. It is however indisputable that intensity and scarce transparency of a red wine are very charming to consumers and it is probably more appealing to see - not only for the presumed promise of importance it could have - a wine with a dark and intense color instead of a one which is transparent and pale. Despite color in a red wine - as well as its transparency and its intensity - are the sign of specific productive characteristics - in particular the coloring capacity of the grape and the maceration period in skins - they are not always fundamental factors for the assessment of quality. It would be enough to think about Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir grapes, just to mention two examples, which do not have a high coloring capacity, however from these grapes are being produced magnificent wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, in case of Nebbiolo, and the great red wines of Bourgogne, in case of Pinot Noir.

 Red wine, as it is commonly known, is exclusively produced with red berried grapes. Grape juice - of every grape, including the red berried ones - has always the same gray-green color and certainly far from any resemblance to red. The coloring substances of the grape - the ones which can make a wine red - are all concentrated in the skin and the quantity of these substances - polyphenols commonly called pigments - changes according to the variety and the cultural and environmental conditions. For example, the coloring capacity of Sagrantino - the famous Umbrian red berried grape - is higher than Nebbiolo, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon has a coloring capacity far higher than Pinot Noir. A higher coloring capacity also means a higher quantity of tannins - therefore astringency - that will also contribute to the body of wine. The extraction of coloring substances from skins is done by macerating them in the must and the longer the time, the higher the intensity of color, therefore by using a grape having a high coloring capacity it is possible to make a rose wine - or paler red wines - by limiting the maceration period.

Cask is the most common container used
for the aging of red wines
Cask is the most common container used for the aging of red wines

 The quality of tannins in grapes is another important factor for the production of red wines. Whether it is true ripeness in white berried grapes is basically determined by the level of sweetness and acidity, in the red berried ones there is also a third and fundamental factor: phenolic ripeness. Tannins - chemical compounds belonging to the family of polyphenols - are responsible in red wines both for astringency and the body, as well as for the color obtained by anthocyanins. The organoleptic quality of astringency is often an important factor for the agreeability of a wine: when it is too accentuated its agreeability is low. During the ripeness process of grape, the quantity of polyphenols increases and, in particular, it also increases the organoleptic quality of tannins. For this reason - in quality wines - harvesting begins only when the grape is considered as phenolically ripe. As the ripeness process is developing, tannins get a rounder and more velvety organoleptic quality - that is less astringent and more agreeable - and moreover they are also more easy to extract from the skin.

 Optimal phenolic ripeness must also consider the levels and the balance of acids and sugar in the grape. Most of the times tannins get a rounder and a more agreeable quality when the level of sugar and acids in grapes have gone beyond their optimal ripeness level. For this reason it is not always possible to harvest phenolically ripe grapes because the risk of making unbalanced wines in the other organoleptic qualities would be very high. In case the time of harvesting would be determined only by phenolic ripeness of grapes, the risk would be of harvesting overripe grapes with the result of making wines with high percentages of alcohol, with aromas and taste of fruit jams and the acidity would dangerously be too low. However the astringency of the wine would be very low and its character would absolutely be velvety and smooth. The quantity of tannins and their level of astringency change according to the grape variety, yields per hectare, ripeness level, climate, area and, last but not the least, wine making practices. For this reason the assessment of phenolic ripeness in grapes must also consider these factors, as well as the style of wine to be produced.


The Juice of Red Wine

 The grape is now ripe and ready for harvesting. After an accurate analysis of the chemical and biological qualities of grapes - according to the type of wine to be produced - the harvesting is done and therefore grapes are sent to the cellar. Here grapes are destemmed, that is the stem is eliminated by using a special machine called destemmer. This operation is useful to the quality of the wine as polyphenols contained in stems are very astringent and they would affect the organoleptic qualities of wine. After destemming, the berries are being pressed in order to break the skin without excessively damaging it as well as avoiding the bruising of pips that otherwise would release very astringent and bitter substances. At the end of this procedure it is obtained the must ready to be fermented. Before proceeding with the fermentation they can optionally be done specific procedures - according both to the style of wine to be made and to the laws in force in country where the wine is being produced - in order to give the must specific organoleptic and chemical qualities.

 Before proceeding with fermentation the must could be macerated with the skins at a low temperature that would avoid the start of fermentation, the so called cold maceration. As the fermentation is not started yet - in the juice there is no alcohol - it will only be obtained the extraction of aromatic and coloring components soluble in water. Before starting the fermentation it is also possible to correct or change some characteristics of the must according to the laws in force in the country of production. Among this procedures there is chaptalization, which is usually allowed in cool climate areas, consisting in adding sugar to the must in order to obtain a higher quantity of alcohol. Another procedure allowed in some countries is the concentration of the must by simply eliminating or removing part of the water. Concentration is usually done by means of particular vacuum machines or reverse osmosis machines. Another type of correction that could optionally be done in the must is acidification - a practice which is usually done in warm climate areas - consisting in adding some acid, usually tartaric acid, in order to improve the balance with sugar and therefore of wine.


Fermentation and Aging

 The must is now ready to begin its journey that will transform it into red wine by means of alcoholic fermentation. Before proceeding with fermentation, the wine maker could decide about adding specific yeast cultures in order to have a better control over this process as well as giving the wine particular organoleptic qualities. The main and fundamental role of alcoholic fermentation (or primary fermentation) consists in transforming the sugar contained in the must into alcohol and carbon dioxide - a job done by yeasts - however this process has the purpose of developing the secondary aromas of wine as well. Alcoholic fermentation is usually done in stainless steel tanks which are filled with must, skins and pips. The process of fermentation will cause an increasing of temperature of the tanks - and hence of the must as well - therefore it is of primary importance to control this factor. Fermentation temperature in red wines is usually from 25° and 30° C (77°-86° F), however it changes according to the type of wine to be made. Higher temperatures allow a higher extraction of coloring substances and tannins, therefore in wines having a delicate body the temperature is kept at lower levels, whereas in full bodied wines temperatures are higher.


 Besides constantly controlling the temperature - while avoiding the overheating of the must with the subsequent risk of killing the yeast - another problem is about the so called cap. During fermentation, carbon dioxide pushes the skins towards the surface therefore forming a thick layer which is called cap. This layer of skins being in contact with air can easily oxidize and develop vinegar - hence compromising the wine - therefore it is necessary to periodically break it in order to plunge it again in the fermenting must. This procedure is manually done by using a specific tool - a long paddle - in order to punch the cap down or by means of automatic systems and mechanisms installed on the fermentation tanks. During the fermentation process are being extracted from the skins both coloring substances, mainly anthocyanins, and tannins. At the beginning of fermentation the first components to be extracted from the skins are the coloring substances because they are more soluble in water and, as the quantity of alcohol gets higher and with longer maceration, tannins are being extracted.

 The duration of fermentation and maceration depends on the style of wine to be made as well as on the varieties of grapes. In light bodied wines this phase can last three or four days - a sufficient time in order to extract color and some tannins - whereas in full bodied wines this time can also have a duration from one week to one month. The process of alcoholic fermentation will be completed, in most of the cases, within one week. Maceration, that is the phase in which tannins and gustatory substances are being extracted, is a process that must be scrupulously controlled because excessively long times could result in the extraction of an excessive quantity of polyphenols therefore obtaining very astringent wines with a bitter and mediocre taste. At the end of maceration the wine is separated from the skins and transferred in the aging containers. As opposed to white wines, in red wines malolactic fermentation - the process in which malic acid is transformed into lactic acid and carbon dioxide - is always done. In red wines malolactic fermentation always plays a positive role because it makes the wine smoother and less astringent. Malic acid accentuates the astringent effect of tannins therefore its transformation into a “sweeter” acid, such as lactic acid, greatly contributes to the roundness of wine.

 The type of container used for the aging of wine depends on the style to be made. The most frequent one is the cask, or the barrique, however it can also be made of stainless steel. The aging in cask or in barrique does not consist in the enrichment of the wine with tannins and aromatic components of the wood only. No matter the most evident effect to the nose and to the mouth of a wine aged in wood is a higher roundness and the presence of spicy aromas and taste, of which the most common one is vanilla, the staying in wood also allows the stabilization of wine. Even the porosity of wood plays a fundamental role in the aging of wine by allowing the air in the outside of the cask to reach the inside in small quantities which positively influence aging. Likewise water and alcohol passes through the staves of the cask therefore reaching the outside and with the result of concentrating the wine. The aging period of the wine in cask depends both by the varieties of grapes with which it was made and by the style of wine to be produced, usually a variable period ranging from three or four months up to even some years.

 During the aging period, on the bottom of the container can be formed a layer of sediments and therefore it could be necessary to decant the wine in other containers in order to make it more limpid. Many red wines are made of wines produced with different grapes and most of the times each wine is being aged in separate casks. At the end of the aging, these wines will be assembled - a procedure also known as assemblage or blending - where the wines will be blended together in order to make the finished product. At this point the wine is allowed to stabilize for a certain amount of time and therefore the quality of the finished product will be evaluated. In case the wine would be too astringent - that is the quantity of tannins is excessive - it can also be processed with fining procedures usually done by adding some egg whites in the cask. Egg whites by precipitating to the bottom of the cask remove part of the tannins - as well as part of the color - therefore making the wine more transparent and less astringent. At the end of stabilization procedures the wine is bottled and before being commercialized it is further aged in the bottle for a variable period of time from some months to some years.


 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 21, Summer 2004   
Production of Red WineProduction of Red Wine  Contents 
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