In our What is Wine article, we discussed the basics of the winemaking process. But how do you make different styles of wine? Below, we briefly look at some basic styles and discuss the differences in how they’re made.
White wine is a wine that is made and fermented without skin contact. This means that after the grapes are crushed, they are immediately pressed. This creates a clear juice (with slight yellow, gold, or greenish tones).
White wine is mostly made from the fermentation of the juice from green grapes but can also be made from grapes with red skin (as long as the skin doesn’t taint the color of the juice). A good example of this is Pinot Noir, which is often used to produce Champagne.
Red Wine is a wine that is made and fermented on grape skins. After the grapes are crushed, they are pumped into a fermenter (this can often look like a large tub). At this stage, a combination of juice, skins, pulp, and seeds are all mixed together in the fermenter. This combination is known as grape must.
The must is then introduced to yeast to begin fermentation. The big difference between red and white wines is that red wine is fermented on grape skins. The skin is where the wine gets its red color*. Once fermentation is finished, the red wine is pressed off all of its solids and set to age.
*A tiny fraction of grapes have red flesh and red skin. These are known as teinturier grapes.
A rosé is a wine that incorporates a small amount of color from the grape skins but not nearly as much as a red wine—two major ways to produce rosé; the skin contact method or saignée. The skin contact method is the same as we saw for making red wine. The major difference is time. While red wine may sit on the skin for many weeks to several months, rosé wine will only sit on the skins for a few hours to a few days. Another major difference is that rosé is fermented after removing it from the skins.
Saignée is when a winemaker bleeds a small portion of juice off a red wine after it goes into the fermenter before it begins fermentation. This helps to darken the color of the wine (and make the tannins stronger), while the light pink juice that was bled off can be fermented into a rosé.
*White and red wines can be blended together to make a rosé, but this is generally frowned upon in the wine community and illegal in France except for Champagne.
Orange wine is a white wine made in the same method as red wine- meaning a skin-contact white wine. Oftentimes, this gives the wine an orange hue, which is where we get the name. However, like any style of wine, there is a wide range of colors.
Orange wine has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially with respect to the biodynamic and natural wine movements. Recently, we have seen the popularity grow for orange wine aged in amphora (clay vessels). These wines can be infinitely more complex than a standard white wine and are not for the faint of heart.
Ah, bubbles. These delightful additions to a still wine are generally created when a wine undergoes fermentation under pressure. The CO2 released during fermentation is trapped in the liquid, thus creating a bubbly (sparkling) wine!
However, there are several methods used to create a sparkler. Some of the most popular are the Traditional Method, Charmat Method, Ancestral Method, and Carbonation.
The Traditional Method (AKA The Champagne Method) involves taking a finished wine and creating a secondary fermentation inside the bottle. Once the finished wine is in the bottle, a tirage (a mixture of yeast, sugar, and sometimes yeast nutrients) is added. The tirage causes a secondary fermentation inside of the bottle. Since the CO2 from the fermentation has nowhere to go, it is absorbed by the wine, creating bubbles.
Before corking the finished wine, the winemaker must remove the dead yeast cells (lees) from the wine. This is a process called disgorging. It involves freezing the neck of the bottle (where the dead yeast cells have collected), opening the bottle, and allowing the frozen lees to shoot out. The winemaker is left with the clear, sparkling wine, then capped off with a traditional cork and cage.
This process is time-consuming, costly, and risky- but it makes for some truly fabulous and one-of-a-kind wines- which is why sparkling wines made in this manner tend to be very expensive. Some of the wines made in this style are Champagne, Cava, and Cremant.
Also known as the Tank Method, The Charmat Method tends to be an easier and less-expensive way to produce sparkling wine. Instead of adding the tirage to a bottle, it is added to a pressurized tank (without the pressure, the CO2 would blow off into the air) of the finished wine. The wine goes through its secondary fermentation in bulk. It is then filtered to remove the lees and bottled under pressure to retain the bubbles. One of the most famous wines made with this method is Prosecco.
Ancestral Method is the oldest method of making sparkling wine. It is also used to create pétillant-naturel (more commonly known as pet-nat).
These wines are not created using secondary fermentation. Instead, the winemaker bottles the wine before it has completely finished its primary fermentation. The bottle is sealed with a crown cap (like a bottle of beer) and allowed to finish fermenting under pressure, thus creating bubbles. Rarely will the winemaker disgorge and rebottle. However, it has become increasingly popular to allow the lees the remain in the bottle and the resulting wine to remain a bit cloudy. This style has recently become very popular with natural wine fans.
Carbonation. This method does tend to be frowned upon by most winemakers. It simply involves injecting CO2, under pressure, into a finished still wine until the wine has become sparkling (similar to soda).