Tag Archives: how wine is made

Today’s Wine Word: Malolactic Fermentation


Well, there’s a mouthful of a wine word! Not to worry – it’s easier to understand than it is to pronounce it. And, now seems like a good time to take a look because, even as we speak, lots and lots of wines being made in the northern hemisphere are bubbling their way through what’s often called the second fermentation – the malolactic fermentation, or ML for short.

For the microbiologists out there I’ll say that it’s not really a fermentation – it’s a conversion.

The real point? Do you like your Chardonnay buttery? If so, it’s very likely that the brands you prefer put their Chard through ML or partial ML.

The conversion normally follows the primary, alcoholic fermentation.

It’s routine for reds, for the sake of stability and to soften the acid. When it comes to whites, it’s more of a question mark and when the topic comes up it’s usually in reference Chardonnay. Here’s how it goes:

It may take the wine maker about three weeks to make his Chardonnay. Then, lactic-acid bacteria is added to the new wine. It causes the tart malic acid – the green apple acid, to convert to soft lactic acid – the milk acid. So the wine feels softer and rounder on your palate. ML also has a byproduct, called diacetyl, which adds a sort of viscous, oily sensation to the texture and smells and tastes buttery.

TRIVIA! Diacetyl is the substance they add to microwave popcorn to make it buttery! Continue reading

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Wine Making in One Minute!

The Cliff Notes version of how wine is made: 

Have you ever tried to make wine at home?

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How is Wine Made?

Question from Roy: How is wine made? 

Reply: Hi, Roy. Thanks for writing! Your question has a, potentially, very long answer but I assume you want the short story.

For anyone who is intimidated by wine, you should know that making it is so simple it was discovered by accident. Making good wine can be quite another matter but someone, yea long ago, thought he put aside a pot of grape juice. Then, after a few days he noticed it bubbling and foaming. If he was brave enough to taste it, he found that it had a very warm, pleasant relaxing effect. So, wine was born and, as you know, goes back thousands and thousands of years. 

All you need to make wine is grape juice and yeast. The yeast is supplied, courtesy of Mother Nature. It’s like bacteria – it’s everywhere. 

The yeast feeds on the sugar in the juice setting off a chemical reaction called fermentation. The yeast converts the sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide gas (thus the foaming) and heat. When the yeast runs out of sugar it dies or goes dormant and you have a dry (not sweet) wine. If the yeast peters out or dies early the wine will be sweet because there’s sugar left over. Continue reading

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Wine Making 101

Well, I seem to have covered sparkling wine 101 without ever explaining how wine is made in the first place! Mea culpa! So, here we go with wine making 101: 

The short course: The most important thing to know is that making wine is so simple it was discovered by accident thousands and thousands of years ago. I like to think of it as the world’s second oldest profession.

Someone, yea long ago, was saving a batch of grape juice. A few days later, he noticed it was getting foamy, and then a few days more and he had a different beverage altogether! Grape juice with a kick!

All you need to make wine is grape juice and yeast. And, yeast is everywhere, like bacteria. So I guess what I’m saying is that grape juice wants to be wine – that’s the good news. The bad news is that wine wants to be vinegar so professional winemaking requires a little intervention.

For red wine:  As you’d guess, red wine is made of dark skinned grapes. All the color and most of the flavor and texture come from the skins – the juice is clear. That makes these dark grapes quite versatile. They can make red, white or pink wine depending upon how long the juice and skins are in contact.

1. On harvest day (preferably), the grape clusters are run through a machine that de-stems them and breaks the berries open. The crushed grapes go into a fermentation tank skins, seeds and all. 

2. These days, most winemakers add reliable, cultured yeast rather than waiting for nature to take its course. 

What is fermentation? It’s a natural chemical reaction. The yeast consumes the sugar in the juice and converts it into alcohol and carbon-dioxide gas. When the sugar’s used up, usually about a week later, for reds, the fermentation ends naturally, resulting in a dry red wine. A little over half of the sugar will convert to alcohol, so if the winemaker wants to make wine that’s around 13% alcohol, he should harvest grapes that are about 24% sugar (although he also needs to monitor the acid, pH and, most importantly, flavor). 

3. The winemaker separates the wine from the skins in a press, which is like a giant strainer with a squeezing mechanism. 

4. Most reds need some barrel age, but it’s optional.

For white wine: The vast majority of white wine is made from white varieties. 

1. For the sake of delicacy, the grapes are crushed and pressed immediately after harvest, leaving only the juice to ferment. 

2. Once the yeast is added, fermentation can take several weeks because the juice is often kept cool to retain fruitiness. 

3. It’s quite common to bottle white wine, even some of the very best, without any barrel aging at all. It’s a question of style.

See how simple that is? Of course there are seemingly endless variables involved each step of the way, but there you have it – bare bones wine 101! 

For those who want to dig a little deeper: 

The harvest: Most winemakers would agree that the harvest decision is the single-most important decision they make in the whole year. Like the best chefs, the winemaker can’t excel unless he uses top quality fruit picked at just the right time. Continue reading

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