Jammy, earthy, fruity, or bold, these are a few common words associated with one of the world’s most popular alcoholic beverages, red wine. It’s hard to believe, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of different kinds of red wines, each with its unique features.
What if you don’t like red wine? Well, maybe you just haven’t tried the right one yet. Let’s go over the very fundamentals of red wine, perhaps you’ll find something you will like.
How is red wine made?
The wine gets its colour from grape skins. For example, white wine can be made from both red and white grapes, while red wines can’t be made from white skinned grapes. The colour comes from skins only, as the juice of grapes is clear. Therefore, grapes have to be fermented with skins, the yeast is added, and the sugar in them is converted to alcohol.
While the process takes place, the juice leeches skins’ colour. The darkness and richness of the colour will depend on how long the juice spends with the skins. Also, red wines are often fermented at warmer temperatures, compared to white wines.
What are tannins?
Tannins are natural compounds that are typically found in red wines. They are released from grape skins, stems, and seeds when soaked in the juice. The best way to characterize them is, perhaps, a drying sensation in your mouth.
An excellent way to visualize this would be is you were to bite into a green banana or have a very strong tea made with an over soaked tea bag. Either way, your mouth dries. Depending on the tannins content, the feeling you get in your mouth will vary. If a wine is rich in tannins, it’s able to age, as tannins can act as natural antioxidants.
Some wines’ tannins are quite noticeable, while others are quite subtle. The number of tannins will vary as well, so if you aren’t a big fan of the feeling you get after sipping a tannin rich red wine, it’s easy to find one with lower tannin content. Once again, there is a bottle of red wine for every palate, and there is definitely no right or wrong here.
What red wine styles are out there?
There are many different red wine styles that you can find at any local wine store. First of all, they can all be broken into three categories, which are light-bodied, medium-bodied and full-bodied. The first is usually fresh and fruity. The latter is fruity, but with a note of spice, and the last type is often bold, with high tannin contents.
Here are some pointers to start learning about red wine:
Just like other cultivated plants, wine grapes have many varieties. The ones used impacts deeply the wine, being possible to achieve an immense difference in the wine’s expression.
Varietal vs Blended Wines
Each grape variety has a distinct wine profile. That is shown in varietal wines, produced mainly with one grape variety. On the other side we have blended wines, produced with mixtures of different varieties in the search of a better equilibrium.
Wine differences are also influenced by terroir and its growing season, amount of rain, altitude, temperature and the soil characteristics where the vines are rooted in. This matters as much to the final product as the varietal or blend utilized.
The moment the grapes are picked is an important decision. Early picking will produce high acidity, low alcohol and green flavoured wine. The tannins, also, tend to become more bitter. Picking later, on the other hand, will generate wines with lower acidity, higher alcohol or sweetness and more subdued tannins.
Cold Soaking, Maceration Time and Skin Contact
Cold soaking is the process of keeping the grape must cold enough that prevents the yeast from fermenting. In this process the colour, the fruit flavours and the tannins are extracted from the grape skins. The total time that the grape skins touch a wine is called maceration time.
Hot Fermentation vs. Cool Fermentation
Fruit flavours and colour are also influenced by the fermentation temperature. Red wines with increased colour and tannin are usually produced by warmer fermentation (80-100 °F / 26-37 °C), where cold fermentation, gentler to delicate aromas, is common for white and rosé wines (42-50 °F, 6-10 °C).
Stirring During Fermentation: Pump Overs vs. Punch Downs
There’s mainly two ways to stir the wine during the fermentation process. Pump overs gets the wine on the bottom of the tank and sprinkle it on the top. The intensity of this process defines how much tannin is extracted. Punch downs, on the other hand, are a very delicate way to stir a wine, usually by hand, with less oxygen being added. The product is a less tannin and colour intense wine.
Oak-Aging vs. Steel Tank
Wines aged in oak develops vanilla and nutty flavours and decreases its tannins level by oxygen exposure. Steel tank tend to be favoured for zesty and greener wines. It limits the oxygen exposure, keeping the wine younger and fresher.
If you’d like to try red wine, from the popular Pinot Noir to a California grownPetite Sirah, you can purchase the wine at the ZYN liquor store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, or shop online at ZYN.ca!