Wine is both simple and complex. Wine is simple because very little is needed to make wine — it's created by a natural process that occurs all around us. Wine is also complex because we can influence this process in many different ways, allowing us to produce many different kinds of wines. So wine is simple, but we choose to make wine complex because simple isn't interesting enough.
What Is Wine?
Wine is any fermented fruit juice. People typically associate wine solely with grapes and it's true that the vast majority of all wine that you'll find almost anywhere is fermented grape juice, but wine can technically be made from other fruits like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
Gapes have become the standard for wines for two reasons. First, there is an acid found in grapes but not other fruits which preserves the juice for decades or even centuries. Second, there is a lot more sugar in grapes than in other fruits and this helps produce stronger wines because almost all the sugar is transformed into alcohol.
How is Wine Made?
The creation of wine is a simple process that would happen without any human intervention, if allowed:
- Pick Grapes
- Crush Grapes
- Collect Grape Juice
- Wait for Fermentation
Humans collect and crush grapes for the convenience of creating wine in larger quantities, but the juice would ferment in the grapes on the vine or on the ground if left alone.
What Is Fermentation?
The fermentation which creates wine is the process by which yeast consumes sugars and produces alcohol (and carbon dioxide). The more sugar that's in the grapes, the more alcohol there will be in the resulting wine (if the process is allowed to continue to completion). Yeast exists naturally on grapes and grape vines, which is why fermentation occurs naturally, but wine makers may also add yeasts to better control the process.
Why Does Wine Taste the Way it Does?
People's interest in wine is largely focused on its taste, but it probably wouldn't taste very good if it were simply a matter of leaving jugs of grape juice in your basement for a couple of months. There are a lot of different factors which go into creating each wine's unique taste:
- Grape variety
- Blending varieties together
- Fermentation time
- Fermentation container (wood, steel)
- Length of time of contact with grape skins
- Maturation time
- Maturation container
Then there are the geographical factors which, taken all together, the French call terroir:
- Soil type
- Topography (steepness of the slopes)
- Weather conditions
- Farming techniques
And this is just the beginning of what makes wine what it is.