Knowledge - What is Wine?

We'll start with a basic definition of wine, so that we are all clear what we are dealing with.

For the purposes of this course, we’ll use the dictionary definition “ An alcoholic drink produced by fermenting the juice of freshly gathered grapes”.

We are not talking about any other fruit, flower or vegetable drinks.

This is not being “elitist”, this is simply defining Wine in the accepted sense when we concern ourselves with “The Wine Trade” or wines bought in supermarkets, the High St or through Wine Clubs and Societies.

OK, so that’s wine. But there seems to be hundreds and thousands of different types of wine. So let’s look at ways to differentiate or to put them into different categories.....

Colour, Styles, More styles, New World or Old World

1. Colour

Let’s look at an obvious difference ~ Colour.

Wine seems to come in a variety of colours, ranging from almost colourless, through to yellow, to light red and very, very dark red, almost black sometimes. However in terms of wine types these varying shades are grouped together into two groups

Red Wines and White Wines.
It is true to say that all Red Wines are made from Red Grapes ( Black, blue and purple actually ) and that in the main, all White Wines are made from White Grapes (Green, yellow, golden, actually).

Although, there are one or two types of white wine which are made by specially handling the red grapes.

In making White Wine, the winemaker will crush the grapes and extract the juice. He/she will then take this juice and only this juice and ferment it into wine. In making red wine, the winemaker will, as in white wine making, crush the grapes and extract the juice. However, the juice is then fermented together with the skins of the grapes and in doing so the red colour and other properties are extracted from the skins of the grapes into the wine.

Red wines are often more complex than white wines. When you taste them, there are usually more things to taste. This is due to the properties which are extracted from the grapeskins. (More of this stuff later -but for now - compare this with making tea. If you dip the teabag in the cup, the tea will be light coloured. If you leave the teabag in the cup for five or more minutes the tea will be very dark, after ten minutes, darker still. )

Knowing this it should be easy to understand how it is possible to make White Wine from Red/Black grapes. It is simple really, only the juice is extracted when the “red” grape is crushed and only the grape juice is fermented. However, there are so few of these wines that at this moment we will pretend that they do not exist and we will come back to some of them later.

2. Styles of Wine

Sweet or Dry?

There are other ways in which wine is differentiated. Wines are often called DRY or MEDIUM or SWEET. Sometimes people get confused with these terms thinking that they refer to alcoholic content.

The easiest way to regard these terms is to think of them as referring to the taste of the wines. Some wines, like so called “dessert wines” will be very SWEET, others, like new red wines, will leave your tongue feeling very dusty/sharp, almost like sandpaper. These are DRY wines. The reason for the difference is due to the amount of sugar that is left over after the fermentation process is completed. Oops, this sounds as though it is about to get a bit too technical. Let’s sum it up like this

Dry Wines
These wines will taste dry.
This is because just about all of the sugar present in the grapes has been turned to alcohol during fermentation. Both white and red wines can be dry. White wines are “dry and crisp” (or maybe even sharp) and red wines might be dry with lots of other tastes and sensations.

Sweet Wines
Will taste sweet, usually very or obviously sweet.
This is because once the fermentation process has finished, there will be some sugars present which not have been converted to alcohol, or sugar will have been added to make the wine taste sweet.

Medium Wines
Well, as you might expect, they come somewhere in between.

3.More styles of wine


OK, so that’s RED or WHITE and DRY/MEDIUM/SWEET dealt with. What about these other terms, Still(Table), Sparkling and Fortified? This shouldn’t take too many lines to explain, but it is important to clear up one or two common misunderstandings.

Still(Table) Wine
This is the vast majority of wine available in the shops today. This is what is constitutes about 90% of the stock of any wine merchant, High St store or Supermarket.

Sparkling Wine
This is a wine which is made in a special way. It is made by a technique known as “double fermentation”, which creates gas within the wine making it “fizzy”.The best known of these wines is of course, Champagne.

Although it is made a special way - it IS wine (many people think of it as something "special") and although it can be expensive (when buying the very best of the very best), there is plenty of very reasonably priced “everyday” sparkling wine available at very similar prices to “everyday” table wine. South Africa, New Zealand and Australia make very reeasonably priced examples.

For many generations now, the people who make sparkling wine have sold it as being something extremely special and as a result have been able to charge very high prices for it. However nowadays, more and more winemakers are making sparkling wine and there is more and more of it about....and it’s all good stuff. Too many people are still put off buying Sparkling Wine thinking that it is only for a special occasion. It’s not and it’s no longer expensive. We should all drink more!


Fortified Wine
These wines have a higher alcohol content than average, because they are made by adding alcohol to the wine after fermentation has finished.

These are the wines which for decades have traditionally been drunk as aperitifs, after dinner drinks or as an alternative to hard spirit. Specifically, Sherry, Madeira, and Port. As a result many people often overlook these wines when thinking "What to drink"?

In my view, not enough people drink them the way they drink red or white still wine. Few people in this country drink these wines out of real wine glasses and as such don’t get the fullest enjoyment from them.

There is nothing quite like enjoying a big glass of dry sherry with a plate of seafood or a plain fish dish, like in this picture, but most people in this country would never dream of pouring a large glass of sherry - opting instead for a little thimble like glass.....where’s the fun in that?

More on this later! Hopefully having read this far you will regard Table Wine, Sparkling Wine and Fortified Wine as examples or types of the same product ..... ........WINE! ........and not as a special luxury or as “particular time” drinks reserved for favourite aunties.

4. New World or Old World?

The final way of differentiating wines for the moment, comes straight off the supermarket and wine store shelves. Just what are New World and Old World Wines? Strictly speaking, the difference here tends to be thought of as European and non European wines. For it was from the “Old World” of Europe that until recently, the majority of wine which we drank in this country came. Until the early to mid eighties that is. Before this time wines came mainly from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece in abundance. .

In the early 1980’s, “New World” invaders started to arrive in Britain firstly from Australia, then from the USA, then New Zealand, Chile and Argentina and latterly from South Africa, pictured left.

Recently too, with the end of Communism in eastern Europe, new wine areas such as Hungary, Moldova, Georgia, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria are “opening up” .

So, literally, Old World and New World Wines are just that.

Finally, for now,you might hear of wine made a "New World" style in the “Old World” and, yes, “old world style” wines are increasingly being attempted in the “New World.” What's this all about?

An “Old World style" is generally regarded as being typical of wines made in the cooler, longer growing seasons, usually found in Europe. These wines tend to be less intense with fruit flavours, but possess a greater finesse and silkiness, which comes from the less intense and greater “controlled” growing period allowing the varietal flavours to slowly develop.

“New World Style” wines are generally regarded as being typical of a wine made in a hot, hot climate. These climates tend to have shorter and hotter growing seasons than those found in Europe. Therefore the fruit ripens very quickly and can become very concentrated and intense. As a result” New world Styles” tend to be regarded as very intense and
bursting with fruity smells and fruity flavours.

Europe tends to be what people think of as "Old World", Australia and New Zealand tends to be what people think about as "New World". Then there's South Africa, halfway between, producing "New World" styles, "Old World Styles" and a style with the best of both. There will be more on specific regions in future pieces and in our wines section.

Next, why not find out more on "How to Taste Wine"

supplying wine with knowledge