What is Wine?
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made with the fermented juice of grapes.
Technically, any fruit is capable of being used for wine (i.e., apples, cranberries, plums, etc.), but if it just says “wine” on the label, then it’s made with grapes. (By the way, wine grapes are different than table grapes).
The difference between two popular drinks, wine and beer, is that brewing beer involves fermented grains. Simply, wine is made from fruit, and beer is made from grains. There are exceptions –that push the boundaries of beer,–but that story is for another time.
What are Wine Grapes?
Wine grapes are different than table grapes: they are smaller, sweeter, and have lots of seeds. Most wines originate from a single species of vine that originated in the Caucasus called Vitis vinifera.
There are thousands of different varieties within the Vitis vinifera species–the most common is Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Origin of the term “Vintage”
Wine grapes take an entire season to ripen, and thus, wine is produced just once a year. Hence, the origin of the term vintage. Vint stands for “Winemaking” and Age for the year it was made.
When you see a vintage year listed on the label, that’s the year the grapes were picked and made into wine. The harvest season in the northern hemisphere (Europe, US) is from August–September, and the harvest season in the southern hemisphere (Argentina, Australia) is from February–April.
Non-Vintage (NV) Wine
Occasionally, you’ll find a wine without a vintage listed on the label. Typically, this is a blend of several vintages together; and in the case of Champagne, it will be labeled with “NV” which stands for “Non-Vintage.”
A single-varietal wine is made primarily with one type of grape. It’s common to see these wines labeled by the name of that grape variety. For example, a bottle of Riesling is made with Riesling grapes. It’s useful to note that each country has different rules for how much of the variety should be included to be labeled as a varietal wine.
Percentage of grapes required to be labeled as a single-varietal wine.
- 75% USA*, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Greece
- 80% Argentina
- 85% Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand
- The state of Oregon requires 90% of the varietal
A wine blend is a wine made with a blend of several grape varieties.
Blending is a traditional winemaking method, and today there are several famous wine blends produced in classic winemaking regions. Most wine blends are mixed after the fermentation (and aging) is complete. When grapes are blended and fermented together it is called a field blend. A famous example of a field blend is Port wine.