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Making Various Types of Wine


In 2017, the American wine industry alone was estimated to bring in close to $220 billion dollars.1 Wine is made all over the world and largely produced in one of two main regions: in the “Old Country,” which refers to areas like the Mediterranean (Spain) and parts of Europe like France, Germany, and Italy, and in the “New Country,” which includes Australia, the United States, and Chile.2 In the Old Country, where wine has been produced for thousands of years, a lot of stock goes into the region where the grapes are grown, the climate, and the soil conditions, with some best suited for specific types of grapes and therefore different variations of wine. Wine made in the New Country is generally produced in hotter climates and often focuses more on the type of grapes being used.

There are more than 10,000 different varieties of wine grapes grown in the world.3 In general, wine falls into four main categories:

  • Red wine
  • White wine
  • Sparkling wine
  • Dessert wine or fortified wine

How to Make Wine

Depending on the type of wine being made, the process of making it can be slightly different. In general, however, wine is made by going through the following five steps:

  1. Harvesting the grapes
  2. Crushing and pressing the grapes
  3. Fermenting the grapes to turn them into wine
  4. Aging the wine
  5. Bottling the wine

During the harvesting process, the grapes are picked from the vines either with machines or by hand. Many growers and wine producers prefer having the grapes picked by hand to preserve the quality of the grape. The timing of when the grapes are picked is important, just as the weather, climate, and soil they are grown in are important. When grapes are picked can help to determine how sweet the wine will be, how acidic it may be, and its flavor. Weather can play a role in when grapes need to be harvested as well.

Grapes are then crushed and pressed. This used to be done by hand or rather by foot, as people would literally stomp the grapes flat in large barrels or bins. Today, most winemakers resort to using mechanical presses to crush and press the grapes into what is called must. To make white wine, grapes are crushed right away to remove the pulp from the skin while red wine requires the skin of the red grapes in order to give it its color.

Next, the must is fermented, which can occur naturally in about 6-12 hours after pressing the grapes.4 Winemakers regularly add yeast at this point to help fermentation along. Fermentation is when the sugar in the must is converted into alcohol. Eventually, in anywhere from 10 days to over a month, all of the sugars are converted into alcohol. For sweeter wines, fermentation may be stopped early in order to preserve some of the sugars. After fermentation comes clarification, during which all the unwanted particles in the wine are removed. This may be done by filtration or by a process called “fining” where things like clay may be added to the wine to draw out some of the unwanted particles.

Wine is then racked into a vessel, such as an oak barrel or a stainless-steel tank for aging. Wine may be bottled immediately; however, many wines are aged for a length of time first. How, in what, and for how long a wine is aged can affect its flavor. Wine may be aged for many years, in charred or toasted barrels, in oak barrels that are of French or American origin, in new or used oak barrels, or in stainless-steel tanks. After the wine is sufficiently aged, it is then put into bottles for sale and ultimately for drinking.

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Where White Wine Comes From

White wine can be made from any color of grapes as the insides of grapes are all virtually the same light color. Winemakers will remove the skins from the grapes as soon as possible when making white wine. This is done during the crushing fairly quickly after harvesting the grapes. The grape must is transferred to a press after crushing and pressed to separate the grape juice from the skins. The juice is moved into tanks where it is allowed to settle for a period of time while the sediment sinks to the bottom. The juice is then filtered out to another tank for fermentation.

The main backbone of white wines is their acidity, which gives it a crisp, dry, or tart flavor. The longer white wine is fermented, the dryer and less sweet it will be. After fermentation, white wine is racked again into whatever vessel it is to be aged in, which can also influence the flavor of the wine itself. White wine may not be aged as long as red and may be ready to bottle in just a few months.

In general, wine is classified either by the type of grape used, called varietal wine, or by the region the grapes are harvested from, called regional wine. Wine made in Old Country, which is mostly regional wine, often has many rules and regulations attached to it, only allowing certain grapes to be grown in specific regions with stipulations in place regarding how the wine is made. Wines are named for their region and may contain more than one type of grape, and it may not be immediately obvious by the name whether it is a white or a red wine. Varietal wines are required to contain at least 75 percent of the type of grape it is named after. 5

The United States has created quite a market for generic wine, which has little or no regulations about what it must contain or where it comes from. Generic wines are frequently named after famous wine regions, often those that are far away and may seem exotic.

Proprietary wines are those that have trademarked names or brand names. These wines are often mass marketed.

Some of the most popular types of white wines are outlined below.

Type of White Wine Region Where Grapes Are Grown Details
Chardonnay Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, France, but now these grapes are grown all over the world, including in California.6 These are one of the most popular grapes used in white wine. There are many different types, including the regional wine Chablis and oak-aged California wines.
Riesling Originating in the Rhine region of Germany, these grapes are also grown in the Alsace region of France, Australia, Washington State, California, New Zealand, and Austria.7 Often considered to have a floral aroma with high acidity, Riesling can be sweet and also dry. Riesling grapes are used to make many types of white wines, including Trocken and Spatlese.
Sauvignon Blanc A grape indigenous to South West France, this wine originally came from the Bordeaux region of France.8 One of the most popular white wines in America, this wine and these grapes are grown today in New Zealand, Chile, California, Italy, and South Africa These grapes are also used to make Sancerre wine, another French regional wine. This wine is referred to as “crisp,” having high acidity and low sugar levels.
Semillon The third most-grown white wine grape variety in France, these grapes are also grown in Australia, Argentina, South Africa, California, and Washington State.9 Semillon grapes are often used in Bordeaux wines, Hunter Valley Australia wine, and white wine blends.
Pinot Grigio With bluish, gray skin, these grapes are grown in northeastern Italy in regions such as Alto Adige, Lombardy, Friuli, the Veneto, and Trentino. They are also grown in other cooler climates, such as Austria, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Okanagan (Canada), and the Rheingau, Pfalz, and Rheinhessen regions of Germany to produce the dry and minerally version of the Pinot Grigio wine.10 Also grown in New World wine regions to produce the dry and fruity version of Pinot Grigio, these grapes are grown in California, Washington State, Oregon, Argentina, Australia, Italy, Chile, and New Zealand. A sweet form of this wine comes from grapes grown in Alsace, France, which makes the version of the wine called Pinot Gris. A dry white wine, Pinot Grigio began as Pinot Gris in Burgundy, France, before evolving into the most popular white wine in Italy. It is the most imported white wine into the US, and made into many generic and mass-marketed white wines sold today.11
Gewurztraminer A relatively rare grape varietal, these grapes were originally found in Germany and the foothills of the Alps. The main growing region today is in Alsace, France, but they are also grown in cooler climates found in Austria, Northern Italy, Washington State, New York State, and Sonoma and Monterey in California.12 A sweeter wine, Gewurztraminer is thought to be one of the most aromatic grapes, making a distinctive white wine.
Moscato (Muscat) Originating in the Piedmont region of Italy, Muscat grapes are used to make Moscato wine. These grapes are also grown in California and Australia to make Moscato wines. Moscato is an easily drinkable, sweet white wine that is the fastest growing wine on the market in the US today.13
White Zinfandel Originally produced by Sutter Home Winery in California in the 1970s, White Zinfandel comes from the Zinfandel grape, which is a red grape. The process of removing the grape skins early makes a light pink rosé wine instead of a red one.14 White Zin (as it is now being called most often) is making a comeback after gaining a bad reputation as a “cheap” wine for the last several years.


Making Red Wine

Wine gets its color (or lack thereof) from the grape skins. With red wine, red grape skins are left on during the fermentation process, and the grapes are crushed and pressed later. The skin is left in contact with the rest of the grape for as long as possible. During fermentation, the grape skins may regularly rise to the surface of the wine as carbon dioxide is released, and winemakers will need to “punch” them down multiple times a day to keep the skins touching the must.

Grape skins contain what are called tannins, which are what give red wines their somewhat bitter and dry taste. Tannins give red wines their color, texture, and flavor.15 The darker the color of the wine, the more tannins are present.

The wine is racked, or moved to a different vessel, after fermentation and pressing, and then clarified and possibly even re-racked to be aged before bottling. Red wine is regularly aged for many months (around 18-24 months or even longer) in oak barrels before bottling.

Popular types of red wines and details on growing regions and grape varietals are outlined below.

Type of Red Wine Region Where Grapes Are Grown Details
Cabernet Sauvignon One of the most common red grape varieties, these grapes are small and thick-skinned. They are cultivated in the Bordeaux region of France as well as in Napa Valley in California; Washington State; British Columbia in Canada; Bolgheri, Italy; Chile; Argentina; South Africa; the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions in Spain; and the Margaret River and Coonawarra regions of Australia.16 This is a wine that is deep red in color, high in tannins, and bold in flavor. It is typically aged for a long period of time (sometimes years) in oak barrels.
Zinfandel Primarily grown in California in regions such as Napa Valley, Amador County, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and Lodi, Zinfandel grapes are also grown in Puglia, Italy and thought to have originated in Croatia.17 Zinfandel is one of the top-produced and bestselling wines in the United States. It is a lighter bodied red, also marketed as Primitivo in southern Italy.18
Merlot Indigenous to the Bordeaux region of France along its right bank and in the Libournais subregion, which includes areas such as Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, Merlot grapes are also grown in Italy (in Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli), as well as in Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay, Chile, New Zealand, and South Africa. They are also grown in New York, Washington State, and California in the United States as the second-most popular red grape in America.[19], [20] Merlot grapes are often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to make a red blend wine as well as made into pure Merlot wine, which is typically considered smooth to drink.
Pinot Noir One of the main grapes grown in Champagne and Burgundy, France (particularly famous from Cote d’Or), Oregon and New Zealand, Pinot Noir grapes are one of the oldest grape varieties and the tenth most planted grapes in the world. They are also grown in the Baden, Pfalz, and Nahe regions of Germany, in Chile, and in the United States.[21], [22] A somewhat temperamental grape, pinot noir wines tend to be priced slightly higher than other reds.
Cabernet Franc Likely originating in the Basque County of France, Cabernet Franc grapes and the wine are largely produced in France. The Loire Valley (specifically Chinon and Bourgueil) specializes in making this wine.[23] The second-largest producer of Cabernet Franc is Italy, from Tuscany and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Cabernet Franc grapes and wine are also grown and produced in the Sierra Foothills of California, the Colchagua Valley of Chile, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, China, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the Columbia Valley in Washington State, New York, and the north coast of California. This wine is often made into famous red “Right Bank” Bordeaux blends, which combine Cabernet Franc with Merlot grapes, such as the Chateau Cheval Blanc from the Saint-Émilion Appellation in Bordeaux, France.
Malbec Around three-quarters of all Malbec grapes are grown in Argentina.[24] Malbec grapes and wine are grown and produced in Mendoza, Argentina, and also in the Sud-Ouest region of France, primarily in Cahors, as well as in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, France; Washington State, Oregon, and California in the United States; South Africa; Chile; Australia; and New Zealand. Malbec is a full-bodied red wine that is typically priced affordably. Malbec grapes are also used in a Right Bank Bordeaux blend. French Malbec is additionally called Auxerrois or Cot, which can taste very different from Argentinean Malbec.
Barbera An Italian wine that has been around for decades, Barbera grapes are commonly grown in the Piedmont region of Italy.[25] These grapes are also grown in the Central Valley and the Sierra Foothills in California, as well as in the Columbia Valley in Oregon and Washington State. A relatively new wine on the American market, Barbera wine has been long considered an “everyday” wine in Italy.
Chianti To be considered a true Chianti wine it must come from the Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy, and contain at least 80 percent Sangiovese grapes.[26] A classic Italian wine famous for the straw basket that held the squat bottle, called a fiasco, Chianti is a dry red wine and the most popular Italian red wine in the United States.[27] This wine is often sold as either Chianti or Chianti Classico, which is produced from grapes harvested from only the top vineyards of the area.
Sangiovese Sangiovese grapes are the most commonly planted grapes in Italy and grown all over the country, particularly in central Italy, including Tuscany (especially in Chianti, Brunello, and Montepulciano) and Puglia.[28] Sangiovese grapes are also grown in California and Washington State within the United States. Sangiovese wines are often named for the region where they are grown instead of for the grapes these wines contain. They can also be blended with other grapes to form red blends.
Syrah/Shiraz Syrah and Shiraz are the same type of grapes/wine. Syrah hails from the Northern Rhone Valley in France while Shiraz is from Australia, where it is the most popular red wine on the market.[29] One of the darkest red wines out there, Syrah/Shiraz is a full-bodied red wine. Syrah tends to be more expensive than Shiraz.


How Dessert/Fortified Wine Is Different

Dessert wine is so called because it is usually sweet and often served after dinner or a meal. Dessert wine may either be sweet because of the grapes used, the way the wine is made, or by adding alcohol to it.

Wine can vary in type and also in amount of alcohol it contains. Wine that has 14 percent or less alcohol by volume (ABV) is considered table wine in the United States and light wine in Europe.30 Alcohol can be added to wine to make what is called fortified wine. Alcohol like as brandy is commonly added to fortified wine in order to make it sweeter and to help the wine keep some of its natural sugar that is regularly used up during fermentation. Examples of fortified wine include:

  • Port: Made in northern Portugal along the Douro River from grapes like Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz.[31] Grapes are fermented in open tanks all together and stomped daily until a certain point where they are strained and then blended with a grape spirit that is high in alcohol content. This stops fermentation to create the finished product.
  • Madeira: Originating from the small island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal, Madeira wine is made differently than other wines in that it is repeatedly heated and cooled several times during its aging process.[32] There are two main aging processes for Madeira wine: the Estufa Method and the Canteiro Method. With the Estufa Method, the wine is kept in heated tanks to caramelize the sugars for three months. The Canteiro Method keeps the wine in barrels that are then heated outside in the sun or in heated rooms for an extended period of time, sometimes as long as 100 years. Sercial, Bual, Verdelho, Malmsey, and Tinto Negramoll are grape varietals used to make Madeira. The grapes are picked early, making them highly acidic, which is why the wine is exposed to oxygen during aging and aged in the unique way and for the amount of time that it is.
  • Sherry: Coming from Andalucia in southern Spain, Sherry is a fortified wine that is made in Jerez where the warm climate, humidity, and winds are used to help shape its taste.[33] A phenomenon called flor happens, which creates a layer of yeast on top of the wine as it ages, helping to create its salty and tangy flavor. Sherry is aged in a solera, which is a group of barrels that helps to age the wine for many years. Each year new wine is added to the barrels and the oldest barrel is bottled.
  • Marsala: Made from regional grapes in Sicily, Italy, such as Grillo grapes, Marsala is fortified with brandy after being aged, often in a solera.[34] Marsala can be either gold, amber, or ruby in color and may use a combination of both red and white grapes. Cooked must, called mosto cotto, can be added to affect the color and sweetness of the wine.
  • Vermouth: Dry vermouth typically comes from France while sweet (red) Vermouth usually comes from Italy. Vermouth is a fortified wine that is aromatized with herbs, or botanicals, and the recipe is guarded closely by the winemakers who make it.[35] The wine is fortified with brandy or another spirit during fermentation.

Dessert wine isn’t always fortified with alcohol. It can also be a sweet wine made with grapes that are sweeter than others. Fermentation is stopped early when making a dessert wine in order to preserve more of the sugars. This can be done by adding brandy to make the fortified wine or by super-cooling it to stop the action of the yeast that eats the sugars. Grapes may also be harvested later, which allows them to become sweeter as they stay on the vine longer. Grapes can be raisonated by laying them out on straw mats before they are pressed.

Sweet wine can also be made with grapes that have “noble rot.” While it may sound unappealing, it is actually done on purpose to make many forms of dessert wine as it can enhance flavor. An example of a noble rot and late harvest wine is Sauternes wine. Sauternes are dessert wines coming from Semillon, Muscadelle, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in Graves, which in the Bordeaux region of France.[36]

Another type of dessert wine is ice wine (eiswein), which is made from grapes that are harvested while still frozen, typically in the middle of the night. Ice wine may be made from any type of grape, although usually with Riesling or Vidal varietals. Ice wine is unique in that it can only be made when the vineyard freezes, which may happen in colder climates like Germany, Canada, and Switzerland.

Sparkling wine is another form of dessert wine that can be made “bubbly” by adding carbon dioxide after fermentation, or carbonation can occur as a result of fermentation itself. Sparkling wine comes in many varieties and ranges from driest to sweetest as follows:

Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Extra Dry/Extra Sec/Extra Seco, Dry/Sec/Seco, Demi-Sec/Semi-Secco, Doux/Sweet/Dulce[37]

Sparkling wine is often referred to as champagne; however, true champagne is only made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. Italian sparkling wine is called Spumante while German sparkling wine is called Sekt.

Drinking Wine Responsibly

Adults of the legal drinking age of 21 years old can enjoy one or two glasses of wine (five ounces containing 12% alcohol) per day responsibly, which is classified as drinking in moderation.[38] In order to enjoy wine responsibly, be sure to check the label on the bottle to know how much alcohol is contained in the wine, and keep it to a glass or two. Don’t drive right after drinking, and it is best to pair wine with food as drinking on an empty stomach can result in higher levels of intoxication. Having a glass of wine with dinner is generally fine, and wine is to be sipped slowly and enjoyed over a period of time.

Drinking less than three drinks per day for a woman (four for a man) and less than seven per week (14 for a man) is considered to be “low-risk” drinking and likely will not result in problems like addiction or alcoholism.[39] Binge or heavy drinking are risky forms of alcohol consumption that can end up with heavy consequences, however. Binge drinking is when a person brings up their BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to above the legal limit of 0.08 g/dL, which usually happens when someone drinks four or five alcoholic beverages in the span of two or so hours. Heavy drinking is when a person binge drinks five or more times in a month.

Problematic drinking can lead to difficulties controlling how much and how regularly alcohol is consumed. About 15 million adults in the United States suffered from alcoholism in 2016.[40]

Alcohol addiction is very treatable with supportive and therapeutic methods. A specialized treatment center can use both medications and behavioral therapies to help people detox from alcohol, learn how to make positive choices and life changes, and live healthy lives in recovery.

Learn More Statistics and Facts on Alcohol

[1] Balter, E. (Sept. 2017). “How Much Is America’s Wine Industry Worth? Wine Spectator. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[2] Gregutt, P. (Jan. 2015). “Wine for Beginners.” Wine Enthusiast. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[3] Washburn, S. (Sept. 2013). “How Many Different Types of Wine Grapes Are There?” Winestyr. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[4] Myers, K. (Nov. 2014). “5 Stages of the Wine Making Process.” Laurel Gray Vineyards. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[5] Busch, J. (2011). “Learn About Wine: An Easy Explanation of Wine Types.” Primer. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[6] (n.d.). “Chardonnay.” Wine Enthusiast. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[7] Puckette,M. (Aug. 2013). “The Taster’s Guide to Riesling Wine.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[8] (n.d.). “Learn About Sauvignon Blanc.” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[9] Puckette, M. (Sept. 2013). “The Guide to Semillon Wine: France’s 3rd Most Important White.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[10] Puckette, M. (June 2014). “The Three Types of Pinot Grigio.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[11] (n.d.). “Learn About Pinot Grigio White Wine.” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[12] Puckette, M. (Dec. 2013). “4 Reasons to Give Gewurztraminer a Chance.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[13] (n.d.). “Learn About Moscato Wine.” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[14] Teeter, A. (Jan. 2015). “The Difference Between White Zinfandel and Rose’.” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[15] Busch, J. (2011). “Learn About Wine: An Easy Explanation of Wine Types.” Primer. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[16] (n.d.). “Cabernet Sauvignon.” Wine Enthusiast. Accessed December 29, 2017.

[17] Puckette, M. (Oct. 2013). “Guide to Zinfandel Wine.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[18] Slinkard, S. (Feb. 2017). “An Introduction to Zinfandel Wines.” The Spruce. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[19] (n.d.). “Merlot.” Wine Enthusiast. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[20] (n.d.). “Merlot- What is Merlot?” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[21] Puckette, M. (April 2014). “5 Facts on Pinot Noir You Should See.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[22] (n.d.).”Pinot Noir.” Wine Enthusiast. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[23] Puckette, M. (Sept. 2015). “Cabernet Franc Wine Guide.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[24] Puckette, M. (Aug. 2013). “What Is Malbec Wine? Plus 4 Amazing Facts.” Wine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[25] (n.d.). “Learn About Barbera Wine.” Vine Folly. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[26] (n.d.). “Chianti- Learn About the Classic Italian Wine.” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Slinkard, S. (June 2017). “Sangiovese Wine Grape Profile.” The Spruce. Accessed December 31, 2017.

[29] (n.d.). “Learn About Syrah & Shiraz (They’re the Same!).” Vine Pair. Accessed December 31.

[30] Busch, J. (2011). “Learn About Wine: An Easy Explanation of Wine Types.” Primer. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[31] Puckette, M. (Jan. 2014). “5 Main Types of Dessert Wine.” Wine Folly. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[32] Rohrbaugh, J. (March 2015). “What Is Madeira Wine? The Island Wine.” Wine Folly. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[33] Rohrbaugh, J. (July 2014). “Sherry: The Dry Wine that Everyone Should Love.” Wine Folly. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[34] Puckette, M. (Aug. 2014). “What Is Marsala Wine: An Unexpected Sicilian Wine.” Wine Folly. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[35] Graham, C. (Sept. 2017). “Vermouth 101: A Guide to Drinking the Martini Essential.” The Spruce. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[36] Slinkard, S. (Dec. 2016). “Sauternes Wine Guide.” Wine Folly. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[37] Busch, J. (2011). “Learn About Wine: An Easy Explanation of Wine Types.” Primer. Accessed January 1, 2018.

[38] US Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Dec. 2015). “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans 8th Edition.” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). Accessed January 1, 2018.

[39] National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). “Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Accessed January 1, 2018.

[40] Centers for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. “Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Accessed January 1, 2018.