Wine Basics For Beginners: Types, Region, Growing, Winemaking

The wine world is so charming that you can always enjoy it even you don’t know the wine knowledge, but learn more about wine can help you to have a better tasting experience. This article will help you get some basic ideas about wine, they will be your best topics at dinner or party.

Wine Types

Wine beginners often feel confused when they are facing so many different types of wine, sweet or dry, with or without bubbles, the color varies from ruby to gold… Don’t worry, we just need to learn about three classification methods: color, sweetness, and style.

Color

Wine Color
Coastal Wine Trail

The variation of wine colors come from the different grape variety and winemaking process. The typical red wine grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. When we talk about the white wine grapes, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling can’t be forgotten.

During the harvest season, winemakers have to press the grapes after the fermentation, people usually blend the grape skin with juice together to make red wines but separate them when they make white wines. The lovely pink colors from Rosé wine comes from the skin contact during the fermentation process.

Sweetness

Sweetness is perceived as a sugary sensation on contact with the tongue, most vividly at the very tip, where taste receptors are more densely concentrated.

From the driest Riesling from Germany to sweetest Noble rot wine from Sauterne. The residual sugar in wine is the most important indicator to help us classify the sweetness of the wine. We can classify the sweetness of wine into 5 levels: bone dry, dry, off-dry, medium-sweet, sweet.

Wine sweetness chart:

Sweetness Residual Sugar Example
Bone Dry 0-1 g/l RS “Brut nature” champagne
Dry 0-17 g/l RS Dry white, red, rosé
Off-Dry 17-35 g/l RS Sweet red, Dry sparkling wine
Medium-Sweet 35-120 g/l RS Port, Madeira, Moscato
Sweet 120+ g/l RS Ice wine, late harvest Riesling, noble rot wine, Tokaj

The vast majority of the world’s wines are dry because they are simpler to produce and easy to match the food, most of sweet wines can only pair with dessert or cheese.

Style

1. Still Wine

still wine
Coastal Wine Trail

Most of the red and white wines belong to still wine, which contains little carbon dioxide and is without bubbles. The average alcohol content of wines is between 11% to 13%, but in warm regions such as Italy, the wine alcohol can be 14% even 15%.

2. Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine
Coastal Wine Trail

Different from still wine, sparkling wine contains lots of carbon dioxide, which makes the wine fizzy. The most famous example of sparkling wine is Champagne, but only those produced in the Champagne region of France can be named “champagne”, others can only be called sparkling wine.

Except for Champagne, people can also find sparkling wine in Italy (Prosecco), Spain (Cava), and other regions.

3. Dessert Wine

We called the high residual sugar content (>120 g/L) wine a sweet/dessert wine, such as noble rot wine, late harvest wine, and ice wine. The grapes used to make dessert wine have high sugar concentrations, those aromatic and full-bodied wines are difficult to match the food, so people usually pair them with dessert and/or cheese.

3.1 Ice Wine

Frozen grapes
Frozen Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Ice wine is one of the most special sweet wines in the world, which is produced from naturally frozen grapes at around -7 ℃ and pressed while still frozen, the fermentation process usually lasts from 2-6 months.

The best quality ice wine is the gift of nature, they are deep-bronze-colored, with a syrupy texture and complex flavors, very rare and expensive. They are most commonly produced in Canada, Germany, and Austria, though can be found in other wine regions.

3.2 Noble Rot Wine

Noble rot grapes
Noble Rot Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

The most famous noble rot wine region is Sauterne, which is located in the south of Bordeaux, France. The Ciron and Garonne rivers converge here, under unique climatic conditions, the humid morning mist will show up on the river, providing the environment for precious “Botrytis Cinerea” to grow. The Sémillon grapes grown here have thin skins and are susceptible to noble rot.

When the noble rot grows, it will form tiny holes on the surface of grape skin. If the weather conditions are perfect, the rapidly rising temperature after the morning fog will help the water in the grapes evaporate, which produces dried fruit with more concentrated sugar and aroma.

Because of the concentration of sugar in the must, fermentation is difficult and takes a long time, that’s why noble rot wines are so rare and expensive.

Château Y’quem
Château Y’quem / Coastal Wine Trial

The most famous Sauterne winery is Château Y’quem, which ranked a Premier Cru Supérieur Classe in the 1855 Classification, is the only estate to be given this super status. From the British wine expert Hugh Johnson’s description, we can see how stunning it is. ‘It was glorious in its youth; a creamy, stinging, orange-scented, head-filling quintessence of pourriture noble. After aging, it became deep gold and smelling of crème brûlée, but still racily potent and endlessly sweet.’

3.3 Late Harvest Wine

Sometimes, winemakers leave the grapes on the vine even after they’ve reached full ripeness. After 1 to 2 months of hanging, the sugar content in the grapes becomes more concentrated. Compared with ice wine and noble rot wine, late harvest wine is easier to produce so the price is lower than others.

Late harvest grapes
Late Harvest Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Riesling is the ideal grape variety to produce late harvest wines, it can keep great acidity and balance the sweetness of wine. In Alsace region of France, people called the late harvest Riesling as ‘Vendange Tardive’ (VT), if you see this word on the wine label, you should buy one bottle and try it.

4. Fortified Wine

Fortified wines are still wines with an extra boost of alcohol – they are, thus, considered fortified usually by the addition of brandy which takes the alcohol content up between 14 to 23%.

The most common types of fortified wines are Madeira, Port, and Sherry. Sherry usually uses a complex aging system called solera to blend different vintage sherries, during this process, sherry can develop complex flavors such as nutty, dried fruit, and saline.

Solera system
Solera System / Coastal Wine Trail

Sherry is the top fortified wine of Spain mainly produced from Palomino grapes and extended oxidative aging. It’s a high-alcohol wine made using the historic solera system (a barrel-aging and blending system) and is produced in a variety of styles, from bone dry to very sweet. The typical flavors of sherry wine are nutty, dried fruit, and saline.

Popular port wines
Popular Port Wines / Coastal Wine Trail

Port is a sweet and fortified wine with blackberry, caramel, and cinnamon flavors, it is produced in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal. Ports are made by adding grape spirit to a fermenting juice to create an alcoholic sweet wine. The most common Port styles are Ruby, Tawny, White, and Rosé. They are ideal choices to drink before or after dinner.

Grape Variety

There are many grape varieties plant all over the world, let’s take a quick look:

  • Red grape varieties: Zinfandel, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Cabernet France, Syrah & Shiraz…
  • White grape varieties: Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Sémillon…

Now let’s take a look at the six typical red and white grape varieties.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes
Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Cabernet Sauvignon, the king of red grape varieties, is planted all over the world, but the left bank of Bordeaux is the most important region of Cabernet Sauvignon. When we drink a glass of Château Lafite Rothschild, most of the wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Due to the thick skin and long maturation period, it is difficult for CS to reach sufficient maturity in cold climates.

The typical flavors of CS are black fruit flavors such as black currant, blackberry, and black cherry, we can also feel black pepper, tobacco, licorice aromas. The unmatured CS also has an obvious green pepper aroma, which comes from a chemical in grape skins called pyrazine.

Wine body comparison
Wine body comparison / Wine Folly

Compared with other red grape varieties, CS feels heavier on our togue, sommelier usually calls this wine has full body, which means this wine contains more tannins and the alcohol is higher. Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the three typical red grape varieties have different wine bodies.

What is wine body?

If we take milk as an example, the skim milk feels more watery and light, the whole milk contains more texture and flavors, the low-fat milk is in the middle of those two types.

Pinot Noir is more like skim milk, has a light wine body and ruby color. Cabernet Sauvignon has a deeper color and heavier wine body, the wine body of Merlot is heavier than Pinot Noir but lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Merlot

Merlot Grapes
Credit: Instagram

If the Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes, Merlot is more like the queen of red grapes. It is admired for its lovely black cherry flavors, supple tannins, and chocolatey finish, medium-full wine body. The right bank of Bordeaux and California are two main regions of Merlot.

1961 Pétrus
1961 Pétrus / Coastal Wine Trail

It is worth mentioning that a case of 1961 Pétrus sold $144,000 at auction in 2011 and became the most expansive Melot in the world. It is produced by 100% Merlot, which is quite rare in the Bordeaux region.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir grapes
Pinot Noir Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Pinot Noir is the world’s most popular light-bodied red wine. The red fruit aromas like cherry, raspberry, strawberry are the most typical characters of Pinot Noir, after long aging, it can develop attractive tertiary aromas such as mushroom, leather, and dried rose, etc.

The premium quality Pinot Noir can make extraordinary Burgundy red wines, but they are also notoriously difficult to grow and thrive in a narrow spectrum of cooler climates. The winemakers from all over the world tried thousands of times, but they can’t produce as good as Burgundy wine, that’s why a bottle of top-level burgundy can be extremely expensive.

The most famous example is Domaine Romaée-Conti, the average price of one bottle is €18,627!

Krug Clos d'Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs
Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs / Coastal Wine Trail

Except for the red wine, Pinot Noir can be also used to produce Champagne. The non-vintage champagne also blended Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes during fermentation. The Blanc de Noir Champagne made by 100% Pinot Noir and more expensive than the non-vintage Champagne, Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs is the best example.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay grapes
Chardonnay Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Wine lovers can only find two grape varieties in Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Compared with the delicate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay has more tenacious vitality. It can survive in most wine regions in the world, but different climate and soil conditions can also influence the Chardonnay style.

The cooler climate in the Chablis (France) can produce high-acidity and crispy Chardonnay, but in the warm climate region such as California, the Chardonnay will be full body and buttery white wine.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc grapes
Sauvignon Blanc Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Sauvignon blanc is a white wine grape that’s loved for its “green” herbal flavors and racy acidity. A bottle of fresh and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc will be your best choice in the summer!

Marlborough wine region
Marlborough Wine Region / Coastal Wine Trail

Sauvignon Blanc is full of gooseberry, honeydew, grapefruit, white peach, and passion fruit aromas. The Marlborough of New Zealand and Loire Valley of France is the most famous region of Sauvignon Blanc, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is dominated by pure fruit aromas, but Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc has a hint of grassy aromas.

Surprisingly, the Sauvignon Blanc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Cabernet Franc). So when we taste Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc together, we can find similar green pepper aromas in them.

Riesling

Riesling grapes
Riesling Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Riesling is an aromatic and high-acidity white grape variety, which has better adaptability in cold climates, so it’s widely planted in cold climate regions such as Germany and Alsace (France). Riesling has boisterous aromas such as nectarine, apricot, honeycomb, and jasmine, but its most typical characteristic is petrol-like flavors.

Alsace Riesling
Alsace Riesling / Coastal Wine Trail

What’s more, even sweet Riesling can still keep high acidity, which is quite difficult for other grape varieties, with this ‘super-power’, Riesling can produce various style wine, such as Alsace dry Riesling and German Pradikat sweet Riesling.

Wine Region

When we talk about wine, you might always hear the ‘old world’ and ‘new world’, what’s the difference between them?

Please check the table chart below:

Categories Old world New world
Style More ‘traditional’-designed to taste best with food More ‘modern’-designed to taste best alone
Weight/alcohol Lighter Heavier
Sweetness Lower Higher
Acidity Higher Lower
Flavor More subtle and earthier in fruit character Bolder and jammier in fruit character
Oak flavor Milder (French oak) Stronger (America oak)
Tannins Harsher Softer

Generally speaking, old World wine tends to have a lighter body, lower alcohol, higher acidity, and less fruity flavor with more minerality. New World wine tends toward a fuller body, high alcohol, lower acidity, and pronounced fruit flavors.

Even use the same grape varieties, the wines produced by the old world and new world countries are very different, there are two influenced factors: the vineyard environment and human winemaking decisions.

old world vs. new world 2
Coastal Wine Trail

The old world wine regions are always cooler than new world wine regions, as a result, the grapes have lower ripeness than the new world region. As compared, the new world regions such as California are usually warmer, sunnier, and drier, which produce riper grapes.

Considering the centuries of winemaking history of the old world region, the winemakers tend to produce wines with long-aging potential and easy to pair with local cuisine. So the top-level wines usually taste bitter and high acid at the early stage, but time will exert magic on them, they will become more and more complicated and balance over time.

However, New World wine has only sprung up in recent decades, they are more reliant on innovation and technology. People prefer to produce full-body and easy-drinking wine to satisfy a global audience.

old world sauvignon blanc vs. new world
Coastal Wine Trail

What’s more, new-world wines usually indicate the grape variety on the label, while old-world wines usually only indicate the name of the wine region.

Because the appellation system of the old world wine regions has strict regulations on grape varieties, for example, Burgundy can only produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, Barolo region of Italy mainly produce Nebbiolo grapes, and the Rioja region in Spain is synonymous with Tempanillo,so there is no need to specify the grape variety on the wine label.

For the old world wine, the market is dominated by France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. As for the new world wine, USA,Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, and China are the most important regions.

Old World

France

Bordeaux top-level wines
Bordeaux Top-level Wines / Coastal Wine Trail

France is the most historic wine country in the world, which includes 9 important wine regions, Bordeaux and Burgundy are the most famous regions among them. Blending multiple grapes is the norm in Bordeaux, red wines are mainly produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

White Bordeaux wines are less famous, which usually blend the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Besides, Bordeaux is also notorious for the noble rot sweet wine from Sauterne.

Domaine Romaée-Conti Richebourg
Domaine Romaée-Conti Richebourg / Coastal Wine Trail

Burgundy wines are made from single varieties without blending, Chardonnay for whites, and Pinot Noir for reds. Top Burgundies are matured in new oak barrels and are famous for their vivid fruit aromas and silk tannins (red wine). In Burgundy, you can find the world’s most expensive wines in ordinary stone houses.

Italy

Italy is the second most important ‘Old World’ wine country, which has 20 different wine regions, the wine production is ranking the world No.1, but the average value of the wine is lower than France wine.

Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
Coastal Wine Trail

Italy is home to hundreds of native grape varieties—more than any other country. The geographic differences of the country make for a wide range of grape varieties and wine styles. For wine beginners, we just need to know two grape varieties: Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.

Super Tuscans wines
Coastal Wine Trail

The best embodiment of the rebellious spirit of Italian winemakers is Super Tuscan, this new style ‘Super Tuscan’ was created in the early 1980s. At that time, Sangiovese became the required major grape in Chianti.

For those creative winemakers, this requirement limits their production, so they use ‘unsanctioned’ grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah to make wine, and voluntarily downgraded their wines from DOC to IGT, people called those wineries ‘Super Tuscan’ and they became very famous now.

Tignanello
Tignanello

The most well-known Super Tuscan wine is ‘Tignanello’, which was created by Antinori in 1971 (average price is $135/bottle). Another pioneering Super Tuscan is Sassicaia (the average price is $230/bottle). The legendary story of Sassicaia happened in 1978. At that time, a bottle of less-known Sassicaia defeated 30 other Bordeaux blends from all over the world and won the highest score in a blind-tasting event. The victory gave the wine international recognition almost overnight.

Spain

Please note that Spain is the 3rd largest producer of wine with the largest land area dedicated to vineyards in the world! (2.4 million acres). If you are looking for a bottle of cost-effective wine, Spain should be on your list!

Tempranillo grapes
Tempranillo Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

From delicate whites to opulent reds, wine lovers have various Spanish wine choices. The most famous Spanish red wine is Tempranillo from the Rioja region. This is a deep ruby red wine with blackberries jam, leather, tobacco, and dry herbs aromas, which often age a long time in American oak barrels.

Germany

The climate in Germany is cold and harsh, only the cold-hardy grapes can grow up in this country. A famous example is Riesling, which can keep high acidity even as a sweet wine. You can find everything from refreshing dry Riesling to golden and syrupy late-harvest sweet Riesling in Germany.

Mosel wine region
Mosel Wine Region / Coastal Wine Trail

The most famous wine regions in Germany are Mosel and Rheingau, the climate difference of them also result in different Riesling styles. Mosel is the coldest German region, which produces lightly sweet and high acidity Riesling.

As a comparison, the Riesling wine in the warmer Rheingau region is sweeter with golden color. Except for Riesling, other noble grapes such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Müller-Thurgau can be also found in Germany.

Germany wine classification
Germany Wine Classification / Coastal Wine Trail

The unique labeling system in Germany is called Prädikat, it measures the wine quality by the sugar content at harvest. The sweetest wine in Germany is named Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), which means Dry Berries Select Picking grapes. They are rich, sweet, luscious, honey-like wines, very rare and expensive.

Greece

Greece wine map
Greece Wine Map / Wine Folly

Greece has over 5000 years of winemaking history, ancient Greece played an important role in the spread of vines and the improvement of winemaking across the Mediterranean. Nowadays, Greece ranks 11th among wine-producing countries worldwide, only 13% of production can export, Germany is their main exporting country.

Basket shape vines
Basket Shape Vines / Coastal Wine Trail

On the extremely windy islands of Greece, vines are sometimes trained to grow close to the ground and in a basket shape to protect the grapes.

Austria

Grüner veltliner wine
Grüner Veltliner Wine / Coastal Wine Trail

Austria is a German-speaking country, but its wines have their own distinctive identity. The unique local grape variety is Grüner Veltliner, which has an herbal scent and can rival white Burgundy’s complexity. Riesling grapes are also planted in Austria, it makes some of the country’s most interesting fine wines.

Besides, Hungary and Portugal also belong to Old World wine regions, but they are less-known than other countries.

New World

USA

The U.S. is now the world’s fourth-largest wine-producing country, (behind France, Italy, and Spain) and produces roughly 18.5 million hectoliters each year.

Napa Valley vineyard
Napa Valley Vineyard / Coastal Wine Trail

California makes considerably more wine than any New World wine nation, nearly 90 percent of US wine comes from California. Ample sunshine and scarce rainfall result in exceptionally ripe grapes whose bold flavor and rich texture have become the hallmark of USA wine.

Zinfandel grapes
Zinfandel Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

California’s popular grape varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, with good support from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a number of Rhône varieties, too.

Australia / New Zealand

Southeastern Australia wine map
Southeastern Australia Wine Map / Coastal Wine Trail

Australia is a warm-climate region of the southern hemisphere, most of the popular wines are produced in South East Australia, 90% of Australia’s grapes are planted here. The well-known regions include Barossa, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra, Hunter Valley, etc.

Shiraz grapes
Shiraz Grapes / Coastal Wine Trail

Many grapes of European heritage are grown in Australia, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the most popular grape variety is Shiraz, it is also called Syrah in the Rhône Valley (France). It produces strong, dark, aromatic red wines, with black cherry, blackberry, and clove flavors.

Tasmania wine region
Tasmania Wine Region / Coastal Wine Trail

Most of Australia’s landmass is too hot for vineyards, but in some cool regions like Victoria and Tasmania, you can also find great white and sparkling wines.

New Zealand is known for its refreshing white wines, the most famous example is Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It is typically a tart and citrusy aromatic wine with notes of grapefruit, tropical fruit, and cut grass.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the distinctive Marlborough style has become an international benchmark for the grape. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are also planted here, different from Burgundy style, they have higher acidity and fresh fruit flavors.

Argentian and Chile

5 Argentian Malbec blends
5 Argentian Malbec Blends / Coastal Wine Trail

The largest wine region in Latin American is Argentina’s Mendoza province,  which is responsible for producing nearly 80% of the country´s grapes and is home to nearly 395,000 acres of vineyards. Malbec is the most planted grape variety in Argentina, although as the European varieties, it doesn’t ripen well outside Argentina, so is less known in other countries.

The high-desert climate at Mendoza regions provides sufficient sunlight and daytime warmth to Malbec, which guarantees the grapes can achieve full ripeness. At the same time, the cool night helps the grape keep the acidity necessary for making balanced fine wines.

Top-rated Chilean wines
Top-rated Chilean Wines / Coastal Wine Trail

Chile is a long, narrow country that is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain. In the 19th century, French grape varieties were introduced to Chile, now you can find notable grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay in Chile.

Chile’s unique grape is Carmenère, which can produce intense dark, herbal-scented wines with great quality potential, it tastes like Bordeaux style wine.

Grape Growing

‘Terroir’ is a very important word in the European winemaking industry, which means earth or soil in French, but it represents the location-specific flavor, roughly the same as the ‘taste of the place.’

Variations in geography and climate can produce wines made from the same grape variety that have very different flavors and textures. From macro-level geographic factors like terrain to micro-level differences like soil types, everything about the vineyard shapes how its wine will taste.

1. Climate

Most of the premium quality wines are grown in the Mediterranean, maritime, and continental climates.

Mediterranean climate

Mediterranean climate
Coastal Wine Trail

Mediterranean climates are temperate with a long, dry, and sunny growing season. Most rain falls during winter. Achieving ripeness is relatively easy and disease pressure is low. The weather in these climates is very consistent from year to year. Napa Valley is a dry Mediterranean climate, where happened many forest wildfires in recent years due to global warming and drought.

Continental climate

Continental climate
Coastal Wine Trail

Continental climates have pronounced seasonality, but rain falls more or less equally throughout the year. There’s often significant frost risk during spring. Summers are warm and humid. Autumn is generally cool. All this leads to a relatively short growing season. The typical continental climate wine regions in Burgundy.

Maritime climate

Maritime climate
Coastal Wine Trail

Maritime climates have less seasonality than Continental climates. There’s typically no significant difference in rainfall between seasons. Growing seasons are longer than in Continental climates and shorter than in Mediterranean climates.

This type of climate, influenced by stormy oceans, features considerable variation in weather from one year to the next. Bordeaux, which is located near the Atlantic ocean is the maritime climate.

2. Soil Type

Soil Type
Coastal Wine Trail

There are hundreds of soil types in the world, the limestone, clay, sandy, chalky, and gravel soil are most common among them. Grape plants on different soils also have distinct characteristics. Unlike crops, infertile soil is more suitable for grapes. It forces the root to dig deep into the soil to absorb water and minerals, as a result, the wine has more flavors and complexity.

Limestone / Chalk Soil

Limestone soil
Limestone Soil / Coastal Wine Trail

The limestone soil has high levels of calcium and magnesium. It has great water retention properties and can provide excellent nutrients to the grapes. It produced structured, long-aging potential Cabernet Sauvignon at Bordeaux Medoc wine region, where the world’s best red wine was born.

Chalk soil
Chalk Soil / Coastal Wine Trail

Chalk is a soft, cool, brilliant-white, alkaline rock that encourages grapes with a relatively high acidity level. The unique mineral flavors of Champagne come from this soil.

Clay soil

Clay soil
Coastal Wine Trail

Clay soils tend to stay cooler and also retain water, these soils are famous for producing some of the boldest red and white wines in the world. The elegant Bordeaux Merlot-dominated red wine is planted on clay soils, you can also find them at Burgundy, Rioja (Spain), Chianti (Italy), Napa Valley (USA), and Barossa Valley (Australia).

Slate / Schist Soil

Slate and Schist soil are similar to each other, slate is easily broken but not as subject to weathering as other soils. It both absorbs and reflects heat, helping to ripen grapes, you can find such soils in the Mosel region of Germany.

Schist soil
Coastal Wine Trail

Schist soil is more dense than slate, schist is made of layers of minerals that can flake off easily. It retains heat well, producing big, powerful wines with rich minerality, the typical region in Douro Valley in Portugal.

Volcanic Soil

Volcanic soil
Coastal Wine Trail

Another interesting soil type is volcanic soil, which is black or red color and contains high proportions of iron. It tends to be finely grained, drains well, retains and reflects heat, and holds water. Sicily is one of the most famous volcanic wines production, such soil can bring an ashy, rusty taste to wines.

Kimmeridgian soil

kimmeridgian soil
Coastal Wine Trail

Kimmeridgian soil is a very special type of soil found in the eastern Loire Valley, southern Champagne, and Chablis wine region. This kind of soil contains many marine organisms and shell fossils, which bring unique mineral flavors to wine.

3. Terrain

Let’s take Burgundy as an example,the top-level Grand Cru vineyards are usually located in the middle of the hillside, the middle-level Premier Cru vineyards are distributed at the low part of the hillside. The normal AOC Burgundy wine is produced from vineyards on flat ground.

Uco valley wine region
Uco Valley Wine Region / Coastal Wine Trail

We can see that even in hot production areas, high-altitude vineyards can still produce premium wines with good acidities, such as the Uco Valley region in Argentina. Compared with low-altitude vineyards, high-altitude vineyards usually have cooler temperatures at night, which can help grapes contain good acidity and produce more elegant and age-worthy wines.

Besides, grapes in high-altitude vineyards have longer growing seasons. Mountain and hillside vineyards also tend to receive more direct and concentrated sunlight (which leads to greater color concentration and stronger tannins).

Winemaking

To make a bottle of fine wine, the winegrowers devote a lot of time to cultivate the vines, resist extreme weather and pests. High-quality grapes are wine’s raw materials, but winemaking decisions also play a crucial role in determining the wine style.

Like a chef given fresh ingredients, the winemaker decides what to do with them. The whole winemaking process is very complicated, winemaking decisions vary from one region to another, so we briefly introduce the basic process here and help wine beginners to have an overall understanding of winemaking.

Winemaking process Cheap wine Premium wine
Sorting No Yes
Cold soaking No Yes
Temperature High Moderate
Pressing Machine Natural pressure
Oak Wood chips Oak barrel
Aging Short time Longer than 1 year

1. Picking and Sorting

Picking and Sorting
Coastal Wine Trail

The large production of cheap wine grapes usually harvest by machine, but for the top-level wines, hand-picked grapes are necessary. When the fresh grapes arrived at the winery, the winemaker usually starts sorting the grapes immediately to remove branches, bugs, immature grapes.

2. Crushing

Destemmer machine
Destemmer Machine / Coastal Wine Trail

After the preliminary sorting, grapes are transported to the crushing pad. The destemmer will remove the stems from the clusters and lightly crushes the grapes.

White wine grape crushing
White Wine Grape Crushing / Coastal Wine Trail

For the white wine, All of the grapes are pressed to extract the juice and leave behind the grape skins. The pure juice is then transferred into tanks where sediment settles to the bottom of the tank.

Red wine grape crushing
Red Wine Grape Crushing / Coastal Wine Trail

Red wine grapes are also commonly destemmed and lightly crushed. The difference is that these grapes, along with their skins, go straight into a vat to start fermentation on their skins.

3. Cold Soaking

Before the fermentation process, winemakers often keep the grape skins in contact with grape juice for a while to extract more flavors and tannins, this process is called cold soaking. But most cheap wine production will skip this step.

Cold soaking
Coastal Wine Trail

For the white wine, all of the grapes are pressed to extract the juice and leave behind grape skins, only the “pure juice” is fermented. However, the red wine grapes are destemmed and lightly crushed, but the grape skins stay with grape juice and ferment together.

4. Fermentation

Fermentation
Coastal Wine Trail

Simply speaking, Fermentation is a process that the sugar in grape juice converts into alcohol, most winemakers add commercial yeast to facilitate the conversion process.

Another major winemaking decision is the temperature at which that fermentation will take place. Cheap wine usually fermentation at a higher temperature because it can speed up the process. Premium wine has higher requirements for quality so the grape will ferment at moderate temperature and spend a longer time.

5. Aging

Once fermentation has ended, most wines have to go through the bulk aging stage, which is a necessary process to blend the wines from different vineyards and grape varieties, it is also helpful to harmonize flavors and soften harsh tannins. This process usually occurs in stainless steel tanks or concrete tanks.

Oak aging
Oak Aging / Coastal Wine Trail

After the bulk aging process, winemakers use traditional oak barrels to refine and improve most premium wines. In ‘Old World’ wine countries, people often use French oak barrels or Slovenian oak barrels. Such oak barrels can produce delicate and elegant wine, with vanilla flavors.

The ‘New World’ wine countries prefer to use American oak barrels, which tend to impart more obvious and sweeter flavors, such as coconut and sweet spices. To reduce the cost, cheap wines use wood chips or sawdust to replace the oak barrels.

Final Words

After over 6000 years of development, thousands of grape varieties and various winemaking methods sprung up all over the world. Wine lovers can taste different style wines at any time, from bone dry to very sweet, from sparkling wine to fortified wine.

This comprehensive wine introduction can help you to have a better understanding of this charming world, we suggest you share your knowledge and feelings with your friend, using this article as a guide to try more interesting wines, the most important thing is to follow your heart and enjoy them!

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Comment