We are officially in spring and almost summer, which means you’ll find a lot more white wines in my glass! Yes I am a wine nerd… but I personally think all things are more enjoyable when you really understand what it is you’re drinking! Today we are talking white wine. Lately I have been drinking a ridiculous amount of white wine, and each time I open a new bottle I’m often curious about how that wine came to be. Anyone else?
For all wines in general, there are sooo many different ways that it can be made. There isn’t just white and red. In this post we will dive a little deeper into the the steps taken to produce a white wine!
The making of any kind of wine starts in the vineyard. Each different type of grape will be harvested at different times, according to a few different requirements and the style of wine the winemaker wishes to produce. Most white grape varieties are harvested before red grapes. Most white grapes ripen a little quicker, where as red grapes take a bit longer to reach their desired ripeness level. White wine grapes are also usually picked when the acidity is still pretty high, and the sugar not so much. However, there is always exceptions to the rule. Some winemakers will pick their wines at all different levels of ripeness. Most commonly with white wines, they will be picked during cool temperatures, which is typically at night or early in the morning. This helps the grapes to retain their acidity and the result will be a fresh tasting wine.
Going straight from harvest to pressing is a big difference in the creation of white wines and red wines. Grapes for red wines are often crushed and fermented with their skins on before being pressed. Something most people don’t know is you can actually make white wine out of a red grape. This is because skins are responsible for color and contain tannin, and the pulp is the only part of the grape that is being used when making a white wine. One of the first steps to white wine making is pressing the grapes off of their skins. There are large pressing machines that can separate the stems and skins from the inside of the grape!
After the juice is squeezed from the grape and pressed off the skins, the liquid immediately goes into a tank for settling. Settling the juice will ensure all extra particles and sediment will sink to the bottom and can be removed.
The next step is fermentation. This part is crucial to ensure you are making wine and not just grape juice 🙂 During fermentation, yeasts eat the grape sugars. That sugar that is eaten by yeast is then converted into alcohol! On average this process takes about two weeks. If a winemaker wants a dry wine, they will let the yeasts completely eat all of the sugar. If they want a sweeter or off dry wine, they can stop fermentation early by super chilling it, and some residual sugar will be left over. Additionally, white wine fermentation is commonly done in cool tanks to preserve the delicate aromas such as floral and citrus.
What about an oaky buttery white wine?
Malolactic conversion is what gives a wine (most commonly Chardonnay) buttery characteristics. This process is carried out by natural bacteria found in the wine. Bacteria convert malic acid (that tart acid found in apples) into lactic acid (smoother acid found in milk) and carbon dioxide. In fact, all wines go through malolactic conversion, unless stopped by the winemaker by chilling it. Malolactic fermentation can only occur at temperatures higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping the wine cold it cold is the most common way to ensure malolactic doesn’t happen.
After fermentation, wine will sit in tanks or barrels for a period of time. If the wine is meant to be a lighter, aromatic style white wine, it will be aged in stainless or concrete vessels for a shorter period of time. The dead yeast particles (called lees) sink to the bottom of the vessel and are usually taken out with these white wines. Sometimes a winemaker will keep the lees in the vessel and stir it to impart flavor and creamy texture in the wine. This is where the brioche or biscuit flavors in Chardonnay come from. Often times, malolactic conversion and time on the lees can go hand in hand.
The lees can be stirred in tanks or barrels, depending on how the winemaker chooses to age the wine. If the wine is aged in oak barrels, it will typically develop vanilla, coconut, and woody flavors.
White wines can be single varietal wines or blends. Sometimes even just a small percentage of another grape variety in a wine can make a big difference. After the wine has aged, the winemaker can test and decide if they should add or combine wines together.
Clarification is an important step to take right before bottling. Sometimes the wine is still cloudy, and that freaks people out lol. Winemakers will add a clarifying agent to remove the proteins that are causing the wine to be cloudy. Egg whites is a common fining agent. This is why some wines aren’t considered vegan! After clarification the wine passes through a filter for one last step to reduce bacterial spoilage.
Bottling the wine is the last step in the wine making process!
Orange wine is a unique type of wine that is technically a white wine but made like a red wine is made. The grape skins from white grapes are typically yellow or green. Once those grapes are crushed and fermented in contact with the pulp from the grape, it imparts an orange-ish color. It also gives the wine a lot of texture and tannin. These wines are still pretty rare but definitely interesting!
If you’ve been craving white wines a lot recently like me, check out these Unique Italian White Wines to sip on this summer. I will also be back super soon with more white wines to sip on from around the world, so stay tuned!
Comment your favorite white wine you’ve been enjoying this spring! xx