Styles of Wine
There’s the grape and then there’s how it’s made which can totally change the taste of the wine. Take for example sparkling wine and sweet wine – they couldn’t taste any more different yet they can come from the same grape! It’s how they’re made that sets them apart.
Let’s start with sparkling wine.
So you’ve got two ways of making sparkling wine. The ‘tank method’ which tastes like a fizzy version of a still wine (think Prosecco) and the ‘bottle fermentation method’ which is meant to taste a little different (think Champagne).
This method creates a fresh, fruity bubbly wine. You start with a still base wine in a big sealed tank (which prevents any gas from escaping) and you add sugar and yeast. The yeast eats the sugar then the wine is bottled under pressure (so no bubbles escape). When you pop the cork the dissolved carbon dioxide escapes creating the bubbles. This is how you make Prosecco (which comes from the Glera grape variety and is traditionally from north-east Italy) and Sekt (made in both Germany and Austria)
Asti (made from the Muscat grape) is a sweet sparkling from north-west Italy. It’s made using the tank method but before the yeast has eaten all the sugar the yeast is stopped and some sugar remains leaving a sweet bubbles
Bottle fermentation method
This is how Champagne is made and sparkling labeled ‘traditional method’ or ‘method traditionalle’. It involves much more stuffing around but produces a sparkling wine that’s more complex with bready, biscuit flavours
They start with a still, dry white wine (usually made from Pinot Noir, Meunier and/or Chardonnay grapes). They add a little sugar and a little yeast to the wine and bottle it. The yeast eats the sugar and at the same time farts out alcohol and carbon dioxide. Because the bottle is sealed and the carbon dioxide can’t escape it dissolves in the wine.
Once the yeast has gobbled up all sugar the wine is left to age. Because the yeast has nothing left to nibble on it dies and slowly releases those yeasty flavours into the wine. This can go on for months, even years.
To remove the yeast (otherwise the wine would be hazy) the bottle is slowly jiggled upside down until the dead yeast cells fall into the neck of the bottle. The neck of the bottle is frozen and when the cap is removed the plug of yeast pops out. Then the bottle is topped up with wine and a little sugar (depending on how sweet you want the wine) and ta dahhh! Champagne baby yeh!
Sparkling made in the ‘traditional method’ or ‘method traditionalle’ is made in the same way as Champagne but because the grapes were grown outside of the region they can’t call it Champagne.
In Australia we chuck ‘traditional method’ on the label to indicate it has been made in the Champagne way but in France they pop ‘Crémant’ on the label. The main region in France to produce Crémant is the Loire Valley (where the Chenin Blanc grape variety is used). In Spain they make Cava in the traditional way.
Now let’s talk sweet wines.
There are a few different ways of making the sweet stuff, which I’ll run you through now.
You start with sugar, you add yeast, the yeast eats the sugar and alcohol is created – it’s called fermentation. One way of making sweet wine is to interrupt the yeast’s feast before it’s eaten all the sugar so a sweetness remains. You can do this by removing the yeast with a filter or you can poison the yeast with alcohol. This is how Port and fortified Muscat wines are made, by adding alcohol to kill the yeast.
Another way of making sweet wine is to add a sweet liquid like unfermented grape juice, which is used to sweeten many sweet German wines or sweet Sherries, including Oloroso Dulce, sweetened Amontillados and Pale Creams.
The last way to make a sweet wine (and my favourite) is to concentrate the sugar levels in the grape. You can do this in a number of ways, the first being to dry the grape on the vine or lay it out in dry conditions (Late Harvest wine and Pedro Ximénez sherry is made in this way)
Or you can take advantage of noble rot. Wait for it… it’s a mould (yuck) that attacks healthy grapes! It evaporates the water in the grape therefore concentrating the sugar. Noble rot adds unique flavours to the wine (think dried apricots, biscuits, marmalade and pineapple). German Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese are both made with noble rot and so too is Sauternes (from Bordeaux in France) and Tokaji from Hungary.
Lastly, sweet wines can be made using frozen grapes and this style of wine is called Eiswein or ice wine. It is traditionally made in Canada, Germany and Austria because the conditions are just right. In the middle of winter when the grapes freeze on the vines they are quickly picked and crushed while still frozen. Crushing the frozen grapes removes the ice crystals and leaves a concentrated sugar syrup. Ta daaaaaa!
So there you have it, a few different styles of wine to wet your whistle!