- This article is about the beverage. See Wine (software) for an article about the software of the same name.
Wine is an alcoholic beverage resulting from the fermentation of grapes or grape juice. The word comes from Greek Fοινος through Latin vinum, (both "wine" and the "vine"). Wine-like beverages can also be made from other fruits or from flowers or grains. In this sense the word wine is used with a qualifier, for example, elderberry wine. The word wine by itself always means grape wine. This terminology is often defined by law.
The remainder of this article discusses grape wine. For non-grape wines, see country wine or Chinese wine.
Wine is of particular interest for several reasons: its use in religious ceremonies in many cultures; the historical importance of the wine trade from very early times. Most important perhaps as an agricultural product it reflects more than any other the variety of the land, climate and conditions under which grapes are grown, making wines very much more variable than any other product. In addition, as wine can improve with age, sometimes for a century or more, even more variation is possible. Many modern factory wines try to hide this variation, producing consistent wines from year to year by blending, additives and so on, to create wine brands that are more consistent for the mass market consumer.
Wine grape species
Wine is usually made from one or more varieties of the European grape species Vitis vinifera. When one of these varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel, is used as the predominant ingredient (usually defined by law as a minimum of 75 or 85 %) the result is a varietal as opposed to a blended wine.
Wine can also be made from Vitis labrusca or from other species or from hybrids of two species. Vitis labrusca, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis riparia are native North American grapes usually used for eating or grape juice but sometimes for wine, like Concord wine. Hybrids of vinifera with other species were originally developed to combine American hardiness and resistance to phylloxera with European flavor. Although only rarely used and generally illegal in traditional wine regions, hybrids are planted in substantial numbers in cool-climate viticultural areas.
European grapes, sensitive to phylloxera insects, are almost always grafted onto American root plants as a preventive measure.
See also: List of grape varieties
Wine grapes almost exclusively grow between the 30th and the 50th degree north and between the 30th and 40th degree south. The world's most southerly vineyards are in the South Island of New Zealand near the 45th parallel.
In 2002, the largest producers of wine in the world were France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Australia, Argentina, China, Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Romania, and Hungary. In 2003 the leaders in export volume by market share were: France,22%; Italy,20%; Spain,17%; Australia,8%; Chile,6%; USA,5%; Portugal,4%; Germany,4%.
See also: List of wine-producing regions
Regional wine names
The taste of a wine depends not only on the grape species and varietal but the ground and climate (known as terroir) where it is cultivated. Historically, wines have been known by names reflecting their origin, and sometimes style: Bordeaux, Rioja, Mosel and Chianti are all legally defined names, reflecting the traditional wines produced in the named region. These "appellations" (as they are known in France) dictate not only where the grapes in a wine were grown, but also which grapes went into the wine and how they were vinified. The appellation system is strongest in the European Union, but a related system, the American Viticultural Area, restricts the use of certain regional labels in America, such as Napa Valley and Willamette Valley. The AVA designations do not restrict the type of grape used. New World wines are known primarily by their varietal content and not by their region.
These historical designations can be confusing. For example, in most of the world wine labeled Champagne must be made from grapes grown and fermented in the Champagne region of France with a certain method, but The United States (except Oregon) and Canada complicate this system by allowing the use of some European appellations as generic wine names:
All of these are names of specific regions in Europe.
In the United States these terms are known as semi-generics. This confusing naming practice is being protested by Europeans and may eventually become prohibited. These names are only used for cheap, mass-produced wines (or vin ordinaire). Makers of American fine wines avoid these terms out of respect for their European counterparts. Thus, the finest sparkling wines from California will be labeled "sparkling wine"; only cheaply-made sparkling wine from California bears the name "Champagne".
Some blended wines are marketing terms, and use of the name is governed by trademark or copyright law rather than a specific wine law.
Vintage and style
Wines may be classified by year of harvest (vintage). Vintage wines are generally made from grapes of a single year's harvest, and so are dated. Many wines improve in flavor as they age and so wine enthusiasts often save bottles of a favorite vintage wine to enjoy in a few years' time. For most types of wine, the best-quality grapes and the most care in wine making are employed on vintage wines - thus, they are generally more expensive than non-vintage varieties. Whilst a vintage wine is generally made in a single batch and thus each bottle from a particular vintage will have a similar taste, climatic factors have a dramatic impact on the character of vintage wines grown from the same vines from year to year. Good vintages, particularly of premium grapes, therefore often sell for much more than average years. Some vintage wines are only made in better-than-average years. Conversely, wines such as White Zinfandels, which don't age well, are made to be drunk immediately and are not labeled with a vintage year.
Wines may also be classified by vinification methods. These include classifications such as sparkling, still, fortified, rosé, and blush. The colour of wine is not determined by the juice of the grape, which is almost always clear, but rather it is determined by the presence or absence of the grape skin during fermentation. Grapes with colored juice are known as teinturiers . Red wine is made from red (or black) grapes, but its red colour is bestowed by the skin being left in contact with the juice during fermentation. White wine can be made from any colour of grape as the skin is separated from the juice during fermentation. A white wine made from a very dark grape may appear pink or 'blush'. Rosé wines are a compromise between reds and whites -- the skin of red grapes is left in for a short time during fermentation.
Sparkling wines such as champagne are those with carbon dioxide, either from fermentation or added later. They vary from just a slight bubbliness to the classic Champagne. Wines that gain their carbonation from the traditional method of bottle fermentation are called Méthode Traditionnelle wines in France.
Fortified wines are often sweeter, always more alcoholic wines that have had their fermentation process stopped by the addition of a spirit such as brandy:
Brandy is a distilled wine.
Grappa is distilled from pomace (also called marc), the pieces of grapes (including the stems and seeds) that were pressed for the winemaking process.
Wines may be also classified by their primary impression on the drinker's palate. Wines may be described as dry, off-dry, fruity, or sweet, for example. The sweetness of wines can be measured in brix, at harvest, but is in actuality is determined by the amount of residual sugar in the wine after fermentation, i.e. dry wine has no residual sugar. Specific flavors such as cherry, vanilla (usually from vinification in new oak aging barrels), new-mown grass, brine, raisin and dozens of others may also be sensed, at least by an experienced taster, due to the highly complex mix of organic molecules such as esters that a fully vinted wine contains.
At the highest end, rare, super-premium wines are amongst the most expensive of all foodstuffs, and outstanding vintages from the best vineyards may sell for thousands of dollars per bottle. Red wines, at least partly because of their greater shelf life, are typically the most expensive. Such wines are often at their best years or sometimes decades after bottling. On the other hand, they may turn into vinegar, and before opening the bottle there may be no way of knowing this. Part of the expense associated with high-end wine, especially in restaurants, comes from the number of bottles which must be discarded in order to produce a drinkable wine.
Some high-end wines are Veblen goods: they are pricey and valuable because they are pricey and valuable.
Many exclusive wines come from France and Italy, but other regions also have some world-class wines in both quality and price. Secondary markets for these wines have consequently developed, as well as specialised facilities for post-purchase storage for people to "invest" in wine. The most common wines purchased for investment are Bordeaux and Port. Many wine writers have decried the trend, as it has pushed up prices to the point that few people will consider drinking such valuable commodities, and consequently they are kept in bottles undrunk where they eventually deteriorate into a substance very much like red wine vinegar in taste (and desirability).
Also investment in fine wine has attracted a number of fraudsters who have played on fine wine's exclusive image and their clients' ignorance of this sector of the wine market. Typically the scams work by charging excessively high prices on the wine while representing that it is a sound investment unaffected by economic cycles. Like any investment proper research is essential before deciding to invest.
As of 2005 the earliest known evidence of a fermented wine-like drink is from the Chinese village of Jiahu dated from 8000 to 9000 years ago (6000 to 7000 B.C.) . The millet or rice wine was discovered by chemically analyzing traces from 16 buried jars. The wine was found to contain rice, beeswax (from honey) and either hawthorn fruit or wild grape. A 3000 year old bronze jar was unearthed still containing a similar liquid wine.
Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that wine was (like beer) produced about 7000 years ago in what is today Iran, and is one of the first known biological engineering tasks, where the biological process of fermentation is used in a process. The early evidence of wine dates to 5400 B.C., from Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of present-day Iran, near the city of Urmia.
This discovery is particularly significant, as this area was not a grape growing one, the main crops were grains and the preferred drink of the time was beer, which suggests that wine was probably used as a commodity. Ancient Babylon was located on the Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean.
Wine played an important part in ceremonial life in ancient Egypt. Although the wild grape never grew there, a thriving royal winemaking industry had been established in the Nile Delta—most likely due to Early Bronze Age trade between Egypt and Canaan by at least Dynasty 3 (ca. 2700 B.C.), the beginning of the Old Kingdom period. Winemaking scenes appear on tomb walls, and the accompanying offering lists include wine that was definitely produced at vineyards in the Delta. By the end of the Old Kingdom, five wines—all probably made in the Delta—constitute a canonical set of provisions, or fixed "menu," for the afterlife.
Greeks spread grape growing and winemaking throughout Europe in Ancient Greece and Roman times.
The health effects of wine (and alcohol in general) are the subject of considerable ongoing debate and study. In the USA, a boom in red wine consumption was touched off in the 1990s by '60 Minutes' and other news reports on the French paradox.
It now seems clear that regular consumption of up to 1-2 drinks a day (1 standard drink is approximately equal to 5 oz, or 125 ml, of 13% wine) does reduce mortality, due to 10%–40% lower risk of coronary heart disease, for those over the age of 35 or so (see Alcohol consumption and health). However, with larger amounts the effect is compensated by the increased rate of various alcohol-related diseases, primarily cancers of mouth, upper respiratory tract and ultimately cirrhosis of liver. Originally the effect was observed with red wine. Compounds known as polyphenols are found in larger amounts in red wine, and there is some evidence that these are especially beneficial. One particularly interesting polyphenol found in red wine is resveratrol, to which numerous beneficial effects have been attributed.
However, other studies have shown that similar beneficial effects can be obtained from drinking beer. It is unclear if this means that the only important ingredient is ethanol.
Sulfites (or sulphites) are compounds found in wine that act as a preservative — and can trigger a severe allergic reaction in some consumers. In the USA all commercially produced wine is required to state on the label that it contains sulfites. In other countries they do not have to be declared on the label. A larger than average amount of sulfites in wine is said to cause worse hangovers.
Special types of wines
See List of grape varieties.
Vineyards and distributors
- Winegeeks.com - Wine information in down to earth language.
- Woochi - online encyclopedia related to wine