How many types of wine are there? When the shelves in stores have hundreds of different wines, it gets confusing. Wine can be made from many different base ingredients from various berries to dandelions, but when most people think of wine they think of grapes. This narrows the number of types to five. Then, within these five types there are many varieties based on the species of grape used or the way it's handled during processing.
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Dessert and Fortified Wines
These wines are listed together as one type because of their sweetness and heavy, full flavors. Both are served after a meal either with a dessert or as dessert.
Dessert wines are made with grapes that have been allowed to go past peak ripeness. A fungal rot called Botrytis (or Noble rot) will set in, causing the grapes to lose moisture and begin to shrivel. When harvested at this stage, the juice they produce is more concentrated and has more sugar in it.
Fortified wines have a distilled spirit, like brandy, added to them to stop the fermenting process earlier than usual. This also results in a higher sugar content, as well as a higher alcohol content from the addition of the spirits.
Dessert wines include any wine labeled "late harvest," liqueur wines, madeira and muscat. Fortified wines include port, sherry, tokay and vermouth.
Red wine derives its color from going through the fermentation process with the skins left on the grapes. It's from the skin, seeds and stems that the wine also receives tannin. Tannin extraction is dependent on which winemaking process is used as well as if new or old barrels are used for aging.
Tannins are responsible for two aspects of a red wine's character: its bitterness and, more importantly, its astringency. These are sensations tasters sometimes confuse. Bitter is one of the five basic tastes, while astringency has more to do with how the wine feels in the mouth.
Cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and zinfandel are common red wines.
Rosé wines are often thought to be a blending or thinning out or the color of a red wine by adding a white wine to it. This is not the case. A rosé is made by limiting the amount of time the grape skins are allowed to be in contact with the juice, since the color is in the skins. This means that a careful eye must be kept on the vats so the juice can be drained off when the desired color is attained.
Some well known rosé wines are Grenoche, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese.
The familiar popping of a wine cork is part of serving champagne, the best known of the sparkling wines. Originally more difficult to make than still (non-bubbly) wine, and therefore often more expensive, they've long been associated with celebrations. Improved technology has made sparkling wines affordable.
The carbonation of the wine takes place in the bottle, not in barrels. It's brought about by adding sugar and a special yeast to the wine as it's bottled.
Champagne can be produced elsewhere, but out of respect, only the wine produced in Champagne, France should carry the name "champagne." All others should be referred to as sparkling wines. French champagne is only allowed to be made in three varieties: chardonnay, pinot meunier, and pinot noir.
White wine is not just made from white grapes. French champagne, perhaps the most famous white wine, is actually made from black grapes. All grapes are the same color inside, which is why it takes keeping the juice in contact with the skin to make it red or rosé.
Unless white grapes are used, great care must be taken to keep the juice away from the grape skins to produce a white wine. Also, because the juice isn't allowed to soak with the red or black skins, it will have a lighter feel in the mouth and a less bitter flavor because it's much lower in tannin.
The primary white wines are chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot grigio/pinot gris, riesling, and sauvignon blanc.