Most Red Wines are made following the same general process. A skilled winemaker can make adjustments to this process or add and remove steps to influence the finished product.
Step 1: Press Grapes
While wine can be made from just about any fruit, the overwhelming majority of quality wines are made from grapes. Winemakers crush grapes to extract the grape juice. Red wine gets its color from leaving the grape juice in contact with the skins and stems of the grape plant. This process is called maceration, and the winemaker may vary the amount of time the juice macerates to influence the flavor in a number of ways.
Step 2: Ferment Grape Juice
Fermentation is the process of allowing yeast to eat the sugars in the grape juice. When yeast eats these sugars, they produce alcohol as a byproduct. Sometimes, a bit of the naturally occurring sugar is left in the wine, adding to the sweetness and body.
Step 3: Age in Cask (Optional)
Some winemakers choose to age their wines in casks. While this is common for red wines, many white wines skip this process. Cask aging allows the wine to absorb some of the wood’s flavors (often oak and tannin), resulting in a fuller-bodied wine. This wood flavor can also be expressed as vanilla, spice, and clove.
Step 4: Filter & Bottle
Once the wine has been fermented (and aged if necessary), it is then filtered and bottled. At this stage, the winemaker will make final modifications, such as adding sugar or sulfites to the wine. The bottle is stopped with either a cork or screw top and then labeled. Many wines are drinkable immediately after this! Some reds are intended to be stored in a cellar, allowing the wine to mature in the bottle for several years before they’re ready to be drunk.
Of course, this process has many nuances. Winemakers have many ways to control the outcome through every stage of the process. From the way the grapevines are pruned at the beginning to the final treatment of the wine before it’s bottled, every action impacts the wine.