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A glass of red wine
A glass of red wine

Wine is an alcoholic beverage resulting from the fermentation of grapes or grape juice. The word comes from the Latin vinum (related to Greek - referring to 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.

Wine is of particular interest for several reasons. It is a popular and important beverage that accompanies and enhances a wide range of European and Mediterranean style cuisines, from the simple and traditional to the most sophisticated and complex. As an agricultural product it reflects, more than any other, the variety of the land, the local yeast cultures and the climate and conditions under which grapes are grown, the so-called "terroir". As a result, wine is a very varied and, year-on-year, variable product - perhaps more so than any other. The fermentation process itself and improvements attained with proper aging, sometimes for several decades or more, will further increase variation. However, variety is not in itself a sought-after quality for large producers of table wine or more affordable wines. For large and modern factory wines and mass market wine brands, consistency is more important than distinction and their producers try to hide any hint of often unremarkable "terroirs" or climatically underperforming harvest years by blending harvests of various years and vineyards, pasteurizing the grape juice in order to kill indigenous yeasts (after which "choice" cultivated yeasts are reinserted), using flavor additives and so on. Wine is also used in religious ceremonies in many cultures and the wine trade is of historical importance for many regions.

Wine names

Wines are either named by their grape variety or by their place of production. In general, wines from Australia, the United States and Germany are named by their grape variety, wines from France, Spain and Italy are named by their place of production.

Wine grape varieties

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, or Zinfandel, for example, is used as the predominant grape (usually defined by law as a minimum of 75 or 85 %) the result is a varietal as opposed to a blended wine. Blended wines are in no way inferior to varietal wines and indeed some of the world's most valued and expensive wines from the Bordeaux, Rioja or Tuscany regions, are a blend of several grape varieties of the same vintage.

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.

See also: List of grape varieties

Wine-producing regions

A vineyard   Steep rock slope, Moselle River
A vineyard
  Steep rock slope, Moselle River

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, 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

A glass of white wine
A glass of white wine

The taste of a wine depends not only on the grape species and varietal blend but also on 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.

While most countries protect these place names, the United States created a legal loophole called semi-generic to enable US winemakers to use these terms on their wines eventhough the product does not come from these specific places. 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"; cheaply-made sparkling wine from California more often bear 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 or a patent on the actual varietal blend or process used to achieve it.

Vintage and style

Wines may be classified by year of the grape harvest (vintage). Vintage wines are generally made from grapes of a single year's harvest, and are dated as such. These wines often improve in flavor as they age and wine enthusiasts will occasionally 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 of a particular vintage will have a similar taste, climatic factors can have a dramatic impact on the character of a wine to the extent that different vintages from the same vineyard can vary dramatically in flavor and quality. Superior vintages from reputable producers and regions, will often fetch much higher prices than their average vintages. 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. There are exceptions though - French Champagne is typically non-vintage, but may not be "cheap" and can sometimes profit from aging.

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 Mathode Traditionnelle wines in France. Other international denominations of sparkling wine include Sekt or Schaumwein (Germany), Cava (Spain), Spumante or Prosecco (Italy).

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:

  • Marsala
  • Madeira
  • Sherry
  • Port

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.

Most popular examples

Red wines

White wines

Sparkling wines

Collectible wines

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 comes from the number of bottles which must be discarded in order to produce a drinkable wine. Restaurants will often charge between two to five times the price of what a wine merchant may ask for an exceptional vintage. This is for a reason: diners will often return wines that have gone foul and not bear the expense. For restaurateurs, serving old vintages is a risk that is compensated through elevated prices.

Some high-end wines are Veblen goods.

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.


Wine is historically entwined with many cultures around the world. In Iran (Persia) for example, mei (the Persian wine) has been a central theme of their poetry for more than a thousand years although alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.
Wine is historically entwined with many cultures around the world. In Iran (Persia) for example, mei (the Persian wine) has been a central theme of their poetry for more than a thousand years although alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.

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.) [1]. 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.[2] It is also believed that the name of the Shiraz grape originates from the Persian town of the same name.

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.

Medical implications

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.



History of Wine

Classification of Wines

The Science of Taste

The Science of Wine Aroma

About the Acids in Wine

Polyphenols (Tannins) in Wine

Oak in Wines

Sugars in Wine

Science of Food and Wine Pairing

About Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting Terms

Storage of Wine

Aging of Wine

Wine Acessories

Headaches from Red Wine

About a wine sommelier



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