wine, alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of the juice of the grape. So ancient that its origin is unknown, wine is mentioned in early Egyptian inscriptions and in the literature of many lands. The term wine is also applied to alcoholic beverages made from plants other than the grape, e.g., elderberry wine, dandelion wine.
Wines are distinguished by color, flavor, bouquet or aroma, and alcoholic content. Wine is also divided into three main types: still or natural, fortified, and sparkling. Wines are red, white, or rosé (depending on the grape used and the amount of time the skins have been left to ferment in the juice). For red wines the entire crushed grape is utilized; for white wines, the juice only. In traditional rosé wines, the skins are removed after fermentation has begun, thus producing a light pink color; mass-produced rosé wines may be made by adding a small amount of red wine to white wines. Wines are also classified as dry or sweet, according to whether the grape sugar is allowed to ferment completely into alcohol (dry), or whether some residual sugar has been left (sweet).
In a natural wine all the alcohol present has been produced by fermentation. Fortified wines, such as sherry, port, Madeira, and Malaga, are wines to which brandy or other spirits have been added. These wines contain a higher alcohol content (from 16% to 35%) than the still wines (from 7% to 15%). Sparkling wines, of which champagne is the finest example, are produced by the process of secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Highly publicized studies of the French, particularly in Lyons, claim that a moderate consumption of red wine might help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Such findings were judged worthy of further investigation by the American Medical Association.
In natural-wine making the grapes are gathered when fully ripe (sometimes, as for Sauternes, when overripe). Mechanical extraction of the juice, called must, has almost entirely replaced treading, the traditional method. For red wines the must is fermented with the skins and pips, from which the newly formed alcohol extracts coloring matter and tannin. Fermentation starts when wine yeasts (Saccharomyces ellipsoideus), existing on the skins of ripe grapes, come in contact with the must. It may take from a few days to several weeks, according to the temperature and the amount of yeast present or introduced. When the new wine has become still and fairly clear, it is run off into large casks, where it undergoes a complicated series of chemical processes including oxidation, precipitation of proteids, and formation of esters that create a characteristic bouquet. The wine is periodically fined (clarified), then racked into smaller casks. After some months, or for certain wines several years, the wine is ripe for bottling.
The very rare, superfine natural wines made in good vintage years from perfect grapes of the better varieties and possessing the unaccountable quality that vintners call breed are produced in the Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhône regions of France, in the Rhine valley of Germany, in California's Napa and Sonoma valleys and other parts of the United States, and in other regions of the world. The fine sherry of Spain and port of Portugal are superior fortified wines. Champagne is the best-known fine sparkling wine, but superior sparkling wines are also produced elsewhere in the world.
France is the most influential wine-producing area in the world and has developed superfine natural still wines and the finest sparkling wine—champagne. The Bordeaux region furnishes red wine known as claret (or simply Bordeaux) and white wine, both dry except for Sauternes. The best-known Bordeaux wines are those of Médoc (red), classified and known by the vineyard names, as Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Margaux, and Château Latour; Graves (red or white); Sauternes (white), sweet, made from overripe grapes and including the noted Château d'Yquem; and St.-Emilion and Pomerol.
Burgundy wines, red and white, are somewhat lighter in body than the Bordeaux. Connoisseurs prize the Burgundies of the Côte d'Or, especially the white Montrachet, and red Clos Vougeot and Romanée. The Chablis area produces fine, white Burgundy. Good wines are made in the Loire valley (Vouvray), the Rhône valley (Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Alsace, and the Jura Mts. A great quantity of wine is produced in S France, some of it made into vermouth, distilled into brandy, or used for blending, and some of it of superior quality.
See A. Lichine, Alexis Lichine's Guide to the Wines and Vineyards of France (4th ed. 1989); N. Faith, The Winemasters of Bordeaux (rev. ed. 1999).
Fine German wines are generally light, dry, white wines made from the Riesling grape and characterized by a fresh, flowery bouquet. Hock, derived from the town of Hochheim, is an English term sometimes applied to all Rhine wines. The best white Rhines traditionally are from the Rheingau. They include Johannisberger, Rüdesheimer, and Steinberger. Rheinhessen wines are milder and lighter in taste. The third Rhine district, Pfalz (the Palatinate), also produces distinguished wines. Liebfraumilch, although well known, is typically an undistinguished semisweet Rhine wine. Rhine wines were formerly matured for many years in huge casks like the classic Heidelberg Tun, but are now aged in small casks for not more than three years. One of the most northerly viticultural areas in the world, situated along the Moselle (Mosel) River and its tributaries the Saar and the Ruwer, furnishes extremely light, delicate wines. Moselle wines are drawn off into green bottles, Rhine wines into brown. Other good wines are made in Baden, and in Franconia in Bavaria, noted for Stein wine.
Italy is the largest and one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world. Italian wines are frequently named for the grape rather than for the region of origin; hence a wine excellent in one locality may be inferior in another. The best known is Chianti, red or white, and properly a Tuscan wine; Tuscany also produces the esteemed red blends known as Super-Tuscans. From Piedmont come the red Barolo, Barbera, and Barbaresco wines; from Campania come the well-known Lacrima Cristi, and Falerno, descendant of Horace's Falernian; from Veneto comes Valpolicella, dark red with a rich texture. Sicily makes Marsala, a sweet, amber-colored, usually fortified wine, but both that island and Sardinia are increasing important for quality wines.
Although in the past American vintners largely were satisfied with quantity production and imitations—largely in name only—of foreign wines, since the mid-1960s the quality domestic wine industry has grown, and many excellent and some superb wines have been made in the United States. Wine is produced in many states; California is the nation's richest wine-producing state, followed by New York and the Pacific Northwest states. In California and the Northwest, grapes of the Old World species, Vitis vinifera, are grown, and some of the varieties produced from these grapes have come to rival the finest French wines. Some of the best wines come from the Napa Valley area north of San Francisco. Distinguished wines from that region include cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and zinfandel. Eastern wines, most of them from New York state—especially the Finger Lakes region—were long made mainly from native grapes such as Concords, Catawbas, and the southern scuppernong, but many are now produced from the Old World species and hybrids.
See P. Lukacs, American Vintage: The Rise of American Wine (2000).
Until recently, sherry was the major Spanish wine sold. Today, Rioja, a leading table wine, is Spain's most widely exported wine, and Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Navarre, and other regions also produce fine wines. Portugal, best known for port and Madeira, also produces some excellent table wines. Greek wines, mainly whites and rosés, are sometimes treated with pine resin (retsina). Australian wines have sold well since the mid-1980s, when first-class examples of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon became available abroad; New Zealand is especially noted for its sauvignon blanc. The best wines from South America come from Chile, which produces both fortified and table wines; Argentina is another significant producer. French planting has made Algeria one of the largest wine-producing countries, but the wines are not notable. Other wine-producing countries include Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and South Africa.
See E. Peynaud, Knowing and Making Wine (1984); H. Johnson, Vintage (1989) and Modern Encyclopedia of Wine (4th ed. 1998); S. Spurrier and M. Dovaz, Wine Course (1990); R. Phillips, A Short History of Wine (2001); J. Robinson, Oxford Companion to Wine (3d ed., 2006); P. Lukacs, Inventing Wine (2012).