Wine, a timeless elixir cherished for countless centuries, owes its enduring allure to the intricate and multifaceted symphony of its composition. Born from the transformational dance of grape juice, wine embodies a harmonious equilibrium of chemical components. These include sugars, acids, tannins, and alcohols, each contributing to the enchanting medley of flavors, aromas, and textures that captivate wine enthusiasts. This exploration embarks on a captivating journey into the heart of wine’s composition, unraveling the interplay of elements that orchestrate the sensory spectacle that wine aficionados hold dear.

The Basic Components of Wine

Sugars

Grapes, the fundamental building blocks of wine, house a variety of sugars, including glucose and fructose. These sugars serve as the primary energy source for yeast during fermentation, undergoing a remarkable transformation into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other by-products [1]. The residual sugar that lingers in the wine post-fermentation becomes the arbiter of its sweetness, ranging from impeccably dry to sumptuously sweet.

Red wine pouring into wine glass. Bottle with dropstop. Dark background.

Acids Acidity stands as a pivotal conductor in the symphony of wine’s taste and structure, bestowing upon it an air of freshness and vitality. The prominent acids found within wine—tartaric, malic, and lactic acid—each play a distinct role. Tartaric acid claims its throne as the most abundant and steadfast acid, preserving the wine’s delicate chemical equilibrium. Malic acid lends a touch of tartness, while lactic acid, birthed during malolactic fermentation, imparts a silken, velvety texture.

Alcohols The grand maestro of wine’s intoxicating allure, ethanol, emerges as the chief protagonist in the ensemble of alcohols. Born from the alchemical union of grape sugars and yeast, wine’s alcohol content takes center stage, ranging between 8% and 15% by volume. This ethereal component lends the body, texture, and warming embrace to the wine, as well as exercising its artistic influence over its flavor and aroma [3].

Tannins Tannins, a cohort of naturally occurring compounds found in grape skins, seeds, and stems, as well as the hallowed halls of oak barrels, assume their role in crafting wine’s astringency, bitterness, and mouth-coating caress—especially in red wine. This ensemble of elements orchestrates the wine’s potential for maturation and its overarching architectural form. Skillfully interwoven tannins craft a masterpiece of balance and complexity [4].

Aromatic Compounds Wine’s mesmerizing aromas emanate from a bewitching fusion of volatile compounds that engage in a mystical dance, evolving throughout the wine’s intricate journey from conception to maturity. Within this aromatic tapestry, we find:

Esters The alchemical offspring of fermentation, esters are the artificers of fruity aromas that grace wine’s essence. A marriage between acids and alcohols births these fragrant spirits, each ester taking on the persona of a distinct fruit—be it apple, pear, or even strawberry [5].

Terpenes Grape skins bear a trove of terpenes, aromatic alchemists responsible for lending wine floral and citrus undertones. Notable terpenes include linalool, geraniol, and limonene, each summoning fragrances of roses, geraniums, and oranges, respectively [6].

Pyrazines These mystical phantoms conjure the herbaceous, verdant aromas in certain wines, often those crafted from underripe grapes or specific varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Pyrazines whisper tales of green bell peppers, grassy meadows, and asparagus fields [7].

Thiols Sulfur-laden enchanters, thiols weave their magic, unveiling tropical, citrus, and occasionally savory aromas. In Sauvignon Blanc, they shine, evoking the essence of passionfruit, grapefruit, and even blackcurrant [8].

Aging and Wine Composition

The passage of time sculpts wine’s very essence. Through the ebb and flow of days and years, wine metamorphoses, its elements converging and diverging, fashioning new flavors, aromas, and textures.

Oak Aging In the embrace of oak, wine embarks on a transformative journey, absorbing myriad compounds from the barrels’ wooden heart. Tannins, lactones, and phenolic aldehydes paint strokes of vanilla, spice, smoke, and toast across the wine’s canvas. Slowly, oxygen tiptoes through the barrel, coaxing forth changes, casting new hues upon aroma and color [9].

Bottle Aging Once bottled, wine’s evolution persists, an alchemical metamorphosis propelled by oxidation, polymerization, and esterification. Tannins engage in a dance of polymerization, yielding molecules that cascade like silk across the palate. Aromas too shift, primary notes of fruit gracefully giving way to intricate layers of earth, spice, and nutty nuances [10].

Did you know that the world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to around 325 AD? Unearthed from a Roman tomb in Germany, this ancient bottle still contained a small amount of liquid and offered a glimpse into the winemaking practices of the past. It’s a remarkable testament to the enduring nature of wine and its ability to transcend time.

Conclusion

Wine’s composition orchestrates an intricate symphony of elements, each note resonating through time and space to craft the sensory delight we savor. From sugars and acids to the ethereal dance of aromas and the mystical transformations of aging, wine embodies a story of elegance and complexity. With every sip, take a moment to commune with the enchanting chemistry that creates the unique tapestry of each glass.

References:

  1. Robinson, J. (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press.
  2. Boulton, R., Singleton, V., Bisson, L., & Kunkee, R. (1996). Principles and Practices of Winemaking. Springer.
  3. Ribéreau-Gayon, P., Glories, Y., Maujean, A., & Dubourdieu, D. (2006). Handbook of Enology: The Chemistry of Wine Stabilization and Treatments. Wiley.
  4. Waterhouse, A. L., Sacks, G. L., & Jeffery, D. W. (2016). Understanding Wine Chemistry. Wiley.
  5. Jackson, R. S. (2014). Wine Science: Principles and Applications. Academic Press.
  6. Styger, G., Prior, B., & Bauer, F. F. (2011). Wine flavor and aroma. Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology, 38(9), 1145-1159.
  7. Ryona, I., Pan, B. S., Intrigliolo, D. S., Lakso, A. N., & Sacks, G. L. (2008). Effects of cluster light exposure on 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine accumulation and degradation patterns in red wine grapes (Vitis vinifera L. Cv. Cabernet Franc). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(24), 10838-10846.
  8. Tominaga, T., Furrer, A., Henry, R., & Dubourdieu, D. (1998). Identification of new volatile thiols in the aroma of Vitis vinifera L. var. Sauvignon blanc wines. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 13(3), 159-162.
  9. Fernández de Simón, B., Cadahía, E., Jalocha, J. (2003). Volatile compounds in a Spanish red wine aged in barrels made of Spanish, French, and American oak wood. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 51

Also read:

Wine is a drink that people all over the world enjoy. It has been around for a long time.. However, what people don’t know about wine is its many other uses. It can be utilized in cooking. It can also be a natural remedy for various ailments, such as headaches and colds. Wine can also be used to make vinegar for eating or cleaning purposes. 

Why is Wine So Complex?

The winemaking process is complex because of the many variables that come into play from grape variety, temperature, yeast, bacteria, and more.

Besides these factors, several environmental factors can affect the process. The climate and soil conditions in which the grapes were grown can affect how much sugar and therefor alcohol will be in the wine.

The Role of Alcohol in the Human Diet

Alcohol is a substance that can be consumed for pleasure, for its psychoactive effects, or as a medication.[13] It is one of the most senior and most widely used drugs globally. Alcohol is not just an intoxicating substance but also has some nutritional value.

The alcohol content in food and beverages can provide calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients. However, alcohol consumption has been linked to liver disease and cancer risk. See more articles here

This Day in Wine History

June 18, 1913: Robert Mondavi, a famous American winemaker, was born. He was not only a winemaker but a philanthropist who was given the “Order of Merit of the Italian Republic” award in 2002.

February 26, 1859: On this day, Romeo Bragato was born. He developed the wine industry of New Zealand and Australia, introducing new varieties of grapes to both countries. In particular, he created around 10,000 gallons of wine in Australia. [14]

September 17, 2008: One of the most famous winemakers in France, Didier Dagueneau died. He is known for his unique winemaking style. He was born in 1956 in the Loire Valley of France, where he started his career as a winemaker.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Book of Wine- An Introduction to Choosing, Serving, and Drinking the Best Wines The Book of Wine

References:

[1] Victor Armando Pereira de Freitas, Ana Fernandes, Joana Oliveira, Natércia Teixeira, Nuno Mateus

Vol. 51 No. 1 (2017): OENO One

Received : 7 November 2016; Accepted : 2 January 2017; Published : 28 March 2017

DOI: https://doi.org/10.20870/oeno-one.2017.51.1.1604

[2] En.m.wikipedia.org. 2022. Fermentation in winemaking – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermentation_in_winemaking# [Accessed 20 May 2022].

[3] Gladstones, john. 1992. “Viticulture and Environment: A Study of the Effects of Environment on Grapegrowing and Wine Qualities, with Emphasis on Present and Future Areas for Growing Winegrapes in Australia.” john Gladstones 310.

[4] Jozef Ševcech, Ľubica Vicenová, Katarina Furdikova, Fedor Malik, Czech Journal of Food Sciences 33 (1), 91-96, 2015

[5] María-Pilar Sáenz-Navajas, Eva Campo, Purificación Fernández-Zurbano, Dominique Valentin, Vicente Ferreira, Food chemistry 121 (4), 1139-1149, 2010

[6] Saira Aijaz Khaderi, Clinics in liver disease 23 (1), 1-10, 2019

[7] En.m.wikipedia.org. 2022. Fermentation in winemaking – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermentation_in_winemaking# [Accessed 20 May 2022].

[8] Triangle Wine Country Tours. 2022. The Components of Wine. [online] Available at: https://trianglewinecountry.com/wine-blog/the-components-of-wine/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].

[9] (E.A.Maury 2012) E.A.Maury. 2012. “your good health .” E.A.Maury 99

[10] Suresh Varma Penumathsa, Nilanjana Maulik

Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology 87 (4), 275-286, 2009

[11] California Winery Advisor. 2022. The Most Popular Red Wine Grapes & White Wine Grapes | CWA. [online] Available at: https://californiawineryadvisor.com/red-wine-grapes-white-wine-grapes/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].

[12] Gladstones, John. Wine, terroir and climate change. Wakefield Press, 2011.

[13] Guiterrez, Winston. 2016. “Alcohol consumption.” Winston Guiterrez 211.

[14] En.m.wikipedia.org. 2022. Romeo Bragato – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_Bragato [Accessed 20 May 2022].

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