Moving Up the Ranks From Amateur to Serious Wine Connoisseur – Classification of Wine

One way of classifying wine is by color: red, white, or rose. Choosing one of these wines is a matter of individual taste. Determination of choice may be based on the food one is eating or serving, the occasion, or even time of the year. Most wines are categorized by color before any other distinction.

Wine may be classified as regular without bubbles or bubbly. Regular wines are ones we drink at any time; whereas, bubbly wines are ones we save for special occasions. These wines are further broken down into table wines or light wines, dessert or liqueur, and then the sparkling wines, the ones with bubbles.

Vino is made from fermented grape juice. The United States and Europe have set standards regulating the alcohol content in wines. It is by these standards that wine is broken down into table, dessert and sparkling.

According to the set regulations, table or light wines may not have an alcohol content exceeding 14 percent in the U.S. and, in Europe the alcohol content will range from 8.5 percent to 14 percent by volume. The 14 percent limit came about due to the natural fermentation process. Once the alcohol level reaches 14 percent or less there is not enough sugar in the juice to elevate the alcohol content beyond that amount. Another reason for this occurring is that the natural yeasts that settle on grapes die and the fermentation process stops when the alcohol level reaches 14 percent. In more recent years, many grapes are grown in warmer climates, so the natural alcohol content has gone to 14.5 or 15.5 percent. The grapes become overripe with warmer temperatures and the natural sugar content is much higher resulting in higher alcohol content before the juice stops fermenting. Also, gonzo yeast is added. This yeast does not die but continues its process beyond the 14 percent alcohol content. These, however, are still classified as table wines as the alcohol content occurs naturally. California wines, such as red Zinfandels, Cabernets, and Chardonnays, may fall into this category.

Dessert wines or liqueur wines (as named by the Europeans) have additional alcohol added to them raising their alcohol content above that 14 percent level. Sometimes this category of wine is sweeter than table wine but not always and they are not always served after dinner. Bottom line here is that additional alcohol has been added.

Sparkling wine is the bubbly wine. This type of wine contains bubbles formed naturally by carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. Some winemakers choose to keep these bubbles in the wine. Both the United States and Europe call these wines sparkling. Champagne which is made from a specific variety of grapes made under specific circumstances is from a region in France by the same name, Champagne. Champagne is a very popular and well known bubbly wine. All sparkling wines are not Champagne. However, until an updated agreement was made between the United States and the European Union, winemakers were able to label any natural sparkling wine as champagne. The word champagne could even be capitalized. Now the word American or Californian must be added as a prefix to Champagne so that wine buyers know that it is not the sparkling wine made in Champagne, France.

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