What is Wine?

Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

Put simply, wine is an alcoholic beverage made with the fermented juice of grapes.

Technically, any fruit is capable of being used for wine, such as apples, plums, berries, pomegranates, pumpkin, kiwis, and of course most commonly grapes.

The fermenting process occurs by adding yeast to freshly crushed fruit juice, called ‘must’. A yeast cell will turn approximately 55% of the sugar it eats into ethyl alcohol, and the remaining 45% into carbon dioxide gas and other byproducts. You can ferment just about anything on this planet if sugar is present. But all fermentation, including what takes place in must, requires yeast: a one-celled living organism. It eats, reproduces, and gives your wine life.

Wine Grapes

Wine grapes are different than table grapes: they are smaller, sweeter, and have lots of seeds. Most wine grapes originate from a single species of vine that originated in the Caucasus—a region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and parts of southern Russia—called Vitis vinifera. Wine residue has been discovered in 7,400-year-old jars from this region!

There are thousands of different varieties within the Vitis vinifera species with the most common being Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Origin of the Term “Vintage”

Wine grapes take an entire season to ripen. Therefore, wine is produced just once a year. Vintage equals the year it was born. Vint stands for “Winemaking” and Age for the year it was made.

When you see a vintage year listed on the label, that’s the year the grapes were picked and made into wine. Occasionally you will find a wine without a vintage listed on the label. Typically, this is a blend of several vintages together. In the case of Champagne, it will be labeled with “NV” which stands for “Non-Vintage.”

Single-Varietal Wine

A single-varietal wine is made primarily with one type of grape.

It’s common to see these wines labeled with the name of the grape variety. Riesling wine holds Riesling grapes, Merlot wine holds Merlot grapes, etc. In the USA, wine labeled with the grape’s name must be made up of 75% or more of that single grape.

Wine Blends

A wine blend is made with a blend of several grape varietals.

There are many popular wine blends out there. It has become more popular and acceptable. Blends often create smoother, more complex flavors. Heart of the Desert’s Corazon Gitano is a great example of this. Most wine blends are mixed after the fermentation (and aging) is complete. When grapes are blended and fermented together, it’s called a field blend. A famous example of a field blend is Port.

The Taste of Wine

Wine’s unique flavor profiles are described by acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannins, and aroma compounds produced in fermentation.

Acidity: Wine acidity levels range somewhere between a lemon and Greek yogurt. Wine tastes tart.

Sweetness: Wine sweetness ranges from having no sugar to being sweet like maple syrup. The term “dry” means there is no sweetness to the wine. A Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay are considered dry. White Zinfandel or Rosés are usually less dry, but not sweet. Riesling can go either way, so make sure to read the bottle. Heart of the Desert’s Riesling is semi-sweet. A  Gewurztraminer, Malvasia Bianca, and Moscato are always sweet.

Alcohol: The taste of alcohol is spicy, palate-coating, and warms the back of your throat. The higher the alcohol level, the harsher the burn. Wine’s average range of alcohol is 10% ABV (alcohol by volume) to 15% ABV. As a comparison, beer averages about 5% ABV, and whiskey averages about 40% ABV.

Tannins: Tannins are found in red wines and contribute to the astringent quality of red wine. Put a wet, black tea bag on your tongue for a great example of how tannin tastes.

Aroma compounds: Each grape variety exhibits aroma compounds at different levels. This is why some wines smell like berries and others smell like flowers. Another contributing factor to wine’s aromas is aging. Most red wines are aged in oak barrels, which adds to the wine’s overall flavor. Oxidation and aging also produce a range of unique flavors in wine, including nuttiness and dried fruit/flower flavors.


Creating wine and tasting wine is an art form. You can enjoy it at the most basic level or make wine drinking an educational experience. The most important things are to experiment, find what you like, and enjoy it.




Heart of the Desert is a working pistachio ranch and vineyard with four retail establishments in New Mexico. They are best known for their farm fresh pistachios and Award-Winning New Mexico wines.  Each store offers wine and pistachio tastings. They offer worldwide shipping and produce attractive gourmet baskets that make great corporate and family gifts. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcases how pistachios are grown and processed as well as a stunning Tuscany themed patio that overlooks the groves and is available for weddings, private parties or enjoying a relaxing glass of wine.