The whole process of making red wine is similar to that of making white wine—but maybe a little more complicated. Here is how it is differs: The grape skins are kept in constant contact with the fermenting juice. This gives a much greater depth of flavor and color. Fermentation, lasting from 10 – 30 days, is at a higher temperature than for white wines.
The wine may be aged in casks or vats before bottling. When you see a barrel tasting event, usually in January, this is what it’s about. The winemaker extracts a bit of the wine from a cask, and everyone gets a taste. Barrel tasting is a fun experience all around, and usually happens with parties and music at various wineries.
Back to business. Red wine is almost always made from black grapes. Chemicals in the grape skins, called tannins, give the will-be wine a lot of its character. These tannins in the grape skins and seeds play a key role in aging red wines.
Also different than white wine: The stalks are usually removed before crushing. Both the stems and the stalks are taken off because the tannins are too harsh. After that happens, the grapes are crushed lightly, the juice is released, and fermentation begins quickly.
Next, both the juice and the skins are put into a fermentation tank. The conditions are very controlled. Grape solids give the juice its color and its tannins. After fermentation on the skins, the wine is drained off. Some of this more tannin-filled juice might be used later in the process to balance the wine.
The inexpensive red table wines might be bottled right away, but most red wines are put into casks or stainless vats to age. Running off the sediment (racking) and clarifying the wine may be part of this process.
It’s easy to see how important the winemaker is to this process, and how wines might differ from year to year. A lot of the process is knowledge-based. After that, the process is like being a very fine chef. It involves intuition and a fine palate. Enjoy!