JWL Issue #026: How Wine is Made

October 30, 2018

Issue 26. I can’t believe I’ve been writing this for half a year now. When issue one went out to 21 people, I had no idea whether there would be much of an appetite for this or not.

Now, six months later with nearly a thousand of you subscribed, and many more across Instagram & Twitter, I feel I must be doing something right.

I want to take the chance to say thank you. My favourite part each week is reading the replies from all of you: the thumbs up, the snaps of wine you’ve tasted, the wines you disagreed on, the tastings you’ve been to, the questions you ask, and all the general chit chat along the way. Keep it up, keep hitting reply, keep asking stuff. Thank you.

In other big personal news, I moved house this weekend. I celebrated with a couple of particularly special bottles of wine that I got for my birthday last month: a Puligny-Montrachet, and a 1988 Margaux. Thank you very much to the gifters: they were some of the most special wine moments I’ve had yet.


So I’ve moved to Peckham, which means for the first time in my wine-drinking life I finally live near a Lidl. I popped in on day one to have a quick browse of their wines, and here’s what I found. 

As we’d just moved in, I wanted a sparkler to kick off the weekend. Comte de Senneval Champagne Brut is £12.99, and remains my favourite sparkling wine under £20. It's one of the best value Champagnes I’ve drank. I typically avoid Champagne at this sort of price but very happy to have given this a go. A surprisingly delicate mousse, light fizz, and lovely toasty flavours made this a good go-to.

Even greater value is to be found with Lidl's Macon-Villages (£6.99). Great value for me is about finding wine with good balance to them. This white Burgundy is gentle, with warming stone fruits and a little bit of citrus. It’s balanced and great as an aperitif white as well as with food. It lacks complexity or length on the finish but at this price, it’ll be hard to find better.

Things took a southward turn with their Crozes-Hermitage (~£8-9), however. This red had a hint of spice on the nose, but fell apart in the mouth. It was sour and sickly at its best, and flat at its worst. Safe bet is to stick to their whites it seems. 

What have you found in Lidl that’s worth buying?


A primer on how wine is made 

Winemaking has evolved a lot of the years. Science has meant that at every stage, new things can be done to influence the style of wine. 

At one polar opposite end of the spectrum - the mass-produced end- this means you can try to create a consistent, product with a specific taste to it. At the other, you have winemakers opting to leave the wine to develop as naturally as possible. 

There’s an unquestionable depth you could go into with this full process, so I want to touch on the overall steps that are included in winemaking. 

At the highest level, it goes like this. Grapes are grown, which are then harvested, crushed and pressed into grape juice. That grape juice goes through a process of alcoholic fermentation to convert the sugar into alcohol, and then a secondary ‘malolactic fermentation.’ 

The wines might be next be blended together (as with say a syrah-grenache blend), before a potential process of maturation, which you might notice when you see things like 'matured in oak.’ 

The wine is bottled, where it may well be kept longer, and then eventually sold.

At every stage of the winemaking process, the winemaker and vineyard manager makes decisions. They may, for example, decide to blend after maturation, or not mature at all. Likewise, you may decide not to de-stem and instead opt for whole bunch maturation.

Every choice or intervention has an impact on the taste of the output bottle. This is before you consider the weather, the climate, the terroir, or even the variety of grape itself. 

It leads to an infinite number of possible outcomes. To say nothing of the fact that every day a wine sits in a bottle changes its flavour slightly.

If it’s of interest, I’ll dive in in future weeks to each stage in a bit more detail. Let me know where you’d like me to start.

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