Nearly all wine is made from cultivars of only one species of grape, the Vitis vinifera grape. From this species about 4,000 varieties of grape have been developed but only a few are used for vinification (winemaking).
Vitis vinifera is used because of its high sugar content which allows, after fermentation, an alcohol content of 10% or slightly higher. Less alcohol makes the wine unstable and prone to bacterial spoilage.
Vinifera is New Latin from the Latin vinifer, wine-producing, which is from the Latin word for wine, vinum. In plain English, vitis vinifera means “common grape vine.”
Three quarters of all commercial grape production is used for wine; about a quarter is used for table (or dessert) grapes and a small percentage is used to make non-alcoholic grape juice and raisins.
Who drinks the most wine?
China produces the most grapes in the world but Spain, France and Italy produce the most wine. But who drinks the most wine?
According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine global wine consumption in 2012 was 6.4 billion gallons (243 million hectolitres), with the top ten consumer countries being –
France: 30.2 Mhl
USA: 29 Mhl
Italy: 22.6 Mhl
Germany: 20 Mhl
China: 17.8 Mhl
United Kingdom: 12.5 Mhl
Russia: 10.4 Mhl
Argentina: 10 Mhl
Spain: 9.3 Mhl
Australia: 5.4 Mhl
Most wine per capita
The most ardent wine drinkers hail from Luxembourg, at 13.2 gallons (50 litres) per capita per year. The French consume 12.7 gallons (48 litres) and the Portuguese 11.4 gallons (43 litres) per year while United States citizens seem to prefer beer, drinking 20.6 gallons (78 litres) of beer and only 2.37 gallons (9 litres) of wine per capita per year. In comparison, the French drink nearly four times more wine than beer, as do the Italians. The Portuguese drink twice as much wine as beer. (Of course, considering the size of the population, the total volume of wine sales in United States equals that of France.)
Red and white wine
Vitis vinifera varieties produce red and white wine. The color of red wine comes from the skin of the grape, not the juice. In red wine, the skin of the grape is included in the wine making process. When the skin is left out of the process, dark-skinned grapes (red, purple and black) produce white wine.
Popular white wine Vitis vinifera varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer, the latter made from red grapes. Popular red wine Vitis vinifera varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Limberger, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Shiraz.
White wines have an alcohol content of between 10 and 12% – red wines usually have an alcohol content of between 11 and 15% but it can be up to 18%.
Why drink wine?
Before you comment on the ups or downs about wine consumption, consider these words by Jack Handy –
“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the wine I drink I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the vineyards and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this wine, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this wine and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.'”