Whisky and Wine are two of the most well-known alcoholic beverages in the world. They are commonly associated with opulence, fine ingredients and a meticulous preparation technique that sometimes takes years to perfect. Like most alcoholic beverages, Wine and Whisky enthusiasts can sometimes can sometimes be at loggerheads, in an attempt to prove which one is better than the other.
For some, it can be hard to understand how exactly are Wine and Whisky different than each other? How are they made, and what sets them apart? Wine is made with grapes but what is whisky made from? Do Wine and Whisky have things in common? If you have ever thought of any such questions pop up in your heads, we have the answers. The Whiskypedia breaks down everything you need to know about Wine and Whisky, and all the similarities and differences between them.
Wine is an alcoholic beverage that is made from a fermented mash of grapes activated with yeast. Winemaking is a practice that originated in Europe, but has since spread to many different parts of the world where the availability of grapes is abundant. Wine is usually enjoyed by itself, without mixing it into other beverages however wine also has many culinary applications.
The word ‘Wine’ is derived from the Latin word ‘vinum’, the Proto-Germanic word ‘winam’, and a handful of other similar versions from a number of ancient languages. Wine is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in history, with mentions of wine dating back thousands of years, as far as 6000 BC in Georgia. Some studies even indicate that a mixture of rice and grapes was used to produce fermented drinks in China during 7000 BC. Many ancient civilizations have evidence of producing wine in some manner or form using grapes and other ingredients. Wine even finds a mention in Indian history through the literary works of Chanakya, who criticized the consumption of alcohol in his chronicles of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Not only has Wine been an important part of many ancient cultures in history, it has also evolved manifold over the years. Today, Wine and Winemaking are a symbol of prestige, luxury and class.
How It’s Made
Wine is made by mashing and fermenting grapes, and the entire process involves five detailed steps from which harvesting is the first one. The harvested grapes undergo primary fermentation and are then crushed. After this process, they are separated into two kinds of batches depending on the type of wine that is to be produced. For Red wine, the grape juice along with the skins and seeds is used for the next step, and in case of White Wine, only the juice is used without any residue.
The next step is secondary fermentation of the mashed remains which is carried out by adding a strain of yeast of the winemakers’ choosing. This begins the process of fermentation that can go on for quite some time. Usually, winemakers have their own duration but most sources claim this process lasts not more than three to six months. Controlling the effect of the yeast on the organic mash of grape delivers the desired result, which can sometimes also be sweet.
The next step is malolactic fermentation, which can determine how mellow and approachable your wine will taste. The lactic acids are let loose on the malic acids in order to convert them to lactic acid, which makes them mellower. After the process of malolactic fermentation is over, the wines undergo maturation in oak barrels. These oak barrels are usually made from European or American oak since they are more abundantly available. The Japanese Mizunara oak and French Limousin oak from the Dordogne region are some examples of rare and expensive oak.
Once the wines are matured, they then undergo filtration, preservation and then blending. Filtration is used to remove particles or other undesirable paraphernalia from the wine, resulting in a more finished, presentable product. Wines are blended by combining the product from two or more batches in order to maintain consistency. This is usually done by experienced blenders who nose and taste the wine to get to know it better.
The final process is bottling the wine, whereupon it is then ready for the consumer to enjoy.
Types Of Wine
There are two main types of wine that are commonly known throughout the world, even among non-drinkers. They are Red Wine and White Wine, but there are many more types of wine under the two main categories of Red and White Wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Sangiovese are some of the types of Red Wine sold in the market today. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Semillon, Moscato and Riesling are some of the different kinds of White Wine.
These names are assigned to grapes based on the principle variety of the grape that is used to make them, and sometimes these names are a result of the region where they were produced.
The most popular wine brands internationally are Gallo, Roberto Mondavi, Barefoot, Yellow Tail, Hardy’s, Tablas Creek, Damilano and many more. In terms of volume, the brands that managed to move the most of their products last year were Barefoot, Gallo Family and Yellow Tail. Barefoot’s Rose Wine managed to sell a whopping 22.5 million cases in 2019.
After discussing Wine in detail, learning a short history of the beverage, how it’s made and the different types of Wines, it is now time to get to know Whisky and everything about it.
Whisky is a distilled spirit based beverage that is one of the world’s most popular alcoholic drinks sold in more than 150 countries across six continents. The word ‘Whisky’ is derived from the Gaelic words ‘Uisge Beatha’, which means ‘Water of Life’ when translated to English. The drink goes through a complicated process of production, and it usually involves organic ingredients such as food grains, water and yeast.
Whisky distillation dates back to the 1400s when the practice was developed in the initial stages in Ireland. The techniques evolved slowly and in many different ways when it spread out to the rest of the world. Irish monks are believed to be one of the first people to develop the methods and apparatus for distilling whisky. Over the years, businessmen and other distillers slowly began to innovate new techniques to enable mass-production of spirit. Slowly, barrel maturation, blending and other methods became part of the whisky-making business.
In Ireland, John Jameson was one of the first distillery owners to gain an insurmountable level of fame and success for his brand, Jameson Irish whiskey. Even today, Jameson is the world’s most popular and bestselling Irish whiskey brand. In the neighbouring country of Scotland, illicit distillation was rampant until it was legalized through the Excise Act. George Smith, founder of The Glenlivet Distillery in the Speyside made it the first licensed distillery in the region. The Glenlivet single malt was a product of great magnitude in Scotland, inspiring many copycats and changing the Scotch industry forever.
At the same time, the Bourbon whiskey industry was flourishing in America where they developed their own methods to distil and bottle whisky. The whisky renaissance arrived rather late in Japan and India. The latter was a British colony until 1947, and inherited a few distilleries that the British left behind. In Japan, Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii, founders of Nikka Whisky and Suntory respectively, kindled and nurtured the beginning of the Japanese whisky industry. Today, whisky distillation takes place in Scotland, America, Ireland, Japan, Canada, India and hundreds of other countries throughout the world.
How It’s Made
Whisky is distilled by fermenting a ground up and mashed food grains and water by adding yeast to it. These food grains can vary from country to country, and even sometimes depend on the type of whisky being produced. Most whiskies are distilled with malted barley, but the use of corn, wheat and rye is prevalent too. Sometimes, even a combination of food grains are used in order to create a certain style of whisky.
The fermented gristle, also known as wort is then distilled using copper stills. These copper stills can also differ across different countries and even distilleries. The Pot Still method is the most commonly used, but the Column Still and the Coffey Still, a patented style of Column Still, are also sometimes used to distil spirit. Distillation can also take different forms. In Ireland, it is a norm to triple distil the spirit, whereas in Scotland, each distillery has uniquely designed pot stills. The Glenlivet Distillery is famous for their long, lantern-shaped copper pot stills, whereas Aberlour has short, and stout copper stills at their distillery. Glenmorangie is well-known for having the tallest stills in Scotland, and so is Macallan for their onion-shaped copper stills.
Stills at The Glenlivet Distillery
Distillation is followed by maturation in oak barrels, and this is another process where creativity is rewarded with surprisingly wonderful results. In Scotland and Ireland, it is legally necessary to age distilled spirit for at least 3 years before it can be called whisky. In America, straight Bourbons must be matured for at least 2 years before they can be described that way.
Kelvin Cooperage barrels at the Rabbit Hole Bourbon Distillery
American Bourbon whiskey must be matured in charred, new oak barrels by law. Once used, they cannot be reused again. In Scotland, Ireland and other countries, these used barrels are re-used again on many occasions. The use of special used casks such as Oloroso Sherry, Port wine, Madeira, Caribbean rum and Cognac is becoming more common. Distillers and blenders are using special barrels to incorporate new flavours and aromas into their whisky. This process is also known as ‘Finishing’, wherein a matured whisky is refilled into special used barrels for short periods of time, ranging from months to sometimes more than a year.
Types of Whisky & Popular Brands
Scotch whisky has five different types of whisky, which is the most whereas Ireland has three different types of whiskeys. Blended Scotch whisky and Single Malt Scotch whisky are by far the most commonly sold and produced. In recent years, Blended Malt Scotch whiskies have also gained some momentum. The other two are Single Grain Scotch whisky and Blended Grain Scotch whisky, but they are not in huge demand.
In Ireland, Jameson Irish whiskey is a type of Blended whiskey. It is created by combining single pot still whiskeys with fine grain whiskeys to produce a light, smooth and delicious drink. Single Pot Still Irish whiskey and Single Malt Irish whiskey are the other two types of Irish whiskeys. Redbreast 12 Year Old is Single Pot Still Irish whiskey, and Bushmills Original is an example of a Single Malt Irish whiskey.
Japan closely mirrors the Scottish style of making whisky by producing Single Malt, Blended and Single Grain whiskies. The Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Yoichi are great Single Malt whiskies from Japan. Nikka From The Barrel, Hibiki and Toki are some excellent Blended Japanese whiskies, and The Chita, and Nikka Coffey Grain are two wonderful Single Grain whiskies.
India is unlike any other whisky producing country in the world, and the types of Indian whisky are very different from other countries. Most types of Indian whisky are blended by combining Scotch or other malt whiskies with Indian grain whisky, or neutral molasses based spirit, or sometimes both. In recent years, a handful of Indian single malts have appeared in the market but they haven’t found mainstream success in India.
Since we have a fair bit of information about both these diverse and complex industries in the alcoholic beverage business, we can begin drawing up an interesting contrast between them. We shall first explore the similarities between the two, before we move on towards a Wine Vs Whisky discussion.
Exploring The Difference Between Wine & Whisky
We cannot proceed to discuss the stark contrasts and differences that make the Whisky Vs Wine argument possible without first reading up on the interesting similarities between the two. So before we pit them against each other and talk about Whisky Vs Wine, let’s talk how they share some wonderful things in common.
Associated With Luxury
Even though many reasonable and value-for-money options exist for both, Wine and Whisky are still two beverages associated with prestige, luxury and opulence. It is not uncommon for wealthy enthusiasts to splurge huge amounts of money for rare vintages, and form their own collection of either. They are very common indulgences for the rich and the wealthy because of their status as objects of extravagance and excess.
Paired With Fine Dining
Whisky and Wine are both beverages often paired with gourmet food, forming a part of a rich culinary experience where the meals are often tailored to complement the drink, or vice versa. Succulent meats, rich desserts, cheese and charcuterie platters are just some of the decadent foods paired with these beverages. Many fine dining restaurants even have sommeliers that recommend a good wine, and sometimes whisky too. The sommeliers help patrons pick the right drink for the night in order to elevate their meals to something extraordinary.
Available In Various Types
Depending on the way they are produced, and the country they are produced in, both Wine and Whisky are available under a variety of types and names. The type of grapes or grain used, and the way they were used to the age and sometimes conditions of the country of origin all have considerable impact on the end product. This is an important similarity between the two, and makes for an interesting observation.
Extremely Popular Drinks
We might be here to discuss Whisky Vs Wine, but the truth is they are two of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. In fact, along with Beer, there are hardly any alcoholic drinks that come close to the three in terms of popularity and mass appeal.
The global Wine market revenue was worth more than US $323.5 Billion in 2019. That is an astonishingly high number, second only to the US $ 522 Billion that Beer racks up each year.
In contrast, worldwide whisky revenue in 2019 was merely US $80.58 Billion. It may look like a significantly smaller number but numbers can be tricky. Considering the vastly different nature of both beverages, and the way they are consumed based on their alcohol content, Whisky is not doing badly at all.
Since we have covered all the common traits between Wine and Whisky, we can now explore the things that are different between them.
Differences between Whisky and Wine
When it comes to making whisky and wine, it is just one part of the process that does not mirror each other perfectly. Distillation, the part where the fermented mash of food grains is converted to spirit is a process that wine does not need to undergo. Other than distillation, both Wine and Whisky go through mashing, fermentation and maturation of their products in oak barrels.
Lower Alcohol Content
One of the key distinctions between the two beverages that is also one of the obvious points in the entire Whisky Vs Wine debate. Wine has far lower levels of alcohol content as compared to Whisky. The maximum alcohol content for Wines does not go further than 20% ABV, which is exactly half of how strong whisky is required to be, by law.
The lowest alcohol content that a bottle of whisky can have, is 40% ABV and that number can even breach the 60s. The Glenlivet Nadurra Series is a cask-strength edition of their finest single malt Scotch whiskies. All of them are in the region of 60%-61% ABV. The Aberlour A’bunadh single malt Scotch is another similar example of cask strength whisky.
A source of much amusement, curiosity and misconceptions, aging of both Wine and Whisky is not a matter that many know much about. In fact, there are a lot of people that store their Whisky bottles for many years, believing it can continue to age in a bottle. It is merely a myth, but not an unfounded one. Unlike Whisky, Wine can continue to age inside a bottle and people have simply projected these qualities onto the former. The truth is, Wine can be matured inside a Wine bottle but not Whisky. After a Whisky exits the barrel, its aging effectively stops.
Wine Has Been Around For Millennia
The earliest mentions of Whisky may date back to the 1400s, but Wine has been around not just for a handful of centuries, but millennia. It is one of the oldest known alcoholic beverages, and continues to be popular throughout the world. Whisky is relatively a newer entrant into the business, but still has a rich culture and heritage that continues to develop every day.
Wine Is More Mainstream
The astonishing business that the Wine industry does worldwide is not an accident, but a conscious indicator of how much more mainstream Wine consumption really is. Not only is Wine considered to be a much more appealing drink with meals, it is sweeter and more approachable. This means that people that aren’t necessarily open to drinking a spirit-based drink such as Whisky, would be infinitely more open to drinking Wine. The lower alcohol content for Wine also helps its cause.
Whisky Can Be Matured In Wine Barrels, Not The Other Way Around
It is widely known that many different types of used wine barrels are regularly used by luxury whisky makers such as Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Aberlour, and more to mature their spirit. Port, Sherry, Madeira and so many kinds of ex-wine barrels can be used for maturing and finishing whisky, but can it be done the other way around? Definitely not. Another discernible difference that makes Wine Vs Whisky interesting is that used Whisky barrels can never be used to mature Wine.
So there we have it, the many similarities between Wine and Whisky, and the many, many differences between them. Does that make either of them any superior or inferior to each other? Definitely not. They are two beverages completely different from each other in nearly all regards. It is possible to love Wine, or Whisky and it is more than possible to love both. For us at The Whiskypedia, the love for Whisky is paramount.