Wine and spirits are terms that are often confused, yet they are two distinctly different varieties of alcohol and are created through different methods. The main difference between wine and spirits is that wine is the direct product of fermentation while spirits are the final product of distillation.
Wine is produced by the addition of yeast to a fruit juice. Fermentation is created as the yeast converts the sugars in the juice to alcohol. The fermentation process usually stops at about 12% – 14% alcohol by volume as the alcohol content kills off the yeast. A dry wine has had more of the sugars converted to alcohol than a sweet wine, which does not mean that the dry wine has a higher alcohol content, it merely means that the juice had less sugars in it to begin with. Mead is also referred to as a wine because it is created by the fermentation of the sugars within honey.
Spirits are created through a process known as distilling. Distilling involves boiling off the alcohol and catching the alcohol vapors. The vapors are then cooled and condensed back in to a liquid form. This is an effective way to removing the alcohol from a liquid body as alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. The condensed alcohol is usually clear in color and is frequently referred to as a Liquor. This form of alcohol received the name spirits because the twisting steam was said to resemble a captured spirit. Spirits are used to create most of the hard alcohols currently available on the market. Spirits can be made from wine, but wine can not be made from spirits.
Fortified wines bridge the gap between wines and spirits as they contain both elements. This is a wine which has had a spirit added, usually brandy. If the spirits are added during the fermentation process the excess alcohol will kill off the yeast, leaving a sweeter wine. Drier fortified wines are created by adding the alcohol either towards the end of the fermentation or once fermentation is complete. The resulting beverage has a higher alcohol content than either wine or spirits.