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Bottle Aging Wines..Why?

Why bottle age wines, and what is the benefit? That’s a question we hear from both winemakers and winery clients, as well as customers.  The idea of bottle aging wines is quite old. That’s our way of saying, “While we do it, we did not invent it”.

Most folks know that wines, especially red wines, but also some white wines, are aged in barrels for varying lengths of time.  During this type of aging, the major change in red wines due to aging is phenolic oxidation, followed by polymerization of anthocyanins (the color molecules) with other flavonoids. Basically without making this a chemistry lesson, the aging process in barrel stabilizes the color and the wines against further – as in too much – oxidation.

We usually age our red wines in barrels for about 14-18 months. White wines for much less – 4 to 6 months – if these wines are placed in barrels at all. (That discussion is for another article)  Barrel aging is often referred to as bulk aging. Once the wines are bottled, the aging of the wine takes a different path, and that’s due to the almost complete lack of oxygen in the bottle. Glass, after all, is basically a hermetically sealed material, and once the bottle is corked, the wine is pretty safe from oxidation.

The first period after bottling – about a month or two – is a time when the wine undergoes a series of chemical reactions that result in what is commonly called “bottle shock”.  Acetaldehyde forms, and phenols oxidize, mainly due to the small amount of oxygen that is in the neck space of the bottle, or dissolved in the wine.  Addition of the proper amount of sulfur dioxide remedies this as it binds with acetaldehyde, and assists the wine to recover.  Once the wine is over bottle shock, further aging begins in earnest. To accomplish this properly the bottled wine must be stored in a cool environment.  During bottle aging a number of things happen:

  • Reduction of Sulfur Dioxide in the first months
  • Reduction in fruitiness and varietal aroma
  • Development of an “aged wine” bouquet
  • A softening of tannin astringency in red wine
  • A gradual decrease in color intensity

As you may imagine, quite a bit of art is involved with this aspect of aging the wines. For instance, when has bottle aging gone on too long? What is the bouquet at any given time? Are the tannins now refined enough to release the wine? An on and on and on.

Actually the protocol that De Angelis Wines uses to make these determinations is simple – periodically taste a bottle and make a judgment of its progress. We do this about every month or two, more often as we get closer to release of a wine to the public. Our hope is that we nail it, and the wines are ready to drink once a client purchases them.

There is another important aspect of barrel and bottle aging that is seldom discussed, and that is the age of the wines when released. De Angelis Wines red wines are barrel aged for between 14 and 18 months, then bottle aged for between 6 and 9 months. Thus, a wine is released when it may have been aging for between 20 and 27 months. Some clients and customers ask when are we going to bring in “new” wines. Actually, once our wines are released they are NEW wines. That is hard for some to comprehend. Let’s do a mini-timeline: For example, a wine is made in 2007. It is aged – barrel and bottle – for 24 months, then released to the public. Thus, the 2007 wine is released in 2009. Don’t be fooled. This wine has been aged to as close to perfection as we can make it. It’s ready now, and it is ready to drink. Actually it will probably be even better in 2013.

So when you see a De Angelis Wine remember that it is already two years old when it becomes available to you. It is still a teen-ager, and will be even better in 5-6 more years!  Yes, it may have a few tartrate crystals precipitated on the cork, or at the base of the bottle, but that is simply a sign of a well aged wine. Sort of like growing old enough to know you are ready for anything.










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