Winemaking in Action: The Aging Process

We’re back with Part 3 of our Winemaking in Action Series! In Part 1 of our series we walked through the initial steps in the winemaking process: sorting, crushing, and pressing. Part 2 covered tanks and fermentation. This week, we’re covering the final step in the winemaking process – the aging process!

Basic Terms to Know

Winemaking: Winemaking is the production of wine, starting with the selection of the fruit, its fermentation into alcohol, and the bottling of the finished liquid.

Ullage: Commonly refers to the headspace of air between wine and the top of the container holding the wine.

Topping: The process of refilling any wine that has evaporated.

The Élevage

We have arrived – time for the big finale! The élevage! This french term, which translates to “raising” or “upbringing”, is used to describe what happens to wine between fermentation and bottling. The élevage can last months to years, and enables wines’ flavors to mature and integrate.

Types of Barrels 

The aging of wine takes place in oak barrels or steel barrels. The decision on what type of barrel to age in is based on how the winemaker wants the wine to taste. The different barrels types can impact flavor. 

Oak Barrels 

Oak barrels are made from staves, long pieces of oak wood that are fitted together with metal hoops. Once fitted they are toasted over a fire to either a light, medium, or dark toast level. Neutral oak, American oak, and French oak are the most common types of oak barrels.

Aging in an American oak barrel or French oak barrel impacts the flavor profile of the wine. Aging in a neutral oak barrel has little to no effect on the flavor profile. Wander + Ivy Red Wine Blend is aged in a neutral oak barrel so that the overall flavor profile is not affected.

American oak is porous with pronounced aromas of vanilla, coconut, cream soda, and even dill that contribute to the flavor of the wine. French oak is highly regarded, has a solid grain and can produce wines with savory spices, caramel, roasted coffee, and dark chocolate aromas that also impact the flavor of the wine. 

Steel Barrels

Aging in stainless steel does not impact the flavor profile of the wine at all. Reds and whites aged in stainless steel are straightforward and juicy, with no oak flavor additions.

Keeping Wine Healthy While in Barrels

As part of the aging process all barrels are typically stored in a cellar and stacked on cradles. As they continue to age, evaporation within the barrel occurs, causing the wine to reduce. The winemaker must go in every month and “top” the wine to replenish the barrel with wine that has since evaporated. This is referred to as monthly topping – to replenish the amount of ullage that goes down in the barrel itself. 

Wineries will have different topping materials that are reserved for this process, oftentimes using the exact wine that is pulled from other barrels in an airtight container. 

Once aged fully within the barrel, the wine is off to bottling then to distribution to be enjoyed by the people! Cheers!

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