Tag Archives: barrel aging

Today’s Wine Word: Angel’s Share


Photo: Helpman 77 on Flickr

The “angel’s share” got a quick mention in yesterday’s post, the term is actually appropriate to the season in at least two ways. One for obvious reasons and the other to do with actual wine making. 

You might think that after all that hard work during harvest that winemakers take a long vacation. Well, they probably would except that the Controller is breathing down their necks to get the new wine into barrels. The sooner it’s in the barrel the sooner it’s out, and the winery can begin to get some return on its investment! 

However, once the barrels are filled up they don’t stay that way. The wine is constantly evaporating, ever so slowly. Depending upon the humidity in the cellar the loss can be anywhere from 2- 5% or up to 15 bottles annually! And that accounts for all the angels hovering there in the cellar. The Angel’s Share is the tariff they impose to allow the wine to age. Aging is actually a slow oxidation so the winemaker has to build the Angel’s Share into her cost of doing business.

Those darned angels create work, too! It’s not healthy for the wine to have an air space at the top of the barrel – it’s an invitation to bacterial activity and consequent spoilage. And this creates another Wine Word: The cellar crew needs to add more wine to each barrel, periodically, and the procedure is called “topping” or “topping up”. Most will let a little wine spill over the top to make sure the barrel is absolutely full. Continue reading

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When Will the 2012 Vintage be For Sale?



Question from Maureen: If it’s harvest time now, when will the wine be for sale? 

Reply: Hi, Maureen. Thanks for writing! The short answer is anywhere from this November through up to as many as five years from now, depending upon the style.

The thing is that making wine doesn’t take much time at all. Excluding some very small categories of wine, reds usually ferment dry within a week, or so, and whites may take up to a month.

So, it’s a matter of whether or not the wine needs to age. 

The fastest wine to hit the market is Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a light red wine that’s made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, in the southern part of Burgundy. They harvest the grapes in September and go into high gear getting it fermented, cleaned up and ready for bottling before the traditional release date of the third Thursday in November. That takes an incredible amount of organization, getting it out the door that fast.

Incidentally, the release date dovetails nicely with Thanksgiving. Because the wine isn’t heavy or tannic it’s quite versatile at the table. Plus, it’s fun to drink something that was fruit on the vine just weeks ago. Beaujolais Nouveau is also one of the few reds that tastes good chilled, so it’s great with summertime barbecue – if you can find it by then – they usually make just enough to sell out within a few months of release. 

Wineries that produce wine that doesn’t need to be aged (whites, rosés, popular price reds – most of the world’s wine, really) but aren’t under such pressure to get the wine to market will release their wine the following winter or spring, most likely, unless they have a warehouse full of the previous vintage.  

Fine reds, some high-end whites and dessert wines are the ones that usually need the most age. They spend months or even years in the barrel or cask, followed by some bottle age. Recently, I interviewed Maria Helm Sinskey and the current vintage of their Meritage-style blend was 2006. They hold it until they decide it’s ready for you. 

Leave it to the Europeans to have regulations on how long to age the wine. Chianti wine may be released on March 1st of the year following harvest. Chianti Classico (the heart of Chianti) must be aged at least seven months and Chianti Classico Riserva requires   minimum of 27 months. 

So, it seems that even the simplest question isn’t simple. But, I hope that helps! Cheers! 

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The Barrels are Coming! The Barrels are Coming!


When I went to do a tasting with a client the other day, I noticed that the barrel cellar was about half empty. I jokingly asked the winemaker if they’d decided to go with oak chips – wink, wink. “Well, no – it’s July.” Yup – July. Out with the old and in with the new. Got to get the new barrels unwrapped, inspected and in place before harvest starts, probably late August this year. 

That is, for those wineries who can afford new barrels and are looking for oak flavor in the wine. New French oak barrels are about $1,000.00 a pop; it’s less than half that for new American barrels. 

When it comes to flavor extraction you can think of barrels as being like tea bags. They give up their flavor with use. Which can actually be a good thing! There are only a few styes of wine that won’t be completely overwhelmed by the powerful flavor imparted by all new barrels. Think big (and expensive) reds. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Ullage

Ullage? Such an odd word. Well, it’s the space between the cork and the wine in the bottle. It can also describe the space between the wine in a barrel and the stopper, which is called a  bung. 

Why does it matter? When you see a low fill at the wine shop, it doesn’t just mean you get less wine. It means that the wine could be somewhat oxidized. Oxidation shows up as lost fruit (dullness), brownish color or even outright spoilage, which may manifest as vinegar or fingernail polish remover character.

Ideally, there snouldn’t be much more than 1/2 inch or the wine may spoil. Many bottling lines are set up so that the ullage is filled with inert, nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation. But if you see that the ullage is down around the shoulder of the bottle it’s not a good thing. 

When it comes to the barrel, the ullage increases due to wine lost to evaporation and when the winemaker has used new barrels they absorb a lot of wine. To prevent oxidation, the winemaker establishes a “topping schedule” which means more wine is added to each barrel every few weeks or every month – whatever the winemaker believes is appropriate or what the budget permits in terms of labor.   

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