Understanding Wine- Barrelling and Bottling

Edited by Shivangi Srivastava

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Since we have already learned about the various stages in winemaking, it is time for us to learn the pivotal steps before you actually taste the wine. Just before the wine is shipped to our supermarkets, it goes through the bottling process. However, before this could happen wine matures in either Steel Vats or Oak Barrels. Let’s understand both the processes in detail.

Barrelling against Stainless Steel Vats

To understand the importance of a Barrel, one must understand the importance of Oak (from which it is made). Without Oak, wines will cease to exist as we know them. They will not have the same characteristics of smell, texture, and taste. Although barrels can be made out of other materials, Oak is the best to enhance these properties, hence, it has been the favourite choice of winemakers for over two millennia. Yes, that’s correct over 2000 years, the same material is made for the maturation of wine.

So, why Oak is best for wine? Due to its porous nature, while staying leak-proof at the same time. Also, the property of Oak is such that it is easily malleable and could be shaped into barrels. Oak helps the wine to breathe while it matures and turns the simple fermented juice and gives it complexity, intensity, flavour, length, and depth. This may not be true for light-bodied wines as more maturation in barrels tends to negate their own grape varietal characteristics. Hence, the white wine (light-bodied) is preferred to mature in Stainless-steel vats and not the Oak barrels.

Stainless Steel Vats gives a much cleaner and Oxygen-free environment for the wine to develop its own characteristics. In the Steel Vats, the wine matures and develops the characters based on the grape varietals. Since there is no contact with the wood, you refrain from heavy aromas, robust taste, or full-bodied textures. Most of the white varietals of grapes prefer this maturation as it keeps their freshness and crispness intact. Oxygen does play a pivotal role in shaping the body and texture of the wine. And, if you have ever had a Chardonnay which is unwooded (Stainless Steel Vats matured) against a wooded (Barrel matured), you will understand the difference.

So, it becomes a pivotal decision for winemakers to choose either of the two maturing vessels to shape the desired wine.

Bottling

At the liquor store, when you are about to buy your favourite wine, you always see bottles of different shapes, sizes, and colours. Some are clear, some are dark, some are slim, and some are fat and so on. This raises the question, why can all the wines be bottled into the same bottles? Why do companies need to spend a fortune on getting different bottles for different types of wine? Although bottling is fairly simple to the naked eye but it does comprise of elements that help the wine to remain as desired by the winemaker. Although shapes matters for different types of wine (still or sparkling) it is the colour of the glass which matters the most.

A general rule of thumb is white wines are often packaged in clear bottles while reds in dark-coloured bottles. The idea behind it is purely based on the maturation of the wine within the bottle. Yes, the wine goes under maturation within the bottle as well. Since white wines are not meant to be matured for longer years, exceptions are always there, they are put in clear bottles and are ready to ship. Depending upon the age of the barrel, as mentioned earlier, the winemaker chooses to do a second maturation in the bottle. It sometimes happens that wine does not develop the characteristics as desired and the tannins are sharp. To avoid having a bad wine at the table, the winemaker leaves the wine to age within the bottle.

Now, with a logical sense, whenever heat (sunlight) is in contact with the wine bottles, it makes the yeast react within the wine. Since most white wines are refrigerated, the heat barely affects the wine. On the other hand, red wines are stored or matured at room temperature which has more chances of acquiring heat. Let’s take a guess what the colour of the bottle will do to prevent the heat? If you have guessed it already you are now understanding wine a bit more than the others. If you still have not, worry not, we are still learning together.

The colour bottle only prevents the direct sunlight and keeps the temperature cool within the bottle. This protective layer of coloured glass helps the wine to mature progressively as per the choice of the winemaker.

I hope this may have helped you understand wine a bit more than what you knew yesterday. Remember, wine in itself is a vast topic, and the people from whom I have learned or still learning, they themselves proclaim that they are discovering new things every day. So, let’s continue this journey together as novices.

Stay tuned for more wine blogs!

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