Aging, the art of making wine ‘drinkable’

Once the wine is made, whether intended for young consumption or intended for further aging, it must be subjected to less or more aging in order to make it, ultimately, ‘drinkable’.

Crianza is an aging process of a certain duration, where the wine evolves, modifies and improves its characteristics due to phenomena of physical, chemical and biological origin. Very few wines are put on the market for consumption immediately after being made without being subjected to a minimum period of rest, either in barrels, stainless steel tanks or in the bottle itself.

Likewise, there is not a single type of aging applicable to wines, but it can be carried out in different containers and therefore subjected to different aging conditions, where the levels of oxidation or reduction stand out, and can then be classified according to following categories: oxidative (when oxygen comes into contact with the wine), reductive (when the absence of oxygen -mainly in the bottle- is what makes the wine evolve) and biological (in which living organisms -yeasts- modify the characteristics of the wine, as in generous, sparkling,…).

wood and wine

After clay jars, wood has been the most widely used material for wine preservation. It is not an inert material, but it modifies the characteristics of the wine to such an extent that one can speak of a true aging and not just a simple conservation.

The cooperage has made use throughout its history of many types of wood: chestnut, cherry, acacia, etc. Currently, however, everyone agrees that oak is the most noble wood for the construction of barrels.

The oak contributes its particular olfactory and taste characteristics, marked by notes of vanilla that combine perfectly with the aromas and fruity flavors of the young wines.

Barrel aging has more positive aspects:

  • Decanting of particles, thus giving cleanliness to the wine.
  • Progressive and permanent oxidation, depending on the porosity of the oak.
  • Integration of some substances from the wood in the wine.

The quantity of substances dissolved in the wine depends on the nature of the wine, its alcoholic degree, the aeration and the characteristics of the oak. These characteristics are defined, in turn, by the origin of the wood, by its drying and by the technique used in the manufacture of the barrel.

bottle aging

Once bottled, the wine is aged in said bottle, which is called redox or reducing.

In the absence of oxygen, wine, in a living state, reacts by conjugating all its components, leading them to an irreversible change, giving rise to the appearance of the bouquet.

The transformations of the wine in the bottle are as follows:

  • Light oxidation.
  • The coloring matter evolves.
  • The flavors and aromas change.

Parenting Periods
Taking into account the type of wood used in aging, the characteristics of the wine will be modified accordingly.
These aging times are indicated by the Regulatory Councils of each production area.

biological rearing

It occurs in wines aged in barrels or bottles, which owe their sensory traits to the autolysis of yeasts in the bottle (in sparkling wines or cavas), or to their permanence under a veil of live yeasts, such as the finos de Jerez, Montilla- Moriles and manzanillas from Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

In aging under a veil, in addition to the previously mentioned oxidation-reduction phenomena, there is a contribution of substances, mainly polysaccharides, from the cell walls of dead yeasts, which are released into the wine as a result of autolysis phenomena.

This peculiar process takes place in wines that are aged in casks, in which, as a consequence of the specific conditions to which they are subjected, their surface is covered by a film-forming culture of yeasts typical of the area; Thus, a film or “veil of flower” is formed that protects and transforms the wine during its aging years.

parenting time

The aging time begins to count from the beginning of January of the year following the harvest.

According to the different criteria, the general aging times can be established as:

type of wine in barrel in bottle Total
White and young pink 6 to 9 months 15 to 18 months 24 months
Crianza red 12 months 12 months 24 months
reserve red 12 months 24 months 36 months
GR reds 24 months 36 months 60 months
generous Long duration Long duration
specials Long duration Long duration

These aging periods, valid only for Spain, can be modified by the regulations of each regulatory body.

In any case, the Spanish Vine and Wine Law establishes minimum periods in detail, which we show in the following graph:

Minimum aging times, according to the Vine and Wine Law


the phenomena of barrel aging

During the aging of wines in barrels, a series of phenomena or transformations of a physical, chemical, or even biological nature take place, which on the one hand achieve a natural stabilization of the same, allowing a longer life until consumption, and on the other part a series of changes and improvements in its sensory characters.

All these events occur simultaneously, so they can influence each other, and also some can be modified and controlled by the winery’s winemaker, thus being able to improve the performance sought with aging.

The phenomena that occur during breeding can be summarized as follows:

  1. Air entrance or oxygen through wood or racking.
  2. loss of wine through wood or racking.
  3. Precipitation of various substances in the wine in the barrel.
  4. ester formation in the wines.
  5. Transformation of polyphenols in the wines.
  6. Assignment of substances contained in the wood.

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