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Ageing of Wine

Many wines improve in quality during barrel and bottle storage. Such wines eventually reach their peak, and with further ageing begin to decline. During the ageing period, acidity decreases, additional clarification and stabilisation occur as undesirable substances are precipitated, and the various components of the wine form complex compounds affecting flavour and aroma.

Wines are usually aged in wooden containers made of oak, allowing oxygen to enter and water and alcohol to escape. Extracts from the wood contribute to flavour. Humidity affects the kind of constituents that escape, with alcohol becoming more concentrated in wine stored under conditions of low humidity and weakening with high humidity. As the water and alcohol are released, volume decreases, leaving headspace, or ullage, that is compensated for by the addition of more of the same wine from another container.


Some red table wines appreciate in quality, developing less astringency and colour, and a greater complexity of flavour with ageing in oak cooperages of up to 500-gallon size for two to three years. In the best red wines, additional improvement may continue with two to twenty years of bottle ageing (the rate of ageing being lower in the bottle than in the barrel). Many dessert wines improve during cask ageing, particularly sweet sherries, but extraction of excessive wood flavour must be avoided. Those rosé and dry red wines that will not improve with long cask and bottle ageing are aged for a short period of time, clarified, and then bottled. More than 90% of all table wines are probably marketed and consumed before they are two years old.


In dry white wines, a fresher flavour is considered desirable, and the chief benefit of ageing is greater clarification as various undesirable substances are precipitated. These wines are rarely aged in the wood for long periods, and some are never kept in wood. This change is possible because of the efficiency of new clarification methods. Earlier bottling of white wines reduces cost for storage and handling in wooden cooperages, and produces fresher, fruitier flavours. Sweet white table wines benefit by some ageing in wood.


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