A scientist turned engineer, Dave started making wine in 1970. His approach combines simplicity with sound scientific principles.
Maturing Wine - pros & cons
We often hear that wine has to be aged to achieve its full potential. This is true up to a point, but it's not the whole story. Most wine will improve if kept (in the right conditions) for two or three months, but beyond that, unless the wine has been designed for aging, it is more likely to deteriorate than improve.
Here are two good reasons for attempting to mature your own wine:
- You've mastered vin ordinaire production and are looking to expand your hobby with a new challenge.
- You've acquired a taste for well-aged commercial wines and it's costing you an arm and a leg.
And two good reasons not to get into the aging game:
- You've made a foul brew and you hope stashing it away might salvage it.
- You're impatient and/or careless by nature - this is not for you!
In other words, maturing wine is for mature winemakers! Those who understand the principles and practice and can reliably turn out a steady supply of good sound table wine. So, if you're still with me, let's look first at the theory of wine-aging, before getting into techniques.
How do Wines Age?
When fermentation is complete, the young wine is not bottled immediately but is transferred to the aging vessel (leaving the yeast sediment behind) for the aging process to begin. Throughout the aging period, several slow processes continue in parallel. Among these are:
Though a young wine can fall acceptably clear within a few weeks, it takes time to obtain the true 'polished' clarity of a well aged wine. Over time, aided by stillness and constant temperature, tiny haze particles gradually coagulate and sink to the bottom, usually without recourse to finings or filtration.
This is not a single process but a combination of many beneficial trends. Dissolved fermentation gases (mainly carbon dioxide) are slowly released, so that the wine will not produce bubbles when poured, or 'prickle' on the tongue. Generally, the imbalance between quickly produced fermentation products evens out with time, through slow equilibium reactions.
Some oxidation is inevitable and even desirable, but it must not be allowed to proceed too quickly. Fermenting wines are protected by dissolved and expelled carbon dioxide, but a maturing wine is not. Oxidation causes loss of colour and a flatness of taste and aroma. Judicious use of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) as an anti-oxidant keeps oxidation down to a controlled level. SO2 correctly used is perfectly safe.
A young wine will often smell and taste fruity and alcoholic. This can be very pleasant in itself, but lacks 'refinement'. In other words, it smells simple because it is simple. However, with time, the 'in your face' fruitiness fades, to be replaced by a far more complex and subtle combination of smells and tastes, due to the production of even trace quantities of different organic acids, esters, aldehydes etc. In fact, over-production of any single organic compound usually constitutes spoilage, but, ideally balanced, they contribute to that much mocked term, bouquet.
A pulp fermented red wine will often have a high tannin content. Tannins are extracted (by alcohol) from the pips and skins during the pulp stage. Their effect is to make a wine astringent, harsh and even undrinkable. But they are useful during aging because they act as retardants on oxidation and various other reactions, Thus they make the aging proceed more slowly, resulting in greater subtlety. Gradually the tannin content reduces and the wine 'softens'. In Bordeaux, for example, residual tannin is one of the biggest factors in releasing a wine to market.
What Wines Age Well?
With a few exceptions, the modern tendency is to drink white wines young and mainly age the reds. In part, this is market driven. Commercial aging is expensive as it ties up storage space for no revenue. But fashion and the market go hand in hand, and most people's expectation is very much for light fresh whites and heavier reds.
I would advise against aging whites (beyond about three months) for two main reasons:
- In the relatively small quantities produced by amateurs, it is much harder to control oxidation, and whites are less forgiving than reds in this respect.
- Most of the white wine we produce is not of a type that has much to gain from long aging and in fact is likely to suffer from the process.
Better to practice the techniques with reds, at least for the first few batches.
So, what red wines age well? Here are a few pointers:
- The wine should have been fermented on the pulp for 2 to 4 days
- It should then have been allowed to ferment to dryness
- It should be strongly coloured and may be strongly flavoured
- The alcoholic strength should be between 12 and 14 percent ABV (and within this range it's better to err on the high side)
- The total acidity will typically be 3.5 to 4 ppt
- It should have medium to high tannin (and may be quite harsh)
- It should be sound with no off smells or flavours
- The minimum quantity worth aging is 5 litres or 1 gallon. But you can get better results with larger quantities.
Wood, Glass or Plastic?
Traditionally, commercial wine is aged in oak casks and for the ultimate quality this is still the best way. But it may not be best for the amateur. Here's why:
- Quality oak casks are expensive and difficult to get hold of
- They need special maintenance and sterilisation techniques
- In small casks, too much of the wine (proportionally) is in contact with the wood. This will result in too much oak tannin extraction, giving a bitterness and over-oaked flavour (a little is good but not too much)
- In small casks, oxidation usually progresses too quickly.
- Five gallons should be considered the absolute minimum cask size
Glass has always been the amateur's preferred material. It has many advantages over oak: it is easy to sterilise and completely airtight, making it a much safer bet against spoilage and oxidation. The main drawbacks are its weight and breakability. For small quantities (below 5 gallons, glass is the obvious choice.
Food Quality Plastics are appealing for lightness, screwtop closures (no need for corks) and being unbreakable. But some plastics will impart a smell to the wine. I have had some success with drinking water containers. I use nothing else for fermenting, and have recently successfully matured wine in some. But alcohol and water have very different solvent properties, and some plastics that are perfect for water might partially break down and impart chemicals into an alcoholic solution over an extended period. As there are so many different plastics, it's impossible to make a firm recommendation.
The Cellar or Wine Store
The ideal environment for maturing wine is still the underground cellar. Here is what a maturing wine requires:
- Strictly no sunlight
- Moderate humidity
- An even, steady temperature ideally around 13oC or 55oF
- No vibration
- Good ventilation
- No strong or musty smells
In other words, an underground cellar! If you're not so lucky, try to provide as much of the list as possible. In typical modern accommodation, the hardest condition to provide is the steady cool temperature. I suggest preparing your space for maturing wine and placing a maximum/minimum thermometer in it for a few weeks to see what's really going on. Over temperature accelerates all processes, especially oxidation.
Finally - the Techniques!
I did begin by saying wine-aging isn't for the impatient - thank you for reading this far! Here's what to do. I'm going to assume that you have a wine that fits the bill and has reached the end of its fermentation.
- Add sulphite to the finished wine at the rate of one Campden Tablet per gallon and place it in the fridge (if possible).
- After two days, sterilise the maturing container with a strong sulphite solution, then rinse it out with boiled water
- Transfer the wine into the sterilised vessel. Either pour carefully using a large funnel, or syphon it, leaving behind the fermentation sediment.
- It doesn't matter if a little sediment does come across.
- The bubbling is dissolved CO2 coming out of solution. It is normal and doesn't mean the wine is still fermenting.
- Make sure the vessel is full to the neck or just below. If you have to top it up, use a little cool boiled water - not fruit juice or sugar syrup!
- Seal the vessel (exactly how depends if its glass or plastic, of course!)
- Place it where it is to remain for the next several months,
- For the first week or two, you should check regularly for residual fermentation - simply open and close the cap to release gas.
- After that, do nothing much for a long time. You can gauge clarity by shining a torch through the sealed vessel, but don't keep opening it up to smell it. Have faith!
- After about 6 months, it's decision time, and here are the options:
- Mature it for another 3 to 6 months. If you plan to do this, sulphite it again, at the same rate, and syphon it carefully to a new sterilised vessel. This helps the stabilisation process.
- Bottle it 'casually' for immediate drinking. If you want to use it within weeks, simply transfer it into empty drinking water bottles and use as required.
- Bottle it 'seriously' for laying down. Only consider this if it seems really promising but still a little immature. Serious bottling means glass wine bottles, real corks, labels, racking, etc. and will be the subject of another hub!
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on January 27, 2013:
Twilightzones on January 27, 2013:
Great article. Bookmarked this one.
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on July 22, 2012:
Sachal - can I suggest you read a few of my wine-making hubs where I cover the basics. Not all wines are worth maturing, and three days is not an adequate fermentation period for wine of any sort. Try this method: https://delishably.com/beverages/Make_Your_Own_Win...
SACHAL on July 22, 2012:
I am living in Pakistan where I get Whiskeys but not wine so I made it my self with Red Grape, Sugar and Baking Yeast, actual after it fermentaion process (3 days) I checked its taste it was sour but after keeping it for two days it turned to sweet and I drunk it, actually I don't know how much minimum time for maturation is required can some one tell?
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on May 22, 2012:
Hi Mark - I have never worked with industrial quantities like that. My largest batches have been five gallons (which is fairly standard for the home winemaker. What I would say is, to protect your considerable investment, be scrupulously careful with sterilisation of your barrel and with the closure when sealing it for maturing.
Before maturing, what are you going to ferment it in? Presumably not the same barrel?
BTW, I also like Amarone.
Mark Richards on May 22, 2012:
Greetings, I like a particular wine called Amarone which is a type of Italian Valpolicella. It is expensive in Canada and the grapes are hard to come by as it is composed of three varieties of grapes in specific proporions. There is a local company which can supply me with the correctly blended juice and I was wondering how long to age it in a 225 L. / 60 U.S. gallon (50 imperial gallon) Bordeaux Style Barrel. The wines I buy are frequently 2007 or 2008. I have a basement that remains at a constant temperature and I can control the humidity to a certain extent. What do you think? Thank you
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on May 11, 2012:
In short - yes. Quite small differences in the secondary ferment stage can result in noticeably different outcomes. But as for synchronising the rackings, if the sugar content varies, so will the duration of the fermentation. Still worth the experiment. Good luck.
Brewer Lytton on May 10, 2012:
I finally snipped my yeastpack cherrypick yesterday evening. Huzzah! I've become ensconced with home brewing advice and crockpottery for most of my waking hours since. After all the dracmas and dreck I have now hipwadered through during this slippery blossom of dim discrimination, I prize the firm footing at this scruffily polished joint: the companionable brace of a salty dog gelded with sober potential; glorious respite from the vested vat-vets who besiege your auricle with fizzy birdbroth until the dun walls and refractive mirage of the discount atrium glide dreamily past and you vestibulate into the vestment-soaked loggia of an expensive hobby--pontifical eyebrows arched harshly upon the down escalator if it exists at all. So nice to encounter a resource with level parking and powerchair corridors for the common purple.
I didn't commence here to ask a question, but I will mention my struggle: the industry-standard 23 litre batch size seems incompatible with my many-branching diverparticulitis. It took me perhaps thirty to fifty iterations to perfect my waffles: of the 18 or so ingredients my recipe now involves (counting all flours and sugars), a small pinch of cardamom and a tablespoon of Drambuie push it over the top. My Caesar salad dressing is presently following the same arc: in my last version I tossed in a toasted mixture of pine nuts and crushed hazel nuts as I was short of croutons. Not a Caesar, yet tasty and refining my lexicon of Caesarness nevertheless. I've barely scratched the yeasty precincts and I feel dwarfed already by the vintner's lore and ponder that fifty iterations at six gallons a throw would dent my liver before popping my whitebelt.
My crazy amateur idea of the moment is to retain the common 23 litre primary, and partition the secondary ferment into three 2 gallon jugs, each dolloped a little bit differently for purposes of a competory cork-off. I fantasize that this wouldn't add a lot of work if: A) well organized and supplied, and B) the secondaries rack synchronous without recourse to prayer or divine intervention.
Are the differences one can achieve with tweaks to the secondary ferment intriguing enough to make this worth contending with triple tipple? How do elves less green get enough iterations under their friar tuck working with these large batch sizes while still being able to spy the hairy knuckles of their sandaled toes after many hearty post-bacchanalian breakfasts?
slitter from Ipswich, UK on April 26, 2012:
Excellent news! Thanks for the swift response.
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on April 26, 2012:
The containers sound fine, but it's not best practice to have a lot of air space above the wine as this could cause early oxidation. Having said that, oxidation is usually caused by slow ingress of air through an imperfect seal or through the wood of a cask. If the lids are properly air-tight you might be OK, as once used up, there's no more oxygen.
slitter from Ipswich, UK on April 26, 2012:
I have been offered some five gallon plastic containers that were used to deliver a consignment of ultra-pure deionized water, which in theory could make the containers very good for maturing wine, as in theory the plastic shouldn't leech anything at all into the contents of the container.
I have some wines that I need to mature for a couple of years (albeit in one and two gallon quantities) and I've run out of demijons, so if I could use these containers to mature wine that would be great!
Can you forsee any problems? Are there any issues with the airspace that will be left by only putting one gallon of wine in a five gallon container?
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on January 15, 2012:
Tannins slow down the aging process resulting in a more subtle finish if you are willing to wait. When you have a high alcohol content, you also tend to have a relatively higher presence of the trace organic compounds such as esters, aldehydes etc. These all affect the final balance. A low alcohol wine rarely achieves the same quality.
CJ on January 14, 2012:
Well I guess I'll have to tell you in a couple years. I have a Cranberry Cider (around 13.5%) That took a year not to taste like a cocktail, and now it tastes like a very acceptable wine (1 year, 3 months old). But I only have a couple bottles left. Was going to keep these for a long time and try them in another year. I had thought tannins were most crutial in aging, but it does seem alcohol content plays a strong role too.
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on January 14, 2012:
CJ - I haven't tried it, so I can't speak from experience. But I'd think that an apple wine of 12 to 15% ABV could mature very acceptably for a couple of years at least. A straight cider of 4 to 7% would probably not improve beyond nine months or so.
CJ on January 14, 2012:
Have you ever tried aging cider's or cider wine? I'm curious how it holds up to age. In New England where I'm from there is a lot of home made cider and many say age is important to cider. I know for sure the apple wine I make tastes very immature and acidic in the first year but by the time it's a year old it's mellowed out and a lot of the fruit flavor returns. But I haven't been doing it long enough to know if it will hold up to many years aging. Do you think cider wine would be more like white or a whole diferent animal?
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on December 29, 2011:
Chris - I lived in Dubai before moving to Qatar. You can't buy wine yeast in either country. I've never tried importing yeast except by bringing a few sachets in my luggage. I might depend how it was labelled!
Chris on December 29, 2011:
Hi there, firstly great article, very interesting.
You mentioned you live or lived in an Islamic country, well I live in Dubai and have no idea where to find wine maker's yeast.
If I order some online do you think customs would make any problems? I saw some on Amazon (strange place to find it I know, but the product has good reviews).
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on October 12, 2011:
Ralph - true, if the wine is designed for aging in the first place.
RalphGreene on October 12, 2011:
Great hub.Love wines.The more it aged, the tastier it is.
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on October 05, 2011:
James - sorry, not enough information for me to offer any explanation.
james on October 04, 2011:
I have made some pinot noir from a kit. I have used these same kits before with success (mostly with whites), but I have tried the pinot (six months in bottle) and there is no nose at all! What happened? Help please.
marystobias from Napa,Sanoma on June 17, 2011:
Thanks for an excellent hubs.....
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on May 24, 2011:
Hi Wayne - Given the normal ambient temperature in Philippines, unless you have a cooled cellar or equivalent, I think you'd be best to drink the wine one to two months after fermenting it.
For sterilising bottles, tubes, etc, instead of Sulphur Dioxide you can use a baby's bottle sterilising kit. But don't add it to the wine!!
And next time you're in Europe, pick up a stock of wine yeast. Thanks for the read :)
Wayne on May 24, 2011:
Really enjoyed reading your comprehensive article about wine making.. Im a Brit living in the Philippines and nearly went off the idea of wine making because of not being able to find campden tablets and wine yeast..
I decided to have a go at fermenting 5 gallons of pappaya,ripe bannana and mango and another batch of apple juice and pappaya..
Grapes are expensive here so Im using what grows in our garden to start with..
I managed to find some one gallon glass carboys and some ballons as no air locks available locally and the wine is fermenting away in a dark coolish bedroom..
As I have no access to any chemicals etc and the fact I need to use bread yeast ect is there any advice you can give me in regards to possible alternatives to Campden tablets etc?
The wine Ive got on the go now is definitely white.. Just wondering how long after fermentation stops is the best time to drink it under the circumstances??
Thanks again for your excellent article!!
1st time wine maker on February 08, 2011:
Thanks. I'll bear that in mind!
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on February 07, 2011:
I would just use that one and start another. Three months is too long for a wine to sit on its lees (sediment). You should aim to complete the fermentation in about one month, then transfer the wine to another demijohn to stabilise.
1st time wine maker on February 07, 2011:
Having seen myparent make some simply undrinkable wines as a child I decided to have a go at some elderberry/blackberry wine. Having done several bits of research I settled on a recipe using a Burgundy yeast, yeast nutrient and citric acid to aid the fermentation.
After 3 months in a cupboard the fermentation appears to have stopped so i have decanted it into another demijohn with another airlock. I tasted the wine and it is very dry but drinkable. I have added some fermentation stopper (but no campden tablet-should I have done this?) but my main question is as follows...
In your opinion how should I proceed? Should i mature the wine? and is it best to do this in bottles or a demijohn?
I do not have a cellar although my garage stays fairly cool!!
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on July 09, 2010:
mhw - thanks, and good luck with the first attempt.
make homemade wine on July 09, 2010:
Great post that I can really put to use.
I feel I am at the stage where I need to start thinking about aging some of the wine I make.
I expect to mess up a few times to start but thats how we learn :)
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on November 06, 2009:
Greetings :) I'd be interested to try that lambanog some day. I'm familiar with Chinese rice wine and also with the lethal distilled version of it. But a little of that one goes a long way!
prettydarkhorse from US on November 06, 2009:
Been to Californication and gone wine tasting, now I know the process needed to do for a god taste,,,hard work and not for beginners, prefer red wine after dinner....hmmmm, you do a good job describing the process,,,,
Wd have fermentation process in the Philippines and they are very strong, from coconut juice (lambanog). We make rice wines too..(tapuy)....
People in the Philippines...just love beer...wines has become status symbol also, some cant afford it....
Wine making is not for me. I dont have the patience...
Although I like to tend a bar, been thinking of enrolling, but I dont have time at the moment...
thanks for the information SIR DAVE!!
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on April 02, 2009:
Hi Jellyrug - thanks for the comment. In fact, it's not just in California that the tendency away from long aging has taken hold. More and more red wine is being made by the process called carbonic maceration which starts the fermentation inside whole grapes. ater a few days, these are pressed, having extracted enough colour, and the fermentation continued as juice. This means less tannin extract and therefore less aging potential. That's how they get Beaujolais onto the market so early. My preference is still for properly oak aged Bordeaux or Rioja. But from the New World, I think Chile knocks spots off California and many of theirs really do age well.
Jellyrug from AR USA on April 02, 2009:
Enjoyed your hub, some very good content. From Scotland, I would have expected more about single malt, than wines, that said in humor, complements on your wine knowledge.
A question about aging wines, with some background first.
I use to have a wine cellar before moving back to the US and always aged a few bottles of red. The best were those beyond five years and some ten year olds were even better. Back in the good old USA, importation rules are strict, so I cannot find the good stuff from France, South Africa, Spain, Italy etc., and I have to settle for Californian wines. I found that aging most Californian red wines beyond two years, makes them almost undrinkable. I have since been educated that most Californian wines are ready to drink, and should not be aged.
Quite a culture shock for me, why have a wine cellar here then?
So here comes my question....
Has the true European wine culture simply not permeated the US, or am I missing something?
Rebecca Graf from Wisconsin on December 17, 2008:
This is extremely interesting. I had never really thought of making your own until a few years ago when a relative did. I confess that my mind shot to some of my relatives who make moonshine and had to run from the law with it.
This is not for me that is sure, but I really enjoyed the read.
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on December 04, 2008:
A few things come to mind - whisky is bonded at 100 proof (about 56% ABV) and later diluted to 70 proof (about 40% ABV) for bottling. Exactly what is the 'scotch' that he wants to age?
As for the red wine - I think if you put red wine in new 3 litre oak casks for 6 months it will come out undrinkable because of the oak tannin, the alcohol evaporation (through the wood) and the oxidation. Will it have seasoned the cask? possibly, but through spoilage, it might even poison the cask. I don't think it's a good plan, but if you really want to go ahead, sulphite the wine heavily to prevent spoilage and think of it as a sacrifice for the sake of the cask.
kxcritter on December 04, 2008:
A friend of mine wants to age a small volume of scotch in 3 liter oak barrels. He would like me to first age some red wine in the barrels in order to "season" them. Do you think too much oxidation will occur in a 3 liter barrel and there will be too much tannin extraction? I was thinking of making a port (from a kit) and aging around 6 months......will it be a waste?
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on May 16, 2008:
Food grade plastics are usually OK. Even if they impart some flavour of their own, they should be perfectly safe. I'm no expert on heartburn, but I'm wondering if your recipe was too acidic?
firstname.lastname@example.org on May 16, 2008:
I am making wine in a plastic water cooler. We made it before and after drinking some we kept getting heartburn. What is wrong?
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on December 22, 2007:
Thanks for commenting. If you're a first-timer, try the method I set out here: https://delishably.com/beverages/Make_Your_Own_Win
Dave McClure (author) from Kyle, Scotland on December 16, 2007:
You sold it?? Strictly illegal in most countries. Still it was done in a good cause :) Thanks for the visit.
MrMarmalade from Sydney on December 16, 2007:
As the President of a children's soccer club, we needed new shirts for our young players to play in. One of our worthy committee members suggested we go into wine making and they knew how to do it. We would make lots of money selling wine.
There is a saying that Fools rush in where Angels fear to Tread.
Made about 33 bottles up and put them under the beds for about 2 months.
Having sold every bottle. That's when we found out we were fools. Every one took it as a learning circle,and we were able to buy the new shirts. Never made any more wine though.