Bulk aging vs. bottle aging

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G259

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What is the difference between the two, and yes, I know one is in a bottle! What changes from one to the other? I always thought that the bulk aging was better as 'it's all there', I have heard of 'bottle shock', is that the issue?
 
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Wine goes through a lot of changes during the first 4 to 12 months, and leaving the wine in bulk helps ensures the wine changes consistently. I was not a believer in this until a couple of years ago, when I had a batch that was tremendously inconsistent from bottle to bottle. Also you want to ensure the wine is clear before bottling, else you'll get unsightly sediment in the bottle.

While wine is in bulk, it can be altered, e.g., acid increased or reduced. Once it's in the bottle, it can still be changed, but it's laborious (gotta pull those corks) and expensive (gotta replace those corks).

Bottle shock is a temporary condition that is supposedly related to O2 exposure during bottling. If it occurs, it normally goes away in 1 to 4 weeks. I don't consider it a problem as I know to let the wine rest a month or 3 after bottling.

A VERY important value to bulk aging is that you're actually letting the wine age, since you're not drinking it. Although I had an acquaintance who didn't seem to understand the "bottling" part -- she and her husband were drinking from the carboy, and didn't realize until it was too late that the wine oxidized.
 

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As @winemaker81 notes, oxygen. A commercial bottle line can pick up 5mg per liter oxygen. Small scale home wineries do worse. In general the larger the tank or container, the worse the oxygen pick up. Another place is natural corks, which are as good as some Nomacorc products but more leaky than Reserva line and the best is aluminum caps.
 
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G259

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Ok, so it's a corkage issue. so why don't we bulk age longer?
Although I think I understand that some wines may benefit from
some oxygen exposure.
 
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Ok, so it's a corkage issue. so why don't we bulk age longer?
Bottle shock is likely to happen no matter when you bottle. It's something I simply accept and let the bottles rest long enough to get past it. A normal dose of K-meta at bottling helps.

Although I think I understand that some wines may benefit from some oxygen exposure.
This is a complicated subject. We get micro-oxygenation in the barrel, which benefits the wine. The operative term is "micro", meaning tiny doses.

When served, letting reds breath (or aerating them) is beneficial. However, if we expose a wine to the same level of O2 as during breathing/aeration, and let it set for a few weeks, it's likely to oxidize. In this case O2 exposure is a totally different result and produces a positive result in the short term, not the long term.
 

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A cork material “cork” should transfer 2 to 3 mg oxygen per 750ml over a year, ie micro oxidation as @winemaker81 notes. A bottling line can add 5 mg oxygen per liter in a few seconds, ie bottle shock as noted. Bad bottling lines can be 7 or 10mg and my guess is home made is worse yet.
I seal my wines with vacuum and Nomacork, some places flush with nitrogen all in an effort to improve shelf life/ reduce bottle shock.
Ok, so it's a corkage issue. so why don't we bulk age longer?
Although I think I understand that some wines may benefit from some oxygen exposure.
A general statement is that reductive wines (low oxygen) have better fruity aromas. This is especially valuable in country wines and whites. Red wines/ tannic wines can improve when micro oxygenated. This involves polyphenols and tannins binding oxygen, and being removed from solution. ,,, Who likes to drink an overly tannic red wine?
 

BigDaveK

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So is there a point where the benefit of bulk aging becomes minimal and then switch to bottle aging?

I'll be bottling the remainder of my country wine at 8-10 months, no rush, whenever I have time. My intention is to then bottle age for a month or two before tasting to at least get an idea of what to do differently with this years harvest.
 
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So is there a point where the benefit of bulk aging becomes minimal and then switch to bottle aging?
That's an excellent question. I suspect the most definitive answer is "maybe". ;)

The reasons for bottling are subjective. No matter how objective we try to be, there is an element of judgment call on when to bottle -- there is no test to determine when is the right time to bottle. My reasons to bottle include:

I need the barrel. I typically bottle a barrel when the next year's wine is ready for the barrel, which is often after 12 months of barrel aging, and 1 to 2 months of ferment/clearing.

I need the carboy. This is like the last one, but tends to be variable in timespan. For me this is a less likely scenario as I rarely have all carboys full.

I have time now. Life can get busy and I often have to plan around "stuff".

I believe the wine is ready to bottle. This is on par with your question, and factors into all 3 of the previous items, e.g., if I don't believe the wine is ready to bottle, it's not getting bottled.

Based upon my experiences, I don't currently bottle before a wine is 4 months old, which allows for 1 month ferment/clearing followed by 3 months of bulk aging. Most wines are clear by this point, although heavier wines may drop sediment later on (a primary reason for longer bulk aging). I've tried bottling on kit schedule, and have experienced bottle variability, so I switched back to the 4 month point that I was originally taught (see The 1-3-3 Rule post for a description of what I was originally taught).

I find that very light whites and fruits can be bottled at 4 months, although I'll often wait another couple of months. Part of it is they have less "stuff" and undergo chemical changes sooner and faster. Plus they are ready to drink sooner -- I've bottled whites at 4 months and they were ready to drink at 5 months, although many of these are declining after 2 years. [Which is fine, as they are what they are.]

Heavier whites and light reds need a bit longer, up to 6 months in bulk (5 to 7 months after starting). They contain heavier constituents and need more time.

Heavy reds and dark fruit? They need more time, typically 9+ months of bulk aging. If carboy aging, I don't believe these wines need more than 12 months of bulk aging. In barrel? The evaporation/concentration effect goes on forever, so if the fruit is good enough, barrel aging for 24 to 36 months may make sense. However, as I mentioned above I need the barrel when the next year's wine is ready, so it gets bottled then.

Also note that wine ages faster in smaller quantities. I read an article in The Wine Spectator ~1990 regarding Riesling from the 1700's. All bottles were oversized, and that (along with ABV, sugar, and acid) was listed as a primary reason why those wines survived intact for so long.

An interesting experiment would be to take a red, fill a 19 liter carboy, and bottle the remainder in 1 US gallon, 1.5 liter, 750 ml, and 375 ml bottles, and taste test every year.
 

Steve Wargo

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Some wineries bulk age wine in barrels/containers for years. Some people bottle their newly made wine ASAP. Some DIY's bulk age, for 1-2 years and then transfer the wine to gallon jugs for the remainder of the wine's life (til drunk do us part). A gallon jug isn't a 5+gallon carboy, nor is it a 750ml corked bottle. What is the best way? Try different ways. Taste it, and time will tell. I don't think there is a best "right" way. IMO.
 
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I learned early that there are very few concrete rules in wine making. 'Kinda", "sorta", "maybe", and "wine is very forgiving" are often how things go. I was hoping for a good rule of thumb and you provided!!!
Most beginners want concrete rules, e.g., do this and that will occur. Unfortunately, winemaking doesn't work that way. Most of the time, things go in a given direction, but sometimes Mother Nature or Dionysus take things in a different direction.

You've caught on quickly that winemaking requires judgment calls, and I expect you'll do well. As much as we want it to, not every batch turns out well. Nope, not even the professionals with far more resources than you or I can do that. IMO we stay focused on having fun as we go.
 

wineview

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I had asked roughly the same question a while ago. No chemical/Black magic in bulk vs 750ml. It came down to : Carboy, not too accessible. Bottle aging, too easy to access.
I typically bulk for one year. With every batch I bottle I put three bottles aside and try them 3-5 years down the road. Some of these bottles have surprised me.
 

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I’ve been making wine kits now for 5-6 years, anything from the cheap $60 Island Mist Kits to the $150 RJS Premiere Kits, always bottled them around the 2- 3 month mark. I’ve never noticed any difference in taste in the wines, I will say I may have a little sediment on the bottom of the bottle but it’s nothing crazy, even store bought wines will have a little sediment in their red wines. I can see aging in a carboy for 6 months if it’s homemade, your crushing fresh grapes or fruit so you can taste and make Adjustments.
 

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Wine in bottles takes up a lot of storage space. And since 2 years is kind of the minimum time to drink most red wines(plenty of exceptions, I know), I tend to go a minimum of 1 year before bottling. Good points made about keeping the wine safe from the winemaker :i as long as it's in bulk! It should probably stay in bulk longer!

Kits, I don't know. Likely, it does not matter. You should be making wine from grapes after a kit or two.

With red wines from grapes, I's say a minimum of 1 year in bulk. That way you have time to rack it clear, test it for late acid additions or add additional oak. I think a winter cold cycle is good for it too, and drops out the tartrate "wine diamonds" in the bulk tank and not in the bottle. But in the end, it doesn't really matter since wine can age in the bottle as well as it can in a bulk storage tank. Everyone has a different reason to declare bottling day, and for me it's usually 1+ year, and a convenient time. I just finished bottling the last of my 2020 wine, so that's 19 months in bulk.

White wine is a whole different story. I just bottled 2021 Riesling and plan to start drinking it in a month or so. So rack when clear, with the caveat that it can retain significant CO2 in solution even at 6 months. Vacuum racking is your friend for early bottling.
 
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Kits, I don't know. Likely, it does not matter. You should be making wine from grapes after a kit or two.
Nope -- aging matters just as much for kits as for any wine.

Grapes are not an option for everyone, due to lack of availability, need for specialized equipment (crusher & press), and space. Plus interest; not everyone wants to mess with grapes.
 
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