Bulk aging vs. bottle aging

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WinoDave

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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.
Exactly, I live in Ky and there’s 4-5 grapes that grow well here, smashing your own grapes is labor intensive and your wine is only as good as the grapes that are grown. Wine kits have come a long way Over the years, I’ve entered many of my wine kits in wine competitions to see how they compare and they score pretty well plus with wine kits you can make a big variety of different wines.
 

vtoddw

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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?

In my short time making wine from both kits and grapes, the most significant reasons to keep wine in bulk aging have been:
1. CO2 removal. I bottled my first kit too early (15 days after secondary) upon following the instructions. This resulted in a wine that was overly tart (aside from the kit taste) due to the presence of carbonic acid from the CO2. Decanting for an hour helped alleviate this, but had I splash racked a few times and bulk aged for 6 months it would have been a non issue. I've read that CO2 will still dissipate in a corked wine eventually, UT it's much faster in bulk aging, especially if you're racking every 3 months to remove sediment.
2. Acid adjustments. I had a wine from fresh grapes where the must had a perfect TA and PH but then after pressing the PH shot way up and TA way down. I added tartaric acid to adjust at the start of bulk aging and as the wine bulk aged over the next several months it continued to change. Ultimately I ended up adding a little more acid again and then allowing it to balance out for a few more months before bottling.
3. Oak exposure. You can't oak once you've bottled.
4. Clearing. I will keep it in bulk aging until the wine has fully cleared and is no longer building up a layer of sediment. Some people use a clearing agent (which all kits seem to come with) but I've skipped that on many batches now and found that racking every 3 months for 6 to 9 months has been sufficient to fully clear the wine without any additives.

So for me I'm not ready to bottle until all CO2 is out, the acidity is in the zone where I want it to be, the oak has imparted sufficient flavor on the wine and the wine is fully cleared.

IMO the main down sides to bulk aging are:
1. Loss of free SO2 and the need to add more Kmeta, which increases total SO2
2. The need to top off the carboy, which typically means introducing some other wine, which changes the purity but has never yielded a bad effect on the taste of the wine in my experience
 

G259

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Good explanation, and as far as the top-off concern. I always make sure that I make extra, that I save in 1L bottles for top-off, so I can use the same wine for additions. (. . . and for future tasting, when I can't help myself any longer!)
 
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The need to top off the carboy, which typically means introducing some other wine, which changes the purity but has never yielded a bad effect on the taste of the wine in my experience
Is this really a problem? From my POV, topping up is simply a required part of winemaking which I plan for. Blending produces good results, and I see a lot of folks on this forum will add 5% or 10% of a different wine to improve the result.
 

vtoddw

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Good explanation, and as far as the top-off concern. I always make sure that I make extra, that I save in 1L bottles for top-off, so I can use the same wine for additions. (. . . and for future tasting, when I can't help myself any longer!)

Thanks! Yup, good call, I too use 750 ml wine bottles and top off with them each racking, but once I've created a large amount of air space in one of those bottles I need to drink the rest otherwise it will oxidize quickly, so I usually only end up topping with other wine on the last racking depending on how much extra I was able to make. And then there's the fact that, once I taste it and it's good I may jump the gun and drink one of those bottles early, after all 6 months is a long time to wait to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
 

vtoddw

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Is this really a problem? From my POV, topping up is simply a required part of winemaking which I plan for. Blending produces good results, and I see a lot of folks on this forum will add 5% or 10% of a different wine to improve the result.

I wouldn't say it's a "problem" but rather it can be viewed as a negative aspect of bulk aging longer assuming you don't have extra to top it off with. The wines I've chosen to top off with have always had a positive impact, but if you don't want to introduce other wines because you want to know what the grapes would yield if kept pure, then it is a down side IMO.

In a perfect world, I'd like to be able to keep my varietals 100 % pure until just before bottling, then experiment with blending small amount of them in a glass and tasting it to find my most preferred proportions, then mix them and bottle the result. But in the grand scheme of things adding even a full bottle of store / winery bought wine to a 6 gallon carboy probably hasn't affected the taste in any detectable way that I've noticed, but maybe that's because I always use similar wines.
 
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I wouldn't say it's a "problem" but rather it can be viewed as a negative aspect of bulk aging longer assuming you don't have extra to top it off with.
That makes sense. Our difference in thought on this is probably due to our initial experiences. When I started making wine bentonite, Sparkaloid, and gelatin were commonly available -- I don't recall anything else. I used Sparkaloid a few times, but only for wines that wouldn't clear. The general practice was to bulk age wine at least 3 month to clear it, but most of my mentors bulk aged 6 to 12 months. Looking at my early logs, I did what everyone else did.

I made my first kit in 1996, but it wasn't until 2002 that the kit I made included kieselsol & chitosan, which have become the industry standard. The idea of bottling a wine within 30 days is more recent than that (AFAIK).

Kits also introduced the idea of knowing the volume ahead of time, since they reconstitute to a specified volume. For other kinds of wine, it's necessary to plan batch size as much as possible so there's enough to fill the secondary. Of course, this doesn't always go as planned! 🙃

This is a good conversation -- understanding why we have different opinions is useful for others to figure out what they want to do.

But in the grand scheme of things adding even a full bottle of store / winery bought wine to a 6 gallon carboy probably hasn't affected the taste in any detectable way that I've noticed, but maybe that's because I always use similar wines.
One bottle in 23 liters is 3.3%, and on the surface, I agree with you. However, there are numerous commercial wines where a tiny percentage of a varietal is blended in. The winemaker believes that makes a difference, although I can't say I would be able to taste the difference either. Does it really make a perceptible difference or is the winemaker fooling themself?

Regarding purity, I have an experiment in progress. Fall 2020 I made 2 blends which spent 12+ months in barrel. I reserved a gallon each of the varietals that went into the blends, plus reserved an unoaked gallon of each blend. I have 5 bottles each of the these 5 wines, plus the main batches. The plan is to taste test the 7 wines each fall (starting this coming fall) for 5 years to see how they compare.
 
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vtoddw

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That makes sense. Our difference in thought on this is probably due to our initial experiences. When I started making wine bentonite, Sparkaloid, and gelatin were commonly available -- I don't recall anything else. I used Sparkaloid a few times, but only for wines that wouldn't clear. The general practice was to bulk age wine at least 3 month to clear it, but most of my mentors bulk aged 6 to 12 months. Looking at my early logs, I did what everyone else did.

I made my first kit in 1996, but it wasn't until 2002 that the kit I made included kieselsol & chitosan, which have become the industry standard. The idea of bottling a wine within 30 days is more recent than that (AFAIK).

Kits also introduced the idea of knowing the volume ahead of time, since they reconstitute to a specified volume. For other kinds of wine, it's necessary to plan batch size as much as possible so there's enough to fill the secondary. Of course, this doesn't always go as planned! 🙃

This is a good conversation -- understanding why we have different opinions is useful for others to figure out what they want to do.


One bottle in 23 liters is 3.3%, and on the surface, I agree with you. However, there are numerous commercial wines where a tiny percentage of a varietal is blended in. The winemaker believes that makes a difference, although I can't say I would be able to taste the difference either. Does it really make a perceptible difference or is the winemaker fooling themself?

Regarding purity, I have an experiment in progress. Fall 2020 I made 2 blends which spent 12+ months in barrel. I reserved a gallon each of the varietals that went into the blends, plus reserved an unoaked gallon of each blend. I have 5 bottles each of the these 5 wines, plus the main batches. The plan is to taste test the 7 wines each fall (starting this coming fall) for 5 years to see how they compare.

From what I've observed, blending in other wines tends to mellow out strong characteristics of the primary varietal, which is why a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon will contain under 25% of a couple other varietals, like Merlot and Cab Franc. I find that these types of blends tend to be the wines I prefer most often. As a wine maker it's nice to be able to prove that theory with an experiment like yours. I'm interested to hear the results when you taste it.
 
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From what I've observed, blending in other wines tends to mellow out strong characteristics of the primary varietal
That is true in the case of northern Rhone, where Marsanne and/or Roussanne are blended into Syrah to mellow it. OTOH, in southern Rhone, Syrah (and others) is blended into Grenache. In that same light, many folks on this forum add Petit Verdot or Petite Sirah to a red to add color and depth. In my case the Vinifera Blend (1 lug each Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec, & Petit Verdot) added depth to the Merlot and the Merlot/Zinfandel blends.

Take a look at the red blend ideas thread -- the last page has the most current list. There are so many good ideas that I'll never have a chance to try them all.
 

vtoddw

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That is true in the case of northern Rhone, where Marsanne and/or Roussanne are blended into Syrah to mellow it. OTOH, in southern Rhone, Syrah (and others) is blended into Grenache. In that same light, many folks on this forum add Petit Verdot or Petite Sirah to a red to add color and depth. In my case the Vinifera Blend (1 lug each Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Malbec, & Petit Verdot) added depth to the Merlot and the Merlot/Zinfandel blends.

Take a look at the red blend ideas thread -- the last page has the most current list. There are so many good ideas that I'll never have a chance to try them all.

Very cool, I'll check it out, thanks!
 

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