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Dear Dr. Vinny,
At what point in the winemaking process does “aging” technically begin?
—Catherine, Kennewck, Wash.
Even though aging typically refers to something getting older, in winemaking there are a few places where the term is used to refer simply to the passage of time (in which things technically get older).
For example, let’s say while a winemaker is making a Chardonnay they want to give it extra exposure to the lees, or the grape solids and fermentation byproducts—the French term for “on the lees” known as sur lie. I’ve heard this described as “aging sur lie.” Sometimes wines are held in barrels for a while before bottling and I’ve also heard this described as “aged in oak barrels” or the like. Sometimes after wines are bottled, they are “aged” in warehouses before release, a practice that can really put a crimp into the cash flow of a winery.
Most of the time when folks talk about aging a wine, however, it’s after the winemaking process is done, after the wine is bottled and sold, and into a consumer's cellar. That’s when “aging” refers to the transformation that might take place as a wine matures—all you have to do is pick the wines with the stuffing to age, give them a proper cellar and wait for the right time to open them.
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