By Ross Rankin, Winemaker Imagine Wine, Santa Ynez, CA
Not everyone likes to talk about aging, but I’m a big fan of it. Aging wine, that is.
There are many different kinds of wine making styles but two are distinctively different: the first is wine that is made in stainless steel vats. The grapes are often picked slightly before they are ripe to ensure that the alcohol content is below 14%. Grapes picked at lower Brix (sugar level) required to keep the alcohol level down tend to be more tart and contain higher acids. Below 14% the wines escape the higher tax threshold which can be very expensive for large scale producers. Wines produced in stainless steel most often are bottled and sold within one or two years of their production. Wines produced this way require less processing and are less expensive to produce and are therefore often a price value to the customer. The vast majority of wines are made this way.
The second type of wine making often involves picking the grapes when they are considered ripe by the winemaker and often result in higher sugar content. Depending on the wine and the winemaker’s preference wines from the warmer areas of Santa Barbara County may produce wines over 14% alcohol. Wines like these can be stored in stainless steel or aged in Oak Barrels. Wine aged in “active” oak barrels (1-4 years old) allow the wine to gain body, structure, and layers of flavors. It can be an expensive proposition to age wine as oak barrels are pricey. Oak barrels also allow the wine to evaporated concentrating the flavors, aromas, and body of the wine. The wine is also often kept in expensive cold storage during aging, again, adding expense to the process. Many wines processed in oak barrels are purposely made to improve with age both in the barrel and ultimately in the bottle.
So, what is the difference in the finished product? Stylistically, the wines are just different. There are many delicious wines that are born from stainless barrels and bottled and sold within the one to two years. Wines produced in oak will have greater structure and layers of flavors and aromas not possible if they were produced in stainless steel. They also will be more likely to improve with age and preserve well due to the added influence of tannins picked up from the oak. Ultimately the wine consumer makes the decision which wines they prefer. It comes down to an individual’s palate, tastes, and preference.
At Imagine Wine, we produce wines that are Aged by Design©. Aging wine for many years allows our wines to evolve and change during the process in no small part due to the influences of the oak and the original winemaking techniques. In 2013 we are bottling our 2007 vintage limited edition Paradise Mountain Syrah which has been aged six years in three different kinds of oak. It is an extraordinary wine not to be missed (projected release Fall of 2013) by those that find it difficult to find wines that are aged and that have developed unique characteristics and complexity. In the tasting room, we’re currently serving and selling various varietals of our 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintage wines.