Aging is a critical part of the wines journey from vineyard to bottle. Every wine will be treated a little differently depending on the winemakers end goal. Typically, aromatic whites such as sauvignon blanc, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer are released very young with minimal aging to allow for the consumer to enjoy the aromatic nature of the wine early. Most red wines see extended time in barrel to add depth, complexity, and nuance to the wine.
One of the most popular ways in which wine is aged is in stainless steel. Stainless steel tanks can come in many shapes and sizes depending on the wineries needs. Lakeview Wine Co. has tanks ranging from 1000L up to 84,000L, and everything in between. Stainless steel tanks are inert, meaning they impart 0 flavour into the wines. This allows for the natural characteristics of the grapes to be able to shine through. Some stainless steel tanks may also come with cooling jackets, allowing for control over the temperature of the individual tank, without having to change the temperature over the entire cellar.
Stainless steel tanks are typically used for the aging of white and rosé wine, with some reds being done solely in stainless steel as well. Icewine traditionally is also aged in stainless steel, with very few spending a short time in barrel.
Oak is the other major player when it comes to aging wine. Traditionally oak barrels are reserved for red wines exclusively, with some whites spending time in oak as well, especially chardonnay. Oak, being a porous material, allows for micro-oxygenation to occur to the wine in barrel. This can help soften some harsher tannins naturally in the wine, and also help balance acidity and flavours.
Oak barrels add spice, caramel, vanilla, nut, and a myriad of other flavours into the wine. While aging wine in oak seems simple, there is many details, conditions, and factors that go into aging wine in oak. The age of the oak has a large part in the amount of flavour that is incorporated into the wine, with newer oak imparting more flavour, and older oak imparting less. Typically it is a balancing act in the cellar, with a portion of the wine going into new oak and majority going into older oak, especially in Niagara.
Not all oak barrels are created equally either. Much like terroir with grapes, the region and areas that the trees are grown will influence the flavours that will be imparted into the final product. Oak barrels are toasted on the inside as well, and varying levels of tasting will impart different flavours. The time the wine spends in the barrel will change the final outcome, as well as what was aged in the barrel before the wine. Typically a winery will age Cabernet Sauvignon for example in the same barrels every single vintage, but using bourbon, port, or even brandy barrels have become increasingly popular and add a special character to the wine that cannot happen otherwise
While stainless steel and oak are the most common, wine can also be aged in concrete, glass bottles, or a myriad of other vessels, depending on the winemakers end goal.
As you can hopefully see, aging wine is a very important part of a wines life. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to aging wine, and if you can think of it, someone is probably doing it somewhere in the world. The important thing to hopefully take away from this is aging of wine has a massive influence on the wines final outcome, and it is another aspect of the wines life to hopefully understand what you personally prefer, to help with the purchasing of future wine