The following description of the care needed to properly age red wine in wood casks is excerpted From "The Wine Press and the Cellar: a Manual for the Wine-Maker and the Cellar-Man", by E.H. Rixford, 1883.
The time necessary for wines to remain in wood in order to acquire the highest degree of perfection which they can acquire in casks, depends upon the quality of the wine; wines of strength and. body require more time than feeble ones.
Our author says that, on the average, the poorest wines of the Medoc become bright about the end of two years, and if they are kept longer, they lose their mellowness. But on the other hand, the firm and full-bodied wines of the same localities require to remain in wood a year longer to arrive at perfect maturity. Certain wines strongly charged with tannin, coming from certain localities, and those made from the verdot grape, are long in developing, but they keep so much the longer.
When they have attained their entire development and the separation of the lees is complete, they must be bottled, for they will lose their qualities if left in casks. In bottles they arrive at perfection; they acquire bouquet while they preserve their mellowness, but in casks, they finally lose their fruity flavor and velvety smoothness, and become dry.
And he gives the following summary for the care of Old Red Wines:
1. They should be kept in places perfectly closed, and before turning the bung to one side, we should be satisfied that they are perfectly bright, quiet, and well behaved.
2. They should be drawn from the lees twice a year; the casks should be kept full; and they should be kept from secondary fermentations by watching and opportune racking.
3. Keep down the loss by evaporation by all means possible, and keep them in close cellars, in strong, well hooped casks, and avoid spillage..
4. Bottle them before they lose their fruity flavor, and as soon as they cease to deposit.
Thus will they acquire all the qualities of which by their nature they are susceptible.
But if they are kept in places to which the air has free access, the evaporation will be great; and if the casks are left with spillage caused by too frequent sampling, or too infrequent racking, they will work, become dry, lose their mellowness, arid become slightly affected by acetic acid, produced by contact with the air.
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