As we have seen, the processes after the vinification, meaning the phases of maturation/ageing and refinement, are absolutely necessary for the success of a wine which, once produced, needs to stabilize itself by ageing inside a container where it has the opportunity to evolve its organoleptic characteristics.
Maturation will lead to its transformation, modifying in particular its clearness, colour, aromas and flavours, exactly as imagined by the winemaker who must have the experience and preparation to know every single detail of this complicated operation.
We have also seen that the materials usually used to age wine are many, and depending on the type, size, age of the container, duration of contact with the wine, as well as the type of grape variety used, different transformations will occur.
After having seen what happens when a wine ages in wood, which we have found to be the material that interacts with wine more than any other, today we will try to give some information on other materials among those most commonly used.
The second material that deserves a lot of attention in the world of wine containers is steel, a completely neutral material: it neither enriches nor impoverishes the wine. It has the characteristic of interacting less in the evolutionary process and is widely used by all oenologists who want to leave unchanged the notes coming from the varietal.
It is the best container for those wines produced specifically to be drunk in a short time, generally within a year from harvesting, which means young, fresh, ready to drink wines, from which the primary scents (those typical of the grape varietal) prevail, like floral and fruity ones. In fact, in this type of vat, the secondary notes, those coming from the fermentation process, will not show.
They are containers with a double wall lining, inside which a fluid passes that can be heated or cooled at will so that the wine can maintain a controlled temperature, preserving its visual, olfactory and taste characteristics.
Temperature control makes them particularly efficient in the delicate process of fermentation of white wines, resulting in “fresh” and ready to drink wines.
The wine stored inside is hence well preserved, thanks also to the hermetic seal that prevents any contact with the air that would cause oxidation.
Similar in form, but technologically very different from the regular stainless steel vats, are the autoclaves, also made of stainless steel, which are used for the sparkling of wines, as they have the strength to contain liquids at very high pressures.
Other food tanks worthy of note are (reinforced) concrete tanks, easily identifiable by their regular geometric shapes with rectangular, square or round bases, which have very similar characteristics to steel, but with the fundamental difference of porosity. In addition to being an excellent thermal insulator, cement guarantees transpiration with the external environment, certainly not as high as wood, but certainly higher than watertight materials such as steel and resins.
Widely used in the past, then set aside perhaps too quickly, cement tanks are making a comeback despite new hygiene regulations requiring some important changes. In fact, they need to be lined with a special fiberglass inside, which makes them essentially identical to the old tanks but also able to guarantee a better thermal seal. Some believe that the compulsory vitrification insulates the wine too much from the outside environment and therefore advise against its use.
Resin wine tanks made of reinforced polyester and fiberglass are particularly light, strong and stable containers. The material they are made of makes them very heat-resistant, thermally expandable and electrically insulated.
The interaction with the wine is certainly not as synthetic as with wooden barrels and can be considered as a middle ground between steel vats and concrete tanks, but if we consider the incredible ease of installation and non-existent maintenance, these wine vats are appealing to many producers, although naturally only for certain wines.
Terracotta amphorae also deserve their place among the greats of ageing, if only because they were the first containers used in history to transport wine.
Amphorae are not subject to the resin coatings required by law for concrete tanks, which some consider unnatural, and allow the wine to interact with the outside world thanks to their particular permeability to air, just like a small barrel but without excessively modifying its contents, transferring aromas or anything else to the wine.
It is also a good insulator, as it is able to mitigate temperature changes.
Last, but certainly not least, is the glass, certainly the best container of all, although certainly the most delicate, it represents the final goal to which every wine aspires after a long journey marked by continuous controls, checks, interventions and sometimes even changes of strategy.
It is in the bottle that the wine reaches its best form, shaking off the sediment accumulated over long periods of maturation, a container that is certainly much less protective of the wine than the previous ones, but its benefits are extraordinary.
It needs to be laid horizontally, or at most at an angle, to prevent the cork from drying out too much and losing the elasticity necessary to prevent excessive exchanges with the outside. It needs to be protected from light, vibrations and sudden changes in temperature, so it needs a constant external climate, and therefore an environment where all this can be guaranteed.
Having said that, our aim was to share a little more about the often unknown path that the wine takes from harvest to bottle. We wanted to underline that even an apparently peaceful phase such as the ageing of wine, which begins after vinification and can last for many years, is actually the result of great preparation, technological updates and a great deal of experience in the field.