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  Corkscrew Issue 56, October 2007   
Making Wine: BottlingMaking Wine: Bottling  Contents 
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Making Wine: Bottling

After the aging, wine is now ready for the last part of its journey which, from cask, passing through a bottle, will take it to be poured in glasses

 Bottling can be defined as the last phase of the wine making process, indeed it represents the beginning of a new one, during which the evolution and development of wine continues and will end at the moment of consumption, that is when the bottle will be uncorked and finally poured on glasses. In its apparent simplicity, bottling of wine represents an extremely critical and delicate phase because, after having sealed the bottle with a cork, in theory it will not be possible to work on the quality and stability of wine. In fact, during the aging of wine in a cask - or in any other container - in case there would be any problem or fault, it will be possible to work on that by adopting proper measures and corrections, something which is not evidently possible when the wine has been bottled and, in case of industrial making, it left the winery to the routes of commercialization.


Wine bottles. From left to right:
Bordelais, Burgundy, Flute, Champagne, Albeisa
Wine bottles. From left to right: Bordelais, Burgundy, Flute, Champagne, Albeisa

 If it is true nothing can be done on the wine after the bottle has been sealed, it is also true we can arrange things in order to make sure the wine will be bottled in its best possible conditions. For this reason it is absolutely important to test the stability and health of wine before proceeding with bottling. Likewise, it will be indispensable to ensure the best conditions both for bottles and corks. It is superfluous to remind a non perfectly clean bottle can represent a menace for the keeping and the evolution of wine, as the presence of any bacteria can easily spoil the wine. Also the storage and keeping of bottles requires proper precautions and conditions, also reminding in case natural corks are being used - because of a bad keeping, as well as of a bad quality of the cork itself - they could lose their elasticity or they could give the wine bad smells or faults.

 

Preparing the Wine

 Before proceeding with the bottling of wine, it is very important to make sure about its stability and health, in order to adopt all the necessary remedies before it is too late. In industrial production, before proceeding with the bottling of wine, are done many chemical tests in order to check total and volatile acidity, total and free sulphur dioxide, quantity of iron, copper, proteins, bacteria and yeast cells. All of these factors are in fact important for the keeping and biological stability of wine, however in home wine making, the evaluation of these parameters is not possible or however not easy. In home wine making, the most simple procedure which can be done on wine before bottling, is to add a proper quantity of sulphur dioxide, in order to limit the unavoidable effects of oxygen while ensuring a better keeping.

 In order to reduce the quantity of iron, copper, proteins and any yeast cell, it is generally done a filtering of wine, however this operation is not usually possible or however easy to do in home wine making. Despite in specialized shops are available special machines for the filtering of wine, their use in home wine making is not so practical and convenient. The most simple operation which can be done in home wine making - also done industrially - it to do proper rackings during the aging of wine and before bottling. This operation is in fact essential for the removal of sediments which are naturally formed during the aging, while ensuring a better stability of the wine which will also make it perfectly limpid. We will proceed with a racking also before bottling in order to remove any possible sediment, therefore we will proceed with a proper adding of sulphur dioxide, in the measure of 5-10 grams of potassium metabisulfite for every one hundred liters of wine.

 

Choosing Bottles and Corks

 Although this could be seen as excessive, the choice of bottles and corks is a factor representing a fundamental step in bottling. In particular the cork, as its quality and health ensure a better keeping over the time and, in particular, a lesser risk against the spoilage of wine. One of the most frequent risks is represented by the famous “corky smell”, caused by a chemical compound known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, 246-TCA in short. According to the type of wine to be produced, we will proceed with a proper choice of corks. For red wines destined to a long time of aging in bottle, choosing a high quality natural cork is indispensable. We will choose a high quality natural cork - made of just one whole piece of cork - with a minimum length of 45 millimeters. For white wines, or however wines whose consumption is done within some months after harvesting, a good choice is represented by the so called synthetic corks, which, among the other things, never cause corky smell fault.


 

 Another solution is represented by agglomerated corks - which can also be used for red wines of average aging - which also have the advantage of being cheaper, however having a lower quality than one-piece corks. In any case, no matter the type of cork chosen, it is advised to use corks having a minimum length of 45 millimeters. Also the choice of the bottle must be done carefully. Besides the considerations about traditions, that is in all those cases in which a territory identifies its wines also by the shape of the bottle, it should be noticed every bottle has its own characteristics. As for red wines destined to a long aging, and which could produce a remarkable quantity of sediments, it is indispensable to use a bottle with a pretty steep shoulder, such as the Bordelais bottle. The shoulder of this bottle offers in fact a useful barrier at the moment of pouring, by keeping any possible sediment. Bordelais bottles can also be used for white wines, however it is best to use Burgundy or flute bottles. The color of the glass is very important, as it offers an essential protection against the effects of light. For this reason it is best to choose bottles with dark green or brown colored glass.

 

Before Bottling

 Hygiene is a fundamental requirement in any phase of wine making. Although Louis Pasteur defined wine as «the most healthy and hygienic of beverages», this does not mean the hygiene in wine making is naturally present: it is a specific condition provided by the producer. Particular care must be paid on the hygiene of bottles, as they could easily spoil the wine. Before proceeding with the bottling, we will begin by cleaning bottles. In home wine making can certainly be used recycled old wine bottles, provided they are scrupulously cleaned. Recycling wine bottles, besides representing a good operation of material recycling, also allows a remarkable saving of money because it avoids the purchase of new ones. The same cannot evidently be said for corks, because as soon as they are used, they cannot be reused also because - and in particular - of the hole produced by the corkscrew during the uncorking of the bottle.

 The cleaning of bottles can be done by using specific products available at specialized wine making shops, or by using a solution made of water and potassium metabisulfite, therefore allowing the bottle to completely drain. The same solution will be used for cleaning pipes, siphons, carafes and any other tool used for the bottling of wine. For cleaning the bottles - an operation which should be done also on new bottles - it is enough to dissolve 3-4 tea spoons of potassium metabisulfite for every liter of water. With this solution will be carefully rinsed all the bottles and all the tools used for bottling. Also the corker must be clean, at least the parts which will be in contact with the neck of bottles. Before beginning bottling operations and bottle filling, it will also be useful a final organoleptic test on wine, in order to make sure about its quality after the racking.

 

Bottling

 Racked wine and clean bottles: now everything is ready and we can proceed with the operation of bottling. Before proceeding, we also have to make sure we have everything at hand, in particular the corker and corks. The operation of bottling can be done by using a siphon with which we will transfer the wine from the keeping container to bottles, or - for small quantities - by using a carafe. In specialized wine making shops are also available many types of siphons to be used for bottling: from simple pipes to siphons with manual taps to interrupt the flowing of wine, as well as with automatic devices which can regulate the level of wine in every bottle. All of these solutions are very cheap, therefore it is better to purchase a siphon with an automatic leveling device, in order to ensure the same quantity of wine - as well as the same quantity of air - in every bottle.

 The quantity of air left between the wine and cork represents a very important factor in bottling. As it is commonly known, oxygen - when present in remarkable quantities - is considered as an enemy of wine, as it causes unhealthy oxidations with the consequent spoilage both of stability and and organoleptic qualities of wine. In leaving the proper space of air, it should also be considered the length of the cork in order not to excessively fill bottles. However, it is always suggested the distance between the wine and the cork not to be longer than one centimeter. It should also be remembered in wines allowed to age in bottle for a long time - usually many years - the level could also diminish, therefore in filling the bottles we should also consider this aspect. After having filled the bottles to the proper level, we will proceed with corking and, if wished, to put a capsule to the bottle. Capsules are available at specialized wine making shops and ensure a higher hygiene both of the bottle's neck and cork.

 

Keeping

 After having bottled the wine and corked the bottles, it is now the time of storing and keeping bottles. Before transferring the bottles to the keeping room, it is a good practice to put labels in order to keep track of our wine and have a better information about the content. Of course, labels can be created according to the taste and fantasy of the producer, however it is suggested to at least write some essential information, including the name of the wine, type, vintage and, if possible, the grapes used to make it as well as their relative percentages. Other useful information are the date of bottling and the number of bottles obtained in that occasion. In order to ensure a better keeping of the wine, it is essential the room in which are being stored the bottle provides the right conditions for this purpose. In home wine making it is not always possible to have a room to be used as a cellar, therefore we will arrange things in the best possible room while accepting some compromises, while however trying to provide the best possible conditions.

 We will choose a pretty dark room - even better, completely dark - sufficiently aerated in order to prevent the development of unwanted molds, with a temperature of about 15° C (59° F), possibly constant all year long, and with a humidity of 60-70%. It is important the temperature to be as much constant as possible and never going down 15° C, as lower temperatures favor the precipitation of tartrates and sedimentation. Bottles destined to an immediate consumption - that is within few months after bottling - can also be kept in vertical position, whereas for wines destined to long period of aging, it is indispensable the bottle is kept in horizontal position. The contact with the wine in fact ensures a better elasticity to the cork while avoiding dangerous shrinkage which could favor the entering of oxygen inside the bottle. Before consuming the wine, it is better to wait at least one month, even better, two months. This time will in fact allow the wine to refine and to stabilize even more, while favoring a better integration of the sulphur dioxide used for the racking.

 




 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 56, October 2007   
Making Wine: BottlingMaking Wine: Bottling  Contents 
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