Monday, June 23, 2014

Extended-bottle-aging versus easy-drinking wines: Winemaking contrasts

At the broadest level, red wine can be described as either: (i) easy-drinking or (ii) styled for extended bottle aging. While the definition of the second class is fully described, the first is not. Mary Gorman-McAdams MW says that easy-drinking wines are viewed as “having broad appeal, especially to novice and marginal drinkers .. are straightforward, fairly simple, inexpensive, and most likely fruity ...” (Wine Words: Easy Drinking, To that I would add that these wines are generally consumed within a short time of purchase. I will contrast the winemaking decisions made in a number of different areas during the construction of these two wine styles.
Picking Decision

The winemaker will pick at optimal ripeness but the definition will differ between these two styles. For the easy-drinking wine, where fruitiness is a key characteristic, ºBrix may be the only metric and once a target level is attained, picking may commence. Given the urge to produce these wines as inexpensively as possible, every day on the vine is an additional day of weather risk in a low-margin environment. 

For the extended-bottle-aging wine, the stuffing for the develpment of the wine in bottle has to be sourced from the vine. The decision on optimal ripeness will cover a number of objective (sugar, acid, pH, ratio between sugar and acid) and subjective (color, ease of removal of berries from pedicel, texture, aroma, flavor) criteria. Phenolic ripeness is critical in this environment as its components are key enablers of bottle aging and the associated customer appreciation.

Once the decision has been made to harvest, the question then becomes how to implement. The choices are manual (more selective and thorough, less damaging to the grapes -- Boulton et al., Principles and Practices of Winemaking) and machine (faster, more economical, less prone to error, allows work at night -- Boulton et al.) harvesting. In the case of extended-bottle-aging wines, the majority of these grapes are picked by hand to minimize damage as well as to provide a first-level of selection in the field. These grapes are placed in small containers (to minimize crushing pressures) and then transported to the winery as quickly as possible. In many cases, the grapes for the easy drinking wines are machine harvested. It is obviously much more expensive to manual-harvest with in-field selection than it is to machine-harvest but the mantra in that space is that high-quality grapes are a requirement for high-quality wines.

For premium (used interchangeably with extended-bottle-aging herein) wines, grapes are generally picked by lot, fermented in that manner and then blended either after fermentation or after aging. Easy drinking wines are generally picked en masse and any blends would be of the field or fermentation tank variety.

Harvest Reception

Manual Sorting is another level of quality selection that is employed in the construction of high-quality wines and brings with it an associated cost. Manual sorting is not generally employed in the construct of easy-drinking wines.

Fermentation Management

According to Jackson (Wine Science: Principles and Applications), maceration is one of the primary areas in which winemakers can differentiate their wines. In the case of wines for early consumption, the must is generally pressed after 5 days (Jackson) which allows good extraction from the skin (color and enough tannins to ensure its stability) while avoiding the harsh tannins resident in the seeds. The lack of harsh tannins allow these wines to be approachable earlier. Extended-bottle-aging wines are generally macerated for longer periods (up to 3 weeks +) and thus gain the benefits of the “high molecular weight tannins” which polymerize and precipitate out in the bottle. These tannins soften up over time, while aromas and flavors develop, thus providing the user with a benefit for the investment in time (and money).

The size of the fermentation vessel is also differentiated depending on the style of wine being pursued. According to Jackson, premium wines tend to be fermented in 50 - 100-hl vessels which seem to “provide an appropriate balance between economics and ease of operation and the desire to maintain wine individuality.” For the standard wines the practice is to employ fewer but larger (200 to 2000 hl) tanks (Jackson).

Jackson also mentions the use of rotary fermentors which, due to their horizontal deployment and spirally shaped paddles, keep the juice in constant contact with the pomade, thus allowing rapid extraction of anthocyanin and flavors. With the needed elements extracted, the must can be pressed before the heavier phenolics are extracted, making the resultant wine much more approachable.

Yeasts also provide another area of differentiation between the two wine styles. Early-drinking wines will always be inoculated and will use fast-fermenting yeasts with fruity characteristics. Efficiency is the driver here. Extended-bottle-aging wines will, in some cases, use natural yeasts for fermentation as they pursue additional complexity. In the cases where inoculation is practiced, the characteristics pursued would be varietal enhancement and increased flavor complexity.


Henderson ( identifies four “times to press” depending on stylistic preferences:
  • When the wine still has residual sugar -- good for young fruity style wines, light character, usually 2 - 5ºBrix
  • As soon as dryness occurs -- good for medium- to full-bodied reds
  • Several days after dryness -- additional flavor extraction
  • Extended maceration -- 1 to 6 weeks after dryness. Cap sinks and harsh tannins settle out, making for a softer wine.
In the case of the easy drinking wine, the second of the four methods is the one most likely to be employed (based both on stylistic and economic considerations --additional flavor not a requirement and the fermenter needed for additional work). The extended-bottle-aging wine would employ either method 3 or 4 in its hunt for additional complexity.

Malolactic Fermentation (MLF)

In practice, most red wines undergo MLF. The process is encouraged (Bauer and Dicks, Control of Malolactic Fermentation in Wine, S. Afr. J. Enol. Vitic. 25(2), 2004): in cooler areas where grapes have high malic acid content; in cases where the wine is aged in oak barrels; and when the wine style calls for long-term aging in bottle. The practice is sometimes forsworn in warmer, lower-acid areas and in the cases where undesirable organoleptic changes or the production of biogenic amines result.The main effects of MLF on wine are (i) a reduction in titratable acidity (by 0.1 to 0.3%) and an increase in pH (0.15 to 0.30). In addition, dramatic organoleptic changes to the wine are evidenced (Lonvaud-Funel, Microbiology of the Malolactic Fermentation: Molecular Aspects, FEMS Microbiology Letters):
  • The specific taste of malic acid disappears
  • Sugars are catabolized to produce mainly lactic and acetic acid
  • Citric acid is transformed into acetic acid and carbonyl compounds, notably the butter-flavored diacetyl
  • Wine taste and color are modified due to the metabolic activity of bacteria on phenolic compounds (tannins, anthocyannins).
Easy-drinking red wines would not materially benefit from the organoleptic changes resulting from MLF. The goal in the vase of these wines are to carry the fruity flavors to the market at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest time possible. However, if appropriate steps are not taken to inhibit the lactic acid bacteria, in-bottle-MLF could result.


Easy-drinking wines do not benefit from maturation in the cellar and, as such, are not normally subjected to the maturing practices (oak barrels, multiple rackings, etc.) afforded extended-bottle-aging wines. Some of the oak flavor characteristics that accrue as a result of barrel aging can be imparted to easy-drinking wines by introducing oak chips, planks, or extracts into the tanks during alcoholic fermentation.

Premium wines are generally aged in oak (new French, for the most part, with the % new dependent on the winemaker’s style) for extended periods (1 to two years before bottling and for some period post-bottling) resulting in (Dharmadhikari): a replacement of the bright red colors of the young wine by its polymeric form; reduction in grapey aroma and increase in pleasing aromas and flavors; and reduction of astringent and harsh tastes, increasingly replaced by smoother, rounder tastes. According to Jackson, the expense and effort of aging in oak is justified by the additional flavor and complexity gained.

Some premium wines are aged in bottle prior to market release in order to take advantage of reductive changes to tannins (softer), acid (softer), and flavor compounds (increased complexity). Easy drinking wines are not so treated.


Wine blends are constructs of two or more varietals, and/or micro/macro-climates, and or clones, and/or juice types (press or free-run) that are implemented by the winemaker to, among other reasons, overcome wine deficiencies or defects, improve balance, or enhance complexity. As regards the structural components (structure, texture, flavor), Dr. Zoecklein (Components of Red Wine Mouthfeel)argues that a balanced relationship must exist between the tastes of sweetness, on the one hand, and acid, astringency and bitterness on the other, in order to yield the perception of a quality wine to the taster.  The preferred relationship is captured in his Palate Balance Equation:

         Sweet ⇄ Acid + Phenolics (Astringency and Bitterness),


          Sweet = Carbohydrates + Polysaccharides + Ethanol,
          Acid = Population of organic acids, and
          Phenolics = Skin, seed, and stem phenols + barrel phenols + enological tannins + volatile    phenols.

According to, complexity in wine is demonstrated by "multiple layers and nuances of bouquet and flavors that are formed mostly in mature wines because aging contributes to this attribute." Further, "complexity creates interest and often unfolds layer upon layer on the nose and in the mouth if the wine is at its peak. Compared to complex wines, other wines seem shallow or one-dimensional."

Easy-drinking wines are in pursuit of neither complexity or balance and so do not actively pursue these elements where blending is practiced. Blending in easy drinking wines would tend to be more blends of convenience rather than pursuit of higher quality ideals. Field blends and co-fermentations would be the order of the day, for the most part. In the case of blending extended bottle-aging wines, the lots are generally fermented and aged separately and then blended prior to bottling in a fairly extended process which may utilize multiple individuals on a blending team.


If the wine is made to be drunk within a year, metatartic acid can be used as an inexpensive means of establishing short-term tartrate stability (Jackson). Metatartaric acid works by restricting potassium bitartrate crystalization and interfering with the growth of calcium tartrate crystals (Jackson). This treatment is only effective for about 1 year, however, as metatartaric slowly hydrolyzes back to tartaric acid.

Given enough time, racking and fining can produce stable, crystal clear wines (Jackson). The early bottling associated with easy-drinking wines does not provide enough time for these two practices to fully clarify the wine so other procedures (such as centrifugation and filtration) have to be employed in order to realize the necessary clarity.

Filtration is avoided by many premium winemakers because of a fear of flavor-stripping.

Screw Caps are very effective as a closure choice but their usage to date has been primarily in the easy-drinking market due to "stigma" issues as well as some concern that the reductive environment they support does not promote favorable conditions for extended-bottle-aging. Synthetic stoppers have issues with oxygen ingress but are acceptable for wines that will be drunk early.

Bag-in-box containers protect wines from oxidation for 9 months or longer and are a viable container for easy-drinking wines. These containers have some stigma issues to overcome, however, and have not been used as premium wine containers.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. Excellent Post!

    I had to read the first and second sentence over a few times because I was a little confused. I think there by be a typo there in the second sentence. The word "second" appears twice which led to my confusion. Other than that, I enjoyed very much.

    1. Thanks for the catch. the second second should be first. Got it? lol

  2. That's what I thought but wasn't certain.

  3. Wow! Now I see a typo in my first comment.
    I meant "there may be a typo". Oops.