Chapter 3: Producing Oregon Wines

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What types of wine are aged in oak barrels?

The most common types of wine aged in oak barrels are red wines.

After fermentation, and prior to bottling, some wines are matured (or ‘aged’) in oak barrels. The aging process may take upwards of 12 months, and allows tannins in the oak barrels to add flavor and character to the wines.

An additional process – refining (or ‘fining’) – takes places while wines age in their barrels. During fining, sediments are separated out and removed from the wine. Also, wine may be siphoned from one barrel to another, a process known as ‘racking’. During racking, wine is separated from additional sediment at the bottom of the barrel.

Red wines contain higher tannins than do white wines. Thus, the introduction of additional tannins from oak casks is thought to only improve the character and flavor of a red wine. On the other hand, white wines, low in tannins and softer in character, could be overpowered by the oak tannins. For this reason, few white wines (such as Chardonnay) are matured in barrels.

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What are the names and relative sizes used for different wine bottles?

The use of wine bottles as we know them today, is a practice that has only been around for about 300 years. Prior to that, various jugs, bladders, barrels, and vats were used to store wines.

At present, there are primarily thirteen different shapes and sizes of bottles used for wines:

  1. 375mL – A “Half Bottle”, “Split”, or “Tenth”, equivalent to about 1.5 glasses of wine.
  2. 750mL – A “Normal” or “Standard” bottle size.
  3. 1.5L – A “Magnum”, twice the site of a standard.
  4. 2.25L – A “Marie-Jeane”, equal to three regular bottles.
  5. 3.0L – A “Double Magnum”, equal to four regular bottles.
  6. 3.0L – A “Jeroboam”, equal to four regular bottles, and used for sparkling wine.
  7. 4.5L – A Jeroboam, equal to six regular bottles, and used for storing red wine. In Bordeaux, red wine Jeroboams can hold 5.0L.
  8. 4.5L – A “Rehoboam”, equal to six regular bottles, and used for storing red wine.
  9. 6.0L – A “Methuselah”, Burgundy-shaped, equal to eight regular bottles.
  10. 6.0L – An “Imperial”, Bordeaux-shaped, equal to eight regular bottles.
  11. 9.0L – A “Salmanazar”, equal to 12 regular bottles (or one case).
  12. 12.0L – A “Balthazar”, equal to 16 bottles, usually used for sparkling wines.
  13. 15.0L – A “Nebuchadnezzar”, equal to 20 regular bottles (or 100 glasses of wine), usually used for sparkling wines.

Pictured at right is a 6-liter, Burgundy-shaped Methuselah bottle. Note the standard 750mL bottle behind it.

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When are the larger wine bottles used, and why are they named after Biblical Kings?

The larger bottle sizes (Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Salmanazar, Balthazar, and Nebuchadnezzar) have traditionally been used for special occasions, where a large crowd is sure to drink up the wine held by these massive glass containers.

The sizes of the bottles are, if nothing else, impressive. They are difficult to carry, difficult to open, and even more difficult to pour.

Their sheer size, weight, and presence, when compared to “standard” 750mL wine bottles, are all reasons why they named after powerful Biblical kings.

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Can wine bottles be reused?

Depending on who is recycling the wine bottle, and what its new use will be, the answer is most definitely yes!

Oregon wineries participate in recycling programs, and can have used bottles shipped straight from the winery to be recycled.

Home winemakers will take used, empty wine bottles, rinse and sterilize them, and then use them for bottling their own homemade wines.

End consumers can use wine bottles for many other things as well: vases, candles, decorations, and lamps.

Finally, everyone can help an old bottle find new use, by recycling it. Many Oregon cities have progressive recycling programs, and will gladly accept used, clear and colored bottles.

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Why do some bottles have dimples in the bottom?

A dimple in the bottom of a wine bottle is known as a ‘punt’. There have been numerous reasons offered explaning how the use of punts came about:

1. The angle of a punt allows sediment in a wine bottle to settle down into a tight space around the base, preventing the sediment from being disturbed and released back into the wine as it is poured into a glass.

2. A punt makes it easier to hold a wine bottle – as well as pour from it – with one hand: One holds the wine bottle from the base, placing the thumb into the middle of the punt, and firmly gripping the back side of the bottle with the remaining four fingers.

3. Punts create a stable surface on which to stand a wine bottle. Historically, when flat-bottomed bottles were hand-blown or produced with early casts, they would sometimes result in deformities or bumps on the bottom – which would prevent the bottle from standing up straight, and make it prone to tip over. With the use of a punt, wine bottles could have a stable, circular base on which to stand – and any deformities found in the center of the base would be ‘pushed’ up into the punt, where they would be hidden from view, as well as prevented from upsetting the bottle.

4. Punts add strength to the base of larger bottles, especially champagne-style bottles which hold wine under pressure. A solid, thicker base, with greater surface area with which to handle the force from the wine, ensures the bottle will not burst from the pressure.

5. Punts add style and flair to a bottle’s design. The punt adds a sleek rounded shape to the overall composition of the bottle.

Punts do appear to serve many purposes. Perhaps most importantly, they stand out in your mind, and make you curious to learn more about them, which is why you chose to read this article!

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What is Botrytis cinerea? How does it benefit a wine?

Botrytis cinerea is a type of mold that occurs on the outer skins of grapes late near harvest time, if climate and humidity conditions are just right.

Botrytis cinerea is also referred to as “noble rot”, and causes grapes to lose water, increasing the concentration of their natural sugars. While most molds and pests could damage a wine crop, Botrytis has the opposite effect. It is desired and hoped for by winemakers who would like to produce sweet, dessert-style wines.

It is through the presence of Botrytis that that many sweet, late harvest wines are produced.

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What are tannins? Where do they come from?

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds (also called polyphenols) found in many plants, including grapes, woods, and teas. With regards to grapes, tannins are produced in the skins.

Red wines contain much higher amounts of tannins than white wines. This is due to three primary reasons:

1. Red wine grapes contain higher levels of tannins in their skins than do white wine grapes.

2. During the red wine fermentation process, skins are left on the grape to ferment with the rest of the grape, causing more tannins to be released from the grape skins into the red wine.

3. Following fermentation, red wines are matured in oak barrels. During this process, additional tannins from the oak are released into the wine.

Tannins are believed to contain potent antioxidants, capable of lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels, along with many other health-related benefits.

Some people have a serious sensitivity – even an allergy – to tannins. For some, consuming tannins can lead to a migraine headache.

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What kind of acids are found in wines, and how do they get there?

Acids occur naturally in grapes. Additional acids are produced when wine grapes are fermented. Acids may also be added during fermentation, to help balance the character and flavors of a wine.

There are three primary acids associated with wines:

1. Citric acid
2. Malic acid
3. Tartaric acid

Acids are vital to wines, as they can directly affect the flavor, balance, tartness, and ‘liveliness’ of a wine.

Overall acidity varies with the type of grapes. Sweet wines typically contain more acid than dry wines.

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