BOTTLING: THE FINAL TOUCH
When you want a bottle of wine you go to the store, check out the labels, pick out the vintage you want and make a purchase. However, as a new winemaker you now have to get that batch of wine from your vat or barrel into labeled bottles.
There are several considerations that have to be addressed prior to the actual bottling process. Wine can spoil due to the fact that most batches of wine have natural bacteria and undesirable yeasts. Sulfite or SO2 can stop this deterioration of the wine quality. The trick is to be able to estimate the proper amount of sulfite necessary to preserve the wine without affecting the taste or aroma of the wine. The ideal amount is roughly 0.5 ppm molecular SO2 for reds and 0.8 ppm molecular SO2 for whites.
You have to test your wine prior to bottling for its PH level. The higher the PH level the more SO2 that has to be added. The trick is to use the least amount of SO2 necessary to create a great wine. There are several sources available that can point you in the right direction as far as the proper SO2 amounts. The problem is that a truly sensitive palate can detect too much SO2. Additionally, it destroys the bouquet of the wine and it will eliminate the ability of the taster to enjoy the wines delicate flavors. I would recommend you purchase a pH meter for this step in the bottling process.
Once you have determined the proper SO2 levels its time to actually do the bottling. Each bottle should be rinsed, cleaned, sanitized and totally dry. While you are doing this you should soak the new corks you are going to use in water for at least one hour and I recommend two. After that you will need to rinse them in a warm water bath.
After the bottles and corks are prepared you are ready to transfer the wine into the bottles. The process of transferring you wine from your secondary fermentor to prepared bottles is referred to as siphoning. If done properly it will reduce the risk of transferring unwanted sediment, organisms and air to your bottled wine. Fill the wine bottles to about one centimeter below the bottle of he cork when they are in an upright position.
After filling be sure to leave the bottles in an upright condition for at least three days to allow any surplus air to escape thru the cork sides. After this you should store the filled wine bottles on their sides and that will seal the bottle from any air infiltration.
Store the bottles in a cool location that is moisture free and away from any direct sunlight. Once you stack your bottles it is advisable to leave them stationary and not move them unless absolutely necessary. Aging of the wine will improve its bouquet and most experts agree that white wine needs at least six months while red wine should be allowed a year or more. Refer to the wines specific recipe to obtain the ideal aging time frame.