“When do I get my wings? – The Angel’s Share” by MDC

The Angel’s Share

whisky_islayThe long and often complicated process of fermenting grape juice into wine, also must be a thoughtful one. Wine makers start the chain of events, by mashing the grapes and blending them together with the juice, which begins extracting color and tannins from the grape skins. The next phase happens slow, where the wine ferments and the sugars are converted into alcohol before the wine is stored and then aged in large wooden barrels. Producers store their products in oak barrels in order to reduce the final percentage of alcohol in the finish product and to intensify the subtle flavors of the wine.

Over time, while the wine is aging in the barrels, some of the alcohol seeps through the grains of the oak staves and evaporates. This divine process is known as the “Angel’s Share”, due to an old belief that guardian angels watch over the product as it ages and the evaporated alcohol is looked at as part of their payment. Some producers store barrels of wine for years stacked in large warehouses for years, where the “Angel’s Share” grows as time goes by. As a result, the concentration of the wines stored in these barrels inside can be quite fragrant and sometimes described as “angelic”.

Since a lot depends on the exact materials and methods used in the making of the oak barrels, wine producers estimate that the “Angel’s Share” of alcohol lost annually is around 2% per barrel. What this means is that a wine stored in an oak barrel for 7 years could be expected to lose 14% of its total alcohol content over time. As a result and because of the “Angel’s Share”, a formerly undrinkable very high alcohol wine could mellow and become more palatable with some age. An important thing to remember is that wines being aged in oak barrels may not always require long storage times. However, the “Angel’s Share” can reduce the amount of alcohol enough to allow the wine’s more subtle flavors and textures to emerge. Quite interesting stuff, but it’s definitely confusing and probably best left for the experts and the Angels to understand!

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