Vinitaly is one of the Italian wine industry’s premier events. It’s a chance for the movers and shakers to get together and influence the course of the industry. Plus, Vinitaly gives sommeliers and other experts the chance to see the latest trends and sample the newest vintages.
It’s a wonderful annual event that always proves fruitful for the industry. But Vinitaly 2019 looks like it may be the most interesting version of the event in quite some time.
That’s because this year, the event’s sommeliers will try something different. They’re going to run a comparative taste test between traditionally aged wines and water-aged (or sea-aged) wines.
Straight away, there are likely a few of you who are wondering just what that means. How can you age wine in water? Surely, you age wine in barrels and in the bottle?
Water would just dilute the product and make it worse, right?
Not quite. To understand why water-aged wines have become all the rage, you first need to know what the term means. This article explores it in more detail and looks at some of the reasons why Vinitaly 2019’s sommeliers are taken this new ageing method seriously.
What is Water Ageing?
First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the water.
Ageing wine in water doesn’t not mean that you pour the wine into water. This would completely dilute the wine and lessen its alcohol content. Furthermore, it would completely change the taste and complexion of a wine that a producer has worked very hard to produce.
Instead, producers use the sea water to age the wine without the water every coming into contact with the wine. In fact, the wine stays in the bottle as it always has. It’s just that the sea water adds a different element to the process.
There are a couple of ways this can work. Typically, the producer will have a special tank created that they mostly fill with sea water. It’s important that it’s sea water as the salt in the water plays an important role.
The bottles are then placed in the tank and left there for between one month and 12 months. As with normal ageing, the exact period varies depending on the type of wine.
After this period, the bottle is removed and sold on store shelves, just like any other bottle of wine.
More extreme producers eschew the tank in favour of the real thing. They store their wines in the sea and retrieve them through diving. It’s a much more complicated way of doing things, but it achieves a great result.
At least, that’s according to the producers.
But Why Go to the Trouble?
The key to water ageing is that it used conduction to age the wine.
In a traditional cellar, a bottle gets surrounded by air. This creates a convection effect that leads to the slow ageing of the wine.
The process is completely different underwater. Water ageing makes use of a conduction effect, which comes as a result of the increased pressure placed on the bottle and the elements at play around the bottle.
Simply put, those using water ageing change the environmental conditions that the bottle experiences during the ageing process.
The reason is that this method apparently speeds up the ageing process. A bottle that might take two years to reach maturity in the traditional way may only take a couple of months when aged using water.
This presents some interesting possibilities for producers. Specifically, it means that they could bring their products to market faster than ever before. Consumers won’t have to wait several years for the 2019 vintage of their favourite wine to reach shelves. They could have it in early-2020 instead.
That’s the theory, at least. There are plenty who believe that this is all a bit of nonsense and that water ageing has no effect. There are others who believe that changing the wine’s environment has a detrimental effect on the quality of the wine.
And that brings us back to the sommeliers at Vinitaly 2019.
The Taste Test
During Vinitaly 2019, the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA) will conduct a taste testing experiment to see once and for all if the claims surrounding water-aged wines are true.
This means that the experts who are paid to determine the quality of wine will have their say. And you can bet that this event will influence the way that others think about the issue. If the ISA gives these types of wine their seal of approval, other producers may start to see water ageing as a viable production method. It’s possible that the technique could see an increase in popularity as a result of the tasting.
But that all assumes that water-aged wines age in the way that their producers say they do. After all, faster ageing is one thing. But if that comes at the expense of quality, the Italian wine industry will not adopt the technique widely.
The Advent of New Ideas
What water ageing does show us is that there are still plenty of new ideas in the Italian wine industry. Producers are always looking for ways to improve their products and their production methods. Water ageing is just the latest in a long line of techniques that will have to undergo a trial by first to prove whether or not it’s worthy for wider adoption.
The argument for this technique is certainly compelling. If it’s as good as the few who use it say it is, water ageing could completely change the industry. Producers will be able to get new vintages to market faster, which could give them the jump on their competition.
On the flipside, the industry is so conditioned to wait for several years for a new vintage to emerge that it might reject water-aged wines entirely.
For example, what would you think if you found a 2018 vintage red wine in stores today?
You’d likely avoid it. Perhaps that’s exactly what will happen with water-aged wines. Regardless, the stamp of approval from the ISA could prove very influential.
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