Elevage, or in English the art of maturing wine, is correctly translated as the educating or upbringing of wine. The French term clearly tells that wine needs care and work to bring out its quality and make it ready to drink. The various processes are described in detail under Work in the Cellar on.
How wine is stored during ageing is of significance for the wine drinker, because the storage medium can affect taste and character. One of the first questions to consider about an unfamiliar wine is the way it is aged, or matured, and for how long.
Some wines undergo little or no ageing, though nearly all wines go through certain processes to stabilize them and ready them for bottling. Many white wines are bottled soon after they are made, and drunk not long after that. Other wines, both red and white, spend a greater or lesser rime in some form of tank, vat or cask, and then may age further in bottle before being ready to drink. Red wines designed for long ageing, such as bordeaux and Rhones, can spend more than two years in the cellar before bottling. Bottle-ageing often takes place in the final consumer's cellar:
The use of barrels was vital in developing the art of ageing. Later came the bottle — used not just as a serving, but as a storage, vessel: a technique that profoundly altered the way wine aged.
The two forms of ageing — vat or cask, and bottle — may be either complementary or alternatives. Some wines are kept in cask until they are ready to drink, and then bottled. They then require no further bottle-ageing. Others are bottled when still in need of time to soften their tannins and acidity. Examples of the former are tawny port, sherry, vins doux naturels, many Italian red wines and (traditionally) red and white Rioja. Examples of the latter are vintage port and fine red and white bordeaux and burgundy.