They call it the Angel’s Share, it’s the portion of every wine, beer or spirit that’s lost to evaporation during the aging process. Despite the innocent name, a sizeable volume of alcohol and water is stolen from a barrel by way of evaporation. Between evaporation and absorption, oak barrels must be topped off regularly to make up for lost wine. In just three years, wine stored in oak barrels can lose over 14% of their volume to evaporation. Considering many wines are aged between five and ten years, the amount of wine lost to the angels’ share really starts to add up.
Unless, of course, you are aging your wine in stainless steel wine barrels. Stainless steel allows for exacting control over your wine’s exposure to oxygen. The material isn’t porous like oak or concrete and thus no wine is lost to the container itself and no oxygen is introduced to the barrel’s contents unless it is the winemaker’s desire.
Additionally, controlled aeration or micro-oxygenation greatly accelerates the aging process – giving winemakers even more control over the nuances of the batches flavor. Just as a chef may taste his meal-in-progress and decide it could use a dash of salt or coriander, a winemaker can taste and fine tune his or her barrel in near real-time.
While there are clear economic advantages to Skolnik stainless steel wine barrels, the largest advantage is consistency. No oak barrel is exactly the same and each year the flavor oak contributes to the wine diminishes by about 30 percent. Not to mention that the barrels are only new once and have to be meticulously scrubbed and cleaned between uses to control contamination. Add to that the attractive environment for Baudoinia compniacensis, or the ‘Angel’s share fungus,’ and you’ve got a recipe for mounting costs, inconsistencies and dangers.
Some winemakers use stainless steel containers exclusively, others mix and match to extend their flavor profile and budget, but all can agree that stainless steel cuts the angels out of the equation.