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Ted Handerek — via email asks,
Q

I have two 225-liter Limosin French oak barrels filled with a blend of 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Barbera and 10% Merlot that was fermented in October 2005. It is topped off regularly and meta was added twice. It was racked into the barrels after the first ferment but has never been racked since. They are in an old-fashioned root cellar in western Massachusetts and the temperature stays between 35–60 °F (2–16 °C). I am ready to remove the barrels, but I don’t know if the wine has gone bad. Should I rack and return to the barrels for, say, another 35–45 days then rack to glass demijohns or carboys, or can I go right to bottling?

A
In deciding to bottle, age or toss this batch, I suggest you spend some quality time with your barrel. Though you’re just past the usual bottling window (typical aging time for premium red wines is 10–18 months, depending on the varietal and style) you may be able to catch it before it goes south. Especially if the wine has been well taken care of, topped regularly, and sulfite added along the way, you should be fine. Though it sounds like you’ve been perhaps a little neglectful in your racking and sulfur regimen, you may be pleasantly surprised. Some wines do best when we walk away and let them do their own thing. Thief yourself a little bit out of the barrel into a clean glass and go out into the sunlight. Give it a few good swirls and stick your nose in the glass. Do you like the way it smells? Does it still have some perceptible fruit? Is the wine free of oxidized and other aroma defects? Smells like Port, Sherry and nail polish can all be signs of
Response by Alison Crowe.