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Guest Post: The Purpose of Oak Barrels in the Wine Making Process

April 18, 2021 Leave a comment

Today, I’m offering to you a guest post by Rachel Moore who works as a Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company provides used wooden barrels for spirits, like bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, rum barrels, and wine barrels. Rachel Moore loves her combination of nature, wine, and nerdy friends who appreciate her homemade wines.

The long history of wine and oak is worth exploring, mainly because oak barrels are being used in wine aging literally forever. Oak is used as a flavored seasoning to bring aroma and quality to the wine. Whether French, Hungarian, American, or others, Oak contributions leave a lasting impression on the bottled wine.

What Is the Aim of Aging Wines in Oak Barrels?

Before the invention of glass bottles (the 1600s and earlier), most wines were processed and packaged in wooden barrels. In reality, paintings from this era often depict wine barrels strewn about. Although we’ve outgrown the need for barrels to store and ship wine, we’ve developed a taste for it. Oak Wooden Barrels are an essential feature of the modern winemaking process.

What Benefits Do Oak Barrels Have for Wine?

Oak makes three significant contributions to wine:

  • It includes spice compounds such as cocoa, clove, haze, and coconut aromas.
  • It allows for the intake of oxygen, making wine taste a lot more complex.
  • It produces an optimal condition for metabolic processes to occur, which results in creamier-tasting wines.

Let’s see some other advantages of using an oak barrel for the winemaking process.

1. Superior Aging Capability

In general, wines aged in oak barrels have greater aging capacity than those aged in steel tanks (or with alternatives, such as oak chips or oak staves). For example, if you age your red wine in an oak barrel, you are supplying your consumer with a commodity that can mature much more elegantly than red wine processed in a steel tank.

2. Re-Use Used Oak Barrels

First, used oak barrels can be used for the aging and fermentation process of the wine imparting milder flavors compared with brand new oak barrels. Second, oak wooden barrels can be purchased used at a substantial cost. Though bear in mind that the oak can lose the capacity to infuse after a few “cycles,” so pay particular attention to the aroma/flavor profile of your blend to ensure that the oak is strong enough. Moreover, oak barrels can be reused many times, reducing the initial investment.

3. High-End Brands’ Premium Association

It’s a myth that oak barrels are needed for luxury wines; in reality, many high-end wineries are transitioning to steel tanks for white wines and lighter wines intended to be consumed “fresh.”

However, there is no denying that there is a certain cachet synonymous with the use of oak barrels in the wine industry. Wines fermented in steel tanks are frowned upon in some circles. When deciding whether to use oak barrels or steel tanks, remember to think about your audience and how they will respond.

Two oak varieties are used to produce barrels worldwide: White oak from the United States and European oak from Europe. Of course, European oak barrels are not exclusive to European winemakers and vice versa.

Staves, which are broad pieces of oak wood closely fixed along with metal hoops, are used to make wooden barrels. Over a burn, the barrels are toasted to a normal, medium, or dark toast standard. Fresh barrels with a mild toast will have many vanilla and caramel flavors, while a darker toast will have various smokey, charred aromas.

The amount of oak taste transferred to the wine by oak wine barrels is affected by its age and size. Since they make more interaction between the wood and the wine, smaller barrels impart more oak flavor. Oak barrels lose their distinctive flavor compounds with age, necessitating replacement every few vintages.

Fresh oak aging alters the tannin composition of red wines in addition to incorporating oak flavors. Tannins from the wood leach into the wine, giving it a more robust structure. This helps a wine’s age-ability, just how long it lasts in the bottle. The wood also assists in the stabilization of tannins from grape skin, resulting in a silkier finish.

The Various Kinds of Oak Barrels Used in Winemaking

The American oak barrel and the French oak barrel are the two most popular wooden barrels used in winemaking.

As compared to French oak, American oak barrels are less expensive, have a larger grain, and have lower wood tannins. They also have a more substantial impact on the wine’s taste and aromatic ingredients, often imparting vanilla flavors with a much sweeter palate profile than French oak.

On the other hand, French oak is the wine industry’s “gold standard,” with higher wood tannins and tighter wood grains that have a more negligible effect on the aromatics and taste of the wine.

In a Nutshell
Whatever barrel you choose for the winemaking process, be sure it is of high-quality wood, and don’t forget to clean the barrels after use!

These were some of the purposes and uses of using oak barrels in the winemaking process. I hope this article was helpful to you and you select your oak barrels wisely!

Weekly Wine Quiz #52: Oak Trivia

March 30, 2013 9 comments

It’s the weekend, and here comes our new wine quiz. This time, the theme is … Oak.

American Oak Barrel

As you know, oak barrels are major part of winemaking – depending on desired style of the wine, winemaker will decide on what type  of the oak barrel should be used, should it be new barrel, old (previously used) barrel, American oak, French oak, how toasted the barrel should be and so on. I would roughly guess that about 80% of all the red wines and about 30% of all the white wines are made with the use of oak – if you know the exact stats, please share them in the comments section.

So below are the fine questions related to the use of the oak in the winemaking. Whether you can answer one, all five or none at all, your comment will be appreciated in any case.

Here we go.

Q1: True or false: American oak typically imparts stronger flavor than the french oak?

Q2: There are 5 major forests in France from which the oak is used in the wine making. Oak from which forest is considered least suitable for use with the wines and more used in production of the Cognac?

A. Allier

B. Never

C. Limousin

D. Troncais

E. Vosges

Q3: Troncais forest was planted by the order of Napoleon. Do you know what was the intended use of the oak trees from that forest?

Q4: True or False: The use of Oak chips is illegal in France?

Q5. True or False: When barrels are made from the trees in the same forest by the same cooperage, all the barrels will be identical and will impart flavor of the wine in the same way?

Bonus question: Which winery logo is shown on the barrel in the picture?

Have fun, good luck and enjoy the rest of your weekend! Cheers!

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