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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!

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