Tout sur le processus de vieillissement du vin en fûts de chêne

Everything about the process of aging wine in oak barrels

We often see the words “aged in oak barrels” on the labels of wine bottles. If for many wine lovers, more or less informed, this is a good omen for the quality of the wine, many are really unaware of the advantages of aging wine in oak barrels . Let's see in detail what aging in oak barrels is, and what it brings to the wines.

What is aging in oak barrels?

Aging in oak barrels, or aging in wood, is a stage of winemaking which consists of storing the wine in a wooden barrel , for a more or less long period (from a few months to a few years). This process is particularly important because it produces more complex and firmer wines.

Oak is the type of wood most used for aging wine, because it has the particularity of promoting gas exchanges between the outside air and the wine . This wood is also very appreciated for its robustness.

In the wooden barrel, the wine continues to evolve, adopting woody aromas, smoky notes, or even gourmet flavors (caramel, vanilla, spices, etc.).

The different types of wooden barrel

Wood is widely used during the traditional winemaking process of red wines, white wines and rosé wines. It is used to make several types of containers.

  • The barrel , or barrel: aging in barrels is very popular, because this format is light and its lifespan is very long. The wooden barrels can then contain a few dozen liters, and go up to 700 liters;
  • The leaflet : this barrel can be presented in different capacities, depending on the wine-growing region, ranging from 112 liters in Chablis, to 132 liters in Saône-et-Loire;
  • The vat : the wine vat is mainly used to crush the harvest or to ferment new wine;
  • The barrel : with a capacity of 30 to 350 liters, the barrel is available in more than 160 formats, depending on the region. It is used mainly for the storage and aging of wine...

Wood species used for aging wine

To make new barrels, several types of wood are used. Each has unique qualities that make for good bottles of wine.

The Oak

Most barrels are made of oak . But there are several varieties of oak (French oak, American oak, American white oak, etc.).

French oak comes from local forests in Limousin, Allier, Vosges, and Normandy. It brings vanilla aromas and a woody taste to the wines.

American oak , for example, offers more exuberant notes of smoke, chocolate and caramel.

The false acacia locust tree

Used for preserving white wines, black locust is an almost rot-proof wood species appreciated for its aromatic notes.

The chestnut

Used to make wine barrels, the chestnut tree provides strong, harsh tannins to red wines. Unfortunately, this type of barrel is almost no longer manufactured.

Why age wine in wooden barrels?

Wine lovers know that not all wines are placed in aging barrels. Indeed, this winemaking step is optional, and is applied to obtain precise results.

Develop the aromas of the wine

During its design, a wooden barrel goes through different heating phases , first to shape the barrel with strapping, then to refine the aromas of the wine . Indeed, depending on the degree of heating, the wood will create different aromas which will be transmitted to the wine during the long months of aging.

Burning the barrel gives rise to several aromatic compounds : woody and smoky notes in case of light toasting, vanilla and spicy notes in case of medium toasting, or even notes of caramel or coffee in case of strong heating.

Refine the tannins of the wine

Present in grape skins and transmitted to grape juice during the transformation of grapes into wine, tannins are chemical compounds responsible for the sensation of dryness in the mouth. But they are not only present in the grape skin, they are also found in wood!

During aging, the two types of tannins then combine to form a new tannin structure , generally more stable and more supple.

Oxygenate the wine during the aging phase

Unlike the stainless steel tank, which is completely airtight, the wooden barrel has a certain porosity . This physical property then allows micro-oxygenation , in other words, a gas exchange between the air and the wine. This light oxygenation does not lead to the oxidation of the wine, quite the contrary, because it allows the structure of the wine to evolve, giving it fat and more complexity . Because, remember, without oxygen, wine does not age!

Aging in oak barrels is a guarantee of quality for the best red wines. It brings the particular aromas from the wood and the exchanges between the air and the wine, and completes the vinification before bottling tasty vintages.

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