Wine has long been transported in amphorae, flimsy and leaky containers, which complicated the storage and preservation of wine. Since Antiquity, the wooden barrel replaced the amphora, making transport and work easier for men. It was only over time that winegrowers discovered the advantages of barrel aging .
Wine barrel: definition
The barrel, which can also be called a cask or tonneau , is not only intended for storing wine, but also for all consumer liquids, such as oil, as well as other products, such as gunpowder , or the seeds. This container is then made up of staves, or staves, assembled together by metal circles.
The use of the barrel first saw its interest in its light weight, and its round shape, easy to transport and store. It is only over time that we discover the influence of the oak barrel on the wine it contains.
The different barrel formats
The reference barrel is the Bordelaise barrel , which has a capacity of 225 liters . This then represents 300 75 cl bottles, or even 50 gallons (English unit of measurement). Remember that the English have long been the primary buyers of French wine, and that it was necessary to find a wine capacity that facilitated the conversion between liters and gallons.
Winegrowers sometimes use other barrels, such as the Burgundy barrel (228 liters), or the quartaut (56 liters), the leaflet (116 liters), or the demi-muid (500 to 600 liters).
Aging of wine in oak barrels
Wine aging is the stage which follows maceration , and which allows the wine to rest, in order to continue its evolution. During this phase, the particles suspended in the wine fall to the bottom of the tank, generally by sticking the wine, thus making it possible to clarify the wine.
Aging can then be done in different types of containers, such as concrete tanks, stainless steel tanks, amphorae, or wooden barrels . The choice will be made according to the type of wine, the grape variety, the vintage...
Barrel aging has always been very successful, because wood allows for balanced exchanges between wood and wine , but also between oxygen and wine. Over time, these exchanges modify the chemical composition and aromas of the wine, as we can see with the great red wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, and in particular wines for aging.
Are barrel-aged wines really more tannic?
The wood of the barrel, just like wine, is a living material which contains tannins. This does not mean that wine in barrels sees its tannins amplified. On the contrary, barrel aging allows the tannins of the wine to be rounded and softened . This is also why not all wines are suitable for aging in oak barrels, because certain grape varieties are naturally too light in tannins. This also explains why barrel aging is often intended for red wines , rather than white wines .
The influence of the barrel on the wine
If aging in oak barrels plays a role on the tannins of the wine, this is not the only advantage of such a method.
Improving the aging potential of wine
Aging in wine barrels allows micro-oxygenation of the wine , which has a direct influence on its conservation capacity. The wine contained in a barrel is therefore more suitable for aging, and the wine lover recognizes the wine aged in barrels as a good wine for aging. Furthermore, the exchanges with the wood in the barrel allow the tannins to be more supple and finer, all characteristics which prolong the aging potential of a wine .
Bringing new aromas to wine
Each type of wine barrel brings particular characteristics to the wine. The origin of oak wood is therefore important. For example, French oak is renowned for its finesse and quality, and the vanilla aromas it offers to wine. American oak , for example, imparts sweeter flavors, such as caramel, chocolate, or coconut.
Furthermore, the different aromas can also come from the barrel manufacturing technique. To obtain the rounded shape of the barrel, the staves are heated. This light toasting can bring roasted notes to wines (smoked, cocoa, coffee, toasted bread, etc.).
Finally, the quality of the aromas is also directly linked to the age of the barrel. Logically, a new barrel will mark the wine more intensely than a barrel that has already been used for a previous vintage. You can sometimes recognize wines aged in new barrels by the words " new wood " on the label of the wine bottle.
Managing the intensity of aromas provided by wood
Winegrowers have the possibility to partially dose the intensity of the wood aromas in the wine. To do this, simply choose barrels of different sizes . The smaller the barrel, the lower the quantity of wine that will be in contact with the wood. Conversely, a large barrel contains a much larger volume of wine, which limits contact with the wood.
The aging of wine in barrels has a certain influence on the quality and aromas of the wine. This can then guide you during your next wine tastings, or when purchasing your future bottles of wine.