Summer - evening - red wine
It’s a balmy summer evening, you’re sitting on your balcony, curiously watching the evening flight of swallows. The evening sun is shining in your face and in your hand you hold a glass of wine. A glass of red wine, to be precise. On the label of the bottle you can see “aged in barrique”. You surely know that this means that the wine has been aged in a wooden barrel, but if you are a bit more interested in good wine like I am, you are in the right place for this blog post, because I am going to tell you something about wooden barrel aging and red wine. So sit back, pour yourself your favorite barrel aged wine and get ready to dive a little deeper into the subject.
But with such a big topic, where do you start? That’s right. At the beginning. Back in the 17th century, winemakers used wooden barrels to transport and store wine. At that time, wooden barrels were used for purely practical reasons, as glass bottles were rather scarce at the time. But even centuries later, wooden barrels can still be found in the cellars of most winemakers. Why is that?
Stainless steel? Wood?
If we look around in a wine cellar, we usually discover two containers in which wine is stored in large quantities: stainless steel tanks and wooden barrels. Two storage methods that could not be more different. On the one hand, we have the air-impermeable, tasteless stainless steel tank, which usually does not change the taste of the wine. Whereas on the other hand we have the wooden barrel, which is permeable to air and has an enormous influence on the taste of the wine. Oxidation makes the tannins seem softer after a while, which has a lasting effect on the mouthfeel. A wooden barrel has even more influence on the wine, namely on its creaminess. During the so-called malolactic fermentation, the malic acid from the wine is converted into lactic acid in the wooden barrel, which leads to this silky-creamy texture that can often be tasted in red wines. In addition to these chemical processes, the wine also absorbs aromas from the wood. The vanilla aroma is a classic example, but aromas such as chocolate, coffee or tobacco are also released from the barrels into the wine. Which aromas a barrel releases depends on the type of wood, as well as the thermal treatment of the barrel.
Some wooden barrels that are ideal for red wine I would like to briefly introduce in the following:
American oak barrel (e.g. World Cooperage):
The American oak, the quercus alba differs in some aspects from the European oak. The most central point is the density of the wood. The American white oak has a greater interconnection of rings than the European sessile oak. This leads to a greater exchange of oxygen in the barrel and a greater influence of the wood on the wine. So American oak should be used with caution, but it is this greater influence that can be used to good effect in heavier red wines such as a Syrah. In addition, it is always possible to play with the intensity of the aromas by adjusting the aging time and backcutting the wine.
In order to obtain different aromas, suitable for different wines, the barrel can be adjusted through toasting. Toasting is a thermal treatment of the wood that, among other things, provides the vanilla aromas. These vanilla aromas are much more pronounced in American oak than in its European sister. Other aromas that can be achieved by different toastings are aromas of dark chocolate, ripe fruit, or sweet caramel.
Wines that are particularly suited to an American oak barrel include: Zweigelt, Merlot, Syrah, or Pinot Noir.
Wooden barrel from European oak (example: Eder Fassstolz German oak):
As mentioned above, German, or rather European oak is finer-pored than American oak. Due to the denser pores of the wood, there is less oxidation and the wood aromas are more subtle and subtle. Therefore, this wood is considered particularly fine. Depending on the regions where the trees are grown, there are small differences. Nuances of cinnamon and cloves caress the barrel-aged wine. Here, too, there are different aromas depending on the toasting. In general, however, the tannins are more prominent in this wood and the vanillin content is up to ten times lower. Consequently, European oak is particularly suitable for fine, somewhat more delicate red wines such as Pinot Noir, Black Riesling or Dornfelder.
Slovenian oak (Tokaj oak):
The Tokaj oak from Eastern Europe is somewhat more ponderous. The barrels from this oak give the wine even more subtle wood tones than the oaks from Germany or France. In return, the barrel brings a very special plump spiciness that is unique. Refined aromas of dried fruit are also possible. Most red wines can be aged in this barrel.
Definitely not a beginner’s barrel. If you are willing to experiment and want to be daring and get a product that not everyone has, you should keep an eye on a chestnut wine barrel. Chestnut wood is much more oxidative than oak wood and provides for it a low astringency, because the tannins become markedly soft through this wood. What is unusual about this wood are the aromas. The chestnut reminds us of forest honey in its aromas and gives the wine a pleasant, pleasant sweetness. Due to the stronger oxidation, only strong, heavy red wines such as St. Laurent or Merlot are recommended for aging in these barrels. Furthermore, a shorter aging period is necessary. Considering these particularities, the chestnut barrel is an interesting product.
Whether a fruity Dornfelder, or a full-bodied Syrah, barrel-aged red wine simply suits every occasion. And to ensure that the red wine also finds a suitable barrel, we are happy to help in order to promote the best possible drinking pleasure in the future.