Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Closer Look at the Use and Effects of Barrique Barrels

Barrique is the name for the wooden barrels of appropriate shape and volume, which, in different French provinces, can vary from 80-305 liters.

The world’s most famous is Bordeaux barriques of 225 liters. Wooden containers for centuries have had a dominant role in the production, storage and transportation of wine. In Europe, for this purpose, in addition to the oak, chestnut wood, acacia and cherry wood were also used. However, the last 20 years has been dominated by oak barrels - partly due to the increased use of inert materials (stainless steel), but also because the aroma of oak is best paired with wine.

So, in additon the maturation of wine, barrique barrels are used for the extraction of aromas and tannins, which are so important for quality wines. That’s why their volume is so small – smaller wine barrels give a stronger flavor of oak to the wine because, compared to the small volume of wine in it, the surface of the barrel is big. Barrique is therefore at the same time a name for the barrel, the process of aging the wine in that barrel, and also a name for the wine which has been aged in barrique barrels.


Today, barrique barrels are mostly made of three different types of oak: sessile oak and red oak - European types of oak; and American white oak.
Wood from which the barrels are made is naturally drying for 24-30 months under the influence of climate changes: rain, sun, wind, snow. The lower and middle part of the trunk is carefully tearing along the structure of the wood into planks. Dry planks are folded by the use of direct fire, and then, with the help of a metal ring formed in the barrel. The barrels are then slowly and gently burnt (toasted), to highlight the aroma of wood. The level of toasting (combustion) can be low, medium or high.

Oak wood consists of several dominant substances which decompose by burning, thereby generating new substances exceeding the wine. Therefore, the quality of the barrel depends on the type of wood but also on the success of toasting. The barrels that are more toasted release aromas faster and more intensely into the wine.


In order to have “barrique taste” in the wine, the following characteristics of the barrel are very important: size, thickness and charring staves, and in particular the quality of the oak wood which enriches the wine with tannins and vanilla.

The strongest flavor comes from the most aromatic type of oak, and the more porous wood is, the stronger is the flavor. The most porous wood is usually one that is growing the fastest. As oak in the forest Limousin in France is growing very fast, it’s extremely aromatic and gives the wine a distinct flavor "of oak". American oak from wet coastal forests of California gives the wine a sweet taste of coconut and vanilla, and French oak from the cold Baltic forests has low porosity and gives the wine delicate aromas. The slowest-growing oak comes from the Tronco forests in France, and many consider it to be the best one.

Barrels are like lungs for wine that is aging. Oxygen slowly enters through planks of the barrel causing the oxidation of wine. This process allows the stabilization of wine color and gives the wine a richer flavor. At the same time, alcohol and water evaporate from the barrels. Yeasts are settled at the bottom of the barrel, and the sweetness and tannins from the oak slowly mixes with the wine, giving it a special flavor. The aroma of wood that wine takes from the barrel is precisely the scents like vanilla, toast, smoke and various spices. These aromas are more complex as the barrel is more toasted. Also, more toasted barrels mean stronger contribution of the coconut aroma. When barrels are toasted most strongly, the aroma of the wood itself is reduced, and the scents of smoke stand out. 

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