The Role of Oak Barrels in The Winemaking Process
Oak barrels play a huge role in winemaking. It adds texture, color, aroma, flavor and complexity to the finished product. You may be familiar with the basic types of oak, but did you know different types of oak have different effects on wine?
The Dramatic Effect of Oak on Wine
A winemaker selects the oak barrel based on his personal style, his budget and the grape variety. Some wines like Gamay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are meant to be consumed young; letting them be in oak barrels for long overpowers their delicate flavors. Although the most popular is French oak, most winemakers make use of American, French and Hungarian barrels to create a final blend, with wine aged from all three oaks.
Here are the processes that take place in the barrel when the wine is left to age:
When the wine is allowed to age in a barrel, regardless of the type of oak used, it develops certain aromas and flavors, which gives it a distinct characteristic. While in the barrel, the wine goes through various processes that gives the wine its signature color, taste, texture and aroma.
Oak is slightly porous in nature, because of which, some wine evaporates into air. Evaporation of wine may sound bad but in fact evaporation helps to keep the desired concentration of the flavors. Often referred to as the Angel’s share, disappearing to the heavens.
2. Micro Oxygenation
Although a lot of oxygen is bad for the aging process, a tiny amount is needed to enhance aromas, develop a deeper color and soften the tannins.
Phenols present in oak add aroma and flavor to the wine, like eugenol adds a distinct spicy clove flavor to the wine. The carbohydrates add sweetness to the wine once it is broken down into sugar.
Oak adds tannin to wine, and continues to do so for about 5 years, after which it becomes neutral.
The Making of a Barrel
It all starts in the forest, where the trees are grown. Each tree produces enough staves to make around two barrels.
The construction of a barrel takes place at a cooperage. Coopers season called staves by air-drying them. The seasoning process takes around 1 to 3 years.
Once the staves are warmed, coopers bend them to construct barrels. They also toast the insides of the barrels with a flame that contributes to the woody flavors to the wine.
4. Ferment & Age
Some winemakers choose to ferment their wines in barrels while others use barrels for aging. The aging process can last from a few months to several years.
These barrels can be reused to fill more wine. The older the barrel, the subtler flavors it gives to the wine.
Old barrels are sometimes sold to distilleries or breweries. Rocky Mountain Barrel Company is an expert when it comes to providing premium quality used oak wine barrels from across the world.
Different Types of Oak Barrels
French oak is by far the most popular choice. It has lower density and the grains are packed tighter than its American species. There are more phenolic compounds present in the oak that add complexity to the wine. The higher levels of ellagitannin in French oak adds more tannin to the wine and increases its aging capability.
American oak has a slightly wider grain and is denser than French oak, lending itself to a more aggressive mouthfeel. It’s generally sweeter, with more pronounced vanilla and oak flavors. American oak is best for bigger red wines like Merlot, Petit Sirah and Cabernet.
Oak from Hungary has very fine grain but costs much less than the French oak. If you are looking for qualities of French oak but do not want to spend a lot, Hungarian oak is the best alternative.
Factors affecting Wine
The size of the grain in the oak has a big impact on the flavor of the wine. The tighter the grain size the longer is the aging potential and that contributes more of spicy clove aroma and less of brown sugar notes. In American oak, the grain size is wider, because of which tannins added are less, but has more pronounced vanilla and caramel notes.
When oak staves are exposed to flames, sugars and tannins are broken down. Sugars are easily converted into simpler compounds that seamlessly integrates into wine. The toasting of the staves depends upon the desired impact. Medium toasting brings out more vanillin and less of tannin while light toasting brings out more oak flavor and high level of tannin in the wine.
Rocky Mountain Barrel Company offers the greatest used barrels and the best service to the customers. To order or inquire about the estimates and costing, please go through the below details:
Now that you know how oak barrels affect the color, texture, aroma and flavor of the wine, Rocky Mountain Barrel Company has a variety of barrels which you can customize as per your needs. You may purchase online on our website, or via phone or email. Get the best quality barrels at an affordable price!