Wine Portfolio
Oak Barrels
Wine Porfolio Oak Barrels

As one of the best ways to add age and increase the complexity of a wine’s flavor, oak barrels have kept their presence in wineries for thousands of years. As a rule of thumb, red wines are generally aged in oak barrels, while whites are aged in stainless steel tanks. The one exception to this is Chardonnay, whose strong vanilla, spice and oak notes are representative its storage and aging environment.

Oak trees, whose wood is harvested for wine barrels, are grown in cool climates. This climate provides them with tan environment ideal for maturing slowly in order for them to develop a tight grain.

The barrel’s size is one of the factors that have an impact on the ultimate flavor of the wine. The ratio of surface area of the barrel, to the volume of the liquid dictates how much the barrel’s flavors have an impact on changing the flavor of the wine, with smaller barrels having a larger impact. Likewise, new barrels impart a stronger flavor onto the wine than do older barrels.

Traditionally, coopers (wine barrel makers) split the oak into strips (known as staves) along the grain of the wood. The staves are then laid outside, exposed to the natural elements, in stacks to “season” or dry for anywhere from 1-3 years. Position of the individual staves within the stacks has an effect on the moisture and so the ultimate characteristics it brings to the flavor of the wine. The longer the stacks are allowed to season, the more the tannins are leached out and so the softer the wine is. Evidently however, lengthening the time period adds substantially to the cost of the barrel.

Toasting, the next step in the making of the barrel, is probably the process that has the largest effect on the ultimate quality the barrel imparts on the wine, and the factor with the most variability. The toasting process involves placing the staves over a fire. The heat of the flame and the time in which the stave is exposed to it has an effect on changing the chemical composition of the oak and so too, the flavors it ultimately passes onto the wine. The standard principle is that the lighter the toasting (ie. the less heat brought into contact with the oak and the least amount of time exposed the heat), the more the oak’s tannins and flavors are imparted onto the wine. A heavy toasting also known as “charred”, which is commonly associated with the making of wines from Burgundy, dramatically alters the wine by reducing its color (through high carbon concentration) while minimizing the coconut notes.

French Oak Barrels
Coming primarily from one of five forests in France (Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Trancais, and Vosges), French oak barrels are the most expensive option for the storage and aging of wine, at about 1000USD a barrel. The woods from these forests are characteristically tightly grained which transmits the characteristic oak flavors into the wine much more slowly than a wood with a looser grain. The tightly grained French oak provides the wine with silky and transparent tannins, which generates a light sweetness combined with fruit flavors, that are long lasting in the mouth. As the toast level increases, the fruity flavors develop into ones that are more jammy. These flavors and aromas include; vanilla, spice, and butter. Each forest has its own distinct characteristics for the flavors it imparts on the wine.

The notion of terroir not only has an impact on the grapes, but the oak as well. The French value the regional character of the oak, though they often use a blend of woods from the five forests to create a barrel. This notion of regional character, promoted by the French, does not exist with American oak.

American Oak
With over twice as many lactones, American oak provides the wine that has been aged in its barrel with strong vanilla overtones, whose flavors are far more potent than those aged and stored in French Oak. American Oak is ideal for bold reds and warm climate Chardonnays. In all toast levels, American Oaks impart aromatic, sweet, and campfire/roasted coffee notes to the wine.

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