When you’re enjoying a glass of your favourite wine how often do you wonder about the barrels that were used in the winemaking process and what factors come into play when the winemaker is selecting what kind of barrel to age the wine in? Every decision made during the process of creating a barrel has an effect as to the kind of flavours that transfer from the oak into the wine.
A bit of history first. Wooden barrels themselves weren’t originally used for wine, rather they were used as storage containers to transport goods. The Greek historian Herodotus was the first to record the use of palm-wood casks in shipping Armenian wine to Babylon in 2500BC. However the design of wooden barrels as we know them today is believed to come from the Celts. By 350BC wooden barrels were beginning to be used for wine throughout the Roman Empire.
The two most common types of oak are American & French. Ideally coopers will choose trees that are 100 years or older. How the tree is split is the first factor that comes into play as to how it will effect the wine. American oak is less porous than French oak, therefore can be split by using traditional quarter sawing. French oak however must be split with the grain, these days using mechanical axes. While sawing can be used on French oak experiments show that traditional methods are preferred when it comes to the result of the wine.
Drying of wood can be achieved by either air or kiln. Air-drying is a much more time consuming process yet produces results that are much more desirable. As the wood ‘seasons’, tannins are leached out of the wood, whereas a lot more tannins are retained when dried in a kiln. Less tannins result in a smoother wine.
Toasting, the process of heating the wood is a crucial point in barrel manufacturing as this changes the wood’s physical and chemical composition. Degrading the wood’s structure, toasting produces aromatic compounds. A wine will benefit the most when a deep medium toast is applied to the wood. When filled with wine the combination of components from the wood and the wine form new and softer tannin compounds and improve colour stability.
Maturing wine in barrel extracts oak flavours directly into the wine. A secondary flavour results from the slow oxygenation of the wine. Oxygenising wine softens astringency, smoothing out the finish of the wine.
For wine to develop properly, storage of wine barrels must come within certain restraints. Too warm and the wine could age to fast as well as harmful bacterias forming, too dry and the wine may very well evaporate. The ideal temperature being between 10° to 18° with humidity at 75%.
As we can see many factors come into play when choosing the right kind of barrel, just the same as when choosing the right variety of grape. Next time you’re drinking a glass of wine you might think about what influence the oak barrel used added to the wine making process.
Here at Moorooroo barrel maturation plays a very important role with an average of 4 years barrel ageing and up to 5 years for the Black on Black Shiraz. Using a combination of French and American oak Wyndham creates his unique style of winemaking producing our favourites.
– “The Oxford Companion to Wine”. Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding. Oxford University Press. 2015.
– Wine Education with Scott Richardson: The History of the Oak Barrel
2018 The Moo Shiraz
A wine made to showcase our regions strengths the 2018 The Moo Shiraz is a full bodied and complex wine with bright fruit-driven intensity. As you approach this wine for the first time you will notice it showing aromas of cassia, toffee and oak then with your first sip you will experience liquorice and spice on the palate. Three years of maturation in oak results in a long smooth chocolaty finish that lingers in the mouth appeasing your taste buds. We just can’t get enough of it.