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Why are oak barrels important?

by Cork Cho
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The earliest image of a barrel is an old illustration in the tomb of Hesi-Re (additionally called the “Chief of Dentists and also Physicians”) that lived during the Third dynasty of Egypt. The picture shows wooden barrels held with each other with wooden hoops. Those barrels were not utilized to transfer wine yet as a corn step. Wooden barrels were later made use of to transfer a number of items such as milk, beer, water, as well as wine. Barrels seemed to be above the reasonably vulnerable clay vessels; their shape made them strong and easy to transfer. This was the main reason wooden barrels ended up being so popular during that period.

Yet there was something else uncovered in the future that made wooden barrels a necessity for winemakers. The old-timers realized that keeping wine in wooden barrels made it smoother and also boosted its taste as well as aroma. This is the only reason we still make use of wooden barrels today.

As most of you might already recognize white oak is the primary wood used to create wine barrels. Oak trees expand huge, right, as well as tall which assists to lessen timber loss during production. Oak is also straight-grained which suggests it has vessels as well as fibers running alongside the length of the trunk.

White oak can hold liquids far better than various other kinds of wood. Its pores are connected with tyloses (Photo 1), which aid make white oak suitable for water-tight vessels. Additionally, white oak rays are unusually large and also exist in high proportions (28% of the wood) producing a significant obstacle to wine and air transfer.


The high percentage of rays provides oak much of its flexibility as well as resilience. Otherwise, the staves would be also tough to flex so as to create the bent sides of the barrel without breaking.

Besides being an exceptional timber, white oak is also favored for its distinct aromatic characteristics.

There are three standard varieties of oak used today for wine barrels: the Quercus alba which is located in North America, Q. Robur, and Q. silliness which are located in Europe. Each variety has its own private characteristics and also can influence a wine differently.

There are some general distinctions between the American oak and the European oak. The American oak tends to grow faster which results to wood that is denser, tougher to collaborate with, has lower attractiveness and also permits much less oxygen to enter the barrel. On the other hand, the European oak expands slower which means it’s softer, less complicated to deal with, has even more attractiveness as well as permits a lot more oxygen to go into the barrel.

Much like wineries, oak trees are influenced by the environment and dirt they expand on, which indicates in some areas of Europe the oak trees will certainly give you much more tannin and also in a few other areas they will give you fewer tannin’s. None of the above selections are wrong, both American oak and also European oak are similarly great. It depends on the winemaker to decide what sort of oak he requires for his wine.

The winemaker can additionally pick the degree of toasting. Toasting is a really integral part of the barrel production procedure. Basically, the inner part of the wine barrel is warmed with an open flame either by shedding small pieces of oak or using gas fire. The process assists the barrel-maker to flex the timber to the desired shape. A lot more significantly, toasting is in charge of the pleasant fragrances we experience in wine. We have three major toasting categories, light, tool and also heavy.

Light toasting:

With light toasting, we launch fragrances such as fresh oak, subtle scents of vanilla and also coconut. In general light, toasting does not provide you far more scents than the timber would currently provide you. This type of toasting is used for white wines that we do not intend to boost their scent. (This will make even more sense later on when we describe the remainder of the barrel aging advantages).

Medium toasting:

As the barrels are heated up for a longer time, the sugars of the oak beginning to caramelize. This develops complex as well as warm scents such as vanilla, coffee, and also freshly baked bread. Red wines matured in such barrels end up being rounded as well as develop flavors such as butterscotch, vanilla, and sugar.

Heavy toasting:

At this stage, the barrels start to lose their vanilla and delicious chocolate scents and develop even smokier and also spicy fragrances such as baked coffee as well as black pepper.

Tannin’s are extremely important for red wines and also are primarily located in grape skins. Oak likewise includes small amounts of tannin’s that are launched into our wine during aging. These tannin’s add to the renovation of mouthfeel (body) and also acidity in our wine.

Something else that most people would certainly not connect tannin’s with is color. Tannin’s add in the color security of our Merlot (polymerization of anthologists with tannin’s). Nevertheless, color stabilizing cannot happen without the presence of oxygen. This leads us to our next barrel advantage, micro-oxygenation.

As we mentioned before oak barrels are excellent in holding liquids as well as isolating wine from the air, yet this is not totally real. Barrels actually allow percentages of oxygen into our wine (micro-oxygenation). There are numerous chemical adjustments taking place to our white wines during barrel aging and also these modifications make our red wines taste better. Other containers such as stainless steel tanks are more affordable and also last for a lifetime, however, the drawback is that they are totally closed. Such containers are excellent for keeping wines that we do not wish to create more. This subtle introduction of oxygen assists our wine to become smoother by mellowing the rough tannin’s (polymerization of tanning) and giving even more body to our white wines. This is the reason why winemakers use likewise gently toasted barrels or very old barrels to mature their glass of wines.

With today’s innovation, there are micro-oxygenation machines that imitate this procedure and also can introduce the exact amount of oxygen you want. There are additionally oak barrel options such as oak chips and staves that are more affordable and release extracts much quicker. To put it simply, a winemaker might basically change barrels if he wanted. Barrels though have actually belonged to our wine-making society for centuries. From an aesthetic perspective, wine barrels are very crucial. Wine barrels are the main attraction in vineyards and also for a lot of wine fanatics a vineyard without wine barrels is not a vineyard. For a lot of winemakers, barrels are not just one more tool, barrels are an expression of their method in the direction of winemaker.


The oak wine barrel is just one of the most well-known symbols related to wine. We have romanticized the barrel and also the act old wine inside of it to such a degree, that after the barrels have actually been made use of for their desired function we commonly turn them into tables, benches, planters, and even candle owners. Yet the reason we started aging wine in oak barrels, to begin with, was not deliberate, but the outcome of a satisfied accident. For centuries, the clay amphora was the storage medium of option for moving wine.


Over 2 centuries back, when the Romans started to spread their empire around the world, they not only wished to take with them weapons as well as food, yet likewise wine. The wine was more secure to consume than water, it gave calories to malnourished troops, and obviously, it provided its imbiber with an invigorating buzz. For a few thousand years, starting with the old Egyptians, clay amphorae were the means armies (and also investors) transferred wine over cross countries. There were other civilizations, mainly in the Mesopotamian area, that used hand timber barrels, but this was the exemption, not the regulation. While hand wood barrels weighed far much less than clay amphorae, palm wood was quite tough to flex. Clay supplied another benefit because it was impermeable if secured correctly, though this was rather a challenge.

The method of using amphorae continued in the Greek and then the Roman Realm. As the Romans pushed north right into Europe, and far from the Mediterranean, carrying the clay amphorae expanded significantly tough. While the Romans understood palm timber barrels, the price, as well as problem of bending the wood, made them a poor selection. When the Romans encountered the Gauls, they discovered a group of people that were making use of wooden barrels, usually constructed from oak, to carry beer.

The Romans swiftly realized they had actually found a remedy to their amphora problem. While other woods were used, oak was popular for a variety of factors. First, the wood was much softer and also less complicated to mix into the standard barrel shape than hand wood, thus the oak only required very little toasting and a barrel might be developed much faster. Second, oak was plentiful in the woodlands of continental Europe. And ultimately, oak, with its limited grain, provided a water-proof storage tool. The change to wooden barrels was swift. In much less than 2 centuries, tens of millions of amphorae were thrown out.


After carrying their glass of wines in barrels, for some time, the Romans and also other cultures after them, began to recognize that the oak barrels conveyed brand-new, pleasurable high qualities to the wine. The call with the timber made the wine softer and also smoother, as well as with some red wines, it also made it better sampling. As a result of the very little toasting of the timber, wines created extra scents such as cloves, cinnamon, allspice or vanilla, and when drunk they had extra tastes existing, such as caramel, vanilla, and even butter. As the method of making use of oak barrels for transport proceeded, merchants, wine producers, and also militarizes alike discovered that the longer the wine stayed inside the barrels, the more high qualities from the oak would be given right into the wine, as well as therefore began the practice old wine in oak.


Wine benefits from storage in oak wooden barrels in two ways.

  1. For the red wines, barrel aging provides regulated oxidation. This steady process can help to decrease the acidity while likewise raising the stability as well as the shade of the wine. It allows the fruit aromas to advance right into even more complicated ones. By utilizing a program of topping with wine or loading the barrel while it is in the barrel and afterward racking the wine out of one barrel and right into one more for clarification, there is simply adequate oxygen contributed to the wine to provide these effects over several months.


  1. Second, inside the oak, there are a number of courses of complex chemicals each that can add to the flavor and also textural not to both white and merlots. A lot of acquainted consist of the vanilla tastes, notes of tea or tobacco, sweet and toasty scents and the general architectural intricacy offered by tannin, which joins tannin from the fruit made use of in making red wine. These substances add delightful subtleties in a finished wine. They consist of volatile phenols that contain vanillin, degradation of carbohydrate products which contain furfural, parts that yield a wonderful and warm aroma, oak lactones that pass on a woody aroma, terpenes that offer the cigarette or tea notes, as well as hydrolyzable tannins that are vital to the mouthfeel or astringency of the wine.

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