Why are Quality Wine Barrels Crucial for Beverage Makers?

Throughout centuries, wine was always stored in wooden barrels until the 1600s. It then became advantageous and popular to store wine in glass bottles. However, wine makers throughout the world have rediscovered the importance of quality wine barrels and the taste it imparts. Although wooden barrels are devoid in most contemporary wine making, they are exceptionally popular due to incredible taste. In fact, many belie that wine barrels are crucial for beverage makers.

The Flavouring of Wine

Unlike beer, wine cannot be tampered with by using flavour additives. As a result, to infuse flavour into the wine, it is standard to use wooden barrels. As well, a variety of woods are used in order to create deep and rich boutiques. Although the wood used for barrels can range from acacia to pine and chestnut, the most common wood used is oak.

The main feature of using oak for wooden barrels is that it adds flavour composites like smoke, vanilla, coconut and many others. In addition, oak supports the slow admission of oxygen into the wine, thus creating a much smoother taste. Moreover, oak provides the ideal environment for malolactic conversion (MLF) for a softer and creamier taste.

The Addition of Flavours

It is the hemicellulose in oak that breaks down and delivers outstanding selections. These wide ranges of flavour compounds come from quality oak barrels that give wines their uniqueness such as:

  • Guaiacol -for burn overtones
  • Eugenol – adds smokey, spice and clove flavours
  • Oak lactone – conjures woody, coconut and dill notes
  • Vanillan and syringaldehyde – to evoke the essence vanilla
  • Furfural – reminiscent of almonds and burnt sugar and also dried fruit

Timing and Size of the Barrel

The quality of the barrel also includes the size. In fact, the larger the barrel the less the oxygen and flavour compounds are imparted. Traditionally, 225 litre Barriques barrels are used for best full bodied flavour. However, Foudres and Botti are 1000–20,000 litres in size. In addition, oak loses some of its ability to impart flavour every time it is used. This also contributes to the aging times.

Different Types of Quality Oak Barrels

Basically, there are three main types of oak that are used for wine barrels. These are French oak, American oak and Hungarian or Eastern European oak.

  • French Oak and Sessile Oak – this oak is chosen for the fine-grained wood that is very reliable. It is renowned for aging premium wines such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
  • American Oak – although America has numerous types of oak trees, the white oak (Quercus alba) is best for oaking wine. Compared to French and Eastern European Oak, the grain of American White oak is looser. American oak flavors include vanilla, coconut and dill. It is also known for adding robust flavours to New World fruit wines.
  • Hungarian and Eastern European Oak – similar to French oak but more cost effective. Generally, these quality barrels are used for full bodied wines like Petite Verdot and Malbec. It is said among wine makers that full bodied wines seem to hold up better with the rich nutty flavour of the wood.