Let’s get this straight: Oak makes the wine taste awesome! I say this as I am a proud oenophile! From Chardonnays to Bordeaux, the most expensive wines are produced by aging in oak. The top fifty most expensive wines are aged in oak in some way or another! Here are 10+ Revealing Facts About Aging Wine in Oak Barrels.
Oak is like oxygen for wine. So, the type, size, grain, age of an oak barrel is a crucial factor in the taste of finished wine. Holding a bubbly, let me tell you about the types of oak that are used to age wine for generations!
French Oak: The oak forests in France contribute to several species of European oak trees, which include white oak used for oaking wine. The most excellent barrels are made from the forests of Allier, the Vosges, and Tronçais (very expensive – $4000 per barrel. Can you believe that?).
No wonder why French oak is the popular choice for oaking premium wines.
American Oak: The American white oak (Quercus alba) is found in the Eastern US and Missouri. However, they produce oak barrels majorly for the bourbon industry. Whiskey producers also own forests in the United States. These barrels are not much in use for oaking wine.
While sipping my stress reliever, let me take you through some astonishing facts about wine oaking and oak barrels.
Caution: You might get awestruck while reading these, but as a true wine lover, I take it as my duty to make you aware of them!
Facts About Aging Wine
#1 There are more than 600 species of oak trees in the world.
Adding to it, they live up to 1,000 years.
#2 The first oak barrel was designed as far back as 350 BC.
Some sources say that the Celts manufactured the first barrel made from wood, which can be rolled or stacked to form a vessel.
#3 Before oak, clay was used to store wine and spirits.
During the Roman era, the wine was stored in clay vessels. They were called amphorae. However, the storing in clay was troublesome as it broke easily, making it difficult to transport wines. Then the Roman empire starting using wood in place of clay.
#4 Red wines are aged for longer than white wines.
A typical red wine is aged for about 1-2 years in an oak barrel before it is bottled to consume. White wines, on the contrary, are aged for a lesser time.
#5 A French oak tree should be OLD enough to be a wine barrel.
For a French oak tree to get qualified to be suitable for aging wine, it should be around 80-120 years old. You can make only 2 barrels from a tree as only 25% of the tree is fit to make barrels. This is because the oak is split here.
While the case is different for an American oak tree. It can be serrated. Hence, more of the tree can be used. Also, American oak trees grow faster, thus can be used sooner.
#6 Small barrels age faster than large ones.
A wine takes less time to age in small barrels as compared to large ones because smaller barrels have a greater surface-to-volume ratio. A wine may take years to age in a larger barrel, but in smaller barrels, it will age in months.
#7 Barrels are not 100% watertight.
Professional coopers making barrels for vineyards and distilleries state that their task is incomplete if their barrels are not 100% watertight.
But for an ordinary consumer, this is not the case. The barrel that you have ordered online to age your own wine might not be ready to use.
See, I told you it’s my duty to make you aware of some facts which, which will make your jaw drop.
#8 Some portion of the barrel’s content will evaporate.
We call it the “angel’s share”. It is about 2-5% per year, but it can be more for smaller barrels, which are used for aging wine at home.
#9 You can reuse oak barrels for 100 years.
Doesn’t it feel like a heritage to pass on to our future generation? Well, I don’t know if they would be interested in the same. But I’m sure if you are a family of wine lovers and love to store family heirloom, then passing down your aged barrel is better than anything else.
Alright, coming back to the point, oak wood is durable and its usability improves with age. The aging of barrels gives a one-of-a-kind flavor that distilleries might eye for! Wine barrels are reused to give different vintages. Old wine barrels are called sherry barrels.
#10 There are options to replace oak barrels.
My heart aches to tell this as who can understand better than wine lovers that how important an oak barrel is for that aromatic taste in wine. But as it’s a fact, here it is. Some people argue that oak is addictive, and it’s something not natural for wine.
Stainless steel has come into the picture claiming freshness in the wine. In Argentina, a wine producer has literally banned the use of stainless steel from their new winery in the Uco Valley.
# 11 Hungarian oak is excellent for wine aging.
I say this because Hungary sells around 40,000 barrels every year, from which California buys about 40% of barrels.
#12 The size and age of oak barrels are important.
The smaller the barrel, the higher its impact on aromas and flavors. As mentioned earlier, it’s because of the surface area. Now, coming to age, new oak barrels give the strongest flavor to the wine. By reusing them, the wine gets less oak flavor.
Ultimately, after some years, the oak barrels are left with no flavor. Such barrels are called “neutral”. Winemakers choose neutral, fresh, or a mix of both depending on the intensity of the aromatic flavors they are intending to have in their wine.
Raising a toast
I’ve tried to cover as much as I could in this article. I hope it was helpful and a good read for you. Now that you are equipped with such information, why not try aging wine at home? If you are already at it, share your experiences and more facts as you discover in the course of aging your sinful and savory drink! Cheers!