barricas de roble

Oak barrels and containers: learn about the different options

Oenologists especially value the choice of the appropriate barrel model for the properties of each grape and the nuances that they want to give to the aging wine. The 225-liter Bordeaux barrel is one of the most traditional containers, but the truth is that there are other containers and oak barrels that can become the perfect storage for each variety.

What are the oak barrels used for?

Although you can find an alternative container, oak barrels are the most used to age the wines. In addition to promoting the process of micro-oxygenation of the wine, one of its most outstanding virtues is that it can bring nuances to the wine they contain, respecting at all times those of each grape variety.

In any case, we must consider that there are oak barrels of different origins and with particular characteristics. The oenologist is the trained professional for his choice, always keeping in mind the type of wine he wants to make.

Also, in addition to the wood, it is necessary to assess other elements in each barrel to make a suitable choice. The size (a cask, a tun, and a barrel have very different capacities) and, above all, the toasting of the stave influence on the wine they house, as much as or more than the terroir and the predominant grape variety.

Regarding the toasting of the barrel, it is worth noting that it provides different aromas and flavors depending on its intensity:

  • A light toast affects the first 3-5 millimeters and provides subtle aromas of new wood, fruity hints, and vanilla notes.
  • The medium toast reaches up to 5 mm thick in the oak and increases the power and complexity, making them rounder and with more tannins. Smoked hints of cocoa and a significant  presence of vanilla are perceived in these ones
  • The medium-plus toasts are found between the first 5 and 7 millimeters of the barrel wood thick and provides many aromas. It is the most used today, especially for full-bodied red wines. It intensifies coffee, smoked, dried fruit, and honey notes.
  • The robust toasting roasts from 7 millimeters of the barrel wood thick and offers very intense smoky notes, with hints of toasted caramel, tobacco, and charcoal, among others

Despite these well-defined properties, each type of oak wood responds differently to each degree of toasting. Therefore, the properties of each barrel cannot be over-generalized

How many oak barrels are on the market?

Although there are more than 600 varieties of oak trees worldwide, only fifteen of its varieties are suitable for elaborating tuns, casts, or any other type of barrel. Among them, the American, French or Spanish oak stand out.

French Oak

Although it is also known as the common oak, this type of wood presents essential differences depending on the forest the tree comes from. If we talk about a thicker and shorter one, it will transfer more tannins and more delicate aromas. Therefore, it will be used for higher quality wines.

American Oak

Oak barrels made with this type of wood have a thicker sole. It A substance with a smell reminiscent of coconut and the dried orange peel should also be considered. The wine aged in an American oak barrel has fewer tannins and is smoother, with less astringency.

The American oak has noticeable differences from the French. One of them is its price, since the characteristics of the latter that fewer barrels can be produced from a tree, thus increasing its cost. Nor should we forget that the American oak has an intense coconut aroma, while the French brings more subtle and complex nuances to the wines.

Spanish Oak

Spanish oak barrels are more similar to those made with French wood, essentially due to the geographical proximity of both. In this case, they are especially valued by winemakers for the smoky and vanilla nuances they bring to the wines and especially recommended for red wines.

Caucasian Oak

Caucasian oak characteristics are very similar to those of the French oak. It stands out for providing soft tannins, smoothness, and fresh notes, always respecting the aromas of each wine. Therefore, they are recommended for those whose terroir is worth highlighting.

It is also worth noting that this type of wood has a medium price, between the French oak and American oak. It makes a good option for certain wines.

Oak barrels are an essential element to enjoy a high-quality wine, whose most important characteristics have been respected during the aging process. Knowing all the barrel elements influencing the resulting wine is essential to choose the most suitable model for each type of wine.

Once the wood treatment is finished, the aromatic profile of the wine can be adjusted using tannins extracted from the oak. If you want to know how you can modify the aromatic profile of wines with wood, contact the Agrovin group, and we will help you.

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