The taste of the wine is formed during three stages: at the initial stage of ripening, the grapes acquire certain characteristics that distinguish one or another variety; then – in the process of fermentation – many new chemical compounds appear, which endow the wine with a variety of flavors; and finally, during aging in oak barrels, the wood enriches the wine with its characteristic features. But first things first.
For many centuries, people have aged wine in wooden barrels. And, as experience accumulated over the years shows, oak barrels are best suited for this purpose, especially new ones that have been used for only 3-4 years. In some regions, winemakers experimented with other types of wood: in some places you can find quite interesting barrels that are still used to age wine. For example, in Chile, barrels are made of rauli wood (a local variety of beech); in France and Italy you can still see chestnut barrels, in the Canary Islands pine barrels, and elsewhere in California you can find barrels made of sequoia.
Traditionally, new oak barrels were used in France in two regions – in Burgundy and Bordeaux, and the current “fashion” for oak appeared relatively recently, in the 80s of the twentieth century, when Australian winemakers introduced the whole world to relatively inexpensive wines, which taste very the taste of the barrel was strongly felt. Both wine critics and ordinary consumers were unanimous – the aromas of ripe fruit and vanilla cream in these wines were simply irresistible. Since then, the expansion of the new oak barrel around the world has begun.
Why is aging in oak so important? First, the barrel provides a slow and uniform oxidation of the wine (oxidation is the effect of oxygen on the wine), which is necessary to create complex and complex wines, since the porous structure of the wood allows the wine to “breathe”.
In addition, there are a lot of tannins in oak, which, under the influence of alcohol, mix with the tannins already in the wine. Oak enriches the wine with new aromas: wood shavings, vanilla, caramel, etc.
Aging in oak usually lasts about 10-18 months, unless otherwise stipulated by the country’s wine legislation.
Read the full version of the article in the new issue of Noble Wine magazine about Burgundy, which will be released on April 16!