La barrique (from the French "carat") is a small wooden barrel with a capacity normally between 225 and 228 liters. The fermentation and / or aging of the wine in such small-capacity barrels allows greater oxygenation of the content compared to a larger barrel, by virtue of the volume / contact surface ratio, as well as releasing typical tertiary aromas.
After racking and before bottling, the wines are subjected to a period of maturation that can last from a few months in steel containers (intact the characteristics of the grape, fresh aroma and taste) to several years in wooden barrels of different capacities ( a complex bouquet is created with typical hints of wood).
Wood allows very slow exchanges of oxygen which cause variations in color, smell and taste of wine. which acquires warmer chromatic tones and shades of butter, vanilla, dried fruit, tea and tobacco. The violet and lively ruby tones of red wines turn towards garnet or orange tones because in the presence of oxygen tannins and anthocyanins oxidize, polymerize in long chains and, in part, precipitate, generating a less lively but more stable color. In white wines the color goes from colder tones of straw yellow to golden, to fade into those of amber and topaz of some sweet or fortified wines. The bouquet is enriched with evolved scents, with ethers (alcohol-alcohol reactions), esters (acid-aldehyde reactions) and acetals (lactone-other reactions) that give nuances of spices, jams, dried fruit and in alcohol, withered flowers and leather , fur and coffee, cocoa and tobacco. During the rest in wood the taste of the wine becomes softer and more balanced because the acids partly transform and combine while the young tannins of the skins modify their structure, polymerize and precipitate.
How does wood affect the evolution of wine?
The rest of the wine in cask sur lie, or on its own fermentation yeasts, protects it from oxidation and enriches its structure and fragrance, especially if botonnage is achieved, that is, a periodic mixing of the wine that carries the yeasts in suspension.
The evolution of wine in barrique is faster than that of wine in large barrels because the ratio between the surface of the wood and the volume of the wine is greater. The wood intervenes directly in the evolution of the wine by giving less aggressive ellagic tannins than those of the grapes which make it more elegant also because they increase the condensation of the tannins derived from the grapes which are therefore less hard and astringent. The choice of resting the wine in large or small barrels is a matter of objectives.
Each wood essence gives its own characteristic touch even if today oak is mainly used. The wood intended for the production of the barrels must be seasoned for 24-36 months. For barrels of inferior quality, aged woods 3-12 months are used thanks to the help of ovens.
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New or used barriques?
The wood can give the wine strong notes of melted butter, vanilla, spices, exotic fruit, toasted almonds, coffee, smoked.
In the first year of use the new barrique it can give up to 50% of transferable substances, or about 100-150 mg of tannin which are added to the quantity present in the must (1500 - 2000 mg).
In the case of used or second or third passage barrique the effect of the barrique is much less intense and the flavor and aroma of the wine are only partially influenced.
So the choice depends on the type of wine you want to make.
Types of wood
The woods used for the barriques are different with important variations for the character of the wine. The finest woods are obtained from the Oak which can be French or Slavonian (Croatia).
Loire Valley: there are slow-growing woods of Quercus sessilis (oak) with slightly porous wood, rich in vanilla aromas and with a low content of sweet tannins -> great white wines.
Foresta of Tronçais: in particular in the department of Allier, the oak from woods with very fine grain suitable for long evolutions (they are the best woods) -> important red wines.
Nevers: finely porous woods and a little richer in tannins, but always sweet.
Limousin & Poitou: Faster growing Quercus robur with coarser porosity woods richer in tannins -> Red wines. Especially in the Limousin, in acid and calcareous soils, an oak grows with a wood with large and very aromatic pores that threatens to overwhelm the personality of the wine, but becomes perfect for the maturation of the Cognac.
Champagne, Alsace & Lorraine: woods rich in robust tannins that blend perfectly with the structure of the great red wines, while the fine porosity and the splitting of the Vosges wood make it much appreciated in California and New Zealand.
Pennsylvania & Minnesota: Quercus alba with hard wood, less elegant and with coarse grain, rich in aromas and notes of coconut, widely used in Australia, Spain and the south of France -> structured red wines.
How is the barrique prepared?
- SPLIT / CUT: the best woods are split and not sawn, but unfortunately this involves a considerable waste of material;
- SEASONED: the wooden slats are seasoned outdoors, where they are exposed to sun and rain for a period between 2 and 4 years. The climate of the curing place, traditionally, is a very important factor in the quality of the wood: on the one hand the rains help to disperse unwanted tannins with a bitter taste, on the other hand the UV rays of the sun release free radicals that help oxidation of wine.
- CUT: the strips are cut into staves: a barrique is made up of 25/30 staves joined together by metal circles;
- ROASTING: toasting means the overheating of the internal part of the staves of the barrique during assembly of the same at a temperature of 150-200 ° C. Traditionally it is done manually, simply by passing a flame inside the barrique not yet fully assembled. Depending on the time and intensity of the flame, roasts usually tend to be categorized into four classes: LIGHT (about 5 minutes) which tends to develop the secondary aromas of wine, fruity (ripe fruit), floral and vanilla; MEDIUM (up to 10 minutes) which balances secondary and tertiary hints; STRONG (up to 20 minutes) which develops a dominance of tertiary scents, including coffee, chocolate and leather;
- FINAL: the two ends of the staves are filled with marsh reed to make the barrel waterproof. A hole is made for the tap and the barrel is filled with water to see if there are any leaks to plug.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into the barrique and the types of wood!
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