Things to Consider When Making a Barrel Selection

Apr 13, 2015

Things to Consider When Making a Barrel Selection

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When selecting barrels it’s important to understand the impacts of seasoning, grain size and toasting on your wines’ tasting profile.

1. Why is Seasoning Important? …because it affects the flavour & aromas of the wood

Seasoning is the process of outdoor aging/drying the rough cut staves prior to milling in order to decrease the wood’s moisture content to between 15-17% and smooth out the harsh green wood characters. Basically, seasoning is the initial stage of wood decomposition where native, airborne micro-organisms naturally begin to break down the structure and hemicelluloses in the wood. The unique effects created by the regionally specific micro-organisms and climatic conditions are the reason why wood seasoned in Burgundy vs. wood seasoned in Cognac or Northern California will have different flavor & aroma characteristics.

During the seasoning process as the water evaporates, the porosity of the wood increases which enables gas exchange or the “micro-ox” process that occurs when barrel aging your wines. At the same time the wood’s undesirable characters of greenness, sappiness and harsh tannins are transformed into positive aromatic and flavour characteristics with softer tannins that we’ve come to expect from high quality wine barrels. Barrel staves are typically seasoned for 24 months but shorter and longer seasonings can be specified when ordering from some cooperages.However, stavewood that has been seasoned for less than 18 months tend have harsher tannins and if seasoned more than 36 months can often impart dusty characters to the wine.

2. What’s the relevance of Grain Tightness? …the tighter the grain, the slower the extraction

Grain Tightness is defined as the average size and regularity of annual growth rings. It can be determined by examining the end of the barrel’s stave and counting the number of rings (grains) in a one inch length. The classification may vary slightly by cooper but generally, greater than 17 grains/inch (gpi) is typically considered “very fine grain”, 12-16 gpi “fine grain”, 8-11 gpi “medium or mid-fine grain”, and lower than 8 gpi “open grain”.

Grain tightness should be considered when planning the length of aging and degree of extraction you want with your wines. Tighter grained staves typically release and integrate their flavours and aromas more slowly into the wine than medium or opengrained wood. This makes the tightest grain barrels the ideal choice for extended aging programs (18-36 months) and the medium-tight grains more suitable for shorter aging where you want to extract the flavours and aromas typically found in this range of grain tightness.

3. What are some of the different toasting levels and what characteristics are they associated with?

  • Light: tends to accent the dominant flavors of the fruit
  • Medium: softens the wine and lends fresh wood, coconut and milk flavours
  • Medium Plus: adds nuances of vanilla, spice, toast and caramel
  • High toast: predominant spiced and roasted/smoky notes with strong coffee and caramel

American oak tends to have more lactones than French and Eastern European oak. Over the years, Coopers have adjusted their toasting processes to develop their own house “style”, often in an effort to minimize the woody and/or overly coconut character imparted by lactones. By manipulating the heat sources (wood fire, gas fire, infrared, convection oven), temperature profiles, length of toasting and pre-toasting treatment (water soaking), they are able to create proprietary nuances to both the aromas and flavours associated with their Cooperage.

Cellar•tek offers a full portfolio of high quality barrels from 4 distinct cooperages; Francois Freres, Leroi, and Saury from France and Charlois from Northern California. Each cooperage offers a unique signature to your barrel aging program.

We’re passionate about helping you choose the right barrel for your wines. For more information contact one of our in-house winemakers.

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