Wine Barrel 101: An Introduction to Barrel Aging Wines

Posted January 10, 2020 in

Wine Barrel 101: An Introduction to Barrel Aging Wines

Wine barrels play an important role in the flavor profiles of many wines. The team at Chateau Grand Traverse is ready to help guide you through the basics of barrel-aging and the impact it makes on your favorite wines.

Is Wine Aged in Barrels?

The short answer is yes, most wines are aged in barrels. However, some may not be the traditional oak ones you picture in your head. Many white wines are aged in stainless steel and there are even other types of barrels you probably have never heard of.

Here are a few of the varieties of wine barrels used in the aging process:

Oak Barrels

As the most common type of barrel used during the wine-aging process, oak barrels add oxygen, tannins (the backbone of a red wine), and a depth of flavor to the wine stored inside of them. Oak barreling is most commonly used with red wines and Chardonnay. The oxygen that comes through the oak barrel helps the wine mature, and tannins develop the structure of wine over time.

Stainless Steel Barrels

The second-most commonly used type of barrel is stainless steel. Stainless steel is used more for white wines, as it adds a crispness, freshness and does not allow oxygen in. As wine develops in a stainless steel barrel it builds a fruit forward aroma and flavor. This is important, as it creates a lighter alternative to the more intense flavors imparted when using an oak barrel.

Concrete Barrels

Concrete barrels are an older, ancient concept that started to make an impactful comeback a few years ago. Concrete is porous, so oxygen can find its way into the wine without the oaky flavor developed in wooden barrels. The flavors imparted by concrete are more earthy, and allow the fruit to shine, producing a better mouthfeel. This type of barrel is used more with white wine, as it provides a cool fermentation process.

Clay Barrels

This type of barrel was also used to age wine in ancient times and is currently the least commonly used, but it can still be found today. Clay is the most neutral material out of the ones listed above, which allows the fruit in the wine the opportunity to truly shine. The oxygen that comes through the porous clay creates a silky-smooth texture in both red and white wines.

Why Are Wines Aged in Barrels?

Now that you’ve learned the types of barrels that wine is aged in, what is the point of aging wine in barrels, anyways? Barrel aging is the step between fermentation and bottling, which matures the wine and gives it distinct flavors. This process normally takes between 6 to 30 months (shorter aging times for white wine, longer for red wine). Ultimately, wine is aged in barrels for flavor development, maturity, and longevity after bottling.

Here are a few variations of barrel-aging that winemakers use to impact the flavor of  wine:

  • Barrel toasting
    After an oak barrel is made, it is exposed to fire to toast it. A minimal toast will lead to vanilla flavors and caramel notes, while a more toasted barrel will give smoky aromas.
  • Barrel size
    The larger the barrel, the less flavor your wine will receive. Smaller barrels allow more contact with the wine, thus a more intense flavor.
  • Barrel time
    The amount of time you have the wine in the barrel also significantly impacts the flavor. The longer the wine is in the barrel, the more intense the barrel-imparted flavors.
  • Barrel age
    Reusing a barrel leads to diminished flavors, which means winemakers must replace barrels after every three vintages to make sure the wine flavor stays consistent. After approximately three uses, the oak no longer imparts flavor and becomes neutral oak.

How Many Bottles of Wine Come from a Barrel?

It depends on the barrel size. If you break it down, each bottle of wine is 750 ml (or 1/5 of a gallon), so for each gallon of wine you have, you will be producing five bottles. If you have a large 60-gallon barrel, it holds approximately 300 bottles of wine. A 30-gallon barrel holds 150 bottles worth of wine.

Try Barrel-Aged Wines at Chateau Grand Traverse

Looking to sip, savor, and experience barrel-aged wine yourself? Visit us at Chateau Grand Traverse to find out which of our wines have been aged in oak or stainless steel barrels, and how each impacts the finished product. If you would like to try our wines from the comfort of your own home, shop our online store to try our lightly oaked Gamay Noir, Barrel Fermented Chardonnay or stainless steel aged Pinot Grigio.

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