Why And How Wine Barrels Enhance Wine And How To Maintain Them

Choosing the perfect wooden barrels for sale is a decision that lovers of fine wines and homebrews frequently face. They want to know which barrels will best fit their needs, as well as their guests’ needs. So if you find yourself intrigued about wooden barrels and want to discover more about different types of barrels then you’ve come to the right place.

Considerations Before Cask Aging of Wine

Should the wine be casked?

A great number of considerations must be deliberated and decisions made during the production of a wine. Many people associate quality wine with a wine that is aged in an oak barrel. This is true in many cases, but there are also many other things that need to be considered, such as the fact that a thin or poor wine is not helped by being stored in barrels. In contrast, a wine of truly ripe grapes, a powerful wine that is already good, has the potential to gain even more by barrel aging.

What does an oak barrel do to wine?

When stored in an oak barrel, wine reacts through a number of chemical processes with the barrel. The result is more durability and a stable wine with a more full-bodied, complex, and concentrated palate. Color, for example, becomes intensified. The barrel imparts hundreds of different substances/chemicals to the wine. Some of the most important are tannin, sugar, and vanilla aromas.

The barrel also has another, more indirect effect. It allows for a slow and controlled oxygenation (not oxidation) of the wine, which helps to make it a rounder and mature wine. The oxygenation occurs both through the surface of the wood and through the bunghole (the hole drilled into the side of the barrel which is then sealed with a cork so you can eventually get your wine or whisky out). When wine is aged in a barrel there is constant, gradual evaporation, while at the same time the wood absorbs the wine. Therefore, the barrel needs to be replenished with the same wine. This process also adds to the oxygenation of the wine. Through evaporation of water and alcohol, the wine is further concentrated, and the fresh and raw fruit flavor becomes softer.

Oak barrels can be used for both white and red wines

Both reds and whites can benefit from barrels, however, certain types of white wine grapes are not suitable for cask aging. The most important thing about the grape is that it has a certain fullness and rich fruit characteristic, so that the wine is not “wiped out” in the oakiness of the barrel, meaning that the flavors imparted should not overwhelm the grape flavor. That’s why you should use only fruity and intense wines for aging.

French, American, or Hungarian oak?

Oak barrels of different species and origin are available. French oak casks are the most prevalent globally, the wood being harvested from forests in central France. Previously, many people believed that French oak was the best and only suitable wood for cask aging of wine, but recently Eastern European oak has also begun to be highly regarded. In particular, Hungarian oak has become popular partly because Hungary has highly skilled coopers, but also because Hungary produces wood with a very fine grain and “taste.” In addition to which, Hungarian barrels are significantly less expensive than French barrels. American oak is also a great and good value alternative, especially if you want a more pronounced flavor of vanilla from the barrel.

Toasting of barrels

A crucial role in how the barrel impacts on the wine is often played by the  degree to which it is toasted (gently heating a barrel’s interior over an open flame so that the heat can penetrate the wood). When a barrel is toasted a chemical transformation of substances in the oak surface takes place. The more toasted it is, the more smokiness will be imparted to the wine.

What size wine barrel should you use?

Most small winemakers will say it depends on how much wine you have. That’s very true. But if you have wine in larger quantities a barrel of around 225 liters is ideal. A 225-liter wine barrel gives the optimum ratio between the surface of the wood and the wine.

Smaller barrels of 30, 50 and 100 liters can also be easily used for cask aging, you just need to ensure that there is a relatively large surface of wood in relation to the quantity of wine, which helps speed the process of aroma/taste exchange between the cask and the wine. It is therefore important that you regularly sample the wine to achieve the right balance of barrel flavor.

Preparing a new wine barrel for immediate use

When your wine barrel is delivered, the wood is completely new and there may even be a little sawdust and sanding dust remaining in the barrel. It’s always best to remove this before filling the vessel. Also, wood is a natural material in constant development depending on temperature and humidity. Therefore, the wood needs to be “saturated” with water so that any small cracks can be sealed as it expands. It is something of a personal choice of how to do this, here are 2 options:

Method A
  1. Fill the barrel completely with cold water
  2. Leave the barrel filled for 48 hours
  3. Empty the barrel, rinse it with freshwater, and let it drain completely
Method B
  1. Fill the barrel with about 20 liters of hot water
  2. With the barrel upright, rotate both ends for at least two full turns. The bung must be in place.
  3. Place the barrel with a bunghole downwards, and move it from side to side, allowing the water to slosh around inside. Repeat this action until the barrel has made four complete revolutions. Remove the bung and allow the barrel to drain completely.

New vs. old wooden barrels

There are many reasons for investing in new barrels versus a used wooden barrel. If you are an aspiring winemaker, you know that there is much more to winemaking than meets the eye. To create your perfect everyday drink you need a variety of ingredients and a carefully chosen blend. Your wine is subject to the unknown elements of the used oak barrel, and it may be infused with undesirable flavor notes, aromas, or color.

Old barrels are also more challenging to clean. Used wooden barrels have a naturally lower shine than new barrels and if chemicals have been used to treat them, it can create problems like staining. New barrels are easier to clean and often undergo anti-rot treatments for long lasting life.

Another reason is economics; using new wooden barrels allows you to use these barrels many more times, especially if you use a professional wine barrel cleaning service after every use. New barrels allow you to store and serve wine for an extended period without the fear of diminished quality. Suppose you’re an independent winemaker or a small producer. In that case, this can mean the difference between providing your customers with your unique wine consistently, and having to sell it at a discount to keep it from going bad.

You cannot keep your barrels just anywhere!

The location of your barrels plays an important role in deciding its lifespan. You should preferably store them in a cool environment away from direct sunlight. If the place where you reside is extraordinarily dry you should wipe the barrel down with a mildly wet cloth in order to keep it hydrated.

Some General Barrel Tips

The Basics

You must never keep your barrel in an artificially cold environment as it will cause the staves of the barrel to shrink resulting in leakage.

Your barrel’s life has not come to an end in case it suddenly starts leaking. A small amount of barrel wax is all that you need to fix it. Small leaks and cracks can be fixed by barrel wax easily. This method is quite durable unless you let the barrel go dry again for a long time.

An efficient way of maximizing a barrel’s life is always to keep it filled with some kind of liquid. Water can serve the purpose until you are ready with your next batch of wine.

When keeping it aside with water for storage you should keep a check on it. Top it off after a few days or a week. This will make sure that you do not lose much to evaporation and the barrel stays hydrated.

Another way to keep your barrel in tip top condition is to rotate it periodically. This will make sure that all the inside parts of the barrel are evenly hydrated.

What Is the Most Important Element in Wine Barrel Maintenance?

Cleaning the barrel properly is by far the most crucial element in maintaining your wine barrel. Between each batch of wine that your barrel holds, it must be cleaned properly. Storing wine in the barrel leads to the formation of tartrate coatings and yeast molecules resulting in a ruined wine taste. It does not matter whether you own one aging barrel or many, the effort that goes into maintenance is the same. Even a single barrel demands a significant amount of attention.

If you pride yourself on your constantly delicious wine then don’t leave things to chance. At Haglage Associates we specialize in wine barrel cleaning. As you are proud of your wine, we are proud of our wine barrel cleaning nozzle which will allow you to produce your quality wine time after time. Call us today for a free consultation to discuss your specific needs.

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