A barrel used in the wine aging process plays a major role in driving the flavor of the wine it stores. The variety of wine textures and flavors are driven by the age and type of wood (almost exclusively Oak) the barrel is made from, the degree to which the barrel is “*toasted,” the size of the barrel, and how long the wine is left to age within it. The wines left longest to barrel age will absorb more of the nuances from the wood; shorter contact makes for more subtle characteristics. (*Lacking space, your favorite Wine of the Month Club will address wine barrel “toasting” and its effects at a later date.) Ask any Cooper (barrel maker), and he’ll tell you trees between 60- and 200-yearsold offer the most sought after traits. Wine barrel oaks are mostly harvested from forests in France or the United States. Winemakers seeking barrels that will drive their wines toward subtle and spicy flavors with silk-like textures will use French Oak (Quercus petraea). American Oak (Quercus alba) barrels produce wines with stronger flavors (vanilla and coconut are prevalent), and wines with a more cream-like texture. (Lately, barrelmakers have begun experimenting with oaks harvested from the Slavonia region of Croatia.) The most common flavors and aromas transferred from barrels to wines include toast, vanilla, spice, smoke and cedar. Most barrels impart a strong influence for the first three or four years of use. Over time, a barrel loses some of its strength, thus the flavor wanes. (As it mellows, its influence is referred to as “neutral” oak.) Barrels often convey added tannins, making the flavors and aromas more complex; while at the same time, bolstering the quality of the wine’s texture.


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