Thursday, February 4, 2010

Quirky Quercus

We just received some new oak barrels today! Since oak is such an important factor in wine, I think this is a great time to brush up on some facts about Quercus, or Oak

The two major types of oak that are used in wine making are French and American Oak. I will admit that the first vineyard I ever toured in Italy did have some massive Hungarian oak barrels. Massive as in over 7 feet tall; but I haven't run into any since then. So, back to the more common barrels...

One of the major differences between French and American oak is the way that the oak is aged. French oak is typically allowed to air dry for 36 months. This releases a lot of the bitter tannins that can be associated with oak. American oak is air dried for a much shorter period of time, closer to 24 months. After the oak has been aged the barrels are formed. Traditionally this is done by Coopers and the traditional method is over a fire. The inside of the barrel is charred, or toasted while this process happens. Some of our barrels have a stamp on them indicating the level of toast on the barrel. The toast can range from light to heavy. The more a barrel is toasted the more caramelized the inside will be. More caramelization leads to flavors like vanilla, toffee, and (you guessed it) caramel. Other flavors that can be imparted to wine through the barrels are nutty, smokey, toasted coconut, and spice.

Another major difference in French and American oak is physical characteristics of the oak, which leads to a difference in the way the oak is cut. French oak is a much tighter grain, therefore the oak is split along a grain in the wood. American oak is much more porous, so it can be sawed instead of split. This provides a higher yield of usable oak per tree, which contributes to the lower price of American oak.

As for our new barrels, they will be used for the Nektar, which is about half way through the fermentation process at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. I don't knwo a lot abotu them, btu I have encountered a number of VA wineries that use Hungarian oak barrels in addition to the more traditional French and American ones (not the huge ones you mention, however, just standrad size barrels).