If you love pinot noir full of smoky flavors or red Bordeaux with a hint of spice box, then say merci beaucoup to the French oak barrels that lend those flavors to the wine.
Creating a barrel is an ancient art that’s changed little since Roman times. But French coopers have elevated it to an art, creating barrels that are the ne plus ultra when it comes to aging fine wines. They select mature oaks from forests like Nevers and Tronçais, known for contributing the best flavors to wines. The oak is hand-split along the grain into sections called staves and then aged outdoors, exposed to the elements for a couple years to let the wood’s tannins mellow.
Skilled coopers fit the staves together tightly, using heat from a fire and lots of muscle to form the wood around the head of a barrel, keeping everything in place with iron bands. A crucial step is toasting the barrel over a fire — either a little or a lot — depending on the type of wine that will be aged in that barrel.
Barrel aging can make white wines taste richer with hints of vanilla, while red wines get spicier and more complex. We’re barreled over by what French oak can do for wine.
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Photo Credit: kmf164