Oak 'em if you got 'em... (part 1...)
We love oak barrels at Tesoaria. When it comes to the right vessel to store our reds in post-fermentation, oak is, and will always be, number one. Winemakers today choose from a variety of containers to store, ferment, or age their wines in (including stainless steel, and other non-reactive materials), but for us a classic oak barrel brings the best (most complex) results when aging red wine. While in Italy, John and Joy even saw epoxy lined, cement tanks – John’s immediate reaction: “there’s nothing about epoxy or cement that I would ever want to contaminate my wine!!”
A major reason for this is the benefit of controlled oxidation as the reds mature prior to bottling. A young, "green" red has high astringency and harsh tannin which gradually mellow out over time thanks to oak barrels. Additionally, as the reds gradually oxidize in barrel, they become more stable and will have a much longer shelf life in your wine rack! Topping the wine while it is in the barrel and racking the wine from barrel to barrel to clarify it adds just enough oxygen to have these beneficial effects over a period of many months. Topping losses via evaporation is also known as the Angel’s Share – John is often heard saying, “thieving, drunk-ass Angels!!”
Another reason we oak barrel age has to do with the wood itself. Oak is full of chemical compounds that impart layer upon layer of complexity to our reds. (You won't get this with steel or cement.) If you've ever gotten notes of vanilla, tobacco, tea, leather, etc. from any number of our red wines, that's the barrel speaking to you. Without the use of oak you would most likely end up with a bottle of very fruit-forward, one dimensional red wine lacking any complex flavor profile or interesting mouth-feel.
Barrels come in many different sizes and shapes to impart differing flavors and oxidation levels due to the porosity of the wood and surface area contact with the wine. Typically, wineries use 60 gallon barrels also known as barriques. They typically come in 2 distinct shapes – Bordeaux (long and thin) and Burgundy (short and squat). This is to maximize (in the case of the Bordeaux barrel) the surface area to wine contact. While in Italy, John and Joy fell in love with the Dolcetto and Barbera wines that were aged in 1000 gallon oak casks – These are big enough to stand inside and drink a glass of wine!!!. The purpose of the larger casks is to provide a greater wine to wood ratio while gaining the benefits of micro-oxidation. In the pursuit of classic winemaking style and technique, Tesoaria has purchased 2 - 1000 gallon Italian barrels and will put these into use during the 2015 harvest.
Over the course of a barrels lifespan, those chemical compounds present in the oak will diminish over time from repeated use vintage after vintage. (Which can mean less complex flavor for your wine). To combat this we've partnered with reWine Barrels LLC who revitalize and refurbish our barrels to double their lifespan and available use! (We're all about recycling any way we can.) Through a process of shaving and toasting the insides of the barrels, we're able to continue using them for future vintages, ensuring you get as much barrel influence to your reds as possible! To learn more about how this is done, check out reWine Barrels website here,
The topic of oak barrels cannot be covered in just one edition and we will soon publish another article covering barrel making techniques, types of wood used, and areas of the world where the wood is sourced.