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The use of oak plays a significant role in winemaking
Winemaking
Winemaking, or vinification, is the production of wine, starting with selection of the grapes or other produce and ending with bottling the finished wine. Although most wine is made from grapes, it may also be made from other fruit or non-toxic plant material...

 and can have a profound effect on the resulting wine, affecting the color, flavor, tannin profile and texture of the wine. Oak can come into contact with wine in the form of a barrel during the fermentation
Fermentation (wine)
The process of fermentation in wine turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, yeast interact with sugars in the juice to create ethanol, commonly known as ethyl alcohol, and carbon dioxide...

 or aging periods. It can be introduced to the wine in the form of free-floating oak chips or as wood staves (or sticks) added to wine in a fermentation vessel like stainless steel. The use of oak barrels can impart other qualities to wine through the processes of evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

 and low level exposure to oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

.

History


In early wine history
History of wine
The history of wine spans thousands of years and is closely intertwined with the history of agriculture, cuisine, civilization and humanity itself...

, the amphora
Amphora
An amphora is a type of vase-shaped, usually ceramic container with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body...

 was the vessel of choice for the storage and transportation of wine. Due to the perishable nature of wood material it is difficult to trace the usage of barrels in history. The Greek historian Herodotus
Herodotus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria and lived in the 5th century BC . He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a...

 noted that ancient Mesopotamians used barrels made of palm wood to transport wine along the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

. Palm is a difficult material to bend and fashion into barrels, however, and wine merchants in different regions experimented with different wood styles to find a better wood source. The use of oak has been prevalent in winemaking for at least two millennia, first coming into widespread use during the Roman empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. In time, winemakers discovered that beyond just storage convenience that wine kept in oak barrels took on properties that improved the wine by making it softer and in some cases better-tasting. Robert Mondavi
Robert Mondavi
Robert Gerald Mondavi was a leading California vineyard operator whose technical improvements and marketing strategies brought worldwide recognition for the wines of the Napa Valley in California. From an early period, Mondavi aggressively promoted labeling wines varietally rather than...

 is credited with expanding the knowledge of winemakers in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 about the different types of oak and barrel styles through his experiments in the 1960s & 1970s.

Effects on wine


The porous nature of an oak barrel allows some levels of evaporation and oxygenation
Oxygenation (environmental)
Environmental oxygenation can be important to the sustainability of a particular ecosystem. Insufficient oxygen may occur in bodies of water such as ponds and rivers, tending to suppress the presence of aerobic organisms such as fish...

 to occur in wine but typically not at levels that would cause oxidation or spoilage of the wine. In a year, the typical 59-gallon
Gallon
The gallon is a measure of volume. Historically it has had many different definitions, but there are three definitions in current use: the imperial gallon which is used in the United Kingdom and semi-officially within Canada, the United States liquid gallon and the lesser used United States dry...

 barrel can lose anywhere from 5½ to 6½ gallons of wine through the course of evaporation. This evaporation (of mostly alcohol
Ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

 and water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

) allows the wine to concentrate its flavor
Flavor
Flavor or flavour is the sensory impression of a food or other substance, and is determined mainly by the chemical senses of taste and smell. The "trigeminal senses", which detect chemical irritants in the mouth and throat as well as temperature and texture, are also very important to the overall...

 and aroma compounds. Small amounts of oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 are allowed to pass through the barrel and act as a softening agent upon the tannins of the wine.

The chemical properties of oak itself can have a profound effect on the wine. Phenols within the wood interact with the wine to produce vanilla
Vanilla
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, Flat-leaved Vanilla . The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word "", little pod...

 type flavors and can give the impression of tea notes or sweetness. The degree of "toast" on the barrel can also impart different properties affecting the tannin levels of the wine as well as the aggressive wood flavors. The hydrolyzable
Hydrolysis
Hydrolysis is a chemical reaction during which molecules of water are split into hydrogen cations and hydroxide anions in the process of a chemical mechanism. It is the type of reaction that is used to break down certain polymers, especially those made by condensation polymerization...

 tannins present in wood, known as ellagitannins, are derived from lignin
Lignin
Lignin or lignen is a complex chemical compound most commonly derived from wood, and an integral part of the secondary cell walls of plants and some algae. The term was introduced in 1819 by de Candolle and is derived from the Latin word lignum, meaning wood...

 structures in the wood. They help protect the wine from oxidation and reduction
Redox
Redox reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed....

.


Wines can be barrel fermented
Fermentation (wine)
The process of fermentation in wine turns grape juice into an alcoholic beverage. During fermentation, yeast interact with sugars in the juice to create ethanol, commonly known as ethyl alcohol, and carbon dioxide...

 in oak or they can be placed in oak after fermentation for a period of aging or maturation. Wine that is matured in oak receives more of the oak flavors and properties than wine that is fermented in oak. This is because yeast
Yeast
Yeasts are eukaryotic micro-organisms classified in the kingdom Fungi, with 1,500 species currently described estimated to be only 1% of all fungal species. Most reproduce asexually by mitosis, and many do so by an asymmetric division process called budding...

 cells interact with and "latch on" to the oak components. When the dead yeast cells are removed from the wine as lees
Lees (fermentation)
Lees refers to deposits of dead yeast or residual yeast and other particles that precipitate, or are carried by the action of "fining", to the bottom of a vat of wine after fermentation and ageing. The yeast deposits in beer brewing are known as trub...

, some of these oak properties go with them. A characteristic of white wines that are fermented in oak include a pale color with an extra silky texture. White wines that are fermented in steel and then matured in oak will have a darker coloring due to the heavy phenolic compounds that are still present. Flavor notes that are common descriptions of wines exposed to oak include caramel
Caramel
Caramel is a beige to dark-brown confection made by heating any of a variety of sugars. It is used as a flavoring in puddings and desserts, as a filling in bonbons, and as a topping for ice cream, custard and coffee....

, cream
Cream
Cream is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators"...

, smoke
Smoke
Smoke is a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis, together with the quantity of air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass. It is commonly an unwanted by-product of fires , but may also be used for pest...

, spice
Spice
A spice is a dried seed, fruit, root, bark, or vegetative substance used in nutritionally insignificant quantities as a food additive for flavor, color, or as a preservative that kills harmful bacteria or prevents their growth. It may be used to flavour a dish or to hide other flavours...

 and vanilla. Chardonnay
Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It is originated from the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand...

 is a variety that has very distinct flavor profiles when fermented in oak that include coconut
Coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

, cinnamon
Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods...

 and cloves notes. The "toastiness" of the barrel can bring out varying degrees of mocha
Cafe Mocha
A caffè mocha or café mochaAs elsewhere in coffee naming, the Italian caffè and French café are commonly found, as are the hyperforeignisms caffé and cafè, which confuse the accents. Also, in Italian, the correct spelling is Moka, used both for the city and the Moka pot. "Mocha", by contrast, is...

 and toffee
Toffee
Toffee is a confection made by caramelizing sugar or molasses along with butter, and occasionally flour. The mixture is heated until its temperature reaches the hard crack stage of 300 to 310 °F...

 notes in red wine.

The length of time that a wine spends in the barrel is dependent on the varietal
Varietal
"Varietal" describes wines made primarily from a single named grape variety, and which typically displays the name of that variety on the wine label. Examples of grape varieties commonly used in varietal wines are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot...

 and style of wine that the winemaker wishes to make. The majority of oak flavoring is imparted in the first few months that the wine is in contact with oak but a longer term exposure can affect the wine through the light aeration
Aeration
Aeration is the process by which air is circulated through, mixed with or dissolved in a liquid or substance.-Aeration of liquids:-Methods:Aeration of liquids is achieved by:...

 that the barrel allows which helps to precipitate the phenolic compounds and quickens the aging process of the wine. New World
New World wine
New World wines are those wines produced outside the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe, in particular from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.-Early wines in the Americas:...

 Pinot noir
Pinot Noir
Pinot noir is a black wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from Pinot noir grapes...

 may spend less than a year in oak. Premium Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world's most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates from Canada's Okanagan Valley to Lebanon's Beqaa Valley...

 may spend two years. The very tannic Nebbiolo grape may spend four or more years in oak. High end Rioja
Rioja (wine)
Rioja is a wine, with Denominación de Origen Calificada named after La Rioja, in Spain. Rioja is made from grapes grown not only in the Autonomous Community of La Rioja, but also in parts of Navarre and the Basque province of Álava. Rioja is further subdivided into three zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja...

 producers will sometimes age their wines up to ten years in American oak to get a desired earthy, vanilla character.

Oak types and sources



The species of oak typically used for American oak production is the Quercus alba which is a white oak species that is characterized by its relatively fast growth, wider grains and lower wood tannins. It is found in most of the Eastern United States
Eastern United States
The Eastern United States, the American East, or simply the East is traditionally defined as the states east of the Mississippi River. The first two tiers of states west of the Mississippi have traditionally been considered part of the West, but can be included in the East today; usually in...

 as well as Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

, Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 and Wisconsin
Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

 where many wine barrels are from. In Oregon
Oregon
Oregon is a state in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. It is located on the Pacific coast, with Washington to the north, California to the south, Nevada on the southeast and Idaho to the east. The Columbia and Snake rivers delineate much of Oregon's northern and eastern...

 the Quercus garryana white oak has started to gain usage due to its closer similarities to European oak.

In France, both the Quercus robur (common oak) and Quercus petraea (white oak) are considered apt for wine making, however, the latter is considered far superior for its finer grain and richer contribution of aromatic components like vanillin
Vanillin
Vanillin is a phenolic aldehyde, an organic compound with the molecular formula C8H8O3. Its functional groups include aldehyde, ether, and phenol. It is the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean. It is also found in Leptotes bicolor, roasted coffee and the Chinese red pine...

 and its derivates, methyl-octalactone and tannins, as well as phenols and volatile aldehydes.
French oak typically comes from one or more primary forests: Allier
Allier
Allier is a department in central France named after the river Allier.- History :Allier is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790. It was created from parts of the former provinces of Auvergne and Bourbonnais.In 1940, the government of Marshal...

, Limousin
Limousin (région)
Limousin is one of the 27 regions of France. It is composed of three départements: Corrèze, Creuse and the Haute-Vienne.Situated largely in the Massif Central, as of January 1st 2008, the Limousin comprised 740,743 inhabitants on nearly 17 000 km2, making it the second least populated region of...

, Nevers
Nevers
Nevers is a commune in – and the administrative capital of – the Nièvre department in the Bourgogne region in central France...

, Tronçais
Forest of Tronçais
The Forest of Tronçais is a French national forest, a forêt domaniale, comprising 10,600 hectares in the Allier, managed by the Office national des forêts...

 and Vosges
Vosges
Vosges is a French department, named after the local mountain range. It contains the hometown of Joan of Arc, Domrémy.-History:The Vosges department is one of the original 83 departments of France, created on February 9, 1790 during the French Revolution. It was made of territories that had been...

. The wood from each of these forests has slightly different characteristics. Many winemakers utilize barrels made from different cooperages, regions and degrees of toasting in blending their wines to enhance the complexity of the resulting wine.

Italian wine
Italian wine
Italian wine is wine produced in Italy, a country which is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Italy is the world's largest wine producer, responsible for approximately one-fifth of world wine production in 2005. Italian wine is exported largely around the world and has...

makers have had a long history of using Slavonia
Slavonia
Slavonia is a geographical and historical region in eastern Croatia...

n oak from the Quercus robur which is known for its tight grain, low aromatics and medium level tannins. Slavonian oak tends to be used in larger barrel sizes (with less surface area relative to volume) with the same barrels reused for many more years before replacement. Prior to the Russian Revolution, Quercus petraea oak from the Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 was the most highly sought after wood for French wine
French wine
French wine is produced in several regions throughout France, in quantities between 50 and 60 million hectolitres per year, or 7–8 billion bottles. France has the world's second-largest total vineyard area, behind Spain, and is in the position of being the world's largest wine producer...

making. Today Russian oak from the Adygey region along the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 is being explored by French winemakers as a cheaper alternative to French oak. Canadian wine
Canadian wine
Canadian wine is produced in mainly southern British Columbia and southern Ontario. There is also a growing number of small scale producers of grapes and wine in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia. The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia and the...

ries have been experimenting with the use of Canadian oak, which proponents describe as a middle ground between American and French oak even though it is the same species as American oak.

Oak trees are typically between 80–120 years old prior to harvesting with the ideal conditions being a cool climate in a dense forest region that gives the trees opportunity to mature slowly and develop a tighter grain. Typically one tree can provide enough wood for two 59 gallons (223.3 l) barrels. The trees are typically harvest
Harvest
Harvest is the process of gathering mature crops from the fields. Reaping is the cutting of grain or pulse for harvest, typically using a scythe, sickle, or reaper...

ed in the winter months when there is less sap
Sap
Sap may refer to:* Plant sap, the fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant* Sap , a village in the Dunajská Streda District of Slovakia...

 in the trunk.

Differences between French and American oak


American oak tends to be more intensely flavored than French oak with more sweet and vanilla
Vanillin
Vanillin is a phenolic aldehyde, an organic compound with the molecular formula C8H8O3. Its functional groups include aldehyde, ether, and phenol. It is the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean. It is also found in Leptotes bicolor, roasted coffee and the Chinese red pine...

 overtones due to the American oak having two to four times as many lactones. Winemakers choose American oak typically for bold, powerful reds, base wines for "assemblage," or for warm climate Chardonnay
Chardonnay
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape variety used to make white wine. It is originated from the Burgundy wine region of eastern France but is now grown wherever wine is produced, from England to New Zealand...

s. Besides being derived from different species, a major difference between American and French oak comes from the preparation of the wood. The tighter grain and less watertight nature of French oak obliges coopers
Cooper (profession)
Traditionally, a cooper is someone who makes wooden staved vessels of a conical form, of greater length than breadth, bound together with hoops and possessing flat ends or heads...

 to split the wood along the grain. The wood is then aged or "seasoned" for 24 to 36 months in the open air, in a so-called wood-yard.
Even though American coopers may use a kiln
Kiln
A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, or oven, in which a controlled temperature regime is produced. Uses include the hardening, burning or drying of materials...

-dry method to season the wood, almost all others will season American oak in exactly the same way as French. Open air seasoning has the advantage of leaching undesirable chemical components and bitter tannins, mellowing the oak in a manner that kiln-dry methods are incapable of replicating.
Even though sun, rain, and wind may suffice in most cases to season oak, in dryer climates coopers - such as Tonelería Nacional - apply up to 2000 mm of water a year to their wood stacks in order to facilitate the seasoning process.

Since French oak must be split, only 20 to 25% of the tree can be utilized; American oak may be serrated, which makes it at least twice as economical.
Its more pronounced oxidation and a quicker release of aromas help wines to lose their astringency and harshness faster; which makes this the wood of choice for shorter maturations - six to ten months. Because of American oak’s modest tannin contribution, the perfect first fill is a wine with abundant tannins and good texture; it allows the fruit to interact harmoniously with the wood, which contributes a wide array of complex aromas and soft, yet very palatable tannins.

French oak, on the other hand, generates silky and transparent tannins, which transmit a sensation of light sweetness combined with fruity flavors that persist in the mouth. Spices and toasted almond are noteworthy, combined with flavors of ripe red fruit in red wines, and notes of peach, exotic fruits and floral aromas like jasmine and rose in whites, depending on the grape variety employed.

Wine barrel


Wine barrels, especially those made of oak, have long been used as containers in which wine is aged. Aging in oak typically imparts desirable vanilla, butter and spice flavors to wine. The size of the barrel plays a large role in determining the effects of oak on the wine by dictating the ratio of surface area to volume of wine with smaller containers having a larger impact. The most common barrels are the Bordeaux barriques style which hold 59 gallons (223.3 l) followed by the Burgundy style barrel which hold 60 gallons (227.1 l). Some New World wine makers use the large hogshead
Hogshead
A hogshead is a large cask of liquid . More specifically, it refers to a specified volume, measured in either Imperial units or U.S. customary units, primarily applied to alcoholic beverages such as wine, ale, or cider....

 79 gallons (299 l) size.

New barrels impart more flavors than do previously used barrels. Over time many of the oak properties get "leached" out of the barrel with layers of natural deposits left from the wine building up on the wood to where after 3 to 5 vintages there may be little or no oak flavors imparted on the wine. The cost of barrels varies due to the supply and demand
Supply and demand
Supply and demand is an economic model of price determination in a market. It concludes that in a competitive market, the unit price for a particular good will vary until it settles at a point where the quantity demanded by consumers will equal the quantity supplied by producers , resulting in an...

 market economy and can change with different features that a cooperage may offer. As of late 2007 the price for a standard American oak barrel was $270 USD, French oak $600 USD, and Eastern European $480 USD. Due to the expense of barrels, several techniques have been devised in an attempt to save money. One is to shave the inside of used barrels and insert new thin inner staves that have been toasted.

Barrel construction



Barrels are constructed in cooperages. The traditional method of European coopers have been to hand-split the oak into staves (or strips) along the grain. After the oak is split, it is allowed to "season" or dry outdoors while exposed to the elements. This process can take anywhere from 10 to 36 months during which time the harshest tannins from the wood are leached out. These tannins are visible as dark gray and black residue left on the ground once the staves are removed. The longer the wood is allowed to season the softer the potential wine stored in the barrels may be but this can add substantially to the cost of the barrel. In some American cooperage the wood is dried in a kiln
Kiln
A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, or oven, in which a controlled temperature regime is produced. Uses include the hardening, burning or drying of materials...

 instead of outdoor seasoning. While this method is much faster, it doesn't soften the tannins quite as much as outdoor seasoning.

The staves are then heated, traditionally over an open fire, and when pliable are bent into the shape of the desired barrel and held together with iron rings. Instead of fire, a cooper may use steam to heat up the staves but this tends to impart less "toastiness" and complexity to the resulting wine. Following the traditional, hand worked style a cooper is typically able to construct one barrel in a day's time. Winemakers can order barrels with the wood on the inside of the barrel having been lightly charred or “toasted” with fire, medium toasted, or heavily toasted. Typically the "lighter" the toasting the more oak flavor and tannins that are imparted. Heavy toast or "charred" which is typical treatment of barrels in Burgundy wine
Burgundy wine
Burgundy wine is wine made in the Burgundy region in eastern France, in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône River, a tributary of the Rhône. The most famous wines produced here - those commonly referred to as "Burgundies" - are red wines made from Pinot Noir grapes or white wines made from...

 have an added dimension from the char that medium or light toasted barrels do not impart. Heavy toasting dramatically reduces the coconut note lactones, even in American oak, but create a high carbon
Carbon
Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

 content that may reduce the coloring of some wines. During the process of toasting, the furanic aldehyde
Aldehyde
An aldehyde is an organic compound containing a formyl group. This functional group, with the structure R-CHO, consists of a carbonyl center bonded to hydrogen and an R group....

s in the wood reach a higher level of concentration. This produces the "roasted" aroma in the wine. The toasting also enhances the presences of vanillin and the phenol eugenol
Eugenol
Eugenol is a phenylpropene, an allyl chain-substituted guaiacol. Eugenol is a member of the phenylpropanoids class of chemical compounds. It is a clear to pale yellow oily liquid extracted from certain essential oils especially from clove oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil and bay leaf. It is slightly...

 which creates smokey and spicy notes that in some wines are similar to the aromatics of oil of cloves
Oil of cloves
Oil of cloves, also known as clove oil, is an essential oil from the clove plant, Syzygium aromaticum.* CAS number: 8000-34-8It is a natural analgaesic and antiseptic used primarily in dentistry for its main ingredient eugenol...

.

Barrel alternatives



Although oak barrels have long been used by winemaker
Winemaker
A winemaker or vintner is a person engaged in winemaking. They are generally employed by wineries or wine companies, where their work includes:*Cooperating with viticulturists...

s, many wineries now use oak wood chips for aging wine more quickly and also adding desired woody aromas along with butter and vanilla flavors. Oak chips can be added during fermentation or during aging. In the latter case, they are generally placed into fabric sacks and placed into the aging wine. The diversity of chips available gives winemakers numerous options. Oak chips have the benefit of imparting intense oak flavoring in a matter of weeks while traditional oak barrels would need a year or more to convey similar intensity. Critics claim that the oak flavoring from chips tend to be one-dimensional and skewed towards the vanilla extract with the wines still lacking some of the physical benefits that barrel oak imparts. The use of oak powder is also less common than chips, although they are a very practical alternative if oak character is to be introduced during fermentation. Oak plank
Plank (wood)
A plank is a piece of timber, flat, elongated and rectangular, with parallel faces, higher or longer than wide, used in the construction of ships, houses, bridges, etc......

s or staves are sometimes used, either during fermentation or aging. Wines made from these barrel alternatives typically do not age as well as wines that are matured in barrels. Improvements in micro-oxygenation have allowed winemakers to better mimic the gentle aeration of oak barrels in stainless steel tanks with oak chips.

Prior to 2006, the practice of using oak chips was outlawed in the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

. In 1999, the Bordeaux court of appeals fined four wineries, including third growth Chateau Giscours
Chateau Giscours
Château Giscours is a winery in the Margaux appellation of the Bordeaux region of France, in the commune of Labarde. The wine produced here was classified as one of fourteen Troisièmes Crus in the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855.-History:The first written reference to the domain of...

, more than $13,000 USD for the use of oak chips in their wine.

Other wood types


Throughout history other wood types, including chestnut
Chestnut
Chestnut , some species called chinkapin or chinquapin, is a genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees and shrubs in the beech family Fagaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The name also refers to the edible nuts they produce.-Species:The chestnut belongs to the...

, pine
Pine
Pines are trees in the genus Pinus ,in the family Pinaceae. They make up the monotypic subfamily Pinoideae. There are about 115 species of pine, although different authorities accept between 105 and 125 species.-Etymology:...

, redwood
Redwood
-Trees:Conifers* Family Cupressaceae *** Sequoia sempervirens - coast redwood**** Albino redwood*** Sequoiadendron giganteum - giant sequoia*** Metasequoia glyptostroboides - dawn redwood* Family Pinaceae...

, and acacia
Acacia
Acacia is a genus of shrubs and trees belonging to the subfamily Mimosoideae of the family Fabaceae, first described in Africa by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1773. Many non-Australian species tend to be thorny, whereas the majority of Australian acacias are not...

, have been used in crafting winemaking vessels, particularly large fermentation vats. However none of these wood types possess the compatibility with wine that oak has demonstrated in combining its water tight, yet slightly porous, storage capabilities with the unique flavor and texture characteristic that it can impart to the wine that it is in contact with. Chestnut is very high in tannins and is too porous as a storage barrel and must be coated with paraffin
Paraffin
In chemistry, paraffin is a term that can be used synonymously with "alkane", indicating hydrocarbons with the general formula CnH2n+2. Paraffin wax refers to a mixture of alkanes that falls within the 20 ≤ n ≤ 40 range; they are found in the solid state at room temperature and begin to enter the...

 to prevent excessive wine loss through evaporation. Redwood is too rigid to bend into the smaller barrel shapes and imparts an unpleasant flavor. Acacia imparts a yellow tint to the wine. Other hardwoods like apple and cherry wood
Cherry Tree
Cherry Tree may refer to:* A tree that produces cherries* An ornamental cherry tree that produces cherry blossomsPlaces* Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, a borough in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, United States* Cherry Tree, Oklahoma...

 have an off putting smell. Austrian wine
Austrian wine
Austrian wines are mostly dry white wines with some luscious dessert wines made around the Neusiedler See. About 30% of the wines are red, made from Blaufränkisch , Pinot Noir and locally bred varieties such as Zweigelt...

makers have a history of using Acacia barrels. Historically, chestnut was used by Beaujolais
Beaujolais
Beaujolais is a French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wine generally made of the Gamay grape which has a thin skin and is low in tannins. Like most AOC wines they are not labeled varietally. Whites from the region, which make up only 1% of its production, are made mostly with Chardonnay grapes...

, Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and Portuguese wine
Portuguese wine
Portuguese wine is the result of traditions introduced to the region by ancient civilizations, such as the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, and mostly the Romans. Portugal started to export its wines to Rome during the Roman Empire. Modern exports developed with trade to England after the...

 makers. Some Rhône winemakers still use paraffin coated chestnut barrels but the coating minimizes any effect from the wood making its function similar to a neutral concrete vessel. In Chile
Chilean wine
Chilean wine is wine made in the South American country of Chile. The region has a long viticultural history for a New World wine region dating to the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors brought Vitis vinifera vines with them as they colonized the region. In the mid-19th century, French...

 there are traditions for using barrel made of rauli
Nothofagus alpina
Nothofagus alpina also called Rauli Beech is a species of plant in the Fagaceae family. Deciduous tree, it grows in Chile and Argentina , it reaches 50 m height and more than 2 meters in diameter. Its distribution goes from 35 to 42° South latitude. It is found on the Andes...

 wood but it is beginning to fall out of favor due to the musky scent it imparts on wine.

See also


  • Barrel
    Barrel
    A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container, traditionally made of vertical wooden staves and bound by wooden or metal hoops. Traditionally, the barrel was a standard size of measure referring to a set capacity or weight of a given commodity. A small barrel is called a keg.For example, a...

  • Clarification and stabilization of wine
    Clarification and stabilization of wine
    The clarification and stabilization of wine in winemaking involves removing insoluble and suspended materials. The insoluble material causes a wine to be cloudy. These processes may include fining, filtration, centrifugation, flotation, refrigeration, barrel maturation, pasteurization and racking...

  • Ullage (wine)
    Ullage (wine)
    Ullage is a winemaking term that has several meanings but most commonly refers to the headspace of air between wine and the top of the container that it is in...

  • Bunghole
    Bunghole
    A Bunghole or Bungehole is a hole bored in a liquid-tight barrel to remove contents. The hole is capped with a large cork-like object called a bung. Acceptable usage include other access points that may be capped with alternate materials providing an air or water-tight access to other vessels. For...

  • Bung
    Bung
    A bung is truncated cylindrical or conical closure to seal a container, such as a bottle, tube or barrel. Unlike a lid which encloses a container from the outside without displacing the inner volume, a bung is partially inserted inside the container to act as a seal...


External links