How much do you know about the wine barrels used to make your wine so tasty? For instance, did you know that a cooper is the technical term for someone who makes wine barrels? Or that the 50 priciest wines are aged in oak wood barrels? It’s not just wine, oak barrels offer benefits to whiskey as well.
As the makers of wine barrel furniture, we are highly fascinated by wine barrel facts and the history of this unique method for storing and ageing wine. Keep reading to learn some of our favorite facts about wine barrels.
10 Facts About Wine Barrels That’ll Make You Say “Cheers!”
#1. The average wine barrel is used to store wine for just 3 years.
Using wine barrels for over three years tends to cause consistency issues, and the barrels often develop odd odors or leaks. One way around this is to shave barrels, removing around 6 millimeters from the inside and then toasting the wood again. Although, this has complications as well, and the act of re-toasting barrels can put an odd taste in wine. Therefore, even though there are ways to clean and reuse barrels to store wine, it is not that popular of a practice.
#2. The first barrel, as we know it, was designed as far back as 350 BC.
It is believed that the Celts developed the first modern-like barrel made from wood that could be rolled or stacked.
#3. Clay was almost the go-to material to store wine and spirits
Back in Roman times, wine was stored in clay vessels called ‘amphorae’. The problem with clay was that it broke easily and was difficult to transport, hence how members of the Roman Empire started using wood instead of clay.
#4. There are laws about how long whiskey must be stored in barrels.
According to US law, “straight whiskey” is required to be stored for 2 years in a new, charred white oak barrel. Whiskey aged in used barrels is not technically allowed to be termed “straight.” Furthermore, international laws state that “Scotch” must be distilled in Scotland and stored in an oak cask for at least 3 years.
In Canada, the law states that Canadian whiskies must be aged in a barrel that is less than 700 L for at least three years.
#5. Red wines are aged longer than white wines.
Your typical red wine is aged in oak barrels for about 1 to 2 years before it is bottled. White wines, in general, are aged for a little less time.
#6. Different types of oak produce unique flavors.
Oak barrels are made from a variety of oak wood, including North American Oak and European Oak. There’s ongoing debate over which one is better, as each produces unique flavors. Expert wine enthusiasts with fine pallets often describe wine aged in French oak as bolder and more “in your face” than wine aged in American oak.
#7. French oak trees are OLD before they become wine barrels.
For a French oak tree to be considered suitable for aging wine, it is generally between 80 and 120 years old. One tree only produces two barrels because the oak is split and only 25% of the tree is suitable to making barrels. Since American oak can be serrated, more of the tree is useable – plus, American oak trees grow and mature faster and can be used sooner.
#8. There are two different ways to dry out oak before it is used to make barrels.
Oak wood can be air dried or kiln dried before being used to store wine. Each method produces a different flavor to the finished product.
#9. Say hello to artificial vanilla – it makes your wine (& whiskey) taste a lot better.
Phenolic aldehyde, also known as vanillin, occurs naturally in oak. As wine and whiskey ages, it absorbs the vanillin to create a flavor profile. Barrels are toasted or charred to enhance and accelerate this process.
#10. Smaller barrels age faster
It takes less time for wine to age in smaller barrels than large barrels because smaller barrels have greater surface-to-volume ratio. It might take years to age wine in a large barrel, while the same results could be accomplished in months using a smaller barrel.