We wouldn’t have wine without oak barrels, they’re two sides of the same coin. How is it that such an ordinary vessel can be the source of such a glorious drink? Here’s what you need to know about Yarra Valley wine barrels; all your questions are answered, and all their secrets revealed.
If you want to learn more about the Yarra Valley winemaking process and the role Yara Valley wine barrels play, take a winery tour experience to the Yarra Valley. We offer one-day excursions from Melbourne, weekend getaways in the vineyards, wine tastings and more. For wine experiences to the Yarra Valley, we’re here for you. Now, let’s go back to today’s topic.
The History of Wine Barrels
Barrels are much more sophisticated than you think. They’re artisan pieces hand-crafted with labour-intensive and time-consuming processes. The first barrels came to be somewhere in what we now call France, at least 2,000 years ago. The Celts had already mastered the art of making wooden barrels in 350BC, and the Ancient Romans soon adopted the technology.
Oak became the wood of choice since its flexible, light and watertight. Oak forests were also widely available around Europe. Barrels replaced clay vessels as the primary vessel to transport grains and other agricultural products, including olive oil and wine.
What no one could have ever imagined is that the wood changed any liquid stored in it — that was a game-changer.
How Do Wine Barrels Affect Wine?
To make barrels, the producers must char the wood staves to bend them into place. As the wood is in contact with an open flame, the wood gets toasted and even caramelised.
When you store wine in oak barrels, the wine gets infused with smoky aromas, charred scents that may remind you of chocolate and espresso and sweet brown spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and other baking spices.
The oak also adds tannins to the wine, the gritty particles in red wine that cause a drying sensation in your mouth. Finally, since barrels are not air tight, the wine is exposed to air; therefore, it oxidises slowly, gaining flavour and aromatic complexity.
Types of Wine Barrels
These are the factors that make wine barrels different from each other.
The type of wood. Oak is the most common wood for making wine barrels, but hickory, maple wood and others can be used, although these are rare.
The size of the wine barrels. The larger the barrel, the less influence it has on the wine. Some wine barrels can hold hundreds of litres but the most common hold between 225 and 300 litres.
The age of the barrels. New barrels infuse the wine with flavour and aroma with more intensity. Second use barrels have much less influence.
The type of oak. Most wine barrels are made with oak, but not all oak is the same. French oak is more subtle and refined. American oak is much more expressive. Slavonian oak is somewhere in between.
The charring. Oak staves are charred on an open flame for producers to bend them into shape. The charring also influences the wine. Light toasts add gentle aromas to the wine; heavy toast barrels are more intense.
Learn More In a Yarra Valley Winery!
If you want to learn more about the Yarra Valley wine barrels behind your favourite Yarra Valley wines, take a winery tour to the Yarra Valley, a weekend getaway with accommodation included, or a wine tasting with professionals.
Visiting the Yarra Valley vineyards, Yarra Valley wineries and Yarra Valley cellar doors responsible for some of the most extraordinary Yarra Valley wines in the world is more than a learning experience; it changes the way you see and experience Yarra Valley wine.
A spicy finish, here’s a rustic reclaimed wine barrel to hold your kitchen spices when next entertaining with family and friends over Yarra Valley wines and great food.