Tag Archives: burgundy

Roll out the barrels!

Strangely enough, when the wine world talks about barrels, they use the term ‘oak’. They don’t tell you the wine sits in barrels for a period of time, they tell you it has spent a period of time ‘on oak’.

What does oak do?

Barrel cleaner in action.  Villa Franca, Spain

Barrel cleaner in action. Villa Franca, Spain

Oak has been used to store and transport wine for centuries. It’s resilient and non-porous, but just as importantly, it imparts flavour, tannins, colour, structure and complexity to wine.

New oak barrels allow miniscule, but continuous, oxygen penetration into the wine. This is an important factor in colour stabilisation in red wines. Young red wines often show an unstable violet colour, and the oak helps this to redden and stabilise.

Oak also assists excessive astringency in wines through polymerisation. What this means in simple terms is that the oak assists the phenolic molecules join together, forming larger and heavier chunks which then precipitate from the wine. This process actually continues in the bottle. No doubt you’ve seen the odd old bottle of red with all that sediment stuck to the sides. Now you know how it got there.

Oak is resitant to decay, fungus and insect attack, and has less shrinkage capacity than other woods.

Most wines these days are stored in stainless steel tanks, This is particularly true of the mass-produced, fruit-driven style of wines produced in many new world wine production regions. The same can be said of fermentation, unfortunately, as very often commercial winemakers suspend bags of oak chips in the wine rather than use barrels.

Barrel stack.  Siena, Italy

Barrel stack. Siena, Italy

However traditional fortified wines [port, sherry etc] are still stored in oak barrels.

The most common sized oak barrels are the Hogshead [300 litres] and the Barrique [225 litres]. Sherry producers use large barrels that hold 600 litres – although they only use 560 litres of that room [see Spanish wine regions pages for more info], and some Chianti barrels hold much more [as with the large ones pictured on this page].

The size of the barrel comes down to the desired level of oak influence in the wine. Fresh Chianti doesn’t need a lot of oak treatment – it is meant to be drunk young, with fruity characters.

Where does the oak come from?

Whilst oak trees of various species grow around the world, it is the French and American oaks that are of primary interest to the winemaker.

Russian oak has also appeared in wineries around the world – quite possibly due to the expansion of the industry in the past couple of decades, and is making a bit of a name for itself.

Small quantities are also used from other European countries, England and Canada.

Giant Chianti barrels, Siena, Italy

Giant Chianti barrels, Siena, Italy

Now let’s get technical. Oaks come in red or white species. Red oak is too porous, so only white oaks are used. There are three main species of white oak used for winemaking, two from Europe [Quercus sessilis, and Quercus penduncalata], and one from North America [Quercus alba].

If you want to go looking, you’ll find American oak mostly coming from forests east of the Mississippi River, whilst in France, the popular oak forests are found in Limousin, Nevers, Allier, Troncais, Burgundy and Vosges.

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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Winemaking


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Red, Red Wine

While white wines can be quite an artform of their own, undoubtedly red wines are headier, bolder and require more complex winemaking skills, and intense procedures.

Red wine can vary in style from bright pink to dark rich blends. You don’t need to be an expert to appreciate fine red wines, however knowing something of the processes will help you identify some of the characters you might come across – so you can sound like an expert, at least …

Traditional Vinification

Red wine fermenter, Medoc, France

Red wine fermenter, Medoc, France

This is the term used to describe the production method of most red wines. It refers simply to the fermentation of wine on skins. This is done to enable extraction of colour, and the infusion of phenolic compounds from the skins, stalks and seeds included in the must.  The inclusion of these compounds and colour is the primary difference between red and white winemaking.

With red wines, much of the complexity of the styles is determined by the handling of the fermentation and aging.

Red Wine Types & Styles


Rosés are light-bodied red wines, generally made to be drunk soon after production. Having said that, though, some grapes make wines which age over longer periods of time, eg Grenache, and rosé made with these grapes can actually last for years in the bottle before drinking.

Consistently clear, the colour of these wines can vary from vibrant violets and purples to salmon pink. The aroma of rosé is usually lifted, fresh and fruity, and high acidity leaves a clean, dry finish. Like delicate white wines, there should be no phenolic astringency or bitterness.

Rosé can be dry [with less than 7.5 g/L residual sugar] or medium-dry [10-30 g/L residual sugar], with no cloying palate sweetness on the finish.

Classic examples include: Mateus [Portugal], Tavel [France], Nederburg [South Africa] and Charles Melton’s Rose of Virginia [Australia].

Dry Red Table Wines

Dry reds can come as medium-bodied, drink early styles to full-bodied wines that require aging time in the bottle before they can be fully enjoyed.

Grape varieties used to make light to medium-bodied reds are usually Grenache, Pinot Noir – but sometimes grapes used for fuller-bodied styles can be used.

Medium to full-bodied reds are made from a wider range – but the more widely known include the Cabernets, Shiraz, Merlot, Durif. There is also a long list of Italian varieties including Barbera, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese – to name a few. Sometimes Grenache or Pinot Noir can also be usd for this style also.

At the end of the day, it appears that the repertoire of grapes used for each style is limited only by the prowess and will of the winemaker!

Usually showing complexity from a range of winemaking processes and oak storage, red wines generally come across tannic and astringent when young, and most improve with bottle aging, as the tannins consolidate and precipitate to the insides of the bottle.

Sparkling Reds

Sparkling Burgundy originated in France – where Pinot Noir grapes were used [thus the name!]  The Australian wine industry, however, developed a name for themselves for sparkling reds which were also called ‘burgundies’ until recent years. However, they didn’t necessarily use Pinot Noir.

The Australian style is much more fruit-driven and traditionally made with Shiraz. Lately, though, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut and Grenache have joined the club. As long as they can offer rich fruit flavours and sugar level above 13 degrees Baumé.

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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Winemaking


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