Your Wine Questions Answered: Part 1
The history of wine is rich and storied, going back thousands of years and tying in with agriculture, cuisine, civilization, and humanity as a whole. All
of humanity’s knowledge, customs, and traditions involving wine could fill a library due to its vast nature. With that in mind, we decided to begin answering some fairly common questions related to wine that we have fielded over the years. If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line or leave a comment down below.
Q: Why are some wines aged in wood barrels?
The symbiosis between wood barrels and wine was first noticed by the Romans. The Celts invented the modern barrel, utilizing iron hoops and producing
barrels for transport of many goods, not the least of them wine. Happily, oak barrels added character to wine and so their use has always been widespread
in Europe. Though woods from chestnut to redwood have been used (and still are), the wood of choice has always been oak. In fact, oak trees also supply the
wood used to cut corks for closures.
Barrels have several effects on wine. One is that the wines are exposed to small amounts of air as they lie in the barrel, both from the air trapped inside
the barrel and the air invading whenever the bung is removed to check the wine or replace any wine lost through evaporation. If the wine were already in
the bottle, or locked inside a stainless steel tank, the influence of air would be tremendously diminished. This controlled aeration relaxes the wine,
fattening it and aging it.
Oak barrels also impart the flavor of oak, and can greatly alter the taste of a wine dependent upon how large the barrel is, how new, how the barrel was
coopered and at what point and for what period of time the wine is held in it.
These are all decisions on the winemaker's recipe card. Seemingly small choices can yield radically-influenced wines. For a time, American winemakers
believed a lot of oak flavor meant quality wine. Recently, the style has shifted a bit to reflect the opinion that wine should smell like fruit first; oak