The use of a cooperage goes back to antiquity. Although the Romans used amphorae, they “copied” using barrels from the Gauls for transportation throughout the mediterranean. Barrels were also used to transport other types of products such as sugar, oil or beer. Nowadays, barrels are still the most used vessels for ageing wines. Why?
The quality of the wood is essential when making `barriques´ as it will affect the ageing of the wine. The type of oak, its age, size, etc influence the wine in different ways.
“The wood bestows tannins, aromas and tastes that are key for the elaboration of wine” explains Marilena Bonilla, Chief Winemaker at Bodegas Protos.
Oak: French or American?
Normally `barriques´ are made either from french oak (slow oxygenation, smooth taste, delicate aromas) or american (faster transfer of oak properties into the wine, stronger aromas). In Portugal we find Tonnellerie J. M. Gonçalves whose facilities are near the Douro International Natural Park & Arribes de Duero Natural Park.
“We carefully select the best batches of French oak (Quercus petraea or sessiliflora) in the beautiful forests of Allier and Vosges. This wood is characterized by a type of fine vein, which mean, that the growth rings are visible inside the trunk of a tree. It is delicate in nature, and with a very fine boisé, which fully respects the fruit of the wine throughout its ageing”, explain from J.M. Gonçalves.
“American oak (Quercus alba), from the forests of Missouri and Appalachia, is selected from the best batches of American white oak, revealing a rich and complex aromatic character,” they add. But in addition to the type of wood, which can be combined as in the Unique Barrel model of J.M. Gonçalves that mixes 60% American with 40% French wood in the same `barrique´. There are other important variables that winemakers take into account during production: the size of the `barrique`, the thickness of the staves (planks), the grain of the wood or its drying time that can reach 4.5 years.
At Protos we use over 15,000 barriques, 70% of french oak and 30% of american, where we age all of our red wines.