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The barrel’s role in the wine-making process

When it comes to producing high quality wines, there are often references to the use of barrels. They are used for maturing the wine. But what is it all about? What exactly is a barrel? And what does it bring to the wine?

We would like to help you understand one of the many stages that come between the grape on the vine and the bottle on the table.

WHAT EXACTLY IS A BARREL?

Barrels were invented by the Gauls some centuries before the Romans arrived in France. A barrel, or cask, is a wooden container used to store liquid for consumption. More robust, it superseded the amphora, which was too fragile for shipping wine by boat.

Barrels are made entirely by hand, although sometimes with the assistance of machines. The artisan who makes barrels is a cooper, and the craft is called cooperage. They are crafted using wooden staves, which are often oak, held in place with a metal hoop. The inside of the barrel is then heated using a brazier so that it keeps its curved shape.

In France there are different types of barrels and casks according to the region. The most famous are the Burgundy fût and the Bordeaux “barrique” The bulbous and rounded Burgundy fût contains 228 litres of wine. That corresponds to 288 bottles, i.e. 24 cases of 12 bottles. The 225-litre Bordeaux barrique is thinner and narrower. It is usually hooped with galvanised steel. Other containers can be used for wine, such as barils, casks that contain 5 to 30 litres, quarteaux for up to 60 litres, and wine barrels that contain 250 litres.

WHAT IS A BARREL USED FOR?

Nowadays barrels are used to age wine in a cellar after fermentation, rather than for transport. This stage is called barrel maturation.

Before the wine can be bottled and enjoyed, it must be allowed to age a little longer. This can be done in steel vats or in barrels, for varying lengths of time according to the style of wine the winemaker is aiming for. Barrel maturation can be used for both white and red wines.

A wooden barrel is used to harmonise the wine’s structure and flavour. The construction of the barrel with wooden staves makes it permeable, so air enters into contact with the wine inside, stabilises its colour, and if it is red wine, accentuates the tannins slightly. So, although Alsace wines are primarily white, that does not exclude barrels from the vineyard!

Maturation in oak barrels causes the wine to evolve and age in a specific way. Wine aged in barrels will develop notes of vanilla, coconut and fresh wood, as well as roasted and smoky notes of coffee, cocoa and toast. This second aroma family emerges due to the fact that the barrel is heated during manufacture.

Ideally, the aromas that develop in this way complement the wine’s fruitand mingle together to perfection during bottle ageing. It’s important to note that the aromas released from the wood also depend on the barrel’s age and what it was previously used for. A new barrel will deliver more aromas than a barrel that has already been used to mature one, two or even more wines.

Barrel maturation is not only the preserve of wine, it can also be part of the crafting process for spirits such as whisky, eau de vie and other liquors.

HOW BESTHEIM USES BARRELS ?

One of our Pinots Noirs is called Les Chanteaux. Chanteau is the French for cant, the last small piece of wood that makes up the top of the barrel. This aromatic red wine is matured for 12 months in French oak barrels, causing it to develop a refined harmony between the fruit of the Pinot Noir and the woody notes of the barrel.

As another example, our Pinot Gris Exception is also aged for 12 to 16 months in French oak barrels.

Enjoy our barrel-matured wines!

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Pinot Noir Impatient
AOC Alsace
Pinot Noir Rosé d'Exception
AOC Alsace