Wood in oenology and its role in the refinement of red wine

My cellar-master Nicola note about the use wood with red wines.

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It’s very important to explain the difference between large barrels called “botti” and small barrels called “barrique” and their influence on the wine during barrel aging. Botti are large barrels generally with the capacity of 500 liters or more. The tree which they are typically produced from grows in Slovenia, the oak is Quercus Sessilis that has a rapid growth therefore the trees are tall, which produce long slats typically used for Botti. The slats are very thick and allow a much slower micro oxygenation during barrel aging. This wood is also less porous than other types of wood used for other barrels and contributes to a different sort of evolution during the maturation/refinement of the wine. The botti are usually not toasted (of course there can be exceptions to the rule). The botti have a long life span and don’t have to be changed as often as the barrique.The barrique have a capacity of 225 liters and are made of slates that are 2,5cm thick, much thinner and more porous too. The wood most commonly used in the making of barrique is Quercus Sessilis and Quercus Robur coming from areas in France: Troncais, Allier e Limousin. Quercus Alba is the oak used to make American barrique obviously coming from America. Barriques are toasted by fire at different temperatures from 120 ° C for 30 min. for a light toasting, 170°C for 40 min. for a medium toasting or at 200°C for 45 min. for a strong toasting. The phenomenon of perfume coming from the wood usually end in a 3 year period and therefore will have to be replaced. Toasting enhances the characteristics in the wood that will be transferred to the wine. The aromas are usually classified as boisèe (forest or wood like notes) but transform to many notes such as butter, vanilla, tea, tobacco and balsamic. The wood also leaves tannins on the wine that help to reinforce the structure and will stabilize the color. The color will lose the intense violet tones but will gain rich ruby notes that will protect it and add propensity to the wine. Wood is not always used in the refinement of certain types of red wine. Wood is used in basis of the destination of the wine, for instance a young red that needs to express varietal characteristics that are fresh and fruity with a light structure will not need aging on botti or barrique. Whereas wines with a big body and and intense bouquet will be assigned an aging in the size and type of barrel depending on the different characteristics of the vine, the oenocolgical tradition and the structure of the wine. The barrique is known as the best friend of the oenologist but when used improperly will quickly become his enemy. The problem arises when the notes from the wood override those of the varietal or don’t compliment the notes of the varietal coming from the grape. There is also the risk that the wine will evolve too fast and can’t guarantee a proper aging. It’s fundamental to use various choices for different wines, big structured wine needs new wood where a lesser bodied wine lighter in structure needs either used barrique or big barrels to not cover up it’s delicate bouquet.

The evolution in wood determines very often the style of a wine and in consequence the style of a winemaker and in fact the the use of wood often depends on the know-how at the winery.

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