Wine has been enjoyed for thousands of years, and its production has evolved with the passage of time. One of the most important developments in the history of wine is the practice of maturing red wine in oak barrels. This process can have a profound impact on the flavour and aroma of the wine, creating a more complex and enjoyable drinking experience. In this blog post, we will explore the history and benefits of maturing red wine in oak barrels.
History of Oak Barrel Aging
The use of oak barrels to store and transport wine dates back to ancient times. The Celts and Romans used oak barrels to transport wine across Europe, and the practice eventually spread to other parts of the world. The first oak barrels were likely made from oak trees found in the forests of Central Europe, such as the forests of the Dordogne region in France.
The use of oak barrels for maturing wine began in the Middle Ages. Monks and other religious orders who produced wine began using oak barrels to store and age their wine. They discovered that oak barrels not only provided a convenient way to store and transport wine, but they also improved the taste and aroma of the wine.
Benefits of Oak Barrel Aging
The use of oak barrels to mature red wine has several benefits, including the following:
Adds Flavour and Aroma: Oak barrels add a range of flavours and aromas to the wine, including vanilla, spice, and toast. These flavours and aromas can enhance the fruit flavours in the wine, making the wine more complex and enjoyable to drink.
Smooths Out Tannins: Tannins are a natural component of red wine that can make the wine taste bitter or astringent. Oak barrels can help to smooth out these tannins, creating a more balanced and smooth-tasting wine.
Enhances Aging Potential: Red wines that are matured in oak barrels have a longer aging potential than wines that are not. The oak barrels help to protect the wine from oxidation and other environmental factors, allowing the wine to age gracefully over time.
Improves Texture: The tannins and other components in the oak can also help to improve the texture of the wine, making it feel smoother and richer in the mouth.
Types of Oak Barrels
There are several types of oak barrels used in the wine industry, including French oak, American oak, and Hungarian oak. Each type of oak has its own unique characteristics that can influence the flavor and aroma of the wine.
French oak barrels are the most expensive and are often used for high-end wines. They are known for their subtle flavours and aromas, which can enhance the fruit flavours in the wine without overpowering them.
American oak barrels are less expensive than French oak barrels and are often used for more affordable wines. They are known for their strong flavors and aromas, which can add a distinctive character to the wine. In modern times, thanks to globalisation, American oak can be seasoned in France which can tone down the strong American oak characters.
Hungarian oak barrels are less common than French or American oak barrels but are still used by some winemakers. They are known for their spicy and sweet flavors, which can add complexity to the wine.
Oak use with McLaren Vale wine
Due to the various flavour and texture effects on wine, correctly pairing the oak with the wine is the key to creating a certain style and enhancing the fruit flavours and aromas. The Rusty Mutt oak philosophy is one of subtlety. Oak barrels that are 4-6 years old are used for Grenache and Tempranillo. With American oak being used on the Tempranillo, and French oak for Grenache. Shiraz receives a mix of French and American, with some younger barrels to add more tannin for increased longevity.
Maturing red wine in oak barrels is an important part of the winemaking process. The use of oak barrels can add a range of flavours and aromas to the wine, smooth out tannins, enhance aging potential, and improve texture. The type of oak used can also influence the flavor and aroma of the wine. Overall, oak barrel aging is an essential technique for creating high-quality, complex red wines.