Tag Archives: wine aging

Barrel Derived Aromas and Flavors

Question from Paul: Someone told me that if wine smells like vanilla it comes from the barrel. Is that right? It doesn’t make sense to me.

Reply: Hi, Paul. Thanks for writing! Yup, it’s likely that it comes from the barrel although we can never be absolutely certain. Vanilla is a plant and grapes are plants so there’s always the chance that they share some flavor compounds but vanilla is very high up on the hit parade of barrel derived characteristics – There’s vanillin in oak.

The barrel is second, only, to the fresh grapes when it comes to flavor impact on the wine. It has three important impacts:

1. The slow aeration that occurs matures the wine away from simple, primary fruit characteristics adding complexity as it softens the wine and marries fractious components into something more cohesive.

2. Evaporation concentrates the wine a bit, adding to its weight.

3. If the barrel is relatively new, it imparts lots for different aromas and flavors such as vanilla, coconut, baking spices (especially nutmeg) smoke, coffee… the list goes on and on.  Barrels are like tea bags in that they give up their flavor with age. Some winemakers prefer older barrels that don’t impart flavor to the wine.

The most important factors are:

  • The species
  • Tightness of the grain (influences how quickly flavor and tannins are imparted)
  • Location of the forest
  • How long it’s seasoned (air dried)
  • The toasting level – how hot the fire and how long it stays on the fire.
  • The size! The larger the container, the slower the oxidation and the less wine-to-wood contact. That can offer an advantage when aging white wine in particular.
  • Whether or not its been used before.

That’s a lot of variables!  Let’s take on some of the most important ones.  Continue reading


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Wine Components: Tannin

One question leads to another!

Question from Jim: Thanks for you reply. “Practicing” sounds like a lot of fun! You mentioned acid and tannin. What are they and why are they important?

Reply: Nice to hear back from you, Jim! Another good question. I’ll take one component at a time so this isn’t too long. Let’s start with tannin.

Winemakers love tannin because it’s an antioxidant – a natural preservative. It’s the thing that’s supposed to make red wine “heart smart”. It’s found in lots of fruits and vegetables, in tea and oak, among many other things.

The biggest source of tannin in wine is the grape skins. Other sources are the seeds, stems and oak (wine barrels contribute wood tannin if they’re relatively new). Red wines are almost always higher in tannin than white, because the winemaker must ferment the juice and skins together to get the purple color.  The juice of most wine grapes is clear, regardless of the skin color. Along with color, the skins contribute flavor, texture, heft and tannin. The extracts from the skins are responsible, to a great extent, for our perception that red wine is more like food than white wine. Continue reading

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