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The Loire Valley - The Wine Cask

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

The Wine Cask

Casks made of oak have been used for centuries to store wine, as wood was available in abundance and watertight barrels were easy to fashion. Fermenting or maturing wine in new oak barrels adds complex compounds that enhance a wine’s aromas and flavors. As wood is porous, maturation in casks also permits subtle oxidation to soften the texture of the wine, while clarifying and stabilizing it before bottling.


Oak forests of France

Oak from the USA, Russia, and the Balkans is used to create casks, but the forests of central France are widely accepted as yielding the finest wood for wine barrels. Wood from the Allier, Tronçais, and Nevers forests is particularly prized.

Nevers

Argonne

Bourgogne

Vosges

Tronçais

Allier

Limousin


Craft of the cooper

Casks are made according to the specific requirements of the client winery. Staves are positioned and then bent into shape with the aid of heat and metal retaining hoops. An open flame is used to ‘toast’ the inside of the new barrels. The degree of toasting – light, medium, or heavy – is directly linked to the level of smoky, spicy, vanilla aromas and flavors exhibited by the wine.


Assembling

Staves are tapered at each end and positioned in a circle with a hoop fitted to maintain their position.


Knocking down

The cooper then hammers down metal retaining hoops to begin shaping the cask.


Shaping

Fire and water are used to continue the shaping process, and more hoops are knocked tightly into position.


Toasting

The barrel is toasted inside to add character to the wine.


Finishing

Stave-ends are planed smooth before the barrel is released.


Modern alternatives to oak barrels

The relative expense of good quality casks has driven the wine industry to develop less costly means of achieving the influence of oak on wine. Alternatives include elaborate stave systems that are lowered into steel fermenting tanks. Even cheaper are nylon bags filled with oak chips that can be macerated like a teabag in the maturation vats.

With both of these methods, the wood’s provenance and degree of toasting can be specified, just as with barrels.


Alternative oxygenation

Mimicking the subtle oxygenation that softens and develops wine matured in oak requires no wood at all. Micro-oxygenation systems slowly inject measured streams of tiny air bubbles into stainless steel tanks of maturing wine, achieving much the same result as cask maturation.


Barrel sizes

Cask size has a direct impact on the wine matured within it. The smaller the barrel, the faster the wine matures since there is a greater ratio of wood surface area to volume of wine, and therefore a greater ingress of air.

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