How Does a Barrique Shape Your Wine?

When we think of quality winemaking, the grapes, harvesting times, climate, and terroir (soil), come to the forefront. 

Wine barrels are an often overlooked aspect, but barrel type plays an essential role. 

The barrel type, size, and texture immensely influence wine’s flavors, textures, and structures.

In this article, we’re exploring the most traditional wine barrel type and what makes it unique when it comes to shaping wine. 

What is a Barrique?

The “barrique” is a small oak wine cask holding 225 liters of wine during the aging process. First originating in Bordeaux, the smaller barrel size was intended to be easily lifted by a dock worker when empty. It is the most traditional type of barrel used for aging wine. After the juice has been pressed from the grapes, the wine is fermented in these wooden barrels until the sugars have been converted into alcohol. But what effect do these barrels have on the wine's flavor, structure, and texture?

How Does a Barrique Shape Your Wine? Infographic | Macy's Wine Shop

How Does a Barrique Affect Wine?

A wine barrel has an immense effect on how the end product tastes. The smaller the barrel, the more the wine interacts with its surface area, imparting more oak flavors. Due to the porous texture of the oak barrels, gentle micro-oxygenation takes place, allowing tertiary aromas and flavors to be pulled forward. 

For red wine, mushroom, leather, raisin, and earth flavors become more pronounced when aged in oak. For white wines, light floral aromas transform into honey, caramel, and dried fruit flavors. 

Wine aged in the barrel will feel more structured and take on more vanilla, smoke, and caramelized notes. A prime example is oak-aged Chardonnay, which often tastes “buttery” or like caramel apple pie as opposed to airy, citrus types aged in steel barrels.

Robust red wines benefit from barrel aging as it helps to soften tannins. Tannins give these wines their slightly bitter, astringent taste, like with Cabernet Sauvignon.

A barrique will also impart more oak tannins, but not all these barrels are identical, leading to more diversity in structure and flavor. 

What is a Barrique Made Out Of?

While barriques are traditionally made from French oak, types of oak will vary depending on the winemaking method.

French Oak

Barriques crafted from French oak will taste elegant, balanced, and lightly oaky. Spicy notes and silky textures come forward as the barrels' wood is smooth instead of porous. Subtle honey, vanilla, nutty, and sweet and balsamic vinegar aromas are also present in wines aged in French oak barriques. Tannins may be more pronounced in wines aged in French oak barriques.

American White Oak

Opposite to French barriques, those crafted from American oak provide a wider range of exotic flavors like coconut, roast coffee, smoke, tobacco, and cocoa. These barrels are rougher and porous, leading to powerful, unique flavors and textures. Tannins in wines from American oak barrels are often smoother. 

Spanish Oak

Smoky and vanilla nuances are present in wines aged in Spanish oak barrels. This resembles French oak barrels, as the two types are geographically close. These savory flavors characterize classic Spanish wines like Rioja.

A glass of red wine | Macy's Wine Shop

What Wines Are Aged in Barriques?

The most common wines for barrique aging are robust red wines and structured whites, which can handle the powerful notes imparted and close oxygenation. Crisp, effervescent varietals will become overpowered by the oak barrels. 

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are classic French red wines commonly aged in barriques. For white wines, Chardonnay and some Sauvignon Blanc will take on more depth and richness when aged in oak barrels.

Barriques can also be used as whiskey barrels and bourbon barrels. Bourbon specifically benefits from newly charred oak barriques, which gives the liquor its sweet, smoky taste. 

You may also find the Italian after-dinner wine, Grappas, paired with barriques. This sipper is often mistaken for brandy and must be aged in barriques for at least twelve months to be considered “aged.”

Cheersing glasses of wine | Macy's Wine Shop

What Does the Barrique Wine Label Mean?

Wines that bear “barrique-aged” or “aged in barrique” on the label give excellent insight into the wine’s unique characteristics. These wines boast an added weight, complexity, and elegance on the palate. 

Regarding expensive and renowned wines, those high up on wine classification systems, like Gran Reserva wines in France, must be aged in certain barrels for specific amounts of time. 

Many of these highly classified wines, protected according to traditional winemaking methods and quality, are often required to be aged in barriques, as these are the most traditional wine barrels.

Why Try Barrique Wine?

Wine aged in traditional, small, 225-liter French, Spanish, or American oak barrels imparts a certain elegance. These wines carry more weight and complexity and boast unique, savory, smoky, and caramel notes you won’t find anywhere else.

In addition, many wines high up on the classification system must be aged in specific barrels like barriques, so you know you’ll be sipping quality.

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