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Barrel Aging Explained

Barrel Aging Explained

barrel againg to create fine wine vintages napa valley


At Elleray wine we french oak Barrel age for 18-20 months

Barrel aging is the cornerstone of the process called élevage, which is the French term meaning “raising” or “upbringing” used to describe what happens to the wine between fermentation and bottling. The wine’s élevage can last for a few months to many years, during which time the wine’s flavors integrate and mature. Our winemakers’ choices during the aging process, including how long to age the wine and how much to manipulate it, will have a huge impact on the taste of the finished product. One of the most important choices is whether to age the wine in steel or oak barrels.

There are two main types of oak that can be used to make barrels for use all over the world. : American white oak and French oak.

Oak barrels are made from staves, which are long pieces of oak wood that are fitted tightly together with metal hoops. The barrels are toasted over a fire to either a light, medium, or dark toast level.

New barrels with a light toast will give lots of vanilla and caramel notes, while a darker toast will give smokey, roasted aromas.

For oak wine barrels, the barrel’s age and size affect the amount of oak flavor that will be transmitted to the wine. Smaller barrels impart more oak flavor because they allow more contact between the wood and the wine. Oak barrels lose their signature flavor compounds with use, so they must be replaced every few vintages.

In addition to adding oak flavors, new oak aging changes the tannin structure of red wines. Tannins from the wood transfer into the wine, giving it a stronger structure. This contributes to a wine’s ageability, or longevity in the bottle. The wood also helps stabilize the tannins from the grape skins, giving them a silkier texture.

After a few years of use, new oak becomes “neutral,” and no longer imparts flavor or tannin to the wine. These neutral barrels still allow for slow oxygenation, so they can be used to age wine that needs to mellow without any oak flavor.


New oak aging adds these aromas to both red and white wines:

  • Vanilla
  • Caramel
  • Baking spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg
  • Coconut (especially from American oak)
  • Dill (especially from American oak)

Additionally, you may find these notes in red wine aged in new oak:

  • Smoke
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Toffee/burnt sugar
  • New oak barrels can be used only two or three times to impart flavor to the wine, so the cost of buying new barrels is built into the higher prices of oak-aged wines. to create a quality elleary wine