Let’s talk oak, barrels and wine

  • Expensive barrels: new oak barrels are expensive, with French ones averaging $1,500 and American $750. The higher cost is because far more wood is wasted when French oak is sawn (Photograph submitted)

    Expensive barrels: new oak barrels are expensive, with French ones averaging $1,500 and American $750. The higher cost is because far more wood is wasted when French oak is sawn (Photograph submitted)

  • Expensive barrels: average cost of US barrels are $750, compared to French barrels for $1,500 as more wood is needed when French oak is sawn (Photograph submitted)

    Expensive barrels: average cost of US barrels are $750, compared to French barrels for $1,500 as more wood is needed when French oak is sawn (Photograph submitted)


First, a correction. It seems that most wine judges and critics now have apps that scan the world for the use of their name and recently one in London pointed out that I had erred in referring to him as a master of wine (he had taken the exams, but not passed).

This week, I had a thank you from Canada and an e-mail from Mollydooker in Australia that pointed out that their Boxer Shiraz was so called because it was “a knockout wine” and not because one of the winery team had been a boxer as I stated last week.

I promised that I would write a correction.

Before we get into a new style of wine that has been catching on over the past five years or so, I would like to fill in some of the complicated business of using oak in winemaking.

New oak barrels are expensive, with French averaging $1,500 and American $750.

Let’s say that they both hold 300 bottles of wine and the French adds $5 to the first cost of a bottle.

One might assume that the lower-priced American barrel is not as good, but the price difference is because far less wood is used.

French oak must be cut along the grain and American oak does not require this.

This is owing to the physical character of the wood and not because of any laws. Far more wood is wasted when French oak is sawn.

Oak casks impart flavours to the wine for up to five years.

After that, they are quite neutral, although they can still add some intensity due to evaporation of the wine through their pores.

If you see “50 per cent new oak” on a wine label it means the average age of the barrels is two years; 25 per cent equals an average age of four years, and so on.

The law in Bourbon County in Kentucky is that only American oak can be used and it must be 100 per cent new. During the making of barrels, the inside is charred as the staves are heated so that they can be bent.

Winemakers usually request a light or medium toasting and the barrel heads will be marked LT or MT.

Bourbon distilleries ask for a heavy toast which releases more vanilla, spice and smokiness.

Fortunately for bourbon producers, a new style of wine has started to become popular and winemakers often buy these once-used barrels to add flavour components to their wine.

This week, we have just unloaded our first shipment of Beringer Brothers bourbon barrel-aged wines.

To add flavour, 20 per cent of each wine has spent a brief 60 days in these containers; bourbon flavours have certainly not been given the opportunity to dominate the wine.

To be fair, we have suggested to our wine team that they may fall into a category that should be considered a step up from the $19.80 bottle of 19 Crimes Red Blend and slightly down from $29.65, 19 Crimes The Warden.

All these wines are full-bodied and rich.

Beringer Brothers Bourbon Barrel Aged 2016 Red Blend sells for $24.75 and it certainly is a true blend at 41 per cent petit sirah, 21 per cent syrah, 18 per cent petit verdot, nine per cent cabernet sauvignon, nine per cent merlot and two per cent “other”.

This wine is bursting with aromas of ripe blackberries, roasted hazelnuts and caramel.

With intense concentration bolstered by petit verdot, this full-bodied wine has a creamy mouthfeel with ripe tannins and integrated acidity. The lingering finish boasts notes of toasted coconut, violet and black cherry.

Beringer Brothers 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon is picked at the peak of flavour development from top sites across California and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks.

Twenty per cent of the wine is then aged for 60 days in bourbon barrels. This is bursting with aromas of ripe black cherry, dark chocolate and vanilla.

The palate is lush with ripe tannins and integrated acidity, showcasing toasted hazelnuts, toffee and blackberry preserves on the finish. $24.75.

Last summer we introduced our first bourbon barrel-aged wine, Apothic Inferno. Its flavour profile is rich with red and dark berries, maple and spice. It is a good accompaniment to a fire-grilled steak with horseradish sauce. $20.25.

If you are having a hearty meal on a cool winter’s evening then these wines should be right in their place.

They may sound a little over the top to the purist, but they are definitely in a class that I call “yummy”.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail mrobinson@bll.bm or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published Jan 18, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 18, 2019 at 7:09 am)

Let’s talk oak, barrels and wine

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