Last time we learned that aging wine in barrels can impart flavors ranging from none, in older 'neutral' barrels, to subtle hints of vanilla, or bolder flavors of chocolate and smokiness, depending on the barrels age and the degree to which its inside was toasted.
But, barrel aging can also affect a wine’s flavor in a very different way. And, that has to do with a very important component of air, namely oxygen.
Originally, wood barrels were used as a means of transporting wines over great distances. It was somewhat accidentally discovered during this transportation process, that the longer the wine was inside the barrels, the more the wines would change in character - in a positive way.
This was partially due to the wine’s flavor being directly affected by long-term contact with the wood’s surface. But, it was also discovered that wood, by its very nature, allows microscopic amounts of air to pass through the barrel and to the wine inside. This minimal exposure of wine to oxygen was found to soften the fruit flavors of the wines and create other flavor notes.
This, quite accidentally, began the practice of aging wine in wood barrels, notably oak. Today, red wines will typically see a minimum of one to two years of aging in oak barrels before being bottled.
And, we’ll take a look at bottle aging next time. Until then, Cheers!