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Oak Stave Selection for Stainless Steel Wine Barrels

March 15th, 2016 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

While variation in oak barrels’ contribution to wine is generally accepted by winemakers, this variation can have unintended impacts on wine composition and the economics of production. To reduce this variability, it is important to understand oak chemical composition. Wood-extractable compounds can be directly transferred from oak to wine. They are extracted during winemaking and élevage in barrels, and the extraction rate can vary depending on wood and wine. Even if wood-extractable compounds represent a minor component of total oak chemistry, they play an important role in wine style. In this group there are ellagitannins (representing the majority of oak-extractable compounds) and a pool of aromatic compounds present in untoasted wood (native aromatic compounds) that are responsible for oaky aromas. For example, whisky lactones are responsible for coconut and fresh wood notes but also contribute to wine freshness and fruitiness. Non-extractable compounds, while not extractable as such, are precursors of volatile compounds produced during the toasting process. The degradation of hemicelluloses during barrel toasting generates compounds responsible for toasted/roasted aromas, whereas lignins generate compounds responsible for vanilla/pastry nuances and spicy and smoky notes. The amount produced during toasting varies according to time, temperature and wood humidity. Toasting also degrades ellagitannins and can increase or decrease oaky notes (whisky lactones) depending on temperature. Thus, the contribution of these different compounds to wines at the end of √©levage can vary depending on initial oak composition and toasting management but also winemaking and aging protocols.

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