Oak maturation is a popular practice. The oak contributes to aromas, flavours and oak tannin in the structure of the wine which leads to more complexity. Toasting is charring/caramelisation of the staves of the barrel on the inside of the barrel. The type of barrel, choice of wood, type of forest, size of the grain and toasting level are all factors playing an important role in the development of the wine. This leads to different aromas and flavours being developed depending on the level of charring from light to heavy and influencing the sense of freshness the wine displays. Whether you use new or used barrels, the duration of maturation are crucial decisions a winemaker needs to make for the quality while bearing cost in mind.
Ageing in wood, whether for 6 months or more than a year, naturally stabilises the wine. However, it remains vulnerable to oxidation, hence constant care is required. During the aging in the barrel you will start the polymerisation of structures in the wine through the very limited ingress of oxygen and the additions of oak tannin. The wine will also start to settle out and you will get a “washing of the wine” as the sediment settles and the wine becomes cleaner. The wine will undergo a process known as racking off the lees (sediment). This may happen 2 – 3 times a year. It is a tedious task and requires intensive labour which adds to the wines’ cost.
At Glenelly Estate we work with selected coopers for toast levels and grain sizes to bring out the truest expression of our terroir through the wines; and use the barrel in a supportive role rather than the star of the show. We believe that the cultivar should express itself to its own potential and should not be hindered by dominant oak.
A wine which has been placed into a batch of barrels will display tremendous variation as each barrel will be different due to all the factors mentioned above. This is where the artistic side of the winemaking comes in when you start to blend/marry these diverse components into a seamless finished product.