The Barrel Decision
The Oak Barrel Selection Is A Critical Decision In The Flavor Profile Of Our Wine
You are all familiar with heavy oaky Chardonnays and very tight, tannic and oaky Cabernets. They have that flavor profile for multiple reasons and one of them is the oak selection, which varies with every winemaker and their winemaking style.
At O'Connell Family Wines, we believe in a balanced wine. It is so important, that we named one of our most popular wines, Equilateral, to symbolize balance. The oak component must be integrated into the personality of the wine and support, not overwhelm the soil, the varietal, and the vintage year expression.
How many new versus once-used barrels?
Which vineyard blocks will be put into a once-used versus new?
What level of toast-Medium, medium-plus, heavy?
French vs. American vs. Hungarian?
Once fermentation has finished, I taste the vintage and then collaborate with my consulting winemaker to make barrel decisions. We use a classic formula of a 60-70% new and 30-40% once-used to control the oakiness of our Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay--a classic French standard.
The oak barrel is built from specific forests and have defined flavors. The barrels are then toasted, so we can specify what we want. A heavy toast gives an intense smoky, tobacco and oak flavor.
A medium-plus toast has lovely vanilla, tobacco, and chocolate notes, which underscore the elegance of the wine. French barrels emphasise the vanilla rather than American and Hungarian barrels, which have an herbaceous element.
So the medium-plus toast barrels from France are my choice!
-Gabrielle Leonhard O'Connell, Director of Winemaking
Coming next issue - The Palate and Wine Blending