The cask, tonneau or barrel is a generic term used in oenology to designate wooden containers used to store and mature wines. Its appeal lies in the properties of the material used, often oak. The capacity and name of the barrel vary according to the wine-growing region.

Wooden casks and wines: the effects of ageing that benefit tasting

Wood enriches the aromas of wine by dissolving some of its extractable aromatic components :

  • polyphenols and phenolic derivatives (vanilla, woody and spicy notes),
  • lactones (coconut notes),
  • components resulting from the toasting of the wood needed to make the barrels (empyreumatic aromas of torrefaction).
Wood, particularly oak, contains supple tannins that refine the astringency of red wines by combining with thetannins in the grapes.

The porosity of the wooden cask favours the controlled oxidation of the wine, allowing slow, continuous oxygenation:

  • an increased sensation of fat in the mouth,
  • improving ageing potential,
  • stabilising the colour of the wine.
The many beneficial effects of wood on wine depend on :
  • the age of the cask, which transmits more aromas and tannins to the wine when it is new (barrels are therefore generally changed every 5 years),
  • Wine is aged for a minimum of 6 motnhs,
  • cellar temperature below 18°C,
  • good barrel hygiene to limit microbiological risks,
  • the position of the barrels in "bondes dessus" (vertical) or in "bondes côté" (horizontal), which influences the oxygenation of the wine.

The different types of casks used in the cellar

A wide range of wood species

The star of cooperage and wine barrel ageing is oak! Easy bending, good impermeability, pleasant odour molecules, lightness, strength and low putrescibility are the major advantages.

  • French oak, either pedunculate (Quercus robur) or sessile (Quercus petraea), is used to age top-of-the-range wines thanks to its density, finesse and subtle aromas. Spanish oak (vanilla flavour) and Caucasian oak are relatively similar.
  • American white oak (Quercus alba), which is less commonly used in France because it is rich in lactones and has low tannin content, leaves a softer organoleptic mark on the wine.

wine picto

Aveine's Precision

Each wood has its own aromas and a different reaction to toasting. This is why some winegrowers also use barrels made from black locust (popular for whites), maple, chestnut, etc.

Formats that depend on the wine-growing region

Cask or barrels, the same thing? Not quite, although "barrique" is often used as a homonym for "cask" or "fût". A barrel can have different sizes and capacities depending on the terroirs, their grape varieties and their history, and therefore... different names! The best known are the Bordeaux barrel, the demi-muid, the foudre, the pièce, the feuillette (half-piece) and the queue and demi-queue (in Champagne).

The history of barrel-making in oenology

Here's an art form that dates back to Antiquity! The Celts made the first barrels to compensate for the fragility of the amphorae used to transport wine, beer or oil. First made from palm wood, they were later made from oak, whose characteristics were better suited to barrel-making.

Originally of practical interest, the taste of this material gradually evolved as people discovered the variability of its aromatic panel depending on the species used, the intensity of toasting, and also the age and diameter of the barrel. From its practicality to its organoleptic appeal, the cask has become the symbol of wine.