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8/5/2010

The Wine Wizard is at it again! Think you know your stuff when it comes to wine?  This month we're focusing on your barrel know-how... How much do you know about those lovely vats that are such an integral part of the wine making process?  Check out these fun facts about oak barrels, then be sure to spread the word and impress your friends with how much you know!  Questions: 1. When were oak barrels first used for the storage and aging of wine? 2. How much wine evaporates from an oak barrel in one year? 3. What specifications must oak trees meet in order to produce wine barrels? Answers: 1. The use of oak has been prevalent in wine-making for at least two millenia, first coming into widespread use during the Roman Empire.  In time, winemakers discovered that beyond just storage convenience that wine kept oak in barrels took on properties that improved the wine by making it softer and in some cases better tasting. Robert Mondavi is credited with expanding the knowledge of winemakers in the United States about he different types of oak and barrel styles through his experimentation in the 1960's and 1970's. 2. The porous nature of an oak barrel allows some levels of evaporation and the oxygenation to occur in wine, but typically not at levels that would cause spoilage. In a year, the typical 59-gallon barrel can lose anywhere from 5.5 to 6.5 gallons of wine through evaporation. This is actually a good thing, allowing the wine to further concentrate its flavor and aroma compounds. 3. The oak trees used for constructing barrels are usually between 80 and 120 years old prior to harvesting, with the ideal conditions being a cool climate in a dense forest region that gives the trees opportunity to mature slowly and develop a tighter grain. Typically, one tree can provide enough wood for only two 59 gallon oak barrels. The trees are harvested in the winter months when there is less sap in the trunk.