The Bacchus Report: The barrique rage

Since the last quarter of the 20th century the world of wine has been dominated by a fashion craze for barrique wines. As is the case with fashion trends in general, this craze is both used and abused.

foto: věroslav sixt

Wine has been aged in wooden casks since the days when wine producers realized that casks are more practical containers than ancient clay amphoras. Additionally, thanks to its contact with wood the wine takes on new, interesting flavor and aroma characteristics. While long ago new casks were treated with wine to prevent the penetration of too many aggressive woody admixtures into high-quality wines, today new casks are treasured. The wine-making world is now ruled by 225-liter oak casks called barriques, in which wines are aged for certain periods of time. The wine takes on more sweet tannins, as well as the typical flavor and aroma vanilla. When new casks are used properly, white wines are smoother and more interestingly flavored in as little as three months, while reds are aged in oak longer, generally eighteen months or more. Thanks to their contact with the wood, the wines become more complete and flavorful, with light smoky overtones.
The highest quality and most expensive barrique casks come from France, primarily from the Limousine and Troncais regions. Unlike much-used, less expensive casks made from American oak, these casks are less porous, and wine that is aged in them is of higher quality. Less expensive casks made of oak from Eastern Croatia, Slovenia, and Hungary are currently appearing on the market. Even though they are less expensive, they still represent a sizable investment for winemakers, which is reflected in the final prices of the wines. But cheating occurs in this area, as in everything else. Instead of using expensive, new casks, oak shavings or chips are introduced into the wine, which thus takes on certain aromas and flavors. But it often turns out that winemakers taking this route produce decent wine vinegar instead of good wine.
Barrique wines have become extremely popular especially in California, but for some purists these whites are nearly undrinkable, as the natural varietal character has been lost.

The author is the editor of Hospodářské noviny’s IN magazine.


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Upcoming tastings

Brněnské výstavy a veletrhy, Výstaviště 405, Brno
After a two-year break wine lovers will again have an opportunity to taste the finest domestic wines as well as interesting imports at Vinex 2004, the largest wine exposition in this country, which will be held at the Brno Fairgrounds from 2 to 5 March. This exposition is held only every other year. For more information, go to Tel.: 541 151 111


For this issue we selected four wine samples that were aged in barrique oak casks for a certain period of time. For comparison purposes it’s also good to taste wines of the same varietals and years that haven’t been aged in oak, which is why we chose this month’s wines from among domestic products.

Passio Christi Zweigeltrebe klaret 2002, Vinselekt Michlovský, Rakvice
Němčičky, Kolberk vineyard, Velké Pavlovice region
A well-made rosé that, thanks to its contact with oak casks, has taken on tones of an underlying, subtle almondy, spicy aroma and the flavor typical of this blue varietal. When it is properly cooled to about 12° C, it is good for spring get-togethers on terraces. Thanks to its slightly spiciness and fresh acidity, it goes well with pastas and grilled meats.
Price: 97,60 Kč

Selection barrique 1998, Bohemia sekt Starý Plzenec
A very interestingly priced sample of barrique wine that is suitable for one’s first experience with this type of wine. It is made from the Svatovavřinecká varietal, which is nothing exceptional in its flavor in off years.
Price: 130 Kč

Harmony, Modrý Portugal 2002, cuvée clasique, Vinselekt Michlovský, Rakvice
Hovorany, Díly za vinohrady vineyard, Mutěnice region
This is a good example of how an interesting wine can be produced from the hitherto under-rated Modrý Portugal varietal. Aging in oak casks intensifies its floral aroma in which we can recognize violets. Its flavor includes tones of ripe sour cherries slipping into chocolate notes. Great with fattier patés and white mold-coated cheeses.
Price: 152,50 Kč

Chateau Dowina, Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, pozdní sběr, Vinselekt Michlovský, Rakvice
Mikulov, Pod Svatým kopečkem vineyard, Mikulov region
Proof that even this part of the world can produce high-quality red wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. Thanks to its aging in oak this wine is as smooth as velvet and complex in its aroma and flavor. It carries characteristic black currant and ripe wild fruit tones. Great with spicy pork or beef steaks.
Price: 303,80 Kč






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