Fermentation in oak barrels vs steel tanks

25th February 2014

Fermentation in oak barrels vs steel tanks

Up until the 19th Century, still wine was traditionally produced in oak barrels.

In Champagne, still wine was made in barrels that were commonly large and over 10 years old. These Oak barrels allow the Champagne still wine to “breath”.

However wine in barrels does experience loss through evaporation and absorption, so the barrel must be topped up now and again to replace the wine lost.

Oak barrels also add additional aromas to the wine and then to the Champagne. Wines created in this method tend to be richer and creamier. Coconut, vanilla bean and English cream are found in both the aroma and taste.

The introduction of stainless steel tanks in the 50’s and 60’s for wine fermenting, ageing and storage was beneficial as they were easy to keep clean and limited wine loss

Most Champagne producers adopted these for economic and sanitary reasons.

Stainless steel tanks ensure no additional aromatic components are conveyed in the wine, which gave winemakers more control over fermentation. This allows for a more pure wine and in this way the grape varieties express their own aromas making the wines crisper and more fruity than those fermented in a barrel.

However not all Champagne producers changed to stainless steel tanks. Bollinger and Krug still ferment their still wines in oak barrels and do so to add ageing potential.

Champagne Lanson is to trial wood casks for fermenting and ageing its wines from this year’s harvest, having used it for its Clos de Lanson single vineyard Champagne, which is due to be released later in 2014.

Lanson’s decision to trial oak fermentation for its other Champagnes follows a move by Veuve Clicquot, who made a major investment in large oak casks in 2008 to add between 5 and 10% fermentation in oak for its key cuvée, Yellow Label.

Glass of Bubbly

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