Definition - What does Toasted Barrels mean?
Toasted barrels are necessary to refine wine for aging prior to bottling. Each barrel is toasted by placing them on a conveyor belt and lowered over an open flame until they reach the desired toast level. Smaller cooperages may not use conveyor belts.
Overall, there are five possible toast levels which impart particular aromas, flavors and textures into wine. The type of toasted barrel used for aging wine often depends on the wine's style and the desired result of the winemaker.
WineFrog explains Toasted Barrels
Toasted barrels have been in use dating further back than the Roman Empire, after amphorae were no longer used. The barrels were not only easier to transport larger amounts of wine, but they were more durable and relatively easy to move around.
Each barrel is hand-made by a cooper and then placed on a conveyor belt where they are lowered separately over an open flame until the desired toast level is reached. By toasting the barrels, harsh characteristics of the raw oak and the wood's tannins are softened. It also transforms raw aroma, texture and taste elements into spicier, earthier nuances.
Oak wine barrels have various levels of toasting. Each level has the ability to impart specific character to wines aging in the barrels.
- Light - Used for wines that need less aroma enhancements and have higher tannin content.
- Medium - Offers more complexity and "toasted" aroma characteristics. The longer toast aids in the break-down of a certain element in the oak, creating more vanilla character to impart into wines.
- Medium Plus (+) - Softens oak tannin and intensifies more vanilla, caramel, toasted nuts and warm spice notes like nutmeg and cinnamon.
- Heavy - Breaks down the complete chemical components in the oak and creates more complexity in aroma and flavor. There is less tannins to impart into the wine structure, and wines aged in these barrels possess notes of campfire, smoked meat or jerky, coffee and dark chocolate.
- Toasted Heads - This level toasts the tops and bottoms of the barrel, allowing for greater consistency for red wines with less tannin. The tops and bottoms of barrels are called "heads".