How Many Times Can an Oak Barrel be Used?
Oak barrels are generally used four times. Most winemakers use oak barrels for two main reasons: to add complex aromas and flavors, and to add tannin and age-ability to the wine. Although wine and whiskey barrels can be
Oak barrels are generally used four times.
Most winemakers use oak barrels for two main reasons: to add complex aromas and flavors, and to add tannin and age-ability to the wine.
Although wine and whiskey barrels can be used for hundreds of years, the effect of these barrels on the wine will be dramatically different after the first few times of use.
The first two uses of the oak barrels add intense aromas and flavors to the wine and are often referred to as being “first-fill” and “second-fill” wines. With the third and fourth time that the barrels are used, the intensity of the oak aromas is significantly less. After the fourth time that the barrel is used, there is no real aroma or flavor that the wine is able to extract from the oak.
Essentially, these oak barrels are neutral in aroma and flavor. If wine-producers choose to use these oak barrels after the fourth time, it is merely then just a storage vessel. The only real benefit that these barrels would offer is the slow incorporation of oxygen through the wood’s pores, which gradually softens the wine’s tannins and make the wine softer and more approachable.
Interestingly, the world’s oldest oak barrel, which is over 500 years old, still has wine inside.
Using oak barrels after the fourth time, however, is not a common practice anymore, and are generally limited to a few European wine-producers. With today’s winemaking practices, most would agree that a barrel is only worth using three or four times, although other uses for the barrels exist even after extended usage.