Are all wine barrels toasted?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Are all wine barrels toasted?

—Mark, Troy, Mich.

Dear Mark,

The inside of oak barrels for winemaking are typically toasted. Toasting both transforms the flavors of the barrel from raw wood to spice and vanilla notes (toasting actually helps release vanillin from the cellulose in the wood) and mellows the tannins. It also makes the wood more pliable so that it can be bent into shape (hot water also helps with that).

Untoasted oak can also add tannins, structure and texture and even stabilize a wine’s color. But there’s also a concern that raw, untoasted oak can leech a wine’s flavors out in addition to introducing those raw wood notes, which can range from sawdust to candied coconut. However, it’s pretty common for barrels to have untoasted “heads,” which are the flat ends of the barrel. In most of those cases, the untoasted wood is cured to mellow out the raw wood flavors and help them provide a better seal.

—Dr. Vinny

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