Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Are all wine barrels toasted?
—Mark, Troy, Mich.
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.