What kind of wine barrel is a barrique?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is a barrique?

—Mitch K., Bowie, Md.

Dear Mitch,

A barrique is a barrel or cask, and the term typically refers to a particular size and shape of a barrel. The barrique originated in Bordeaux, and it traditionally holds 225 liters, or 59 gallons. It is the most common type of wine barrel.

The size of a barrel is important because it informs how much oak influence it will impart. The ratio of barrel surface area to wine volume will be greater in smaller barrels. For winemakers who want less of an oak influence, they might chose to use a larger barrel, like the 300-liter (79 gallons) hogshead barrel.

Barrels can be an important part of a winemaker’s tool kit, and there are many variables in choosing a barrel. Not only what size, but what kind of oak, how new or old the barrel is, how much toast it has, or if it makes sense for a winemaker to use barrel alternatives, or ferment in concrete or stainless steel instead. Each choice will have an impact on the wine.

—Dr. Vinny

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