I’d like to make an Aussie Syrah for my next batch and experiment with oak barrel aging the wine. It will be a kit batch and I was wondering if it would be appropriate to age in oak? If so, when should I place the wine in the barrel and for how long?
Name: Rick R.
It is perfectly appropriate to barrel age wine such as Syrah. But realize that the Syrah wine kit you will have has been bench-tested for optimal flavor by the kit producer, and will include oak powder and/or oak chips to simulate barrel aging of the wine, as they feel it is needed.
Having said this, experimentation is always fun…
When barrel aging wine, think of it as a step that is done right before bottling. In other words, the wine needs to be fermented and cleared before going into an oak barrel. Rushing the wine into the barrel can lead to the wine sitting on lees while aging. This would not be a good thing for a Syrah. Unwanted, off-flavor could develop from such a scenario.
You will want the oak barrel to be as full as possible. It may be necessary to top it up from time to time due to wine evaporating through the wood. Topping-up can be done by adding a similar wine to the barrel, or by adding a water vodka mixture to keep the alcohol level constant. If you made six gallons and are using a 5 gallon oak barrel, you can use the extra gallon to top up the barrel along the way.
There is no direct answer as to how long you should barrel age a wine. This is because it is dependent upon so many variables. Such as: how many previous uses the barrel has had; the size of the barrel; the type of oak used to produce the barrel; how much the barrel was toasted; the type of wine in the barrel…. The list goes on and on.
Suffice it to say, it is up to you to make a determination as to how long is best. When barrel aging wine it is best to taste a sample of the wine periodically. See what you think. Let the winemaker in you come out. It is said that winemaking is both a science and an art. Aging wine in oak barrels is some of the art part.
What you are looking to see is how the wine is developing. Are the harsh flavors (that you probably noticed initially) starting to smooth out and become more velvety? Is the woody character of the wine starting to develop? Is it becoming too strong? Do you notice any coconut or vanilla flavors coming from the toast? How do they fit the wine’s overall flavor profile? Can you barrel age the wine long or has the wine aged enough, already?
Once the wine comes to a point that is too your liking, then feel free to bottle.
As you can see there are no direct answers when it comes to barrel aging wine. Everything is subjective. There are only generalities and good judgment. If we are talking about using a new, 5 or 6 gallon oak barrel, my guess is that the time needed will be somewhere around 2 to 6 months, but this is just a broad guess. In reality, it could take less time, or it could take more. One thing that can be noted is that as you go up in barrel size the more time it will take to age the wine. This is because as you go up in barrel size, there is less wood surface contact to each gallon of wine. It’s a matter of physics.
I hope this helps you out a little bit and gives you some idea as to what you are to expect when barrel aging wine. Just remember, it’s your wine. Age it until it tastes good to you.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.