Toasting an Oak Barrel
One question I get asked quite a bit is, "Why Oak?" Throughout history wine has been stored in many types of containers. The ancient Greeks and Romans used terra cotta amphora. But these jugs were porous and were often sealed with pine sap giving the wine a very unpleasant resiny taste. Wooden barrels proved perfect and birch, chestnut as well as oak barrels are still used. Wine just seems to have a natural affinity for oak. The shopping starts in the forest. Some of the great wine houses of France actually pick the tree. They tell the barrel makers, also known as coopers, what size barrel they want and whether or not to burn it. The coopers will then build a fire in the barrel. This adds that wonderful toasty quality to the wine. But don't think you can run out and buy a French oak barrel. One 150 year old oak tree produces just two barrels, and are you sitting down, the price is over $1000 a piece!