Each winemaker chooses whether or not to use the oak barrels, depending on the quality of the wine being made. As barrels represent a significant cost, one might have the tendency to reserve this type of investment for the best cuvées / products.
However, the essential quality of an oak barrel is to allow highly qualitative micro-oxygenation. It’s these slow exchanges with the exterior air that enhance the wine being made.
Now the more a barrel has been used, the more its wood pores get blocked because of the tartaric acids, the tannin and the anthocyanins.
A barrel that has received several wines hence becomes a mere container, and does not play a primary role in winemaking.
On top of that, extra care must be given to used barrels, for hygiene matters. The potential bacteria or unwanted fermentation can result in wine alteration.
Hence, the “new oak” does not reflect a will to bring an “oaky” taste to the wine, it is quite the contrary. The new oak avoids the drawbacks of a barrel that would not let its content breathe, or that would transmit some undesirable tastes. The key idea is to respect the wine.
As the adage says: “the objective of a good winemaker is to use as much new oak as he can, without anyone noticing it”. New oak aims for elegance.
And our cooper advice and know-how actually guarantees constant and delicate equilibrium that suits the finesse of great wines.
Therefore the new oak obsession is not a fad. As a proof, let’s see what a vineyard owner was writing, as from as early on as the 19th century:
When we harvest fine wines, the value of these products is such that we always put them into new barrels. (…) We understand that old barrels might not have a frank taste, (as it) is out of doubt that all the bad ferments must remain in old barrels.
These sentiments are quoted by Louis Latour, a famous domaine owner from Burgundy who adds his own remarks:
For all the winemakers, the superiority of the new barrel is obvious, if only because its first use does not require any artifice.
Source : Louis Latour, Vins de Bourgogne, le Parcours de la Qualité, p. 732.
To summarise, oxygenation and hygiene are the essential criteria that incite winemakers to use new barrels, along with the perfect mastering of the aromas that the oak brings, thanks to the art of the cooper who can thus produce tailor-made barrels, which are perfectly adjusted to the particular needs.