Word of the Week: Cooperage

All great wine starts with great grapes. However, stellar fruit alone is not the only essential factor at work in producing an exceptional wine. Seeing as most great wines are finished in a barrel, the quality of a barrel plays a significant role in a wine’s final outcome. That’s where a cooperage comes in. A cooperage is the worksite where barrels are assembled and repaired. Here, artisan barrel-makers, or “coopers,” will undergo such tasks as sawing the wood into staves (the curved wooden planks that make up a barrel), seasoning the oak, securing the staves in place with metal hoops, and toasting the barrel’s interior. Historically, all wine producers would operate their own cooperages. Such circumstances are rare in present times, but a quorum of historic producers in Spain’s Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions maintain cooperages on site. Today, most wineries work with an assortment of outside cooperages instead. While cooperages exist in every important wine-producing country, the two most important barrel industries exist in the United States and France. By volume, the United States, particularly the Midwest, assembles more barrels each year than any other nation, clocking in at an estimated two million in 2013. Nonetheless, roughly a mere five percent are sold to wineries, while the majority of production is used for the ageing of bourbon. French cooperages (or “tonnelleries” as they’re called there) only produce one-fourth the number of barrels as American cooperages, but are more closely tied to wine industry. French oak barrels are costlier than their American counterparts, and most high-end producers will purchase vessels from a variety of different cooperages to further add complexity to their wines. The same wine in the same vintage can develop remarkably different characters depending on what barrel it’s aged in and the cooper who made it.

Bodegas Muga

Gran Reserva Prado Enea Rioja Tempranillo 2006

Had this a year ago and kept another bottle in my cellar. Ruby with ripe blk/red fruits, herbs and spice. This 4 grape blend was aged for 3 years in oak and another 3 years in the bottle before release, Wow! On the complex palate ripe cherry, blackberries and ample dried fruits, well integrated oak and acidity with pepper, tobacco, toast and vanilla. The finish was smooth with fine tannins and mineral notes, complex, lingering ending with earthy tones. Outstanding! — 6 years ago

Anthony liked this

R. López de Heredia

Viña Bosconia Reserva Rioja Tempranillo Blend 2003

Cold weather wine. Rich, deep, and seductive, but just enough elegance and finesse to draw in a dude who usually veers towards lighter styles. — 8 years ago

Alexis and Alex liked this

La Rioja Alta

Gran Reserva 904 Rioja Tempranillo Graciano 2005

11 years old and still in its youth. All the hallmarks of a classic Gran Reserva, with a long life ahead. Intense notes of dried fruits and herbs on the nose (blackberry, fig; oregano, thyme), followed by an inevitably savoury taste. Dark fruits emerge to provide some sweetness to the wine, allowing a long, dry finish with well-reformed tannins and a touch of vanilla. Best Rioja I've had recently. — 7 years ago

Jason and JJ liked this

La Rioja Alta

Reserva Viña Ardanza Rioja Tempranillo Garnacha 2005

Always a winner and always a great deal. 2015 marks 125 vintages of wine made by La Rioja Alta. Bright red and savory fruit, excellent acidity and fine grain tannin. Elegant plum, cherry, and strawberry spiked with spice, meat and a touch of leather. Refined and mature wine does not get better than this at this price (abt $25). 80% Tempranillo from Rioja Alta and 20% Garnacha (Grenache) from vineyards in the eastern Baja section of #rioja #spain
#reserva #lariojaalta
— 8 years ago

Sasha, Anthony and 6 others liked this

R. López de Heredia

Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja Tempranillo Blend 1999

One of the most intellectual white wines in the world! Starts out nutty and oxidized and gets fruitier and youthful as it opens up. Will always be my favorite Spanish producer! — 7 years ago

Velma, Donald and 3 others liked this

Bodegas y Viñedos Vega Sicilia

Unico Ribera del Duero Tempranillo Blend 2004

Ok ok nuff said! What a mythic and astonishing wine, dark and deeply flavored, racy and elegant super💥💥💥especially after the Valbuena 09' — 8 years ago

MICHAEL, Jeremy and 7 others liked this