The month of January at Dourthe is an intense hive of activity in the winery, where the red wines from the previous year, which have been left to quietly rest in barrel for 12-14 months, are transferred to tank for blending and preparation for bottling. In so doing they pave the way for the arrival of the new vintage, ready to embark on its own coming of age.
The white wines at Chateau La Garde, Pessac-Léognan and Chateau Rahoul, Graves, are vinified and aged in barrel. Transferred to barrel in September, they continue their ageing in the same barrels for a period of 8-months.
Why are wines aged in barrel ?
Barrel ageing, for wines which already show good tannic structure and balance, imparts greater structure and complexity, which ultimately will improve their ageing potential once transferred to bottle. The exchange between the oak and the wine will affect the wine in a number of ways:
- Imparts greater structure, as a result of the tannins in the wood (ellagitannins) passing into the wine
- Improves the aromatic profile of the wine: different toast levels, whether light, medium, medium plus or heavy, will impart different aromas to the wine; so medium toast will create vanilla and toasted aromas, while heavy toast will impart smoky, spicy aromas to the wine
- Micro-oxygenation through pores in the oak fixes the colour of the wine
- Stabilises natural tartaric acid in the wine
- Clarifies the sedimentary lees at the bottom of the barrel and over time the wine will become increasingly clear.
Our first wines are aged in barrel, on the fine lees, for 12-14 months, of which on average a third are new barrels. Different parcels are tasted at regular intervals in order to monitor any change and adjust the ageing process if necessary. For more than 25 years, we have maintained a rigorous approach to the quality of our barrels. Over time, these exacting standards have enabled us to improve the complexity of the fruit and the elegance and quality of the tannins in our wines.
How are the barrels selected at Dourthe ?
Rigorous barrel selection is essential in order to allow the terroir and the originality of our fine wines to shine.
Our barrels are sourced from 10 different coopers. Selected for their high standards of expertise and experience, each one is able to deliver premium quality barrels, with each type bringing slightly different characteristics to the wine. Our meticulous approach focuses predominantly on medium or medium plus toast French oak, complemented by several fine-grained casks from Central Europe.
Various trials are conducted each year to inform barrel selection. The same parcel of wine is placed in new barrels from different coopers, and with different toast levels. The team from each chateau tastes the trial samples at regular intervals during ageing.
This approach allows us to:
- Determine how each cooper can influence the quality of the wine
- Appreciate how the wine is evolving in barrel
- Rate the coopers according to the sensory analysis scores
The results will enable each property to decide the number of barrels to order from coopers of the highest calibre.
In order to tailor ageing to the profile of the wines from each Dourthe estate, Frederic Bonnaffous, Director of Dourthe Vineyards, together with his teams, will make a number of decisions:
- Percentage of new barrels, which will influence the expression of the fruit and oak character of the wine
- Choice of cooper, largely determined by trials and tastings. Decisions are based on the cooper’s proven expertise and consistently high results.
- Level of toast, which can vary depending on the cooper, and must be tailored to the character of each grape variety and parcel.
- Length of time the wine spends in barrel, which will vary according to the grain of wood and concentration of the wine.
In this way, each ageing model is unique, and will influence, together with distinctive characteristics determined by terroir and vintage, the typical character of the wines.