Which Material Makes the Best Wine Barrels?
In the winemaking industry, a debate currently rages over which material makes the best wine barrels. For centuries, oak barrels have been the preferred choice of winemakers, but in recent years, other options such as concrete, plastic, and stainless steel wine barrels have gained traction. Each choice carries its own pros and cons, and there are plenty of factors to consider when choosing which material to use:
The rich history that oak barrels share with winemaking cannot (and should not) be ignored. However, despite the popular flavor modifications characteristic of oaked wines, there are potential issues with this method that make alternative choices more attractive. Wood’s susceptibility to nature opens up the possibility of inconsistency in both purity and quality of oak barrel products. Even minute variables in the growth, cultivation, and manufacturing of wood can cause changes in the final product, and may introduce a higher risk for leaks, contamination, and a general decline in the longevity of your containers. While there are quality control measures among certain manufacturers, without any substantial transparency, it can be difficult to tell before it’s too late.
Additionally, if you are interested in producing red wines with lower tannin levels, oak barrels are not recommended. These vessels play a strong role in the imparting of tannins into a final product, which can irritate some consumers through allergic reactions.
Plastic containers are a tempting choice due to affordability, but also tend to be less durable and more susceptible to contamination. With plastics, you can also run into a key issue that happens to be shared with their wood counterparts: porousness. In both methods, permeability of the materials can cause scratches and other blemishes in containers (a near inevitable product of long-term usage), which leaves wines open to unwelcome residuals. Old contents, bacteria, and even cleaning chemicals can seep into containers through these imperfections, and eventually make their way into the wine, introducing unwanted effects on taste, color, and composition.
Concrete vessels for fermentation and aging can introduce unique tastes to the mix, but the logistics of acquiring and maintaining concrete containers are complicated – especially if you are located far away from the manufacturer. Transportation methods and shipping costs turn concrete into a much less feasible option compared to other alternatives. Concrete containers are also higher maintenance when it comes to cleaning, since methods used to clean non-concrete vessels will typically cause damage to concrete.
With stainless steel wine barrels, you are receiving the assurance that the container itself imparts no flavor into your wine. The sense of control brought on by stainless steel is unparalleled, enabling winemakers to craft a wine’s taste exactly to their specifications. The flavors are influenced only by the conscious choices of the producer: whites are kept crisp, while reds can enjoy the same flavor brought on by oak barrels through the use of woodchips, planks, and other methods for simulating that wood-on-wine flavor.
Consider the resources that you currently have in your facilities. Choosing stainless steel wine barrels can give you the best control of cubic footage and help cut back on lengthy cleaning commitments demanded by alternative materials. Ergonomically and economically sound, stainless steel containers allow the space in which they are stored to be used as efficiently as possible. An investment in stainless steel tanks will provide a long-lasting and low-maintenance system for the fermentation and aging processes.
Learn more about why MSM stainless steel wine barrels are truly the best wine barrels for your winemaking needs.