Food, Home & Lifestyle

Appreciation on Location, Part 2: Barrel Tasting

James Suckling

Lesson time 05:35 min

Tasting from a barrel can be dramatically different than from a bottle. Learn what to look for in the barrel, and how to determine a wine’s potential direction.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Cellar Storage


We tasted from bottle a small range of different vintages of the Antinoris' famous red Tignanello. But let's take it all a step further and taste some wines from barrel. Most premium wines are aged in French oak barrels to soften tannins in red wines and give richness to white wines. There are other barrels, such as American oak or even Hungarian oak, as well as chestnut. Most oak barrels are 225 liters in size, but there are larger barrels, such as puncheons of 500 liters, or casks, ranging from a few hectoliters to much, much larger. We're now in the barrel-aging room of Tenuta Tignanello, but we're tasting Solaia, the newest vintage, 2017. When you're tasting from barrel, you look for some basic components, the ballads of the fruit and alcohol, the tannins, the length. Length is when you taste the wine and get rid of it, how long does it last-- the flavor, the texture? Top-class wines have all of this in balance. Less good wines may have too much acid or too much alcohol, or they may be over-influenced by the wood, giving them a vanilla or woody flavor. Mm. Good tannins, nice chewiness. It's a little bit raw now, but it's a baby. It has to spend another seven or eight months in barrel. And those tannins, that chewiness, is going to soften, and come along nicely. And then it'll be put in bottle. - Yeah, and 2017 was a very warm vintage. So I think the wine is very-- we're very excited about the wine, because warm vintage sometimes give big fatty wines. This is nice, because it's got that elegance, that typicity of that piece of land. This is Cabernet, mostly, and a bit of Sangiovese, the opposite of Tignanello. But you still recognize the origin, no? - Yes. - How do you figure out how long to age it in wood? Is it all just about tasting? - Basically, yes. It's-- - Three months, every three months we taste the wine, and we feel the evolution, we feel the evolution of the tannins, and also a part of the wood that we choose vintage by vintage, depending on the style, the season, and the climate of the season. - When people talk about wine, sometimes they think it's just science, but actually it's artistry. You're figuring out just by tasting. It's not just going to the lab and analyzing it. - The analyses are important, for sure, because the wine needs to be correct in its parameters. But in the end, the tasting and the evolution of the wine is what allows you then to take the decision of a rack, or the moment of moving on the wine from the wood. And so this is a really human evolution of the wine, made by human work and human tastings. - You may have heard of en primeur, or buying wines as futures. And what happens is, you're buying the wine still in barrel. It'll be delivered in two, three years, and you're trusting my notes, other people's notes, and also your wine merchants to give you great information so you can make that purchase. It's really special to be down in this ancient cellar with all thes...

About the Instructor

Called one of the “world’s most powerful wine critics,” James Suckling has tasted more than 200,000 wines over the past 40 years. In his wine tasting MasterClass, James tours legendary Tuscan vineyards and teaches you to explore the stories, history, and people behind every bottle. Deepen your knowledge of the properties in each sip, cultivate your passion, and choose, order, and pair wines with confidence.

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James Suckling

Flavor, aroma, and structure—Learn from wine master James Suckling as he teaches you to appreciate the stories in every bottle.

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