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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.

James Suckling
Teaches Wine Appreciation
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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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...

Discover the story in every bottle

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.


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

I learned so much from properly tasting wines to cellaring/organizing and navigating wine lists and good tips on etiquette in relation to it. I feel like I'm not so inferior with wine and it will help me to make good choices of wines to drink, order and cellar.

I work in a tasting room in the US. This class expanded my knowledge. Beautiful filming.

I learned that I should look at the restaurant's wine list before I go there. Also, when in doubt, pick the wine by region, or by year. Lastly by not least, wine is meant to be tasted with friends, paired with some good food, and never alone.

Great class! Loved learning new terms and a new approach to tasting wines.


J. D.

James is a great presenter. One of the best of the classes I've watched on masterclass.

Ketan M.

I have a 2009 Tignanello which I've been holding onto, what a treat to hear this conversation and wine tasting.

A fellow student

I appreciate the recollection of the years and what went into the wine. This is something I've grown to treasure more knowing the challenges and the conditions faced when producing great wines.

Andrew Stephen L.

Great to hear all about such amazing history of wine 🍷 and seeing such a beautiful place! Look forward to seeing the next lesson x

John B.

I love Tignanello, especially 2007. This vertical really opens up one's eyes and mind to the legacy that leads to this triumph. Articulate explanations by the current doyenne of the Antinori family really bring it to life – with pleasure, with passion, with soul, with dedication, and with honor. Bravo.

Jhershierra J.

I would have to agree that at least for me, lately, I am looking for a more natural wine and lower alcohol levels. This has been challenging for me to find good ones. Local stores dont seem to carry much so I occasionally search the internet.

Thomas R.

James, Thanks for the demonstration of a vertical tasting. I learned that vintages not necessarily have to be back to back, right? The first time I noticed about a vertical tasting I was looking at 6 back to back vintages of Don Melchor in a private section visiting a wine dealer in Santiago de Chile. I started to build a VT in the same way with another Chilean wine. Question though: how do you compose your VTs? Thanks, Thomas

Mark F.

Cheers, James! Thank you! LOVE the classes. Learning SO much. I rejoined for another year of MC because of you, sir.

A fellow student

What winemakers can do about global warming is to stop using chemicals in the vineyard, to go back to polyculture & to create more biodiversity around the land. That's more long lasting & accurate than trying to guess what the weather will be for the year & how much of each chemical is going to be applied. Humans always trying to control everything & screwing things up at the end.

Gustavo P.

Amazing chapter!!!! You can see the connection, the heart and soul of the wine maker and the wine. Love the Antinori family and their dedication to make excellent, superb wines. Love the tasting...I´m running to the store right now.