Close Menu

Very old barrels still bring oak aromas

Barrels over 20 years old still impart oak aromas to Champagne according to Bollinger’s chef de cave Mathieu Kauffman.

Bollinger’s chef du cave Mathieu Kauffman

Despite the widely held belief that barrels over five years old don’t affect the flavour of the wine stored in them, Kauffman stated that juice fermented in very old 205 litre oak pièces picks up characters from the wood.

“Even from a barrel that is 20 years old you can still smell the oak – it is not true that there are no aromas [from the barrel] after five to six years of use,” he said, when addressing attendees of the Fine and Rare Specialist wine course at the Palais Coburg.

Continuing, he said, “The effect is small, but it is big enough for Champagne.”

Explaining further Bollinger’s decision to ferment its vintaged Champagnes in 100% old barrels, he also said that the wood allows the juice to breathe and encourages the oxidation of any unstable elements in the wine.

According to Kauffman, the extremely slow micro-oxidation of the wine sees the “young aromas of pear and peach change into something more like sherry… and you get more body.”

For the Special Cuvée brut NV blend specifically, Kauffman also mentioned Bollinger’s longstanding use of a small proportion of reserve wines aged from five to 15 years in magnums under a cork seal.

“Every year we open around 100,000 magnums by hand from a stock of over 650,000,” he said.

“And each year we use 5-10% in the blend, which has helped me maintain the style of Special Cuvée – it’s like adding spices to food.”

As for the effect of this reserve wine on the blend, Kauffman commented, “When you open [a magnum] and add it to the tank, it smells just like tea – just 5-10% of this wine changes the blend.”

Stressing the importance of the cork seal on the magnum he said, “Cork is important when the wine is ageing for five to 10 or 15 years, because while the wine breathes a bit faster in the first year [compared to wines sealed with the more standard crown cap used for ageing Champagne in the cellar], it breathes very slowly after that.”

Continuing he said, “After five years, it is better with cork.”

Magnums of Bollinger ageing under cork

The view was echoed the following day by Dom Pérignon’s chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, who was also invited to speak at the Fine and Rare Specialist course.

Referring to the bottles of Dom Pérignon destined for extended ageing in the brand’s private cellar, or Oenothèque, he said the wines were always sealed with cork.

“Each bottle is hand disgorged and checked and tasted, and uses two corks,” he began, with the first cork used during ageing on with the lees and the second for the period after the dead yeast cells have been removed.

“It has got to be cork,” he continued, “Because after 10 years cork proves superior to a crown seal.”

He added, “Anything destined for first release will use crown seal and anything for the library will use cork, and be hand disgorged.

“It’s not that the crown seal is bad, but cork proves far superior on the longer run,” he concluded.

For more leading winemakers’ views on closures, see the August edition of the drinks business.



It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No