On oak aging and thoughts on barrique by Gianni Cantele

The following is a note from Cantele winemaker Gianni Cantele.

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Above: The cask aging cellar at Cantele (photo by Wine Friend, who also posts about a tasting at the winery).

We currently have about 700 barriques, small oak casks used for aging wine. Almost all of them come from French coopers and are made with French wood. 10% of our barriques are made from American wood and are used solely for the aging of our Primitivo.

A French barrique costs Euro 700. Why am I telling you this? So that you can get a sense of the budget required for a winery that has roughly 700 barriques in its cellar. This is one of the reasons that wines aged in wood casks cost more.

Many people believe, erroneously, that wood casks are used to give a certain flavor to the wine. The truth is that the wine is conceived in the vineyard and that’s the wine that we put into the barriques. When we’re making an important wine, with a lot of structure, the wine has the muscle needed for cask aging.

Generally, we start with a wine that doesn’t already have the balance needed for the presence of tannins and other polyphenols. The barrique is the tool that we use to achieve that balance. Thanks to the natural micro-oxygenation that wood permits, chemical-physical changes occur in the wine that transforms an imbalanced wine into a balanced wine with structure.

Cask aging also helps to stabilize the color of the wine itself and to increase its longevity. On its own, the anthocyanin molecule would wane. I need to make that molecule bind itself to the tannin. And for this reason, I need an oxygen molecule that will permit it to bind itself to the tannin. This is why micro-oxygenation in oak casks is so important.

It’s wrong to think that wood casks are used to give different types of flavor to wine. It’s also true that when the wood is toasted, it can have an “aromatic impact.” The important thing is to make sure that the impact isn’t excessive and that it respects the grape variety’s characteristics without overshadowing them.

We use our barriques for five years and then they are retired (we sell them for Euro 60 each to restaurants, wine shops, and wine bars that use them for decoration).

Our barriques are crafted by top coopers and as soon as we empty them, we wash them with hot water and refill them immediately with wine.

Here’s the aging regimen for our most important wines (Teresa Manara Negroamaro, Amativo):

1/3 new barriques
1/3 one-year-old barriques
1/3 two-year-old barriques

For all the other red wines, we use barriques in their third, fourth, and fifth years.

The only white wine for which we use wood casks is our Teresa Manara Chardonnay. The wine is racked into barrique while still fermenting (as for all of our white wines, fermentation is initiated in stainless steel so that we can maintain a constant temperature of 15° C.). Once the fermentation in barrique is completed, the wine ages on its lees in barrique and we perform bâtonnage (a stirring of the lees) on a daily basis for two months. Then the lees are stirred once or twice a week for the remaining months before bottling.

Cantele Rosé Wines: vinification notes

Rosé Wine Production

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It’s a long-standing tradition of the Salento peninsula to make rosé by macerating the wine must with its skins for a short time before fermentation begins. Thanks to temperature control, we can even macerate for as long as 24 hours. When we rack the must, we obtain no more than 20% of the total volume of the grapes.

The wine must is chilled and then naturally filtered. Once alcoholic fermentation begins, it lasts for around 10 days and is carried out at 15-16° C.

The remaining wine must (80%) continues to macerate with the skins (with a higher ratio of skins per liquid and thus more concentrated). This will become our Teresa Manara Negroamaro.

The process continues as for our white wine. The wine is racked in order to remove any solids and then it ages on its lees, a very important phase for this wine.

After 2-3 months, we begin to prepare for bottling, meaning that the wine is clarified, filtered, and undergoes tartaric stabilization.

The wine is then aged in stainless-steel vats.

Cantele red wines: vinification notes

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Red Wine Production at Cantele

The grapes are de-stemmed and pressed. They are then cooled to around 15° C. using a heat exchanger (just as for the whites). The pressed grapes are then transferred to fermentation vats where fermentation and maceration begins.

Fermentation takes place between 20° and 26° C. using fermentation tanks with tank wrap heat exchangers that regulate the temperature. This preserves the aromas and classic flavors of the grape variety. Alcoholic fermentation lasts about 5-6 days. And maceration time is based on the type of wine we wish to obtain.

For the entry-tier wines, maceration lasts 6-7 days. 15-20 days for the more important wines.

Once maceration is complete, the liquid is racked to separate it from the skins that end up in the press. As for the white wines, there is a first pressing from which we obtain the top wines and then a second pressing.

The red wine is then transferred to tank in our underground cellar where it will undergo malolactic fermentation and then barrique aging.

Cantele white wines: vinification notes (and how the winemaker avoids excessive sulfites)

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White Wine Production at Cantele

The grape bunches are destemmed and pressed.

Not all the white grapes are pressed. In the case of the Fiano and the Teresa Manara Chardonnay, the grapes are de-stemmed and then macerated (with their skins) for twenty-four hours at low temperatures.

Before the grapes are pressed, they are chilled to around 8-10° Celsius using a heat exchanger. Then they are soft pressed.

What is a “soft press”? It’s a cylinder that turns. Inside, a inflatable membrane gently crushes the skins of the berries to extract their must. Depending on the amount of pressure exerted by the membrane, different types of grape must can be obtained:

With pressure of 0 to .2 bars, you get the “first pressing” (Fiano, Teresa Manara)
From .2 to 1 bar you get the “second pressing” (which will be vinified separate because it contains polyphenolic substances [tannins] and is richer in aroma).
From 1 to 2 bars, you obtain the least valued must, which will be sent to a distillery.

The wine must is transferred to a stainless-steel tank where it is stored at 10-12° C. as it naturally decants itself, a natural separation of the solids from the liquid (overnight). The next day the clear wine must is racked (i.e., removed) from the tank. The sediment is filtered and the result must is added to the second pressing. It will ferment at around 14-16° C. for 12-15 days.

Once fermentation is completed, the wine is racked in order to remove its larger solids and then it is aged on its lees. The natural cloudiness of the lees — the dead yeast cells — lasts for 30 to 90 days, with frequent pumping over. By doing so, the sediment does not fall to the bottom and instead remains suspended in the wine. This helps the winemaker to avoid reduction, which can cause unwanted aromas.

This technique is very important for two reasons.

The first is that it helps to give the wine richer flavor thanks the properties that the dead yeast cells can give to the wine itself, thus adding to its complexity.

Secondly, by working at low temperatures (around 8-10° C.), the winemaker can proceed without the addition of sulfur (sulfites). During this phase, the cellular walls of the lees act as a natural receptacle for oxygen, thus protecting the wine from oxidation.

After two or three months, preparation for bottling begins, including clarification, filtration, and tartaric stabilization. The wine is then aged in stainless-steel tanks.