Barrel Aging Wine At Home

Barrel For Aging WineI’d like to make an Aussie Syrah for my next batch and experiment with oak barrel aging the wine. It will be a kit batch and I was wondering if it would be appropriate to age in oak? If so, when should I place the wine in the barrel and for how long?

Name: Rick R.
State: CO
Hello Rick,

It is perfectly appropriate to barrel age wine such as Syrah. But realize that the Syrah wine kit you will have has been bench-tested for optimal flavor by the kit producer, and will include oak powder and/or oak chips to simulate barrel aging of the wine, as they feel it is needed.

Having said this, experimentation is always fun…

When barrel aging wine, think of it as a step that is done right before bottling. In other words, the wine needs to be fermented and cleared before going into an oak barrel. Rushing the wine into the barrel can lead to the wine sitting on lees while aging. This would not be a good thing for a Syrah. Unwanted, off-flavor could develop from such a scenario.

You will want the oak barrel to be as full as possible. It may be necessary to top it up from time to time due to wine evaporating through the wood. Topping-up can be done by adding a similar wine to the barrel, or by adding a water vodka mixture to keep the alcohol level constant. If you made six gallons and are using a 5 gallon oak barrel, you can use the extra gallon to top up the barrel along the way.Shop Toasted Oak Chips

There is no direct answer as to how long you should barrel age a wine. This is because it is dependent upon so many variables. Such as: how many previous uses the barrel has had; the size of the barrel; the type of oak used to produce the barrel; how much the barrel was toasted; the type of wine in the barrel…. The list goes on and on.

Suffice it to say, it is up to you to make a determination as to how long is best. When barrel aging wine it is best to taste a sample of the wine periodically. See what you think. Let the winemaker in you come out. It is said that winemaking is both a science and an art. Aging wine in oak barrels is some of the art part.

What you are looking to see is how the wine is developing. Are the harsh flavors (that you probably noticed initially) starting to smooth out and become more velvety? Is the woody character of the wine starting to develop? Is it becoming too strong? Do you notice any coconut or vanilla flavors coming from the toast? How do they fit the wine’s overall flavor profile? Can you barrel age the wine long or has the wine aged enough, already?

Once the wine comes to a point that is too your liking, then feel free to bottle.

Shop Wine KitsAs you can see there are no direct answers when it comes to barrel aging wine. Everything is subjective. There are only generalities and good judgment. If we are talking about using a new, 5 or 6 gallon oak barrel, my guess is that the time needed will be somewhere around 2 to 6 months, but this is just a broad guess. In reality, it could take less time, or it could take more. One thing that can be noted is that as you go up in barrel size the more time it will take to age the wine. This is because as you go up in barrel size, there is less wood surface contact to each gallon of wine. It’s a matter of physics.

I hope this helps you out a little bit and gives you some idea as to what you are to expect when barrel aging wine. Just remember, it’s your wine. Age it until it tastes good to you.

Happy Winemaking,
Ed Kraus
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

9 thoughts on “Barrel Aging Wine At Home

  1. I am not a very experienced wine maker. This is my first time using an oak barrel to age my wine and I have a couple of questions. Do you sweeten your wine before aging or do you wait until just before bottling it? And, if you forgot to add the campden tablets before putting it in the barrel. Can I add it now or will it be ok without it?

    • Joe, you can sweeten the wine anytime but I would probably sweeten before barrel aging. Yes, you can add the campden tablets now.

  2. I left some red wine in an Oak barrel for a little too long, I think. I tasted the wine and it’s strong, almost like a brandy. What are my options at this point? Perhaps sweeten it a bit and drink it like a brandy or maybe dilute it with water to bring it back to a wine-like state? Any thoughts?

    • K C, unfortunately, there is not much you can do. Our best suggestion is to try adding some Bentonite to try to drag some of it out of the wine.

    • KC, I’m a wine maker whom is just beginning to use 6 gallon and 15 gallon barrels. What was the grape variety? When you say you left the wine too long in a barrel, what was that time? 6 months or longer? Your answer will become instructive to me as I contend with my lack of experience using the storage medium.

      • I left some cab in a 5 gallon barrel for 6 months and it smelled and tasted like vanilla. I bottled it anyways and much to my surprise, and a year later it was one of the best wines I have made.

  3. I have been told that if your wine became too oakey that egg whites could be used to “pull” the excess oak out. Your thoughts?

    • Kevin, egg whites are used much like bentonite is use4d to clarify the wine. The egg whites will help to remove excess tannin that could come from the oak.

  4. Can you explain what will happen if the wine barrel isn’t completely full? My wine level is about 2-3 inches from the top of my 20 L barrel. I don’t want to add too much of a store-bought wine because I am curious how the grapes I used will taste. Is it worse to age it with the extra oxygen in there? What kind of off-flavors does that produce?

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