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Wine Barrel Sizes for your Cellar
From years of experience throughout history, the optimal size of a wine barrel has evolved to be between fifty and sixty gallons. It has been found that wine barrels of smaller (or even larger) sizes than the 'standard' wine barrel do not make wines of as high quality.
Why Standard Barrel Sizes?
The ratio of the surface area to volume for a barrel is dependant on the size of the barrel. It has been found (mostly by experimentation over the years) that a fifty to sixty gallon barrel contains the optimal ratio of surface area to volume for making wine.
Why is the surface area to volume ratio of a wine barrel important?
Oak (or any other wood) tends to 'breathe'. That is, it lets small amounts of oxygen in and out of the wine over time. A small, limited amount of aeration is good for wine, as it promotes the aging process. Too much aeration is 'un-healthy' for the wine, as it will cause oxidation—making the wine go bad over time.
Small oak barrels (say five gallon containers) have larger surface area to volume ratio (see barrel calculation page)—This small ratio allows for the rate of the wine aeration to be too large, increasing the risk of oxidation of the wine. Oak barrels that are fifty to sixty gallon gallons in size contain the optimal surface area to volume ratio to allow for a minimal, but beneficial aeration rate.
Additionally, due to the large surface area to volume ratio of smaller wine barrels (say five gallons) - the rate at which the wine absorbs the oak 'flavor' is much greater that the rate in which wine absorbs the oak 'flavor' in the optimal sized fifty to sixty gallon barrel. As a result, wine aged in smaller wine barrels may become too 'oaky' tasting.
If using an oak barrel to make wine in your wine cellar, use a barrel that is fifty to sixty gallons of volume in size.
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