The toasting of barrels in a Tonnellerie (or cooperage) serves two purposes — to shape the barrel to its final form, and to season the wood. The heating process dramatically alters the woods physical and chemical composition. The resulting seasoning or “toast” provides a buffer between the alcohol in wine and the tannins in the wood. In general, the less a barrel is toasted the more tannins and other wood characteristics will be leached into the wine by alcohol. Wine matured in lightly toasted barrels therefore tends to taste “oaky” or “woody,” while wine matured in heavily toasted barrels is more likely to taste “toasty” or “spicy.” (Source: The Oxford Companion to Wine).
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