Charred, toasted, fired … it’s all pretty much the same. In the wine industry, as well as the distilled beverage industry, heat-treated wooden barrels and kegs are used as storage vessels in which wines and liquors are left for a certain amount of time to age. In the process of making brandy or whiskey, the distillate that comes out of the still is entirely colorless. It is actually the toasted — or charred — aging barrel that imparts a golden brown color to the beverage. Likewise, toasting methods are chosen so that the finished product will benefit from the natural aromatic compounds present in the wood. The insides of barrels to be used for distilled spirits, bourbon especially, are usually exposed to a very hot flame and will be entirely black on the inside, what some folks call a very “high toast” level. Barrels used in winemaking can be ordered from coopers at “low,” “medium” or “high” toast, and sometimes only the heads (the flat ends) of the barrels will be toasted.
In your case, I would use the “charred” oak keg (as opposed to the paraffin-lined keg). Your wine should pick up some spicy, vanilla and clove-like notes from being kept in toasted wood, assuming the supplier you’re working with recommends these barrels for wine storage. A paraffin-lined keg will only serve as a place to put your wine. The wax coating prevents the barrel from flavoring the wine, and also inhibits the supposed “micro-oxygenation” effects that wine experiences when being stored in a porous wooden container.
I would also worry about paraffin being a prime spot for spoilage organisms to hide. Plain, toasted barrels are easy to wash with hot water and sanitizing agents like citric acid and sulfur dioxide. Paraffin doesn’t hold up well to any of these things, and might create a sanitization and logistical nightmare. Furthermore, who wants chunks of paraffin floating around in their wine?
When in doubt, stick with tradition. Toasted oak is the way to go when you want the benefits of attractive storage, proper aging environment and “toasty” aromas and flavors.
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