Any wine geek worth their salt loves a good barrel room. Ok, going on trip after trip wandering round looking at rows of neatly packed new barrels can get a bit tiresome after a while, but it’s the smell of the place and knowledge that all that lovely liquid is ageing away beautifully under the oak. And at Quinta Do Noval they’ve got one of the more impressive ones around.
Why Put Port In Barrels?
In port houses, the ageing is taken incredibly seriously. The aged rubies like Vintages or LBVs are placed in old, small barrels for a short sharp ageing (more air in to surface area of liquid….it’s science, innit?) with the main ageing designed for the bottle. And massive pipes of 1,000-10,000 litres in size for ageing tawnies and colheitas slowly in the barrel to brown off and go all figgy and raisin.
The Older The Better
Most importantly they want to use older barrels. New oak barrels add oak flavours. Depending on which species of oak you use you can add flavours like vanilla, coconut, and cedar. Still red wine makers round the world go made for them. But port makers aren’t after that. They want the barrels when they’re so old they don’t have those flavours left to add. They’re watertight, but let in a bit of oxygen over time to help the wine inside develop. That’s their job.
The Barrel Man
So port houses don’t really buy and sell barrels that often. They just look after their old ones with decades of love and attention. So the job of “The Barrel Man” is highly respected in any port house. At Quinta Do Noval, this job falls to a fella who has just turned 89 years old. His young apprentice is in his 60s. It’s clearly tough to advertise to the Portuguese kids to move out to the sticks and accept a basic wage to work hard and learn the skill.
Ageism? Not A Chance!
But clearly age is no barrier on when you can start. So anyone who likes working with their hands, doesn’t mind the odd glass of port now and again in one of the most gorgeous setting in wine, and fancies a job for life can apply within!