Our wine museum, respectively Hans’s winery, holds many old treasures, wine making- and vineyard tools from past times.
The wine thief is essentially a pipette that is used to extract a small amount of wine from the barrel. At several points during both the fermentation and aging process, Hans will use the thief to extract a sample of the wine into a glass to evaluate the wine by carefully looking at its colour, smelling its aroma, and tasting it, as part of the winemaking process. It is to watch over the wine’s evolution with the ultimate goal to determine when the wine is ready to be bottled.
Another reason for taking a sample is for barrel tasting:
Barrel-tasting allows consumer to walk in the winemaker’s shoes. It requires a whole other mindset in comparison to tasting finished wine from a bottle. Wines are tricky to taste in barrel, they almost showing better in bottle. Barrel tasting requires sleuthing and powers of projection. It is somewhat like looking at a sonogram and trying to imagine how the baby might look.
Wines from a barrel are, naturally, in a rougher stage; with harsher tannins and far less pleasing mouthfeel. They may range in taste all the way from fermenting grape juice, to a close approximation of the finished product depending on its evolutionary stage. Over time, harsher flavours will subside, revealing luscious fruit and spices. Nuance, elegance, complexity, refinement will emerge once the wine is well matured.
A barrel tasting gives a sneak peek into what is to come and a unique chance to meet the winemaker and gain a whole new perspective on the winemaking process.
Professional Barrel Tastings for ‘en primeurs’
Many famous and rare wines are being sold ‘en primeur’ or ‘futures’. The wines most commonly offered en primeur are from French regions, predominantly Bordeaux, to lesser extent, Burgundy and Rhone. Every spring, worldwide press and trade descend on the regions to taste barrel samples of young wines. Based on their initial evaluation, the wines are given a preliminary rating range, indicating the taster’s good faith belief that once mature, it will exhibit qualities warranting pre-assigned point scores.
Payment is rendered in advance of the official release of a vintage. There are some clear advantages of buying wines en primeur, as well as disadvantages. On one hand, the wines are less expensive when they are purchased in advance. Additionally, this practice is often applied to allocated wines, for the merchant to secure significant quantities of wine that are high in demand. On the other hand, some will invariably wind up with lower critic’s scores and therefore not as desirable or valuable.