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Wine barrels, especially those made of oak, have long been used as containers in which wine is aged. Aging in oak typically imparts desirable vanilla, butter and spice flavors to wine. The size of the barrel plays a large role in determining the effects of oak on the wine by dictating the ratio of surface area to volume of wine with smaller containers having a larger impact. The most common barrels are the Bordeaux barriques style which hold 59 gallons (225 liters) followed by the Burgundy style barrel which hold 60 gallons (228 liters). Some New World wine makers use the large hogshead 79 gallon (300 liter) size.

New barrels impart more flavors than do previously used barrels. Over time many of the oak properties get "leached" out of the barrel with layers of natural deposits left from the wine building up on the wood to where after 3 to 5 vintages there may be little or no oak flavors imparted on the wine. The cost of barrels varies due to the supply and demand market economy and can change with different features that a cooperage may offer. As of late 2007 the price for a standard American oak barrel was $270 USD, French oak $600 USD, and Eastern European $480 USD. Due to the expense of barrels, several techniques have been devised in an attempt to save money. One is to shave the inside of used barrels and insert new thin inner staves that have been toasted.

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