First statements about wine production come from the ancient Middle East cultures. They used terracotta containers, ad the same material was spread in the Mediterranean, too. Up North, instead, thanks to the abundance of forests giving the raw material, they started to use wood.
Nowadays, wooden barrels are distinguished according to their capacity: large barrels, with a capacity over 5.000 litres, medium barrels, with a capacity from 1.000 to 5.000; small barrels, with a capacity lower than 1.000 litres (tonneaux and barique).
Barrique isn’t a modern invention: its use, together with the tonneaux, asserted itself with the transports which developped during the lower Middle Ages between the countryside, were wine was produced, and towns.
They usually used chestnut, acacia or cherry wood. Dimensions and shape of the barrels helped the transfer even by a single person, and they perfectly adapted to the carts dimensions for transportation.
The use of this kind of barrel, besides conservation and transport, also fo the wine making, started in a quite practical way. The area which is now universally known as one of the most important areas for wine production, Burgundy, in the past produced sour and strong wines, with features not nearly overwhelming. Until someone realised that unsold wines, remaining into wood barrels, rather than worsen, got better, becoming softer and with a more complex taste. Then, when researches on the influence of tannin in wine refining were analyzed, they realised the importance of the organoleptic characteristics of french oak.
The modern oenology let that knowledge become science. Unfortunately, the use of barrique in Italy and other parts of the world brought, above all during the second half of the 90s and the beggining of the XXI° century, to a sort of a flattening and homogenisation in taste to the detriment of aroma, fruit, freshness, pleasantness and above all typicalness.
Barriques, if correctly used, contribute to the pleasantness of the product, above all if the wine chemical-physical characteristics let take advantage of the positive effects of the wood. It’s important not to spoil fruit taste and aroma, imposing extraneous notes not dealing with the grape characteristics.