Toasting is a important stage in the barrel making process with different grades of treatments applied. Staves bent over a wood fire undergo a process of charing which imparts a unique aromatic finish to the barrel. This is shown in the above picture that I took of a barrel being toasted in the cooperage of Francois Freres. The barrel maker (cooper) closely monitors temperatures and fire intensities so that the desired level of toast characteristics is achieved. Barrels toast is specified in several levels such:
LIGHT TOAST (LT) – Allows fruit aromas to be upfront and not dominated by oak
MEDIUM TOAST (MT) – Fruit is still dominant but develops more aromatic complexity. Most commonly used in pinot noir wine making.
MEDIUM TOAST+ (MT+) – Balanced fruit and oak favours but provides an distinct smokiness from the oak to show through.
HEAVY TOAST (HT) – Most powerful toast flavours displayed and spice is enhanced, used where the wine’s power and fruit will compliment.
Each manufacturer may designate different levels (ie there is no standardisation) or even the length of intensity of toasting. The selection of toasting levels is yet another factor to be taken into account when selecting barrels for making pinot noir.