Flavoured barrels, that's what winemakers, and fussy drinkers, will be picking over next. So just when you thought it was safe to concentrate on soil, the vineyard, the vines, the terroir, and let the whole winemaking process settle back into its place, along come these barrels.
Examples of actual flavours that might potentially be available currently include spicy, tannic and red fruit.
The barrels are the idea of Seguin Moreau, a leading French cooper. Currently the intelligent barrels are still in the research phase, with Seguin Moreau busy working out how different wood molecules react to, and with, the wine stored in them. The current expectation is that they will be ready for commercial sale by 2010/11.
Their potential use will no doubt be controversial and will reignite the whole wood chip discussion, because the ordinary barrels v. flavoured barrels arguments are already similar to the chips v. barrels ones.
Basically you have, on one side, those that say barrels are for slow aeration of the wine, aka 'ageing', and they are not for flavouring the wine. Full stop.
And, on the other, you have those who accept barrels can have a useful influence on the flavour, and think that controlling another aspect of winemaking such as this will be interesting/useful.
It was the same with chips. Are barrels for flavouring wine, in which case chips might do the job, or are they simply for 'ageing' the wine by providing a slow ingress of oxygen, and an equally slow evaporation of some of liquid inside? If it is the second, naturally, chips won't do the job.
It is the same when tea lovers start talking about the differences between tea made in the pot and tea bags. A big palaver with everyone having their own special way and their own special reasoning.
And indeed, so much depends on how chips, or barrels are used, that arguments for and against are almost useless, unless you include how they are used. Which you can't because everyone will do it a different way. Still and all, a few acres of print will be dedicated to the subject in coming years I would guess. You read it here first.