The process of fermenting wines in small barrels instead of large vats or stainless steel tanks. Fermentation = The natural process that turns grape juice into wine, fermentation is actually a chain reaction of chemical responses. During this process, technically called the primary fermentation, the sugars in the grape juice are converted by the enzymes in yeasts into alcohol.
Barrel fermentation requires very careful cellar attention. The barrels are usually made of oak and are about 225 litres in size, although larger ones are used occasionally. Even though barrel fermentation is more expensive (due to the added cost of the wine barrel in making the wine) and less controllable than fermentation in larger, stainless steel tanks, it is thought to imbue certain wines with complexity, rich creamy flavours, delicate oak characteristics, and better aging capabilities, and texture.
Barrel fermentation is especially beneficial to white wines. First, since white wines lack the tannins of reds, the wine can instead draw tannins from the wood barrels. Whites that have been barrel fermented have a less dramatic oaky taste - than those wines that have been fermented in another tank then oak aged. The flavours are better harmonized. The fermentation process, tempers the flavours of the wood, imparting lighter flavours of oak. So in the wine, you will find hints of cinnamon, vanilla, or cloves rather than over whelming harder oak flavours.
In particular, a wine can become more creamy, round, buttery and toasty after being barrel fermented. Barrel fermentation is usually associated with white wine grapes like Chardonnay, but also on occasion with Sauvignon Blanc (e.g. Fume Blanc) and occasionally Chenin Blanc and Semillon are processed in this way.