Would You Like Some Wine With Your Oak?
You always wondered what exactly people are talking about when they say this wine is oaky…until you taste a wine that’s way. too. oaky.
Too much oak influence in a wine will suck all the moisture out of your mouth and leave you with a dry, woody, vanilla-y like flavoring that leave you wondering if you just tasted wine or licked a tree that was held over a fire (and then of course left to cool). Kind of like when you give a dog a spoon of peanut butter.
Somehow, we don’t think that’s what wine was meant to taste or feel.
Oak can and should rather be described as a winemaker’s spice rack, an ingredient, or complement to the wine. Some wines can handle more of it and some can and should completely do without. When done right, though, barrel aging can add beautiful layers to the wine further bringing out the flavors of the fruit. When in balance, it can create great depth and complexity, contributing to a wine’s longevity.
Benefits of Oak
Barrel aging wine, however, has benefits way beyond just imparting flavor.
-A newly pressed red wine has been sitting with skins and seeds. Think about chewing on a grape skin from a berry you just picked off the vine. The skin is dry, a velvety texture. Now imagine the wine soaking all those tannins up. It can be quite harsh at a young stage in its life. For several months, the wine will sit in barrel and actually precipitate out these solids that it has acquired from the skins and seeds, softening the wine, making it less “chewy.”
-Wine barrels are also semi-porous. They will absorb some part of the wine if new but will also allow a small amount of oxygen to reach the wine, giving it an ever-so-slight aeration. It’s similar to decanting a finished and bottled wine, but very slow motion, called oxidation. During this process, the wine develops secondary flavors and aromas. (Primary aromas are mostly from the fruit itself, tertiary aromas mostly evolve in the bottle). In barrel, they can develop flavors like tobacco, tea, and vanilla, non fruit components.
-Malolactic Fermentation, or a secondary fermentation after the alcoholic fermentation, is often done in barrel. This process, with the help of Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB or Oenococcus oeni or Lactobacillus or Pediococcus) converts the crisp malic acid (think about salivating after taking a bite of a Granny Smith apple) into lactic acid (creamy textured acid found in milk, yogurt). The wine then has a chance to develop more flavors while these interactions and processes happening at once.
Below is a diagram of an oak barrel:
Three Main Types
The most popular oak used by winemakers could be French and then American oak. French oak, because of its finer grains, will typically impart more delicate flavors and aromas, not to overwhelm lighter wines. American oak has a much stronger influence with powerful flavors and aromas to impart to the wine because it has larger a grain. Hungarian is the third most widely used type of oak barrels and fairly recently, Slovenian oak has begun to make a world wide presence in winemaking. In the order they’re listed here is more often than not an indication of their demand and pricing, starting at the highest for French oak.
In the next post(s), we’ll dig a little deeper into the different oak barrel categories and what exactly causes the different flavors. Stay tuned!
Did you like what you read? If you’d like to receive our posts and news in your inbox, please visit our home page at Bottle-Talks.com and leave your email and name in the lower right hand corner. We promise, we’ll send good stuff only. Thanks for reading!