Traditionally, Oak & Wine Forever Married!
Oak & Wine is like peanut butter & jelly! It is one of the biggest influences on the flavor of the wine. It simply affects the maturity, flavor, and subtle texture. Some people are prejudiced against oaked wine and complain of even the slightest hint of oak, but many experts agree that if a wine has been carefully aged in oak it does not taste of wood, but more like a wine that has had its character improved.
Aging using Oak
Oak aging of wine occurs when the wine has been fermented and/or aged in oak casks so that the flavor of the surrounding wood infuses some of its woodiness into the liquid. The resulting wine will usually taste richer, with creamy vanilla undertones and sometimes a little woody or even sawdusty. The oak is a type of seasoning for wine and getting the optimum level of oaky flavor is vital if a wine is to taste good in the end. Oak aging usually takes place in small oak barrels that hold 225 liters, being replaced every two or three years as newer barrels give the best flavor.
Is Oak Aging the Best?
Oak is considered to be the most ideal wood for this aging as it not only has superb watertight qualities but gives the right sort of flavors, aromas, and textures to enhance the wine. But there are different types of oak that offer certain distinctive flavorings. The most commonly used are the highly-prized, tightly-grained French oak which gives a subtle hint of oakiness, whilst American oak gives a more obvious vanilla character to the wine.
Consequently, wines that are more powerful in flavor tend to be stored in American oak such as Rioja, North and South American, and Australian varieties. Other factors that allow oak aging to affect a wine’s taste are the size of the barrels, (larger ones giving less flavor), the age of the wood used, the actual time the wine spends within the cask, and whether the barrels have been toasted (i.e. lightly burned on the inside).
Continuing Oak Trends
Now the fashion is for lightly oaked wines and winemakers are producing more subtle elegant flavors. Traditionally, red wines are aged in oak to add extra body, richness, and tannins.
Soft light reds such as Beaujolais are typically unoaked, but the richer more powerful styles such as fine red Bordeaux or Californian Cabernet Sauvignon are almost always aged in oak. Similarly, Rioja is oak aged for a long time to give it a distinct mellow creaminess.
Port and Madeira are wood-aged and have an obvious hint of oak, whilst even some Champagnes are aged for a short time in oak barrels, although they never taste very oaky, just a bit more full-bodied. Some premium sweet white wines are also oak aged.
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