I’ve attended hundreds of professional-level wine seminars over the last 40 years but assuredly one of the most mesmerizing was a Society of Wine Educators Annual Conference nearly twenty years ago. The session was on the effect of oak on wine. There were a dozen wines to taste (half were red, the other half white). All whites were exactly the same wine, as were all the reds. Both whites and reds had been aged in different types of oak (with different toast levels), and they had been aged for differing amounts of time. Fascinating.
Oak can have a profound effect on the wine in your glass, whether it be white or red. It can change the color, alter the aroma, transform the texture, impact the taste, and even make a difference in the wine’s finish. Below are examples of some aromas and flavors oak can impart:
The use of differing toast levels on the barrels can dramatically alter the above aromas and flavors. For example, a lightly toasted barrel imparts the delicate flavor of vanilla. A medium toast contributes more butterscotch nuances and cocoa. A heavy toast ratchets up the intensity to espresso and caramelized sugar. The winemaker becomes the chef. In lieu of salt and pepper, the winemaker chooses the type of oak, the amount of toasting, and the amount of aging.
Tannins from the oak barrels also effect the color and the weight of the wine. White wines aged in oak have a deeper intensity. Wines aged in oak for a long period have can a more viscous, creamy texture from the tannins in the oak.
The next time you’re hosting a party, why not consider offering an un-oaked wine along with an oaked wine of the same varietal (same vintage and same winery preferably). It could be fun!