Hello Readers. My Wine Tribe is on vacation through mid-August. Until then, we’ll be revisiting some of our favorite posts from the past, such as this gem. Happy summer!
“Oak” is a term you should be comfortable tossing around when talking about wine. What is oak’s impact on wine? Oak effects a wine’s flavor, color, texture and the tannin profile (ahhh, tannins). Typical flavors imparted by oak include toast, caramel, vanilla and cream.
So, in winespeak, what does oak mean? Oak is the actual wood that wine barrels are made from. Winemakers ferment or age their wines in these oak barrels.
The insides of the barrels can be charred to different levels (the higher the char, the more likely you are to detect a toasty flavor in the wine). Winemakers also use stainless steel barrels, in which case they may add in some oak chips. There are several types of oak in use. Each affects the flavor of the wine differently. For example, American oak tends to impart a sweeter, more vanilla taste than French oak. Old oak tends to have a more subtle effect on flavor and tannins then new oak.
Here is a great way to get familiar with the taste and smell of oak (thanks to Food & Wine for this exercise). Get a box of Cheerios, a marshmallow and a skewer. Crush up the Cheerios and smell them. The toasty, wheaty notes of the cereal are very similar to what you’ll find in oaked white wine. Next, skewer a marshmallow and roast it over a flame until it is burnt. The smell of a burnt marshmallow is very close to the smell of oak in red wine.
Also from Food & Wine, here’s a white wine flight you can try to hone your oak detector skills:
- Unoaked: Chablis (ex: 2011 Jean-Marc Brocard Domaine Sainte Claire)
- Medium Oak: White Burgundy (ex: 2010 Joseph Drouhim Meursault)
- Oaked: California Chardonnay (ex: 2010 La Crema Sonoma Coast)
If you want to learn a whole lot more about oak, go to this great Wikipedia article.
As a member of the Developed Tribe. I am not into big oaky whites. What about you?