What Is Oaked Wine?

Oak Barrel

In the wine world the term oaked refers to using actual oak wood in the wine making process. The use of oak in wine making can effect the color, taste, tannin profile, and texture of the wine. The use of oak can be varied from storing the wine in an oak barrel while it is fermenting, or aging. It can also pertain to oak chips, or wood staves(sticks) free floating in the wine.

Storing wine in an oak barrel allows small amounts of evaporation and oxygenation to occur in the wine but not enough that the wine will oxidize or spoil. This happens because of the porous nature of the oak barrel. In one year a typical 59 gallon oak barrel can lose anywhere from 5.5 to 6.5 gallons of wine through the evaporation process. This allows the remaining wine to be concentrated in its flavor and aroma. Some small amounts of oxygen can pass through the barrel to act as a softening agent on the tannins of the wine.

Another reason wine makers might use an oak barrel is because the chemical composition of the oak itself can have a great effect on the wine. Within the wood are phenols that interact with the wine to produce a vanilla type flavor which can also give the impression of tea notes or sweetness. The amount of “toast” on the oak barrel can also give different properties affecting the tannin levels of the wine.

The length of time a wine spends in an oak barrel can vary greatly depending on what style of wine is being made. The majority of flavoring comes from the first few months that the wine is in contact with the oak. Longer term exposure can affect wine through light aeration that the oak barrel allows. This helps precipitate the phenolic compounds and speeds up the aging of the wine.

The different flavors that can come from wine being exposed to oak include cream, caramel, spice, smoke, and vanilla. A chardonnay has a very distinct flavor profile when it is fermented in oak. It can have cinnamon, clove and coconut flavors.

When using oak chips or wood staves(sticks) you can age your wine more quickly and also add the much desired aromas that you get from aging the wine in oak barrels. Adding oak chips can intensity the flavor of wine in a matter of weeks versus traditional use of an oak barrel, which can take up to a year to have a similar affect. The oak chips can be added during fermentation or aging. When they are added to an aging wine the chips are generally put into fabric sacks then placed in the wine.

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