Wines that have been too heavily oaked can be overpowering. But the subtle use of oak will only enhance a wine and if done really well the taster shouldn’t even be aware of its presence in the wine-making process.
So what can you expect in an oaked wine? Cedar, smoke, tobacco, resin even – yes but there are so many others flavours and aromas on offer they you may never have attributed to its use.:
Vanilla, spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, all-spice, as well as tea, butter, nuts, toast, coconut, mocha, toffee, caramel. That is starting to sound a little better isn’t it?
With the addition of any combination of the above flavours the wine cannot be anything but more complex following some oak exposure, it will also have a better structure and texture as a result and the tannins will feel softer.
Terms on the label:
Barrel or Oak Fermented: The fermentation process alone took place in oak barrels. Barrel or Oak Aged: The ageing process (post fermentation) was in oak. It would be usual to state the amount of time spent in oak and which type of oak.
Why oak barrels?
Originally they were a practical storage vessel, leak-proof, strong and when put on their sides they roll easily for transportation purposes. The process of producing the barrels themselves gives them a slightly “charred” character, something the winemaker can himself enhance depending on the degree of toastiness he wishes to impart to his wines.
The two main types of oak used are French and American. I could, perhaps, be talking about anything when I say the French are more expensive, more subtle and a little savoury. The Americans are more obvious, sweet and spicey. Just to remind you we are talking barrels……. Newer barrels impart more flavour, and will be reserved for premium wines. The flavours dissipate each year to almost nothing after 3-4 years although even at that stage the process will give a wine better structure and texture.
I hope now that you won’t shy away from wines that have been oaked but perhaps you will be armed with a little more information with which you make your purchasing decisions.