Ageing wines: how does oak influence wine?

Starting off today’s post, we can say this without much doubt, pretty much most of our readers at some stage would have heard about wines being aged in oak barrels.

What maybe is not as obvious, is to know exactly what oak does to wine, today we take a glance at the main types of oak and its properties. Therefore, we would like to look at the properties which oak barrels can transfer to the wine. Would you like to join us?

vinos-crianzaSala de crianza de Bodegas Dinastía Vivanco (DOCa Rioja). Imagen por Semsu Hor (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The main point and as a general summary, we can say that oak has been used for centuries in winemaking, not only to vary the colour, taste, tannins but also the texture of the wine.

As we were saying, oak rounds off and smoothens the texture of the wine and at the same, time stabilising it. Furthermore, the tannins undergo a chemical process which supplies the palate with pleasant sensations.

One more effect, other than providing structure and smoothness, is the ability to add flavours and aromas which would be impossible to find in other wines. We mention the famous “spicy” and “toasted” aromas that we find in many wines aged in oak.

There is a large spectrum of aromatic experiences that are at the reach of every winery, this can be conditioned by the choice of the type of oak that is used during the ageing phase.

Currently, and as a general rule, an oenologist can use three different types of oak:

French Oak: French oak barrels impart silky and transparent tannins to the wine, transmitting a subtle and persistent sweet sensation. This type of oak complements wines with a rich and deep spiced sensation on the nose. For example, we would recommend Baigorri Reserva 2007. A Rioja wine, aged for nothing less than 18 months in French oak barrels. A very spicy and intense wine that won’t leave you feeling indifferent.

 American oak: This type of oak is a lot less porous and a lot more airtight. It offers sensations that we could describe as “woody” tones, and often sweeter than French oak; intense vanilla and cocoa notes. We invite you to try the typical characteristics of this ageing process by opening up a bottle of Viña Arana 2006. This is from the DOCa Rioja as well. A very good, classic wine; subtle and elegant.    

Central European oak: Similar sensory characteristics to French oak, central European oak –mainly Hungary –, is a variety  transfers the least aromas to wine, it is the ideal wood to preserve the natural properties of the grape. However, it is not easy to find too many wines aged 100% in this oak, although luckily we do have some magnificent examples, like Loxarel Amaltea 2013, produced by Bodegas loxarel from the D.O Penedès. A magnificent quality-price ratio, produced following the principles of biodynamic agriculture.

What are you waiting for? You are going to love them!

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