How Do Oak Barrels Affect the Taste of Wine?

Blog | December 4th, 2016

Throughout history, oak barrels have been utilised to make the world’s finest wines. The essence of the oak is used to vary the taste, colour and texture. As well, the oak barrel is introduced at different stages of the wine process, either during the ageing period or fermentation. Sometimes toasted and untoasted oaks chips, sticks or staves are added to wine that is fermented in a basin such as stainless steel.

A Bit of History

Early history shows that wine was usually stored in ceramic vessels called amphora. Nonetheless, many believe that amphora’s were also made of wood. But since wood is quite perishable, tracing the history of wooden barrels is difficult. On the other hand, there is evidence that palm wood barrels were used to transport wine along the Euphrates by the ancient Mesopotamians. As well, various regions tried different types of wood since palm was hard to fashion into barrels. Over time, oak was found to be the best wood for making barrels. As well, many cultures found that wine kept in oak barrels made it softer, full bodied and tastier.

In addition, many believe that the Celts were the first to learn the art of barrel making. Around the 5th century B.C, they discovered a clever new way of working with wood. The Celts were renowned for creating for storing liquids such as ale and water. After the Dark Ages, the barrels were commonly used for storing wine.

Infinite Possibilities

Storing wine in oak barrels can greatly enhance the color, add distinctive qualities and soften the flavor. Nearly all types of red wine are stored in oak barrels to enhance their flavor. Many white wines also spend a period of time in oak barrels prior to being bottled.

The use of oak and wine-making is like a special recipe. When and how long the wine is fermented with oak depends on many variables such as the type of wine being made, the grapes and the season. The process also requires a delicate balance. If too much is used then the wine is ruined and will taste like oak and not wine. Many say that a wine that has too much oak has a similar taste and texture of liquid butter.

The perfect balance of oak will lend itself a wonderful bottle of wine. Red wine will be slightly darker in colour. The longer white wine sits in the barrel, the more yellow it becomes. And when it comes to flavor, a good batch will have the perfect balance of vanillin. This is why many Chardonnays have the perfect bouquet of vanilla. Other wines will have an amazing taste of honey, mocha, toffee and caramel from the wonderful enhancement of oak.

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