You have probably heard the term oak-aging before. But what does this mean and how does it change wine?
Using wooden barrels is the traditional way of aging wine. Back in the day wine was also sold in the barrels instead of bottles or cans. There are three main impacts of using oak barrels for aging: it adds flavour compounds, it allows slow oxygen exchange and it allows certain reactions to occur that can make wines taste creamier.
Nowadays, stainless steel tanks can be used to age wine too. This depends on the winemaker and on the grape. For example, more neutral grapes such as Chardonnay can gain more complexity from oak aging, while grapes with strong aromas like Riesling can be overpowered by oak aging.
Oak barrels primarily use American white oak or European (French) oak. The wood is toasted over fire, with different levels of toastiness creating different flavour notes. General flavours that oak-aging can impart include vanilla, caramel, coconut, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, dill, smoke, chocolate, coffee and toffee. This differs for American vs European oak, as well as for white vs red wine.
For white wine, American oak is known to create vanilla, coconut and toffee flavours, while European oak is linked to nutty and smoky flavours.
Oak-aging creates slightly different flavours in red wines. American oak is known to impart coconut and cinnamon flavours, while European oak imparts cloves, cedar and coffee flavours.
Important factors to consider are the size and age of the barrel, as well as how much time the wine spends in the oak barrel. Smaller barrels lead to more contact area in proportion to wine volume, allowing more flavours to be passed from the oak to the wine.
Can you use oak barrels more than once?
Yes, oak barrels can be used repeatedly. However, new oak imparts the most flavours, as oak barrels lose their flavours over time. The most flavour is imparted on the first use, a little on the second use and after four uses, pretty much no flavour is added to the wine. These “neutral” oak barrels can be used for more mellow wines, as minimal oxygen exchange still allows the wine to breathe without adding any additional flavours.
Additional to flavour, new oak barrels can also change the tanning structure in red wines. Tannins pass from the oak to the wine, giving the wine a stronger structure.
How was Canned Wine Co.’s Old Vine Garnacha aged?
Our No.5 Old Vine Garnacha has been aged for four years before canning the vintage. 5-10% was fermented and matured in new European oak, whereas the rest was aged in 4-6 year old barrels. This results in a smooth and silky Garnacha with hints of vanilla, almond and chocolate. To try our Old Vine Garnacha, order here.
Written by Marieke Hammes