The Oak Factor of Wine

For a person who’s new to the world of wine, the idea of oak in wine can seem confusing.

But don’t worry, dear reader! If you’re one such individual that’s dumbfounded by the idea of oak, you can rely on us to educate you well on the subject!

History of Oak

Before there were bottles, wines were stored in wooden barrels to be sold to consumers. In fact, if you see many of the paintings (and movies) depicting times before the 1600s, you’ll notice some heavy barrels strewn about.

It was because of these barrels that wine lovers acquired a taste for the certain flavor, turning the oak factor into an integral part of the flavor profile.

How Does Oak Affect Wine?

Oak contributes to the flavor of wine in three ways.

  • It adds various flavor compounds such as vanilla, coconut or even smoke.
  • It slows down oxidation and makes the wine smoother.
  • It provides a suitable environment for metabolic reactions, i.e. it makes the wine taste creamier.

What Flavors does Oak Add?

With wine, there are no flavor additives. This is why we use oak. For instance, various flavor compounds that can be added to wine are:

  • Oak lactone – woody notes, coconut, dill
  • Eugenol – smoke, cloves or spice notes
  • Vanillan – Vanilla
  • Guaiacol – Burnt overtones
  • Furfural – burnt sugar, burnt almonds or dried fruit

Which Oak is used in Winemaking?

Now, when it comes to using a specific species for wine making, there are two preferred types; the Quercus Alba (American Oak) and the Ouercus Patrea (European Oak).

Each species offers a different flavor profile and also carries environmental affects. So for example, if a wine is aged in a certain oak species in Italy, it will taste different than all other wines, even if they too used the same oak for wine making.

Difference between American and European Oak

Physical differences between both wine oaks are in their density. European Oak is denser and imparts less oak lactones and oxygen than its American counterpart.

American oak offers a more robust and structured wine profile and provides oxygen ingress as well. This is why European oak is often used to make lighter wines since they require subtlety, whereas American oak is used for heavier wines.

Other Woods Used in Wine Making

Apart from these, other wood species that are used in winemaking are:

  • Acacia – Increased oxidation, no oak lactone
  • Iberian oak – More Oxidation, vanilla tones
  • Chestnut – More oxidation, increases Guaiacol and Vanillan, no lactone
  • English Oak – Similar to European oak

Want to See the Action?

Montemaggio opens its doors to all who want to experience wine in its true setting. So if you want to see the process of winemakers with experts at the job, plan a trip to Montemaggio and marvel at the different components which come together to make that perfect glass of your favorite Italian red wine!

Enjoy reading this article?

Sign up to receive our latest articles & news.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *