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VanArnam Vineyards - How do Oak Barrels Affect Wine
How do Oak Barrels Affect the Taste of Wine

Spring Barrel is right around the corner and there is not better way to celebrate than by learning all about the Oak Barrel.  Ok, you can taste too!  lol


How Do Oak Wine Barrels Affect the Taste of Wine?


Using wooden oak barrels to influence and improve the flavor of wine has a long history and a solid scientific foundation.  Since the first of the century, winemakers have been using oak barrels to mature their wines.

So, what are the benefits of aging wine in used oak barrels?  Many wines were kept and served in wood barrels before introducing glass bottles, dating way back to the 1600s and earlier.  Even though we have outgrown the need for barrels to store and transport wine, we have developed a liking for them.  Modern winemaking relies heavily on the use of oak barrels.

There are three significant contributions that oak makes to wine:

  • Aromas of vanilla, clove, smoke and coconut are among the flavor components.

  • It allows for delayed oxygen availability making the wine taste smoother and less astringent.

  • It creates an ideal environment for specific metabolic reactions especially Malolactic Fermentation. 

What flavors do wine take on from being aged in oak barrels?

Wine, unlike beer, does not allow for flavorings.  When a wine is aged in wooded oak barrels, the oak tastes blends with the wine’s own to provide a wide range of subtleties.  Oak flavor components come in various flavors, from dried fruits to burnt sugar to coconut and vanilla aromas.

The used oak barrels impart tannins to the wine, giving it bitterness and astringency.  Therefore, wines that have been aged in barrels longer have a significantly higher concentration of tannins than fresh wines.


What effect does oak have on red wine?

American oak contributes luscious flavors of coconut and cinnamon, while French oak contributes spicy undertones of clove and cedar.  The higher the toast level, the more it resembles mocha or espresso.

The importance of oxygen in red winemaking is considerably high.  This is because the color and tannin in grape skins require air to create stable phenolic compounds, while the tannins in wood help sustain the wine’s structure. 

There are five major reasons that oak barrels are a popular choice with winemakers:

  1. Oak is antibacterial by nature.  Therefore, sulfur dioxide is used less in wine produced or aged in oak barrels.

  2. Barrels aid in the clarification and stabilization of the wine.  It eliminates the need for additives, resulting in a more natural product.

  3. It enhances the ageability, texture, and color stability of red wines by smooth tannins.

  4. Oak barrels, especially young oak barrels give additional flavors to the wine, making it more complex.  The degree of toasting and the type of wood you use influence the taste.

  5. After three years of usage, old used wine barrels impart no discernible flavors to the wine.




Post By:   Noelle Cook