Wine that has been Oaked

Oak and Wine

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Oak is used in winemaking to vary the color, flavor, tannin profile and texture of wine. It can be introduced in the form of a barrel during the fermentation or aging periods, or as free-floating chips or staves added to wine fermented in a vessel like stainless steel. Oak barrels can impart other qualities to wine through evaporation and low level exposure to oxygen.[1] 

The porous nature of an oak barrel allows evaporation and oxygenation to occur in wine but typically not at levels that would cause oxidation or spoilage. The typical 59-gallon (225-liter) barrel can lose anywhere from 5½ to 6½ gallons (21 to 25 liters) (of mostly alcohol and water) in a year through evaporation. This allows the wine to concentrate its flavor andaroma compounds. Small amounts of oxygen are allowed to pass through the barrel and act as a softening agent upon the wine’s tannins.[3]


“FLOR-ValdiviaJerez59” by El Pantera – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

The chemical properties of oak can have a profound effect on wine. Phenols within the wood interact to produce vanilla type flavors and can give the impression of tea notes or sweetness. The degree of “toast” on the barrel can also impart different properties affecting the tannin levels as well as the aggressive wood flavors.[5] The hydrolyzable tanninspresent in wood, known as ellagitannins, are derived from lignin structures in the wood. They help protect the wine from oxidation and reduction.[6]

Wines can be barrel fermented in oak or placed in oak after fermentation for a period of aging or maturation. Wine matured in oak receives more oak flavors and properties than wine fermented in oak because yeast cells present in fermentation interact with and “latch on” to oak components. When dead yeast cells are removed as lees some oak properties go with them.[7]


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