JWL Issue #066: What's the Role of Oak in Wine?

August 28, 2019

Apologies for the delay, bank holiday caused some scheduling hiccoughs.

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Just when we thought there’d be no rosé season this summer, British summertime did its thing. In Taste, this week, I look at three great wines perfectly suited for summer.


N Block Chardonnay from Waipara West (£15, Lant Street Wine) is a brilliant example of lightly oaked chardonnay. Straw yellow on the eye, this has lemons, sweet vanilla and brioche on the nose. It’s full bodied with a 13.5% alcohol warmth that makes this wine stand up. All in all, great chardonnay.

Le Grand Cros (£15, Berry Bros) is an elegant rosé from Provence that’s got more depth than many might expect. Strawberries and peaches, with a saliney, floral freshness. This is a very smart and indulgent rosé that’s well worth checking out.

Exquisite Collection Marsanne (£5.99 from Aldi) has been one of those ‘make sure you grab a bottle if you’re near the store’ wines of the summer. This has pears, vanilla and flowers in luscious abundance. This is one of those great examples of incredible value found in Aldi or Lidl. If you’re near one, check it out.


The role of oak in wine

Oak is used to help either age or ferment wine. Using oak will affect colour, flavour, tannin structure and mouth feel. Wines can spend anywhere from a few months up to a few years in oak (as with Rioja).

Aromas of vanilla, wood, or cedar can be imparted through the process. Oak allows low level exposure to oxygen, which in turn evaporates some of the wine and changes the flavour. Typically this softens tannins and increases aromas.

With whites, oak makes the mouthfeel silkier, and it adds aromas such as butter, cream, caramel, smoke, and vanilla.

There are two main types of oak: American and French. French imparts subtle and silky tannins, while American oak can be more astringent, with aromas of coconut, sweet spices and dill.

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