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To oak or not to oak

Oaked Chardonnay

Question from Tahnee: I feel like this is a stupid question but what’s the difference between oaked and unoaked wine? I’ve come to learn that I don’t like white wines that have been ‘oaked’ but why?

In a nut shell – Oaked wines take on toast and nutty flavours because they are aged in either an oak barrel or have oak planks or chips added (if they are aged in stainless steel barrels).

In a clam shell – If you know you don’t like oaked wines it’s safe to say that you probably don’t like that toasty nutty flavour. Many wines are matured in oak but you mightn’t pick it up because the flavour intensity depends on how long the wine stays in contact with the oak for. It’s also more obvious to taste in a white wine than it is in a red wine. You’re probably drinking oaked reds all the time and just not realising.

The very cheapest (tight arse way) of adding oak flavour is to add oak essence. Shame, shame, shame! A winemaker that’s willing to fork out a little more cash will add ‘staves’ (aka small planks of oak) or ‘chips’ (large scary splinters) into the stainless steel vat.

But in fancy pants wines oak flavour is achieved by ageing the wine in oak barrels. Aging wine in ‘new oak’ barrels is most expensive because oak is pricey! Then there is French, European or American oak. You could probably guess that French oak and European oak is more expensive than American oak. While French/European oak gives a toasty nutty flavor, American oak produces coconut and vanilla flavours.

If it’s the oaky flavour you’re not a fan of stick to Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio when drinking white wine because the majority of these aren’t aged in oak. And if you want a Chardonnay, make sure it’s ‘unoaked’.

If you want to give oak a go try experimenting with just a little oak. I drank a beautiful Chardonnay last night which was only slightly oaked but still had plenty of freshness and a good amount of acid (that refreshing, vibrant sensation you get when you have a Sauvignon Blanc) which I think you’d like. Yum yum!

It was a 2012 Chardonnay from Tarra Warra winery in the Yarra Valley. I got it from McCoppins, 292 Queens Parade, Clifton Hill. If you’re a south sider (don’t worry I still like you) why not take a trip out to the wonderful Yarra Valley and pick it up direct from the source! Or you can just go to Dan’s, they have it there too.


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