Oak and it’s effects
The influence of oak in wine has been with us for well over a century, but what impact does it have upon the flavour of the wines that we enjoy so much today?
French oak (from the Troncais, Allier, Limousin and Nevers departments), elicits a decidedly smooth, silky even slightly spicy element to the wine once matured in the barrel.
American oak from Oregon and the Mid-West will give the resulting wine a creamy coconut and vanilla influence.
For winemakers, ageing in oak is similar to reaching into natures spice rack and stamping their own mark upon the wine they have decided to produce.
But let’s get back to the basics first.
The wood/oak is ‘fired’ at the tightening stage of the completed barrel in the cooperage. It is during this ‘firing’ that the oak begins to transform.
Flavours that would have given a sharp resinous quality to a wine are now replaced by a soft subtle toasting.
This toasting process is done in a controlled environment where everything is taken into consideration, from the humidity both inside and outside, the height of the flame,the intensity of the flame and the texture of the oak. All of these elements and more are crucial to the new barrels character.
‘Firing’/Toasting also determines the presence and intensity of the ‘Tannins’ that many of us enjoy so much in our wine.
A medium toast to a barrel will release flavours in a wine similar to butterscotch, hazelnut, spice, vanilla and caramel as can be found in the Burgundies from Puligny — Montrachet, Chassagne — Montrachet and Montagny to name but three.
With a slightly longer toast the flavours begin to get more complex and deeper in their character. It is with this heavier toasting that we find the distinctive smoky, roasted coffee, mocha, spice and chocolate personalities so often found in the Chardonnays from the New World.