Wine and Wood: How Wood Affects Wine and the Differences Wine without Wood

Today in the market we can find wine with and without oak. What does that mean? There are wines that have been aged in barrels, either in French or American oak, before bottling, and are called “wines with oak”, and it’s this time spent aging that lends certain characteristics to a wine, versus wines that have not spent time in oak during their aging process. 

Here we’ll outline 3 characteristics of wine aged in oak, so you can understand more the next time you’re drinking wine.

How Oak Affects Wine

Oak barrels lend certain characteristics to wines spend time in oak, and some are perceptible to our senses when we drink wine. 

1. Longer-lasting color 

Oak barrels give wine a more longer-lasting color thanks to the addition of oxygen, which enters the wine through the pores of the wood. Another factor that contributes to a change in the color is the presence of ellagic tannins, whose polymerization is helped along by the oak of the barrel. 

2. Intense aromas

Barrels impart aromas in the wine, like toasted almonds, vanilla, leather, walnuts, and coconut. These aromas vary depending on the origin of the oak, as American oak tends to lend aromas of coconut, cacao, coffee, and vanilla, while French oak is known for aromas of nuts, honey, tobacco, spices, and balsamic. 

3. Texture on the palate 

The tannins imparted by the oak don’t just affect the color, but also the texture of the wine, producing a change. At first they may appear robust and rough, but they smooth out with the oxygenation of the phenolic compounds, resulting in a wine with more volume on the palate. French oak has a higher tannic charge than American oak, which lends sweeter flavors.

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Wines without Oak

Wines without oak are those that have little or no contact with oak, and they’ve stood out in the market for many years.  

These wines aim to express the purity of the grape and the terroir, producing wines with more of a sense of origin, expressing the variety and origin without hiding its essence.  

According to many winemakers, using oak has standardized wine, since it strongly imparts its own aromas, textures, and flavors onto the wine. On the other hand, wines with little or no oak show their origin more, and express the grape more purely.   

This is where the two trends collide, as the use of oak is more classic, and has been used for centuries, while wines without oak are more subtle, and showcase the grape and terroir.