When buying or choosing a bottle of wine, a word you may come across is ‘oaked’. Oaking is a process that can be undertaken by the winemaker, and it adds extra flavours and aromas to the wine. But does oaked wine taste better than unoaked wine? We take a look at the difference between the two types of wine, and what they each offer the drinker.
What Are Oaked Wines?
Oaked wines refer to a wine that has been kept in a barrel made of oak before it was bottled. Most red wines and several white wines are oaked before being bottled. The main reason for this process is to improve the flavour of the wine. Unoaked wines will simply taste like the pure grape, whereas an oaked wine will have additional complexities. Adding wine to an oak barrel can allow the wood to impart some extra flavours and characteristics to the drink. The oak can help to soften the acidity of the wine, as well as to enhance its colour.
Oak affects the colour of white wine far more than it does red wine, with white wines gaining a darker yellow hue, although red wines can still be made darker by being aged in oak. Containing a compound known as vanillin, oak primarily adds a vanilla-like flavour to the wine. This can be seen in many white wines, such as Chardonnay. Other common flavours that can be brought out by oak are caramel, honey, toffee and mocha, revealing that oak often adds sweeter notes and aromas to wine.
As oak barrels are typically not airtight, some of the wine will evaporate while it is kept in the barrel. Around 10 percent of the water in the wine will have evaporated after one year. This causes oaked wine to be a little thicker than unoaked wine.
How to Tell if a Wine is Oaked?
While bottles of wine should be labelled as to whether or not they have been aged, there are a few easy ways of telling if the wine in your glass has been oaked or not.
An easy way of determining whether or not a wine is oaked is by the aromas it gives off. In white wines, if hints of nuts, smoke or vanilla are present, then it will have been oaked, as the grape does not contain anything that could make these aromas. In red wines, an oaked wine will give off scents of smoke, black pepper and cocoa.
While most red wines will be oak aged anyway, the taste of being oaked is particularly apparent in white wine, as it will taste more tannic than other whites. Drinking an oaked wine will leave a drier feel in the mouth as with wine that has a high tannin content.
As mentioned, oaked wines will typically be darker than unoaked wines. This will be more apparent in white wine, as the wine will darken to a more intense darker yellow colour in the barrel. Likewise, for red wine, an oak barrel aged wine will be a deep brown-red colour.
What is Better, Oaked or Unoaked Wine?
Of course, whether or not an oaked wine is better than an unoaked wine will largely be down to personal preference. However, there are a few factors to consider. Firstly, oaked wines will typically be far more expensive than an unoaked wine. Prices can easily be around 20 percent more for a bottle of oaked wine. This is due to the cost of the barrels, which are often around £300 to £600, which naturally greatly pushes up the price of the wine. Therefore, oaked wines are not more expensive because they are better quality, necessarily, but rather due to the extra costs associated with their production. In an attempt to cut these costs, some mass-produced wines will have an ‘oak essence’ added to them. This artificial oak shortcut definitely does not compete with the complexities gained by ageing wine in a real oak barrel.
Do you prefer oaked or unoaked wines? Which do you have more of in your wine cellar? Let us know in the comments below.