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Oak barrels in wine cellar

The influence of oak barrels on the taste of wine

Before glass bottles, most wines were stored and sold in wooden barrels. Pictures from this period often depict thrown wine barrels. Although we as humanity have outgrown the necessity of storing wine in oak barrels, we have still retained the fondness for it. Oak barrels are an integral part of modern wine production and whiskey! Oak is suitable for both White wine as Red wine.

How is wine affected by oak barrels?

Oak wood makes three important contributions to the wine:

  • It adds flavorings including aromanotes of vanilla, cloves, smoke and coconut.
  • It allows oxygen to penetrate very slowly, a process that makes the wine smoother and less astringent.
  • It is a suitable environment where certain metabolic reactions can take place (mainly Malolactic Fermentation), making wines taste creamier.

What flavors does oak add to wine?


Unlike beer, wine does not allow flavor additives (such as coriander, orange peel, etc.). Thus, oak has become the accepted way of influencing the taste of wine. When added to wine, oak flavors are combined with wine flavors to create a wide variety of new potential flavors.

Organic flavor compounds of oak wood:

The differences between new and used oak in the aging of wine

As with tea, the taste of oak extract is reduced each time it is (re)used. You will also notice that the aging periods vary depending on the winemaker's preference and the type of wine. Some classic examples of ripening for comparison:

  • Plavac mali; Fasting 8 months in oak, 2 months in bottles
  • Graševina† 4 months in oak barrels Slavonia
  • Chardonnay† several months in oak barrels Slavonia
  • Pinot Grigio† several months in oak barrels Slavonia
  • Posip† 12 months in oak barrels Slavonia
  • Cabernet Sauvignon; several months in Austrian or Hungarian oaks
  • Blaufränkisch; several months in Austrian or Hungarian oaks
  • Zweigelt; several months in Austrian or Hungarian oaks
  • Brunello di Montalcino; 24 months in large used 1000+ liters of French and Slavonian (Croatian) oak
  • Pinot Noir; 10 months in used French oak barriques
  • Malbec; 18 months in roasted 3500 liter foudres
  • Spruce Book now Rioja; 24 months in a mix of 40% American and 60% French oak

The larger the barrel used, the less oak lactones and oxygen are given in a wine. Barriques are traditionally 225 liter barrels, while Botti and Foudres are much larger – from around 1.000 to 20.000 litres.

Different types of oak used for winemaking

There are 2 primary types of oak that are preferred for winemaking: Quercus alba (American white oak) and Quercus petrea (European white oak). Each variety gives slightly different flavor profiles. In addition, the climate in which the oak grows also influences the taste. For example, wines aged in the Slavonian Kitnjak or Lužnjak oaks will be different from wines aged in Quercus petrea from the forest Zemplen Mountains in Hungary or Quercus petrea from Allier in France.

In Europe, very high quality oak trees are mainly found in France, Hungary, Croatia (Slavonia† The quality American oak comes from Missouri and the Midwest.

Differences between American and European oak wood

The main difference between the oaks of Europe and America is the density. European oaks often have a higher density. In general, American oak is ideal for 'heavier', more structured wines such as the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah. These wines can more easily handle the robust flavors and oxygenation of American oak, while European oak is ideal for lighter wines such as Graševina, Posip, Pinot Grigio, Riesling of Chardonnay.

Other types of wood when wine is aged

In addition to oak, wine is also sometimes aged in other barrels of other types of wood, which are also good for the aging process of the wine:

  • Chestnut; (Castanea sativa) Sweet chestnut is better for increased oxygenation, no oak lactone, increased guaiacol and vanillin
  • Acacia; (Robinia pseudoacacia) Increased oxygen supply and no oak lactone
  • Pyrenean oak; (Quercus robur) Provides increased oxygenation and increased vanilla notes
  • pedunculate oak; (Quercus robur) similar to the Sessile oak (Quercus petrea)
What do you pay for a bottle of wine from oak barrels?

    The use of oak barrels in winemaking is by no means a new practice. In fact it is very old. The reason oak barrels are so expensive is that they must be carefully processed and seasoned before they can be used.

    This process takes time and money, which is why wine made in oak barrels is generally more expensive than wine made in other types of barrels. Oak barrels also give a unique taste and aroma to the wine, which many say is worth the extra cost.

    About 2 oak barrels can be made per oak tree. An oak tree takes several decades to grow. In addition, making an oak barrel requires a lot of craftsmanship.

    For this reason, the average price of a new wine barrel costs approximately between €500 and €1.100. Per wine bottle this is approximately between €2 and €4 in raw material costs. The reality is that great wine can never be cheap.

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