Posted on Tue October 6, 2020.

The basic difference between these wines is not complicated. However, the way in which the presence or absence of oak during fermentation defines the character of each wine is worth considering when choosing your next bottle of vino.



The journey of a thousand sips begins with the first sniff. The first smell of the aromas is often your primary clue as to whether a wine is oaked or unoaked.
An unoaked wine is often light, fresh and fruity, whereas an oaked wine is warm and spicy
An unoaked wine is often light, fresh and fruity, whereas an oaked wine is warm and spicy with smoky, vanilla, caramel and sometimes buttery aromas. But what exactly is oak and why does it have such a dramatic influence on wine?

Both red and white wines can be treated in barrels or oaked. The wine spends time fermenting in an oak barrel where it is exposed to two key elements: wood and air. This process also allows for oxygenation and evaporation, which concentrates the flavour and aroma of the wine. Here are 5 key influences oak incorporates:

Tannins: Oak alters the tannin profile of the wine (adding bitterness and astringency), often described as dry mouthfeel.
Aromas: Vintners choose different oaks to impart unique characteristics to wine. French, Hungarian and American oaks are a few of the most common.
Thickness: Oak barrels are watertight, but not airtight, so there is a relative amount of evaporation that takes place and this process adds concentration.
Softness: The longer a wine ferments in an oak barrel, the more the wine’s flavour profile changes since tannins soften and weaken over time.
Toasting: Most of the flavour oak imparts occurs naturally from raw wood, but exposing the inside of the barrel to a flame sweetens the natural sugars in the wood.
Oak can also be added to the fermentation process in stainless-steel tanks in the form of chips or staves (sticks). Unlike wood, stainless steel imparts no flavour, which is why wood fragments or oak alternatives are incorporated. The use of stainless-steel barrels is a popular method of fermentation in less expensive wines.

White wines lead with vanilla, caramel and toasty notes, while in reds, you will probably be able to detect black pepper, cocoa and smoke. All these aromas come from the barrel, not the grapes.

Unoaked wines are lighter than oaked wines. They are light and crisp, and a complex bouquet of citrus, lime, apple and peach adds to their frivolous character.

Unoaked reds are meant to be consumed young. Clear, hues and high acidity give the wine a lively and refreshing quality. You taste the natural flavour of the grapes, which means the mouthfeel is pure and delicate.

When you hold your glass up to the light, you’ll notice that an oaked wine has a more intense colour, as the wine darkens in the barrel. In white wines, the colour profile is summery, deep yellow and buttery, while a red wine tends to be brownish red. But don’t judge a wine by its colour alone, the ultimate test is in the taste. Let your palate decide.