The use of oak barrels for aging wine is nothing new. The added flavor from oak wood enhances the flavor of a variety of liquors, beer, and wine. As these age along with the wood, the oak flavor seeps into the beverages as time passes, and the wine is further enhanced by the natural oxidation that occurs.
There was a time when it was assumed that all chardonnays from California were aged in oak. Since then, more variety in the methods of wine aging has expanded the list of possibilities in tastes. From the wines with deeper, smooth taste and stronger amounts of alcohol to those that are made to pair well with food, using oak barrels for aging wine is the most popular way to produce an outstanding product.
Using oak barrels for aging wine does not mean every wine will taste the same. Different types and flavors are created according to how long each wine ages, whether the wood is new or has been used before, and the places from which the oak is harvested.
Of course, there are more ways to create flavor than by using oak barrels for aging wine. A variety of wines are made in barrels that are not made of oak. Two examples are some Chablis and Pouilly-Fuisse, a fine wine from the Maconnais.
When other types of barrels are used, the focus is on the minerals and fruits used for the wine. When we see labels with descriptions like treeless, naked, or unoaked, we can be sure that although the wine does not have traditional oak flavor, it will have its own tasteful presentation.
Oak barrels for aging wine are especially useful for creating a different flavor in the grapes used for chardonnay. The grape’s flavor stands on its own, but aging it in oak adds a buttery, vanilla flavor that is appreciated by many connoisseurs. However, wine should always work well with the food with which it is served, and foods with lighter flavors are better served with a fruitier wine as they can be overpowered by oak-aged chardonnays.