WINE O’CLOCK: Mighty oaks that will grow on you
All wine spends time in a vat of some sort before it is bottled. Often it will be aged in a wooden barrel and usually the wood will be oak.
The oak imparts aroma and flavour to the wine. I don’t know if it is actually the taste of oak – I’ve never tried eating oak. But if your wine has a rich texture and a slight hint of spice, chocolate or, particularly, vanilla, you can be sure it has been oaked.
With red wine the process is so common we hardly notice. If it has spent a long time in the barrel it may have a darker colour and somewhat more complex flavours but, in the main, oaked red wine is simply, well … red wine.
With whites it is different. Unoaked whites will be light in colour. They will taste and smell of fruit, as sweet as peach and melon, or sharp as apple and pear, depending on the grape.
Oaked whites will have a darker colour, close to the yellow of straw, or a even a slightly tawny hue. They will taste of fruit, of course, but there may be a slight aroma of smoke or black pepper and there will be those hints of vanilla and, maybe, caramel, honey or toffee.
Not everyone likes these oak tastes and some wine makers are inclined to overdo it, which has been compared to a chef who adds too much salt to the food.
The back label will usually tell you if a wine is oaked, or you can ask in the wine shop. Here are three oaked whites I like, and an unoaked white you might try for contrast.
From the upper Loire. A creamy texture, typical of Sancerre, with Sauvignon characteristics of gooseberry and, elderflower. Lovely with shellfish and medium-soft cheese. It also goes well with spicy food.
From the Languedoc region. Summer fruit flavours of peach or pineapple balanced with that distinctive hint of vanilla. Yellow, almost golden in colour. Good with summer salads.
Lightly oaked, giving a bit of body to the zesty citrus flavours of this Languedoc wine. Another that goes well with salads or grilled chicken dishes.
This wine from the south of France is unoaked but has a deceptively dark colour and complex flavours. The flavours are all of fruit – no spice, no vanilla – which is how many people like it.