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It’s Oaky, Not Okie

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Today we will be discussing oakiness—specifically, oakiness in wine, as opposed to oakiness in human beings, which I am fairly certain is spelled another way. (Let me just say that originally it referred to persons from Oklahoma, but now has taken on a grander meaning and refers to people who keep a refrigerator in their front yard.)

Oakiness means that the wine you are drinking tastes like wood. Which I’m told is a good thing in moderation. Taken to extremes, however, it is a bad thing. The reason it tastes like wood is that at some point in its journey from vine to glass, the wine was introduced to oak, most likely in the form of a barrel.



Back in the olden days most things came in barrels. Today we have cardboard boxes, and sure enough, some wine is sold in those. But they have liners inside. And according to what I have read this is a pretty good way to treat wine, but does not have the snob appeal we are after.

Anyway, someone must have noticed that the wine tasted darn delicious after being shipped in a barrel. Even better than when the wine was first put into the barrel. And thus, oakiness was born. It’s one trick winemakers use to kick it up a notch, as Emeril would say, given half a chance.

The most common way to introduce oakiness to wine is to ferment it or age it in an oak barrel. Or both. As you might guess, if it’s a small barrel the wine-to-oak ratio is higher. And so is the potential price.

Conversely, wine stored in huge oak barrels may not acquire much oakiness, but can be labeled as having been aged in oak. Since we’re on the subject of marketing, a cheap way to introduce oakiness to wine is with oak chips placed in the storage container. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of cheap wine. Just as long as it doesn’t taste cheap.

You may have overheard people going so far as to discuss the relative merits of French oak versus American oak. I admire those people. I’m just not one of them. If you want to become one of those people, here is my suggestion. And I’m serious now.

Head down to your local grocery store or wine shop and pick out two bottles of similar-style wine, one with oak and one without. You’ll have to read the labels carefully to make this determination. I suggest you choose a Chardonnay because that seems to be the favorite grape for oaking.

Invite some friends over and have a wine tasting. Or you can drink both bottles yourself. Either way, remember that red wine is served at room temperature and white wine should be chilled. You could make some notes—and even leave a comment below, since you’ve read this far.

Speaking of chilled wine, this bottle is almost empty, so please excuse me while I head out to the front yard and grab another. Happy Holidays!

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About Ron Hendricks