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Oak and Wine: A Component Wine Tasting for Oak


In many wine education courses, component tastings are a common practice. Giving participants the opportunity to decipher what oak looks, smells and tastes like in a wine is an important step towards understanding and appreciating wine.

By comparing and contrasting the wines based on color, aroma and ultimately taste, we’ll set a palate foundation for detecting oak’s influence on a wine and gain firsthand experience for recognizing the absence of oak in both the wine’s fermentation and aging process.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time Required: 20 minutes
  • Here’s How:

To start this oak specific wine tasting you will need to grab two bottles of wine. One wine needs to be a “unoaked” or “naked” Chardonnay and the other needs to be positively bathed in oak. The wine’s label will give you the initial tip off as to whether the particular wine has seen its fair share of oak, or has remained solely in stainless steel. Unoaked wines, will typically say so on the label and oaked wines will reveal how long the wine has been aged in oak or give you hints with keywords like “oak, smoke, spice, toasty, vanilla” and the like. Most recommended wines for this tasting are under $15.

Pick the Unoaked Wine

Wine options for the unoaked Chardonnay include some key New World wonders or the majority of white Burgundies from the French regions of Chablis or Maconnais (look for Pouilly-Fuisse or Macon-Villages on the label). New World unoaked Chardonnays to consider include:

  • Toad Hollow Francine’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Iron Horse Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Chehalem “Inox” Wilamette Valley Chardonnay
  • Wishing Tree Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Four Vines “Naked” Santa Barbara Chardonnay
  • Foxglove Central Coast Chardonnay

Pick the Oaked Wine

Your search for an oaked Chardonnay will be considerably easier, as this is the style of Chardonnay that enjoys immense popularity. So to that end try to get your hands on a Chardonnay like:

  • Clos Du Bois Chardonnay
  • Penfold’s Chardonnay
  • Beringer Chardonnay
  • Yarden Chardonnay Odem Organic
  • Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay
  • Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay
  • Napa Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay
  • Landmark Overlook Chardonnay

Pour and Take a Look

After you’ve selected both your unoaked and oaked Chardonnay contenders, its time to pop the corks and pour a glass of each. Now we’ll run through a true blue wine tasting, taking time to assess each wine’s color, aroma and taste. Begin by comparing and contrasting the colors of each. The unoaked Chardonnay will be lighter in color, with the oaked Chardonnay often taking on deeper, golden tones.

The Sniff

Next, swirl the unoaked Chardonnay around and give it a good sniff – bright fresh, fruit will likely dominate the nose. With the oaked Chardonnay, the aromas will lean to the more intense oak-based scents of spice, smoke, toasted notes of coconut, caramel and butterscotch.

The Taste

On the palate, the unoaked Chardonnay should display crystal clear, pure varietal fruit. The fruit most commonly found in Chardonnay includes apple, pear, citrus, stone fruits like peach and apricot and can continue into the tropical fruit flavors of melon, pineapple and mango especially from warmer growing regions. The oaked Chardonnay will also have similar fruit character, but the fruit perception will be muted by the influence of oak. The fruit will be wrapped in spice, smoke, toasty oak tones and rich buttery textures. Expect the oaked Chardonnay to exhibit a fuller-body and creamy palate textures.

This side-by-side comparison Chardonnay tasting for oak, is one of the easiest and most dramatic ways to experience the effects of oak on your own palate. Perhaps in rebellion to the often over-oaked Chardonnays on the market, there has been a significant surge in unoaked Chards making their way to merchant shelves. These oak-free variations of Chardonnay have only seen stainless steel and are willing and able to reveal the true-blue varietal in all of its unoaked, unmasked glory and are well worth trying, if for nothing else to experience this grape in its purest form.

** It should be noted that you can run a similar tasting for oak using red wines. Just look for a unoaked red wine, like “Undone Pinot Noir” or the “Naked Grape Unoaked Merlot” and compare them with an oaked version of the same varietal. The tannin factor can complicate the tasting, if you are not familiar with the varietals, but it’s still a worthwhile exercise to train your palate to differentiate out an oak component in the wine.


By Stacy Slinkard, About Food