Wine enthusiasts often engage in passionate discussions about various types of containers like oak barrels (be it French, American, or Slavonian), stainless steel wine tanks, cement eggs, clay amphorae, and other vessels that might seem trivial to outsiders but are essential to wine connoisseurs. But how do these vessel choices actually influence the wine that ends up in your glass?
Stainless Steel vs Oak vs Concrete & Clay
When it comes to wine vessels, oak, especially new oak, and stainless steel wine tanks represent the extremes of the spectrum. On one hand, oak brings unique flavors and aromas, while stainless steel maintains freshness and purity. In contrast, concrete and clay strike a balance between the two, offering a harmonious middle ground in the world of winemaking.
The Purity of Stainless Steel
Stainless steel, a widely favored material in winemaking, plays a crucial role in preserving the freshness and acidity of wines, particularly crisp whites and rosés. Its popularity stems from its ability to maintain the inherent qualities of the grape without imparting any external aromas or flavors, a characteristic absent in new oak barrels. This neutral vinification environment ensures that the wine’s true essence, characterized by primary notes of fruits, flowers, herbs, and minerality, remains untainted. Additionally, the airtight nature of stainless steel prevents oxygen from seeping into the vessel, safeguarding the wine’s purity and allowing the authentic expression of the grape variety.
The Influence of Oak on Wine
Oak, a classic material in winemaking, has a profound impact on the flavors and aromas of the wine depending on the type of oak used.
New Oak’s Flavor Profile
New Oak, especially, introduces a plethora of flavors and aromas such as vanilla, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, butterscotch, toast, cedar, charred wood (due to the charring process of the barrel), smoke, cocoa, and coffee, among others. These elements contribute to a rich and complex taste experience.
Oak’s Interaction with Wine
Oak, being porous and not airtight, allows oxygen to permeate the vessel, leading to significant interactions with the wine. This characteristic facilitates Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), a process that imparts a creamy mouthfeel to the wine, enhancing its texture and depth.
New Oak vs. Old Oak
Furthermore, distinguishing between new oak and old oak barrels is vital. The newer the barrel, the more it imparts toasty, vanilla, coconut, and baking spice notes to the wine. This distinction highlights the nuanced influence that the age of the oak barrel has on the final product.