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《Wines of the World》Rating a Wine based on Aroma (3)

After exploring the various fruity and floral aromas, let’s talk about a wine’s oakiness.

Oakiness is the most common wine aroma and has a direct impact on our first impression of a wine. Wines that went through oak aging will carry aromas such as oak, pine, vanilla, and if you take another sniff, scents like lilac, spices, coconut, leather, toast and almond will gradually surface.


If a barrel is over-toast, it will make the wine smell like coffee, chocolate, cigar, or even smoke.

A good wine should be balanced between its own aroma and the oak’s. Some people are quite addicted to the oaky aroma and prefer wines that are strong in oakiness; however, balance makes a good wine and many factors can affect the oakiness of a wine.

In fact, only a handful of people know that the origin of the barrel will directly affect a wine’s oakiness. Most barrels are divided into two categories: French oak and American oak. Due to the difference in origin and soil, there is a significant difference in their oakiness and can be distinguished with ease if you pay careful attention.

The oakiness of French oak barrels is exquisite, and high quality French barrels will carry the scent of fine spices and a cigar box; while American oak has a sweet coconut and nut fragrant with a hint of vanilla which makes drinkers have the perception that the wine is sweeter than actual.

Oak barrels are usually air-dried or toasted. The longer a barrel is toasted, more fragrant the aroma.


The size of a barrel also plays an important role. Small barrels (225L) give a larger contact surface for a wine and barrel which increases the wine’s oakiness, while larger barrels require a longer aging period.

The ratio of old and new barrels is another crucial factor. New barrels will give a wine more aroma and tannin, but the oakiness will become too strong and intense, thus hindering the wine’s balance of fruity aroma. This is why a lot of wineries use a varying ratio of new and old barrels during the wine making process, and some of them even use this as a selling point.

Since oakiness is a product of barrels, not all red and white wines are oaky. Nowadays, stainless steel barrels are widely used in wine making which produce non-oaky but fruity wines that are not suitable for long-term aging.

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