Can a tasting note indicate whether a wine was aged in oak or not?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What hints in a tasting note will tell me whether a Chardonnay is oaked or unoaked?

—Steven, Van Buren, Ark.

Dear Steven,

A wine with a heavy oak influence—meaning it was barrel aged in new oak barrels—might have elements of vanilla, toast, coconut, butterscotch or baking spices like cinnamon or nutmeg. Sometimes an oak influence in a Chardonnay is a dead ringer for hazelnuts. I also find that oak can make apple flavors taste baked and pear notes seem poached. More subtly, oaked Chardonnays usually have a more supple body and richness as well.

Chardonnays that are not aged in oak usually reflect more crisp and fresh flavors. There's no universal labeling for oaked and unoaked Chardonnays, but you can also look for clues on the labels. Some wines will clearly say "un-oaked," or will note how long the wine was used in oak barrels. Another indicator that a wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks is the word "inox" on the label, which is an abbreviation for "inoxydable," the French word for "stainless."

—Dr. Vinny

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