What's the difference between an oaked and an unoaked wine?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the difference between an unoaked wine and an oaked wine, besides the fact one was aged in oak?

—Julie, Oshawa, Ontario

Dear Julie,

Well, that's the biggest difference, sure. Keep in mind that an oak influence can come from oak barrels or barrel alternatives (things like oak chips or staves) that are exposed to a wine while it is fermenting and/or aging.

The most obvious influence of oak is that it imparts flavors and aromas to a wine. Toast, vanilla, cedar, spice and smoky notes are common oak influences (although there are many other nuances too). Barrels are also credited with giving wine a richer texture, adding to the belief that oak adds complexity.

An unoaked wine is more likely to be lighter-bodied than its oaked counterpart, with more fresh fruit flavors and less of any cedary, toasty, vanilla character.

—Dr. Vinny

Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Should I refill my own wineglass, or ask the host or server to?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the etiquette or wine service, for hosts and for …

May 23, 2022

What’s the best way to remove the cork from an imperial (a 6-liter bottle of wine)?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains best practices for opening—and serving—large-for…

May 16, 2022

Are wine tasting note descriptors listed in order of prominence?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains that wine tasting notes are not …

May 9, 2022

How can a wine taster distinguish between so many different types of "pepper" in a wine?

Wine Spectator's resident wine expert Dr. Vinny explains where some pepper notes in wine …

May 2, 2022

Is it OK to bring a bottle of rosé to dinner at a restaurant?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains corkage etiquette and BYO Dos and Don'ts

Apr 25, 2022

Why don't most 1.5-liter wine bottles have a vintage date?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why many wines are non-vintage, especially …

Apr 18, 2022