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