How Oak affects wine !!!

Grover Cellars in Bengaluru
Grover Cellars in Bengaluru


Demptos as a brand may not evoke any memories in you as a consumer but ask a winemaker and you would know that it does make an impact by giving us complex wines to drink. Tonnellerie Demptos is a French company which makes Oak barrels and the aging in these oak barrels is what gives you those complex wines. With a history of  two centuries, it has a long list of clients including Bordeaux First growths, top St Emillions, benchmark of dessert wines Chateau D’Yquem, American Opus One, Ribera’s Mauro, Tuscan Tenuta San Guido , Chilean Almaviva and many more.  Francois Witasse the President of Demptos was here on an India visit to meet wineries, understand needs and expand its existing customer base in the country.  He also addressed the media and took us through some nuances of, Oak which is always spoken of but never understood, as well.

Oak Staves.....
Oak Staves…..

What does Oak do to a wine?

–          Adds richness and complexity by giving in toasted nutty aromas, and other like Vanilla, Coconut, Caramel etc depending on the kind of oak

–          Elagitannins a kind of tannins which bring  roundness and structure to the wine

–          Porosity of the barrels allows a little amount of oxygen to seep through, improving the aromas and the keeping quality of the wine.

–          Lees or yeast which has broken down results in proteins in the wine giving a creamy mouthfeel to the wine.

Can all wines be aged?

–  Only 2-3% of the wines in the world  are currently being aged in barrels and approximately 20% acquire oak effect though Oak chips, powder, staves/planks etc.

–  Oak gives a lot of flavour and can mask the delicate nuances of the wine completely. Hence only opulent styles of white and most styles of red can be aged for different periods, as low as a few weeks to a few years.

–   Aging in barrels is an expensive affair and hence is only undertaken for wine which has the potential to age and thus fetch a price.  Remember an Oak barrel can start at $800 and can go as high as $4000

What are the different kinds of Oak?

–  French (Quercus Robur):  It has a fine grain and exudes subtle flavours of vanilla and wood aromas into the wine. Most of the renowned wineries use this and the porosity of the wood also helps it to age longer.  Also Limousin Oak has fine but loose grains making it for Cognac/Spirit aging.  The yield is 25% and hence the most expensive.

–   American (Quercus Alba): It is loud and opulent and gives out generously so much as to completely kill the wine. It used in moderation by wine makers and often combined with some French oak aging. Vanilla and Coconut and strong woody aromas are characteristic of the oak. Their yield is 50% and hence come at half the price of French.

–  Hungarian: Same as a French oak but from a different topography. Favoured over French oak these days because it is less expensive.

Barrel in process....
Barrel in process….

Journey from a tree to a barrel:

– Tree is selected based on the finesse of the grains. At Demptos most the trees that are felled are over a century old.

–  Logs are quickly split into smaller pieces along the grain.

–  Best pieces or staves are selected for seasoning. They are laid out in the open in stacks and they age for close to 2 years braving all seasons including rain. This process gets rid of excess tannins.

–  Seasoned staves again undergo selection and the best go into making of a barrel.

–  Barrels once ready are toasted based on requirement of the winery. Toasting is process of toasting the insides of the barrel with fire for the wood to caramelize.

–  There is no glue or any kind of adhesive used. In some cases stainless steel or wooden nails can be used at the head of the barrel only.

(Watch this video for the barrel making experience)

Indian wines and oak:

Many Indian wines are taking the extra effort of putting in their money to get in barrels from France and America to age their wines. Reserve as a term on Indian wines doesn’t have a legal binding but often indicates aging in oak barrels.  Brands like Sula, York, Charosa, Zampa- Grover, Chateau D’Ori, Reveilo all have Oak aged wines in their portfolio. Though oak aging is a process mostly suited to reds, even some whites can benefit from oak ageing like Reveilo’s Chardonnay reserve or Charosa’s Viognier which has seen oak for a few months.  As mentioned early the cheaper alternatives of aging wine in barrels are using Oak staves or sticks, Oak chips, Oak powder or oak essence.  ‘Oak- aged’ on the label on the bottle means barrel aging and just ‘Oaked’ should rather get you a cheaper bottle of wine.


Wine can be addictive, Drink responsibly!










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