Defending Oaked White Wines | Wine Enthusiast
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Defending Oaked White Wines

I have a confession.

While much of my wine enjoyment involves slaking a powerful thirst with zesty, unoaked whites, I have fallen for the barrel.

Specifically, the oak barrel.

Oh, it’s been going on for years.

If you look hard enough, there’s evidence online. And if I’m spotted at a tasting, wine bar or restaurant and I’m asked point-blank, I’ll spill the beans about liking some toasty oak with my white wines.

I don’t know why I’m reluctant to say how much I enjoy oaked whites. Maybe it’s because when I’m in a group of wine drinkers, from casual to enthusiastic to professional, there’s a sentiment that unites them: They’re almost universally not fans of white wines with obvious oak.

White wine barrels
Photo by Herbert Lehmann / Alamy

This might be due to past experiences that became recurring wine nightmares. Beasts of Chardonnays that taste like they’ve been clubbed with oak, a thousand tiny mallets with new barrels affixed to their heads, pounding away. Or inexpensive white wines that use oak chips, powder and even extract, all of which can overseason your wine—like a dish you want to send back to the kitchen.

Oak, like any other winemaking tool, can be deployed in a variety of fashions. How much time the wine spends in oak, the toast level, age and size of the barrel all impact the finished product.

One wine I like with a judicious amount of oak? Sauvignon Blanc.

Oak can be deployed in a variety of fashions. How much time the wine spends in oak, the toast level, age and size of the barrel all impact the finished product.

Yes, I relish racy versions. I don’t shy away from gum-searing, enamel-chipping acidity. But I also enjoy how barrel aging can smooth out Sauvignon Blanc’s rough edges. The result is a wine that starts lively and finishes a touch rich and round. This style of wine conjures dinner-table visions of cream sauce and seared scallops.

To be clear, by highlighting a more demure example of oak influence, I’m not backpedaling. I occasionally crave a full-throttle, lavishly oaked white wine as well, served alongside a grilled steak with herb-garlic compound butter.

I’ll leave you with four words: Don’t fear the barrel.

Oak-ceptional Selections to Explore

Château Carbonnieux (Pessac-Léognan)

This exciting interplay of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon deserves time in the cellar.

Brick House Cascadia Chardonnay (Ribbon Ridge)

One of many recent examples from Oregon that have enriching yet elegant oak.

Susana Balbo Signature Barrel Fermented Torrontés (Valle de Uco)

Giving this light, aromatic grape the barrel results in a blend of freshness and richness.

Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Riserva (Trebbiano d’Abruzzo)

Serve this Italian bottling with rich dishes in place of a full-bodied Chardonnay.

Senior Digital Editor Jameson Fink stays toasty all winter by curling up with a good book and the warmth of a white wine that’s been embraced by an oak barrel.

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