It is very common to age wine in oak barrels. Barrel ageing is particularly used for the fine red wines of top regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Some white wines also undergo barrel ageing, with Chardonnay being the most prominent example. Ageing these wines in oak before bottling gives them more structure and many tertiary aromas and flavours. Wines that have been aged in oak tend to have a longer ageing potential afterwards, and generally need some further ageing in the bottle in order to soften the tannins.
Oak ageing is time consuming and costly, but it results in some of the world’s finest wines. And what is a fine wine without a good meal to accompany it? Oaked wines are generally of a very high quality, but they can be tricky when it comes to food and wine pairing. Wines aged in oak tend to be fuller-bodied, more robust and more complex in character. Pair them with the wrong dish and you run the risk of overpowering the food or creating an unpleasant flavour clash in your mouth. Worry not, though, because we’ve got you covered!
Three pairing ideas for pairing oak-aged wines with food
Food and wine pairing can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. If you like a certain wine with a certain food, happy days. Go with it. Sometimes it’s useful to understand some of the rules or conventional wisdom behind food and wine pairing, though. Particularly when it comes to big, oaked wines, a little bit of knowledge will take you a long way.
Next time you’re hosting a dinner party, remember these three top tips for pairing oak flavours in wine with food!
Oak likes smoke
Your vintage Bordeaux or your barrel-aged Australian Chardonnay are likely to overwhelm lots of your favourite dishes. Toasted sandwiches, chicken breasts and seafood are unlikely to stand a chance against the wine’s full body and flavours of vanilla, tobacco and spice. Cook those same dishes on a grill or barbeque, however, and be pleasantly surprised: Pairing oaked wines with smoky, chargrilled food works because the food has the additional character to stand up to the wine. Try something like Château Cantenac Brown 2006 for red, or Pierro Chardonnay 2002 from Australia’s Margaret River.
Oaked wine and oaked wine sauce
Serving an oak-aged wine with a sauce can sometimes be tricky. Too delicate a sauce will be overpowered by the wine. Too strong-flavoured a sauce may clash with the tertiary character of the wine. One simple way to avoid this is to make your sauce from the same wine that you will be serving. Sautéed chorizo with red wine is a beautiful dish, and is all the better when the red wine sauce matches the red wine that you’ll be serving. In this case, the oak of the wine enhances the dish without being too forceful. Try a Rioja Reserva here, such as Sierra Cantabria Reserva.
If all else fails: Say cheese!
Oaked white wines are often misunderstood and many wine lovers simply don’t know what to do with them. A barrel-aged Rioja Blanco or Australian Semillon can seem scary by itself and downright terrifying when paired with many foods. If in doubt and you simply must pair such a wine with something, consider a cheese board. Oaked white wine and hard cheese like Cheddar, Gruyère and Provolone are pretty foolproof. The cheeses are robust enough to withstand the onslaught of even the most powerful oaky whites like Remelluri Blanco and Torbreck Woodcutter’s Semillon.
See, oak in wine is nothing to be scared of. Do you have any top tips yourself? What are your favourite foods to pair with oak-aged wines?