The Influence of Vessels on Wine: To Oak or not to Oak

The Influence of Vessels on Wine: To Oak or not to Oak

The Influence of Vessels on Wine: To Oak or not to Oak

The use of oak and stainless-steel vessels in winemaking can have significant impacts on the characteristics of the wine. Each material offers distinct advantages and can influence the flavor, texture, and aging potential of the wine. Let's compare the use of oak and stainless steel:

Oak in Winemaking:

Oak barrels have been used for centuries in winemaking, and they continue to be popular for their ability to add complexity, structure, and unique flavors to the wine. Here are some key points about oak in winemaking:


Flavor profile: Oak imparts flavors such as vanilla, spice, caramel, and sometimes subtle toasty or smoky notes to the wine. These flavors can complement the wine's natural characteristics and add layers of complexity.  Different grape varietals will exhibit the oak influence in different ways.  The oak flavours that may come through in a Grenache wine may be totally different that those from a Syrah wine, all other factors being the same.

Texture: Oak barrels allow for slow micro-oxygenation, which can soften the tannins and create a smoother, rounder mouthfeel in the wine.  At Res Fortes we use old oak barrels on our rosé wine for this exact purpose – to add structure.

Aging potential: Wines aged in oak barrels often have excellent aging potential due to the slow and controlled exposure to oxygen and the development of secondary flavors over time.


Cost: Oak barrels can be expensive, and they have a limited lifespan before needing replacement or refurbishing.

Influence on varietal characteristics: Excessive oak usage can overpower the grape's natural flavors and aromas, diminishing the wine's varietal expression.

Stainless Steel Vessels in Winemaking:

Stainless steel tanks have become increasingly popular in modern winemaking, especially for certain white and delicate red wines. Here are some points about using stainless steel vessels:


Preservation of freshness: Stainless steel tanks are non-porous, meaning they do not impart any flavors to the wine. This allows the pure expression of the grape's characteristics, particularly in delicate white wines where fruit freshness is essential.

Temperature control: Stainless steel tanks offer excellent temperature control during fermentation, allowing winemakers to preserve delicate aromas and prevent off-flavors from developing.

Easy maintenance: Stainless steel tanks are easy to clean and maintain compared to oak barrels.


Lack of oak influence: While stainless steel is excellent for preserving fruit purity, it does not contribute any oak-derived flavors, which some winemakers and wine enthusiasts value.

Limited oxygen exposure: Stainless steel tanks do not allow for the same level of oxygen contact as oak barrels, which may affect certain wines' aging potential.


In summary, the choice between oak and stainless-steel vessels depends on the winemaker's desired style, the grape variety, and the overall characteristics they wish to achieve in the wine. Oak is favored for adding complexity, texture, and aging potential, while stainless steel is preferred for preserving fruit freshness and purity. Some winemakers, like Res Fortes, even choose to use a combination of both methods to achieve a balanced and nuanced wine.