Oak Products Explained

Oak Products Explained

Oak has long been used to add flavor and complexity to wine. In addition to barrels there are a number of oak products on the market you can use to make wine with instead of having to deal with the expense and upkeep of a barrel. Before we get into the oak products let’s talk a little bit about the various aspects of oak and what it can do for you. You may also be interested in reading How Oak Affects Wine. That article goes into how oak from different places in the world impart different nuances to your wine. Flavors From Oak The following are some of the more prominent flavors you can get from using oak: vanilla caramel coffee oak spices smoky / campfire In addition to the flavors listed above oak also adds tannins to the wine. There are a two things that can greatly impact the flavor that oak imparts on your wine. These are the age of the oak itself as well as the toast of the oak. Oak Age Before the oak goes into a barrel or other oak product it is aged. They stack the oak outdoors and let it sit anywhere from several months to three years or so. The longer it sits the higher the quality, however, the cost goes up too. The gold standard for barrels is oak that has been weathered for 36 months. During its time outdoors the oak dries out Toast When barrels are made the oak staves are arranged around a flame that heats and “toasts” the wood. This process carmelizes sugars naturally present in the wood. The toast of the oak can range from barely being visible to being completely charred. The most common toast levels are light, medium, medium plus, and heavy. Lightly toasted oak retains much of the “woody” type flavor. Often a light toast will impart more tannins and green wood flavors. A heavy toast is the most drastic toast you can put on oak. It results in a smoky flavor. One of my favorite Zinfandels has a stronger smoky taste that makes it seem like you’re drinking your wine in front of a campfire. While I can’t confirm they use a heavy toast I would presume it is. Medium plus is somewhere between medium and heavy toasts. This is the darkest toast most wineries use, at least from what I’ve seen. Oak Products There are several diffent types of oak products you can use to impart these flavors on your wine. Dust Basically this is toasted oak that has been made into sawdust. The particles are very small which means the surface area of oak is maximized. This oak product is what is most commonly included with wine making kits. Because the particles are so small they impart flavor quickly. If you were looking for a boost of oak flavor before bottling you could add oak dust and within a week or so it will have imparted just about everything it has to offer. When you first add the dust it will float. Over time and as it interacts with...

Read More