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...

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How Oak Affects Wine

How Oak Affects Wine

Oak, also known as the winemakers spice cabinet. It affects wine not only the flavor of wine but its chemistry as well. It is important to understand that not all oak is the same. Different Oaks for Different Folks I’m sorry I couldn’t resist that. It is true though. Oak from different countries impart different flavors and textures to the wine it comes in contact with. This is why you see French and American barrels and oak chips at wine making shops. The two most popular types are French and American, however, there are many other places that supply winemakers as well. Hungary is one of the more popular ones outside the U.S. and France. French oak is more tame and subtle while American oak, like Americans, tend to be pretty bold. To be more specific, French oak has a finer grain with smaller voids (air space). This keeps the wine from penetrating very deeply into the oak thus reducing the surface area that the wine has contact with. This results in a smoother, subtle oak flavor. American oak, on the other hand has a looser grain that allows more interaction with the wine as it can penetrate deeper into that grain. Increased surface area allows for more extraction of flavors and tannins from the oak. Here are the four main impacts oak can have on wine. As you’ll see oak flavor is only one of the four. Evaporation The average 59 gallon barrel allows 5.5-6.5 gallons of wine evaporate per year. This is why wineries have to top up their barrels so much and why they smell so good! As wine evaporates is the water and alcohol that are lost, this concentrates the flavors and aromas. The water and alcohol that is lost is replaced with additional wine which introduces more flavor and aroma compounds. You can see how this would add up, especially for a red wine that is barrel aged for three years. Micro-Oxygenation This is a big one. Just as the barrels allow water and alcohol to evaporate out of the barrel, oxygen is also allowed in. However, only in very small quantities. While too much oxygen is obviously a bad thing the tiny amounts gained through micro-oxygenation is just enough to help the wine mature. Without this additional oxygen the wine can still mature, however, it takes much much longer to achieve similar results. Phenol Interaction Phenols are compounds found in the grape and the oak that make up the flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel of a wine. There are hundreds of different phenols in a typical wine. Most come from the grapes but oak can also impart some of its own. These phenols can combine to form new flavor and aroma compounds. One common compound created is vanillin which, as you might have guessed, gives wines a vanilla flavor. Fermenting wine in the barrel, or with oak chips, can also give rise to new compounds or at least modified compounds. As the yeast work their magic they process phenols from the grape juice and the oak, combining them to form new compounds, i.e. new flavors and aromas...

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Advanced Wine Making Techniques

Advanced Wine Making Techniques

Complexity in wine separates the great wine from the rest. Creating a complex wine, however, requires the use of advanced wine making techniques. Here are three techniques you can start applying to your own wine making to take it to the next level. It doesn’t matter if you’re making wine from a kit, frozen must, or fresh fruit. Techniques for Making More Complex Wines There are several things you can do, even with a kit, to improve its complexity. Simply put, complexity is a function of nuances in flavor and aroma. Single variety wines, while flavorful and tasty, tend not to be very complex. Their flavor profile is simple. Let’s look at some methods to add complexity to our wines. Split Fermentation Yeast imparts flavors and character in your wine as it turns the sugars into alcohol. Different yeasts produce different flavors. Thus one way you can make a more complex wine is by fermenting half your wine with one yeast and the other half with another. You’ll have to do a bit of research to determine what yeasts work well with the grape varietal you’re working with. To do this you’ll need two fermenters, two carboys, and all the necessary airlocks. You can use the yeast your kit comes with for one half and pick up another strain for the other half. Mix Different Types of Oak Oak is considered to be the winemaker’s spice cabinet because of all the different flavors that it contributes. Another way to add complexity to your wine is to combine oak from different places. For instance instead of just using the oak that comes with your kit pick up some American and French oak cubes and combine them. American oak tends to be more bold while French oak is more subtle. Combining the two at varying ratios can offer a lot of complexity. Pier Benci, an Italian wine maker, offers his preferred ratio as 30% American oak and 70% French oak. Likely the American oak is used in less quantity so it doesn’t bury the French oak. Hungarian oak is another option. Also, if you’re using carboys instead of barrels you’re free to experiment with other types of wood altogether. Blending Different Varietals The blending of wine is a long standing European tradition. Taking various amounts of different varietals, sometimes up to five or six, to creating one wine adds a tremendous amount of complexity. Nuances from each varietal all acting together to create one masterful glass of wine. Blending is done with finished wines by experimentation. Take a base varietal such as Zinfandel. Then create a mixture of 75% Zin and 25% Merlot for example and see what happens. Try several different blends and ratios until you find one that really speaks to you. Test your blends by the glass before mixing all of your wine. Find the ratios you like and then bottle the blended wines. This is where wine makers start to earn their status as artists. Blending is done with only the best of each varietal. They do not try to use up a sub-par wine by blending it with...

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Studying Wine to Become a Better Winemaker

Studying Wine to Become a Better Winemaker

Great winemakers have a tremendous depth of wine knowledge in addition to their understanding of the winemaking process. The more you know about finished wines the wines you make will be. Why? It’s nearly impossible for a winemaker to make a subtle and complex wine if he/she can’t describe or even pick out subtleties in what they drink. Once you know how to pick out the nuances of a great wine you can start hone your winemaking skills to draw out those characteristics out in your own wines. Many of us put a lot of effort into studying the winemaking process, as we should. But we mustn’t forget to study the finished product itself. What I mean is that we need to be developing our palate to pick out nuances as well as expanding our understanding of tasting and evaluating wines. Even if you’ve been at this for a while chances are there’s still a lot for you to learn. I know I’ve got a lot to learn. Over the years, however, I’ve found one resource that has broadened my knowledge of wine more than any other. It’s not some stuffy textbook or a video hosted by an “I’m smarter and better than you” wine expert. My Number One Wine Resource The resource I’m referring to is Wine for Normal People Radio, a podcast hosted by Elizabeth Schneider (@NormalWine) and M.C. Ice. Elizabeth is a certified sommelier that knows how to make wine fun and understandable. I’ve picked out my favorite shows to share with you. Listening to them will set you on the path to becoming a better winemaker. You’ll learn how to better taste wine, develop your palate, as well as discover the impact of terroir on wines. To get you started here are my top picks. Tasting and Terroir 1. Tasting Wine This episode walks you through the process of tasting wine. There’s a lot to tasting wine and I’m sure you’ll be familiar with much of this but it’s still something to brush up on especially with the help of a sommelier. 2. Developing Your Palate A winemaker’s palate is his/her most valuable tool. Without a well developed palate you’ll have a hard time identifying the good and bad aspects of your wine. You need to be able to pick out flaws so you can learn to correct them in the next wine you make. 3. Terroir Part I, and Part II Ok, terroir is a big topic for sure. Elizabeth spent two episodes covering this one and you really should listen to both shows. For winemakers terroir is key. The land and climate that your grapes grew up in can alter their flavors and aromas. The same varietal grown in two different geographic regions will have different qualities. Winemaking Episodes From time to time Wine for Normal People Radio will cover some winemaking topics specifically. Here are some great shows for winemakers. 1. How a Grape Becomes a Wine In this show Elizabeth will take you through the entire process of how wines are made. From vineyard to bottle, it’s all here. Since most of us don’t grow our own grapes it’s helpful to understand...

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