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Aging Wine with Oak Chips

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Over the weekend, I opened a bottle of 3 year old Burgundy wine that I had made. It was one of the first of my wines that was not made with store bought materials. It was also one of the first where I used oak chips to impart an oak flavoring. Well, needless to say, the oak flavoring is rather strong. Hey, being a "newbie" at the time how would I know how much to use. The article below (from EC Kraus) gives a good overview on oaking. Two other articles worth reading are at Grapestompers and Winemaker Magazine.






It has long been understood that aging red wines in oak casks improves its flavor and character much more so than just aging these wines in glass or plastic. French winemakers have employed this method for centuries, the result being wines of remarkable complexity and flavor. The insides of these barrels are lightly toasted.



This brings out a velvety, sweet character in the wood that through time is captured by the wine that is stored within. The warm texture that is added to these wines is without question an alluring improvement. While barrel aging is without question the ultimate way to age red wines, there is another option that has close to the same effect. We call them Toasted Oak Chips. They are simply chips of oak that have been evenly toasted to match the toasting of a wine barrel. These chips of wood are the same special type of oak wood that is used to produce wine barrels. Using the correct type of oak wood is important.



Some oak varieties will do more damage than good to a wine. Some release more tannic acid than others, producing a wine with immeasurable harshness and bitterness.



It is also important that the oak wood be air-dried for several years so as to become "sap clear". Their use is very straight forward. The only preparation necessary is to boil the oak chips in water for about 10 minutes. Once your wine has cleared and is ready for aging, rack it into a clean container and add the Toasted Oak Chips - typically 2 to 4 ounces for every 5 gallons - and allow to age 3 to 9 months.



How much you use and the amount of time it is given to age in the wine varies along with the character of the wine. In general, the fuller or more hearty the wine is the more wood and aging it will required to reach its ultimate flavor and balance. Just sample the wine every 3 to 4 weeks to monitor the wine's aging progress.

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