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All about Oak. I hope.

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wyntheef

grunt
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I realize this is a fairly broad subject, so please bear with me.

Recently, a friend oaked some 'white merlot', and I can tell you it was superb.
I decided to try to learn more about this interesting and somewhat mysterious aspect of winemaking, so off to the forum I go. :fsh

I'm hoping to get comments on the many aspects of oaking wine. For example, when and how to use it, maybe more importantly, when not to use it, when to remove it, what to look for, possible problems from using it, what is the appeal of it, why do some wines have 'oak affinity', while others do not; and whatever else you may want to share about oaking.

I thank you kindly.

Steve
 

rawlus

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grapestompers has a nice article on oak and it's use in wine.
as to affinity, i think oak is often used to balance fruitiness in wine with other flavor notes, vanillin obviously but also woodiness, toast, herbaceousness, and spice.
i dont see german style wines oaked and i think there is a growing anti-oak trend, esp in chardonnay... probably a correction to the over-oaking trend the same grape went through not long ago.
as to how much to use, it is largely a matter of personal taste but my philosophy is to use a little as necessary and taste often over time, when the complete character of the wine is where you like it, or perhaps just a little too much oak, then pull it out... bottle aging will correct/mellow some over-oakiness but it is not a cure.

i like spirals and cubes.. usually french med toast, but again, it's personal preference.

if you do over-oak your wine, the only real solution is to blend it with unoaked wine.

if you want to experiment, 3 gal carboys are nice, try american vs french, med toast v med+, etc.

the difference between cubes and spirals and chips and dust is mostly going to be about contact time so use what is convenient for you.

you will see alot of varietal wines that say aged 70% (or whatever %) in new american oak, meaning that they blended with 30% of the same vintage aged in stainless steel to get the flavor profile they wanted. it is this reason i think its always a good idea to have both oaked and unoaked stock on hand to blend a final product, which will most times exceed what can be achieved by a purely oaked or unoaked batch.
 
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wyntheef

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all good stuff rawlus, but in regards to 'over-oaking', what are the consequences of doing this, and how can you make sure you don't?

most of the questions are answered on the link rawlus provided at grapestompers.
 
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wyntheef

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From wineloverspage.com...

---A noticeable vanillin aroma is commonplace, especially with American oak in white wines like Chardonnay and fruity reds like Merlot, where the vanillins often convey a sense of sweetness that seems to appeal to the marketplace. Over-oaked wines may literally smell like wood, very much like the smell in a house with freshly sanded floors. In reds, especially California and Australian Cabernets, new American oak often smells like the herb dill. Particularly in Mediterranean reds, from Rioja to France's Languedoc, oak flavors show up as coconut or aromatic spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. French oak, used in restraint, is often more subtle; I generally record it in my notes as a light, delicate spiciness or occasionally something organic like damp wood on a forest floor. All this only touches the surface, but in general, the scents of oak are non-fruit aromatics, and that's why wine makers use them, in the best case to enhance, and in the worst case to substitute for, the natural fruit aromas of good wine grapes.---
 

bein_bein

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From my (somewhat limited ) experience, oaking is at least a test-by-trial method or at best a recipe with specific instructions type thing. We have a cream sherry WE kit that was very heavy on the oak flavor when it got done. The next batch of the same kit we pulled the majority of the oak out when going to the secondary and the wine was much more balanced. Now keep in mind that neither of these batches have gotten to be 1 yr old yet...so the jury is still kind of deliberating ... When it comes to oaking ..time is your greatest ally. We had a batch of raspberry that we broke into 3 - 1gal sizes. I oaked one with about 2oz of oakchips in a bag for about 3-4 weeks in the secondary. The others we added strawberry/kiwi flavoring and some black licorice flavoring. At 6-8 months aging the flavored wines were pretty good but the oaked one was NASTY:s (almost dumped 'em out...)We just let them set...Now at 18 months old the oaked raspberry is some of the best wine I have made to date, just an ever-so-slight hint of oak with a crisp light raspberry taste ...the flavored wines have not changed hardly at all in character.... Hope that helps.
 
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rawlus

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the consequences of overaking are that you wont like the taste because it has had too much oak. its a taste thing. oak wont "hurt" the wine in any way. have you ever had a big buttery oaky napa chardonnay that just tasted too buttery and too woody to you? too rich like it was a red wine not a white?

everyone's preference for oak is different as its largely a matter of taste, but everyone also has limits and "will know it when they taste it" if a wine has seen too much oak for their tastebuds.

the way to avoid it is to first understand what you like in wine, how much oakiness, american or french oak, etc. do you like cabs with oak but pinots without? etc. this is achieved through lots of tasting of many many different wines. once you havea handle on what you like, then you just have to get your unoaked wine to the oak level you desire.. start reasonably and conservatively, you can always add more time or oak but you can't reduce it without blending with an unoaked wine... i oak after fermentation is complete, after final racking, when the wine is resting in bulk aging...

for oak chips, 1/4 cup for 6gallons is a good start, taste your winethree days after adding the chips and then daily until your desired flavor profile is reached.
for cubes, 3oz is a good starting measure, many mix 50/50 french and american cubes.. these will take approx 8 weeks before the character starts to show, taste weekly after that until you reach your goal...spirals use a minimu of 4-6 weeks then start tasting... some oak character will mellow out in long term bottle aging.. if you're making a big complex red that'll age 2 or more years then its okay to get a little beyond what you'd desire in final oakiness cuz the long aging will mellow it a bit... but if you'r gonna drink that wine within the next 2 years, id generally stop oaking when the flavor profile you want is reached... or slightly overoak 3 gallons and then blend in unoaked to get where you want it, then age.
 

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