Oak Stix experiment

Wine Making Talk

Help Support Wine Making Talk:

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
Last Saturday I've started an experiment using Next Level Oak's wine stix. @Mike - Next Level Oak and I got into a long discussion last fall, and that discussion culminated in me starting an oak experiment.

The premise is that I have 3 carboys of red wine, and each has one of Mike's wine stix (kits) in it -- American, French, and Hungarian oak, all with 1 medium toast and 1 medium plus toast piece. A 4th carboy has 2 oz medium toast Hungarian oak cubes. I will be testing the wines every 2 weeks (or so) to see progress. I anticipate the experiment will run for 3 to 4 months, and I may post updates months later, after the wines are bottled and aging.

Among my goals is to see how the oak stix compare to oak cubes, and to get a feel for how long I should leave them in the wine, and if there is any difference in duration between the different oaks. This also lets me compare apples-to-apples in deciding which oak(s) I will use in the future.

I calculated an average size for oak cubes, and the surface area of one of the stix is fairly close to the surface area for 2 oz of cubes, enough that I believe it's a fair experiment.

The results are being posted on my web site, and I will post summary notes here as well.

Notes:

Mike provided the kits to me, free of charge. In return I'm providing him with my complete notes, with the agreement that my results are what they are, the good, the bad, and the ugly. While I cannot foresee any problems that would not occur with other oak adjuncts, such as staves, spirals, cubes, and chips, I am keeping an open mind.

I do no advertising on my site, nor do I collect personal information. Traffic on my site provides me with no compensation of any form, nor is anyone else gaining from it.

As much as I try to keep the experiment as objective as possible, there is no way to keep subjectivity out. It just occurred to me to do double-bind tastings, so that no one tasting the wines has any foreknowledge which is which.
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
My plan was to taste at the 2 week mark, but I was busy all last weekend. My son found time yesterday to help me with the arduous task of tasting wine ...

I posted details on my blog for this experiment, but overall, none of the 4 batches have much oak character yet. However, we noted that each wine tasted a bit different AND the sensation of tannin was in different places on our tongues. We tasted in both directions, e.g., tasted wines 1 through 4 and then 4 through 1, to see if the order made any difference.

It didn't. It's far too soon to visualize what the end result will be. The plan is to taste again in 3 weeks.

EDIT 1: I appear to have lost all track of time. The wines sat for 4 weeks, not 3.

The difference in where on the tongue tannin was registered is intriguing. So far I can't say one is better than the other -- they're just different.

EDIT 2: I obviously can't read a calendar. I thought today was the 27th, not the 22nd. I could NOT figure out how I lost a week. I just don't drink that much!

It may be that I didn't have enough coffee in me when I posted ... today's entry in the testing log is at the 3 week mark.
 
Last edited:

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
We conducted our 2nd test yesterday -- with me were both my sons. The notes below are a combination of our reactions, which were very similiar.

A couple hours ahead, for each carboy I withdrew enough wine that I could use the powered stirring rod to mix the wine. Not enough to introduce air, but enough to ensure the carboy was homogenized. Then I replaced the sample.

During this process I compared samples of before and after stirring. With the Hungarian cubes, the difference was clear — the initial sample had a different taste the the stirred sample. For the stix? The difference was almost unnoticeable. Why are the cubes different? The cubes are at the bottom of the carboy and the sample came from the middle. For the stix the sample is taken from where the stix is, in the middle. The process of withdrawing the stix and then withdrawing enough wine to enable stirring appears to have mixed the wine.

Oak Cubes — Detected astringency on the top of the tongue, but not much oak character yet.

American Stix — Very little oak character and didn’t detect any astringency.

French Stix — Detected astringency in the gums, not the tongue. Had a slightly sour taste with respect to the other wines.

Hungarian Stix — Tasted a bit tart, but no more oak character than the other wines.

This test was a bit of a surprise. I expected more oak character from all the wines, but there didn’t seem to be much more than last time.
 

Rembee

Country Wine Artisan 🍷
WMT Supporter
Joined
Jan 5, 2021
Messages
219
Reaction score
257
Location
Southern Mississippi
I don't know how I missed this thread when you first posted it. This is a very interesting, well thought out, comprehensive test. I will be following along. Thanks for sharing it!
 

Johnd

Senior Member
WMT Supporter
Joined
Jun 10, 2015
Messages
6,832
Reaction score
7,025
Location
South Louisiana
Haven’t used the Next Level product yet, but it looks similar in size to Wine Stix, which I’ve used extensively. It takes a solid three months to get all of the long grained tannins and oak flavor out of those, and one per carboy wasn’t enough, two was much more in order. I’m not surprised at your taste / thoughts at this point, the best is yet to come!!
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
The expected duration of the experiment is 5 to 6 months. From experience, cubes need about 4 months and are pretty much expended at 6 months. I'm expecting the stix to be the about the same, but realize that reality may differ from my expectations.

@Mike - Next Level Oak mentioned differences in the end grain of the wood between his product and spirals, so we may see a difference in duration because of that. Cubes have at least 2 faces with end grain, so that may result in faster leaching of oak character. If conditions merit it, I'll extend the experiment a couple of months.

I calculated the surface area of 2 oz cubes and a single oak stix "kit", and the kit has a surface area just a bit less than the cubes. Note: I used average values for sizes, so my calculation is an approximation, but IMO good enough for my purposes. If this was a rigorous scientific experiment, my calculations would be unacceptable, but I'm not publishing my results in a scientific journal, so I'm not fussed about it.

The description on my web site is long winded, although it's intended for a wide audience so I fleshed out the background, assumptions, and plans. I need to add my surface area calculations to be complete.
 

BarrelMonkey

Junior
Joined
Feb 21, 2021
Messages
15
Reaction score
14
Location
Northern California
Always fun to see this kind of experiment! Do you taste blind? If not, it might be something to consider.

(The scientist in me would also be interested to see a zero oak control, but I realize there are practical limits to the number of samples!)
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
We haven't done blind tasting yet. During tastings we are focusing on the taste & smell, and so far are being objective about it. The first tasting was an eye-opener, as the we consistently received the same sensation of astringency on same parts of the tongue. The second tasting was also a surprise, as we didn't get the same results. I have no clue what tasting #3 will bring.

If I had a 5th carboy, I'd have kept a control. As it is, I don't have topup wine, so I'm using a 1999 unoaked Malbec. Topup is only a few ounces per time, so it should not have perceptible impact.
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
We taste-tested again today. The oak flavors have improved, which makes sense at the 2.5 month mark. I'm not seeing any surprises.

Scroll to the bottom of the post for my notes.
 

Chuck Rairdan

Fermentor Oblongata
WMT Supporter
Joined
Dec 2, 2018
Messages
54
Reaction score
36
Im considering going to suspended wine sticks, wondering what effect cubes laying in the fine lees has not to mention you can readily pull the sticks when you've reached the desired oakiness. Curious to hear your results...
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
Im considering going to suspended wine sticks, wondering what effect cubes laying in the fine lees has not to mention you can readily pull the sticks when you've reached the desired oakiness. Curious to hear your results...
I suspect the effect depends on how thick the fine lees is. If it's a dusting, probably nothing.

My take so far is that the stix will have the same effect as the cubes, but differences in surface area may increase the required duration to get the same effect. I suspect that while cubes are toasted on all sides, the stix are toasted "properly" on the outside, but may be less so inside the slots.

Having shaken 6 oz cubes out of a 54 liter barrel, I'm in favor of the stix, for ease of use. AFAIK the current product doesn't work with barrels due to the differences in carboy stopper vs. barrel bung, plus (depending on size) barrels need a lot more oak product than the stix, which are designed for 3 to 6 gallon carboys. However, @Mike - Next Level Oak is currently working on a product that will work for barrels. His design is innovative and should work fine. It's likely I'll be using the new product in my 2021 wines.
 

Chuck Rairdan

Fermentor Oblongata
WMT Supporter
Joined
Dec 2, 2018
Messages
54
Reaction score
36
The lees are pretty light in this case and I do monthly batonnage during aging. This seems to help keep the reductives down, consumes dissolved O2, breaks up stratification (especially with the oak cubes sitting on the bottom), and likely improves mouthfeel. Wondering if the oak contact with the lees has some chemistry benefits as well, but also like the convenience and suspension of the sticks and curls. Love these studies/experiments that you and others are doing...
 

winemaker81

wine dabbler
WMT Supporter
Joined
Nov 5, 2006
Messages
1,550
Reaction score
2,177
Location
Raleigh, NC, USA
I hadn't thought about it, but I'm practicing batonnage as well, as I gently stir the barrel, withdraw a tasting sample, then topup.

In my case, I racked the barrels after 3.75 months, so most (if not all) fine lees is gone. I'm stirring monthly during topup for 6 months, then will avoid stirring until bottling time (3 months), to let any stirred up sediment drop. At this point I may not have any lees; after stirring the wine looks really clear.

As I noted, my experiment carboys are being stirred prior to tasting to ensure they are homogeneous. When the test ends (end of August) I'll rack and verify no sediment (can't see any now) and will bottle before the end of September. New grapes arrive middle of October and I want everything from 2020 except the barrels bottled by then.
 

Chuck Rairdan

Fermentor Oblongata
WMT Supporter
Joined
Dec 2, 2018
Messages
54
Reaction score
36
Many similarities in our wine making processes. Haven't gone to barrels yet due to the storage and maintenance, perhaps down the stretch
 

Latest posts

Top