Every so often, there’s a bit of innovation in the wine industry. We’re seeing it with technological innovations like optical sorters, but we’re seeing significant push back in other technological innovations like the mechanized harvesting of grapes. Much of the wine industry that seems to be hands off, comes from the old ways of doing this things. Oak barrels definitely fall into that category. Some are trying to innovate though, name in terms of using oak chips for wine.
Ok, so let’s have some basics. Here’s how we normally age wine:
Using oak barrels to age wine, like we have for generations have some positives and negatives.
- They’re expensive. New French barrels run over $1,000 a barrel.
- Good wood is from old growth, slow growing forests. France is considered the best, America isn’t great, Hungarian and others are up and coming. There are real climate change issues at play in cutting these forests down to make wine. As well as any arguments you can generally make about deforesting.
- They do add quite a bit of oak/butter taste to wine. They also help to round out the flavor profile of the wine in question.
- They only impart a lot of oak and butter flavor for about 3 vintages. Some higher priced wines, only use the barrels once before reselling them.
As you might expect, people are experimenting. One such experiment is using oak chips for wine. The results are interesting. Here are some of the positives:
- They’re cheap.
- They impart A LOT of wood and butter flavor.
Of course there are some downsides as well. It’s said that the amount of toast cannot be controlled quite as much as it can with barrels. Plus, you still need a container to put everything into, depending on the container, you’ll have some significant changes to the wine in question as well.
Ok, so overall what’s the deal with oak chips for wine? They’re a cheap solution for when a winemaker wants to impart an awful lot of oak flavor, while making a cheap wine that won’t allow for the purchase of new barrels.