When it comes to oaking my wine, what are my options?
Oak is available in powdered, extract, chipped, cubed, and stick forms. Chips and cubes offer the greatest variety of toasts and species. Use lightly toasted American oak for a coconut flavor. Lightly toasted French oak gives a slight vanilla flavor. Use the medium-heavy (house) for a caramelized flavor like toasted bread, allspice or vanilla, and darker toasts in reds to create a robust, earthy flavor like coffee and chocolate. The rule of thumb is to not overpower the wine with oak. Lighter wines require less oak. German wines generally are not oaked.
A good proportion of oak chips for home use is three grams of chips per liter. To use oak chips, rinse them in a mild sulfite solution (10 ppm, which is equivalent to one Campden tablet per five-gallon batch).
Add oak chips to your wine after it has been racked for bulk aging and reached gravity. Use a glass or stainless steel container. A handful of chips (about one-quarter cup) is all that is necessary to add complexity to the wine. Taste your wine two to three days after you have added the oak. Continue until you notice the oak flavor. Then taste on a daily basis.
While employing other methods of oaking, we recommend:
When your wine has reached the level of oak you wish, rack it off of the oak into a clean container. If you think more oak or different oak is needed, follow these steps again. Remember, you can always add more oak; but, keep in mind, you cannot remove oak. Keep a logbook and record the amount and length of time you oak your wine so you can adjust the next time you vint the same grapes.
Another way to save you from having to rack the wine off the oak is to make a plastic tube for the oak chips or cubes. Take a plastic tube slightly smaller than the neck of the vessel you are using. Block one end and drill 1/16-inch holes through the entire length of the tube. Add the oak chips or cubes to this tube and suspend it in the wine. You can also use different oak at different times to build depth.
Whatever the wine, the greatest judge is the winemaker himself. The winemaker is responsible for the taste, complexity, and finish of the wine. The winemaker’s soul is expressed in the wine. Good luck and good winemaking.