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".
The Toasted Oak Chips we offer are all of the above. We have them available in both the imported French toasted oak chips and American toasted oak chips. They have been dried for several years and are "sap clear". Their affect on a wine is quite astonishing.
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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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.