What is aging wine? Part 2
With the advent of the oak alternatives discussed in Blog there were several other types of alternatives invented to create the same result. All these devices were effective and innovative, although some were more expensive than others. We saw oak sticks that were toasted in the oven as their external square area was great although the volume was not. That is the secret; the area exposed to the wine. Then, an oak spiral was invented that, for the same length, had 2 or 3 times the area for exposure. Then there was oak dust, oak beads, and other oak configurations for the same purpose. With an eye to utilizing these devices in a barrel, sticks were chained together with a non-reactive tail so the sticks could be placed in a barrel and then retrieved at a later time when the right amount of oak flavor had been reached. But the design that made the most sense and has been the most popular is creating oak chips. These chips are made from the same oak that barrels are made from, and, in fact, can be made from the scrap wood from barrel construction. These chips are toasted to whatever toast level the winemaker wants for his wine, and can be produced from which ever kind of wood he desires; American oak, French oak, Hungarian oak, etc. Additionally, the irregular shape of the chips gives the chip a greater increase in square area from which to leach flavor. The cost of the chips is about $20 – $30 for the equivalent of a barrel versus $1000. At Chateau Thomas, we do not use oak chips for our primary oak aging, but we do utilize chips to restore oak flavor in perfectly good barrels that have exhausted their flavor due to age. Once, again, the ingenuity of our industry to skirt the traditional methods that create our best wines are remarkable, but so far, there is no substitute for the real thing.