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Tannins & Oak Barrel Alternatives

Help With Choosing Oak!
The following are results from research done at Stavin and should only be used to give an approximation of what each of these three varieties of oak can bring to your wine. Each sample was made using oak cubes with a two-month contact time and evaluated with no bottle ageing. Please note that due to the complexities of flavor chemistry these findings may or may not translate to your wine 100%. However, this information should be helpful in finding out which type of oak may the best to start with as you refine your oaking tastes.

French Oak Flavor Summary
  • All toast levels have a perceived aromatic sweetness and full mouthfeel.
  • French oak has a fruity, cinnamon/allspice character, along with custard/ crème brûlée, milk chocolate and campfire/roasted coffee notes*. (*Especially at higher toast levels.)
  • As the toast levels increased the fruity descriptor for the wine changed from fresh to jammy to cooked fruit/raisin in character.
American Oak Flavor Summary
  • The American oak had aromatic sweetness and a campfire/roasted coffee attribute present in all three toast levels, with Medium Plus and Heavy toast having the highest intensity.
  • American oak had cooked fruit more than a fresh or jammy quality.
  • American Oak imparted mouthfeel/fullness, especially in Medium Plus.
Hungarian Oak Flavor Summary
  • The Hungarian oak at Medium toast displayed a high perceived-vanillin content, with roasted coffee, bittersweet chocolate and black pepper characters.
  • Medium Plus and Heavy toast imparted mouthfeel fullness, with only a slight amount of campfire/roasted coffee. Heavy also had pronounced vanillin. At all toast levels, there were unique attributes such as leather and black pepper, not observed in other oak origins.
Some applicable generalizations of toast levels on oak
  • The lower the toast, the more tannins (“structure”) and lactones (“wood-like” and “coconut”) will be present in each of the oaks.
  • The higher the toast, the more spice and smoke notes will be present.
  • The deeper the toast, the more deep the caramel tones will be (moving into butterscotch at medium plus).
  • Vanilla will increase up through a medium-plus toast and then decrease with a heavy toast and char.
  • American oak will be more aromatic, but French oak will give more structure (Hungarian will give less than the French but more than the American).
  • The greater the toast level, the lower the lactones (“wood” and “coconut”) for all three woods.
Medium plus is the most complex of all of the toast levels, and the most popular.

For more in-depth information on oak, please see our Oak Information Paper, as well as the "oak" sections of our Red Winemaking and White Winemaking manuals.