The rewards and frustrations of home winemaking

Oak Trials: Tasting Notes

The oak trials were bottled about 2 months ago now, and I’m ready to do a tasting of the panel.  My husband has agreed to help me out, since there are 7 different wines to taste.  First is the unoaked Winexpert Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay:  dry, but not crisp, with subtle hints of apple and pear.  The rest of the panel tasted as follows:

Prefermentation American Oak (10 g/gallon, 1 week exposure): Dry, but brings out citrus and vanilla flavors.  Oak very subtle, but definitely detectable.

Prefermentation French Oak (10 g/gallon, 1 week exposure): oak is also very subtle, but adds to the flavor; seems to add more to the mid-palate than the prefermentation American oak.

Post fermentation American oak (1 month exposure):  Oak more perceptible, wine is more buttery with more vanilla; 10 grams per gallon oak definitely more intense oak flavors than 5 grams per gallon, and both more oak flavors than the prefermentation oak.  10 grams per gallon post-fermentation oak is almost a little too much for the American oak, finishes flat with no mid-palate.

Post fermentation French oak (1 month exposure): the most “pleasant” oak flavors to our palates.  Smooth, rich mid-palate with cloves and cinnamon.  Again, the 10 grams per gallon is almost a little too much, though with longer aging this may turn around.

Our favorite is the post-fermentation 5 grams per gallon French oak, and we both prefer the French oak over American; it’s a more subtle, rounded oak influence than the American.  However, I remember that at the Winemaker magazine conference in Santa Barbara, all of us at the table preferred the prefermentation oak samples.  Tim used a different Chardonnay kit than I did, which could definitely influence our preferences.  In fact, I’m sure if I did this trial with a zinfandel or cabernet, I would prefer American oak over French, based on how it compliments the varietal.

It is very interesting to taste the difference between pre-fermentation oak and post-fermentation oak.  The yeast metabolize the oak flavor molecules to yield a different flavor profile.  However, this type of oak trial is quite an endeavor, and not something to do with every wine!  But, if you’re feeling ambitious, I highly recommend doing one on your own.  Maybe try both a red and a white!


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