kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Europe OKs oak chips for wine

Europe, which has long forbidden anything except oak barrels to impart an oaky flavor to wines, has now given the OK to oak chips and staves (typically used by lower end CA and Australian wineries).

French oak barrels cost about $800 apiece, and American oak barrels $500+. The barrels can only be used for a few years to impart an oak flavor to the wines, and then they become nothing more than storage vessels. The cost of oak barrels definitely influences the cost of the bottle of wine, and the longer the wine is aged (read: tied up) in an oak barrel, and the more wine that is aged in oak, the greater the impact on cost.

On the flip side, oak chips and staves (kind of like giant tea diffusers filled with oak chips that get dunked into a barrel of wine) are cheaper alternatives to oak barrels, imparting an oaky taste and complexity at a fraction of the cost. Some wineries have used and abused oak chips and staves, however, and the resulting wines can often taste like sucking in an oak chip.

Time will tell how European wineries use and treat this new tool for winemaking.