Ask Wine Wizard

Can I Use An Untoasted Oak Barrel?


Patricia McGrath — Downers Grove, Illinois asks,

I received a mini-American oak barrel for Christmas that isn’t charred. How well would this work for a red wine? Is there any way I can toast the inside? Will I need to add toasted oak to my oak barrel? I’m fairly new to winemaking and have only made a couple of Winexpert kits so far. They have been fine, but I’ve wondered if this is the best brand out there? Thank you for your time.

What an intriguing question. I’m having some pioneer-prairie-blacksmith-shop fantasy thoughts on how you might be able to toast the inside of your barrel on your own. Depends on how crazy you want to get. Before I go there — with all the non-OSHA approved tactics — let me address your other mini-questions. “Untoasted barrel — how will this work for red wine?” I often use about 1⁄3 untoasted wood in my wine aging. It contributes mouthfeel and finish (not to mention barrel-aging dynamics like micro-oxygenation) without contributing toast or char. It’s a net positive. However, you won’t get the typical “toasty” elements one might expect from oak-barrel aging. “Will I need to add toasted oak to my oak barrel?” You could but you don’t have to. Use toasted oak chips in a nylon stocking a la easy tea bag style. You’d be surprised by all the high-quality oak chips, beans, segments, and pieces available today. “I’ve only used Winexpert — is this the best brand out there?” Winexpert is one of the two major manufacturers of wine kits, RJS Craft
Response by Alison Crowe.