Ask Wine Wizard

Can I Use An Untoasted Oak Barrel?

TroubleShooting

Patricia McGrath — Downers Grove, Illinois asks,
Q

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.

A
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.