Ask Wine Wizard

Is Oak Sanitation Necessary?


Brent Kumfer — Carmel, Indiana asks,

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on preparing oak additions, like oak chips, cubes, or spirals, before adding them to my must or wine. Should they be boiled or sanitized in some way before adding or do I just toss them in? I have always boiled mine for 10 minutes but wonder with all the oak-y liquid that’s left if I just got rid of most of the flavor.

I never boil or rinse my chips because, you’re right, that’ll strip them of the valuable flavor and aroma right off the bat. The one thing you need to do first, either before you buy chips or before you add them to your wine batch, is to smell them. If they smell moldy, musty, or like TCA (like the water in bagged baby carrots — that’s a great everyday example of what TCA smells like, because they wash those babies in chlorinated water, by the way) then toss those chips or wood out right away. If you can smell the oak pieces you’re going to buy before you buy them, i.e. if the shop lets you sniff the bag you’re about to buy, make sure they smell sweet, slightly toasted (if that’s what you’re buying), and smells like something you’d like to put in your wine. If you smell anything off, do not buy them. Once you get them home, however, it’s up to you to put them in your wine right away, or to store them correctly, away from
Response by Alison Crowe.