Ask Wine Wizard

Reducing Oak Flavor In Wine


Bob Lenertz — Waseca, Minnesota asks,

I used oak in one of my trials of Minnesota Marquette wine. My trial was 5 gallons (19 L). Is there a way to filter off some of the oak taste?


I’m so pleased you’ve done some oak trials! If you’ve read my column over the years you know that I’m always advising our intrepid readers to do small-scale trials (sometimes I call them “bench trials” after the “lab bench” work surface of your average winery enologist) before they commit to an additive or course of action for their precious gallons.

It sounds like you found a trial result that you weren’t too keen on, i.e. too much oak added to one of your carboys. I’m glad (and you should be too) that you only treated 5 gallons (19 L) of your wine; if you had done that oak treatment on a whole barrel (or more) you’d be dealing with a lot more unpleasant wine! Unfortunately, once we’ve added oak to a wine and it’s absorbed into the wine (whether via a barrel or oak beans, chips or segments), there’s no getting rid of it. The oak aromas, flavors and even a small amount of tannins and phenolic compounds have now become, for better or worse, intrinsically intertwined with the aromas, taste and mouthfeel of your Minnesota Marquette.

What can you do? The only realistic option is to blend your 5 gallons (19 L) with something else that would dilute the oaky aroma and flavor. Not knowing what extra gallons (liters) you have sitting around in your cellar, however, it’s hard for me to know how to advise you toward that end. However, you can do what many wineries do and keep those 5 gallons (19 L) as an “oak blender,” i.e dose small amounts of that wine into other lots as a flavor/aroma adjuster. That way, over time, you’ll eventually use up the over-oaked wine and you’ve made some of your other lots presumably better. As a last resort, if you don’t have any wine you can add to the 5-gallon (19-L) lot and if you can’t “disappear” those 5 gallons (19 L) over time into other things, you can do it the old fashioned way and just . . . wait.

Though once oak is in wine it tends to stick, the aromas and flavors will change and develop over time to a certain extent. Sometimes the change can be positive, i.e. sometimes the aromas will mellow out a little bit and change from being obviously oaky to seem more integrated. This last-ditch approach works best for wine lots that aren’t hideously over-oaked to begin with. At the very least, you’ve done something all good winemakers the world over do: you’ve learned what does not work for your wine, which is just as valuable as learning what does.

UC-Davis graduate and professional winemaker Alison Crowe has been answering hundreds of your winemaking questions as the “Wine Wizard” since 1998. She is the Winemaker for Plata Wine Partners, LLC, and provides custom winemaking services and consulting to nationally distributed as well as small start-up brands. Her columns are collected in The Winemaker’s Answer Book, available at  winemakermag.com/shop. Do you have a question? Send your inquiries to her at: [email protected].