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Mini Stave Trials and Oak Alternatives

March 17th, 2015 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Skolnik Newsletter, Wine

Winemakers attending the Wines & Vines Oak Conference on Feb. 11 had an unusual opportunity to blind-taste winery trials utilizing oak barrel alternatives, including Skolnik Stainless Steel Wine Barrels, in young wines from Sonoma County and Napa Valley, Calif. The 75 registrants participating in this session tasted four samples of a 2013 Zinfandel produced by Wilson Artisan Wineries from Molly’s Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, and four samples of a 2014 Napa-grown Sangiovese that was not identified. The Zinfandel samples were: a control wine aging in neutral oak with no alternatives, and three other samples of the wine aging in neutral barrels in contact with Barrel Boost-brand mini staves of different flavor profiles. The Sangiovese samples were: a control wine aging in neutral oak, two samples of the wine with two different mini-stave flavors, and one sample aging with oak chips. The mini staves were added to the wine in the amount of one bag for each barrel, consisting of multiple short staves in a skinny nylon mesh bag, like links in a string of oak sausages. The oak contact trials had been going for four to six weeks. After each flight was tasted, the participants voted with a show of hands on their preferred wines. A majority identified the neutral control samples without difficulty. After the flavor names of the mini staves were explained, everyone was asked to guess which was “dark chocolate” and which was “special fruit” in the Zinfandel, for example, there was also general agreement. But when asked for favorites, the biggest vote getter (with about 60% in agreement) was a blend of stave flavors. Some thought it was a new barrel or the finished product. This sample was more integrated, more complex, with a little bit of every flavor. The trial demonstrated precisely what was hoped for, with the majority of the group preferring a blend of oak alternatives to the neutral barrel or an individual component. More than half of the tasting attendees indicated with a show of hands that they already use oak barrel alternatives in their wines. To explain why oak alternatives are such a popular option, speakers outlined the benefits that oak aging in general gives to wine, including enhanced aromas, oak flavors, increased structure and complexity, increased oxygenation and softening of structure and tannins.

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