An oak tree only makes enough wood for about two barrels, which will only hold about 50 cases of wine. Furthermore, oak barrels cease to add any flavor to a wine after their first 2-3 uses. Add in the fact that oak barrels are growing increasingly rarer and expensive and using alternatives to oak your batch of wine just makes sense.
A stainless steel barrel for wine, paired with your preferred oaking alternative is the recipe for a fantastically oaked wine without negatively effecting the environment or your bottom line.
There are a number of tools and techniques used by winemakers to oak wine in a stainless steel barrel. Oak staves, oak chips and oak cubes are all-around efficient. These small chunks of oak can be bought new or made from old ‘neutral’ oak barrels. A key benefit to using smaller bits of oak is that you can submerge and extract flavor from all sides of the oak pieces, whereas in an oak barrel you’re only utilizing the aroma compounds of the interior of the barrel. Furthermore, because the oak in powder and chips don’t require the structural integrity of those used in forming a barrel, the pieces can be more heavily toasted for more distinct flavors.
Sometimes you don’t want oak, stainless steel barrels empower daring winemakers to experiment with a number of natural flavors and spices, all of which can be easily steeped into a batch of wine like a teabag in hot water. Popular mixes include cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, lemon, vanilla, fennel, anise, juniper, elderflowers and black currents.
Stainless steel wine barrels excel at maintaining the integrity of the fruit itself. Highlight the superiority of your grapes and any fruit or spice additives in your wine recipe by aging it in a stainless steel barrel. After all, you spent a lot of time growing and/or choosing those raw materials, why not show them off.
There are many ways to flavor your wine, and while oak barrels might be the old standby, stainless steel wine barrels open up the door to fantastic new flavor opportunities.