Find Your Flavor: Woody Wines Without the Oak

There’s a bounty of different flavors out there, but winemakers have long been stuck on oak. With the ongoing shortage of oak and therefore oak barrels, many more experimental winemakers have emerged at the front of the production and popularity pack.

But what if you really, really want to stick to wood? Well, winemakers have been aging and flavoring their wines with woods other than oak throughout history. Chestnut, pine, redwood and acacia have seen their fair share of wine either as barrels and large fermentation vats or as chips, mulch, staves and other flavor additives. In fact, if you are working with a wine in a stainless steel wine barrel, such as the ones manufactured here at Skolnik, you could have more luck with these other woods than winemakers have in the past.

Before sustainable stainless steel wine barrels, winemakers would try to use these other woods as full-on winemaking vessels. However, none of them possess the necessary properties to truly substitute for oak when it came to containment. Oak is watertight, flexible and slightly porous, making it a perfect material for coopers to work with. Chestnut is too porous, allowing wine to evaporate too easily. Redwood is too rigid to bend into smaller barrel shapes and imparts a strong flavor better used in moderation. Too much acacia can yellow your wine and many other hardwoods have a smell that is a bit too off-putting to want to fill an entire warehouse with.

But in small, controlled quantities, all of these woods can impart a unique, woody flavor profile to a batch of wine. We look forward to seeing if winemakers begin to play with non-oak woods more now that stainless steel wine barrels have come into popularity.