Are there different ways to use oak to add flavour to a wine?
Oak barrels are extremely expensive and usually last for about 3 years. They do, however impart the gentlest and best integrated oak flavours to the wine. Many winemakers do use oak chips to add flavor, and there are specially designed oak staves which can be suspended in tanks to impart their oaky flavor.Some winemakers routinely add oak dust to the fermenting wine. Because of the high cost involved, only the very best wines are matured in new oak barrels. For many of us oak flavor is oak flavor but for the purists, there is definitely a difference between the flavor imparted by chips or dust and that is achieved by using barrels.
When stored in barrels, wine absorbs complex flavor compounds from the wood. Over the centuries it has been found that certain wines are improved or made more complex by the addition of oak flavours. So today barrels are not used mainly for storage. Their primary function is to add flavor to the wine. Once the barrel has been used for a year or so a good deal of the flavor has been leeched out. The second time it is used (second-fill barrels, they are called now) a barrel will have less flavor to impart to the wine. Barrels are very expensive and add considerably to the end price of the wine, so some barrels are dismantled and scraped to reveal a new layer of oak, allowing it to be used for another year. Many modern wines are given oak flavouring by the addition of oak chips to stainless steel tanks of maturing wine. Purists claim this is cheating, but you’d have to be an extremely finely-tuned palate to detect the difference.