Certain wines can certainly benefit from the addition of oak chips. Just a few of these wines include Chardonays, Cabernets, Pinot Noir, Chianti, Merlots, Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy, Pinot Blanc and Fume Blanc.
Oaking provides a way to develop a wine that is quite complex. The depth of the complexity is greatly determined by the type of oak that is used as well as the wine itself. Oak can provide a wide variety of flavors to wine including coconut, vanilla and even spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. In some cases, oak can even add a somewhat earthy tone. The type of flavor that is added to your wine is largely determined by the type of oak that is used. For example, American oak when used with white wines such as Merlot tends to add an aroma that is decidedly vanilla in nature. Generally, most of the oak that is used for flavoring in wine is either American or French. Hungarian and Yugoslavian oaks are also now being increasingly used as well; however.
In the past, wine was oaked by placing it into an oak barrel. The wine would then stay in the barrel until it reached the aroma and taste that was desired. There were few ways in which to control the process other than by choosing the type of oak as well as the size and age of the barrel. A vintner could also decide whether they wanted to use a toasted or charred barrel or not. This process typically took quite a long time. Older barrels tended to take even longer.
Today, the method of oaking wine has shifted from using just oak barrels to use oak pieces. This has made it much easier and more affordable for home vintners to oak their wines. Today, winemakers can choose to use oak chips as well as oak beans and oak powder for the purpose of oaking their wines without the concern and expense of having to use large barrels.
You will need to give some thought to which method you think will best suit your purpose; however. There are advantages as well as disadvantages to each. For example, oak chips are commonly preferred because they are easily available and can be obtained in a variety of different types. The problem with oak chips is that once you have put them into your carboy, you have to find a way to get them out. Oak powder works quite well during the fermentation process and you do not need a lot of oak powder to achieve the results that you want. The flip side to this is that if you are not careful, you can easily over oak your wine. In addition, it can be difficult to rack your wine using oak powder.
When oaking your wine you will need to decide when you wish to add the oak. Generally, the oak is added either during fermentation or after the wine has been racked and you are ready for bulk aging of your wine.
Oak powder really does work best if you decide you want to oak during the fermentation process. Over time the oak powder will absorb wine and eventually it will just sink to the bottom of the container. For a small batch of wine, you should not use any more than 20 grams of oak powder per gallon. You may wish to use less than that. If you decide to oak your wine during bulk aging, oak chips tend to work best. Plan to use somewhere between two and four ounces of chips for every six gallons of wine. Ideally, it is best to make sure that you sanitize your chips before you put them into your wine. You can use Campden Tablets for this purpose. Just soak the chips in some water, add a tablet and allow them to sit for a few minutes.
Finally, remember that as when trying anything new with your wine, it is best to start small with oaking. You can always add more, but it is virtually impossible to take it away once it is there.