Oak Chips as an Alternative for Flavoring and Aging Wine

In recent years, many wineries have been using oak chips and other alternatives to wine barrels, for both fermentation and flavoring.

By Kinnek Knowledge Team  |  June 09, 2018

In the past, oak chips and other barrel alternatives were uncommon, or even outright banned from being used in the winemaking process.  It was only two decades ago that the United States officially allowed winemakers to use oak chips in their processes, and just over a decade ago that the EU rolled back the prohibition on oak chips.


The classic method for fermenting and aging wine can be quite expensive.  Normally, a winery would have to purchase several oak barrels (with costs running up to $1,000 per barrel) for fermenting and aging their wines.  By contrast, oak chips are quite a bit cheaper, especially since wineries can purchase much cheaper fermenting/aging tanks.

It’s worth noting that oak barrels for winemaking can vary in price significantly, depending on the region where it was made, the wood used in its construction, and whether the barrel is new or used.  Vendors in today’s wine industry offer a wide variety of options to choose from, so unless you have a particular flavor/aroma reason for choosing an oak chip solution, make sure to exhaust your oak barrel options first.

Though more traditionally-minded customers continue to dominate the wine-sphere, so to speak, younger wine consumers don’t quite have the same holdups when it comes to purchasing wines that haven’t been barrel-aged.  As such, wineries feel as though they have a license to experiment — more and more, wineries are incorporating oak chips into their wines to add unique flavor profiles and aromas without the hassle (and expense) associated with the use of oak barrels.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Oak Chips

Oak chip products are rather varied, and they will not all perform the same, so make sure to inquire about the product with your vendor (for further details).  For example, a medium-toast oak chip will age your wine somewhat differently than a lightly-toasted oak chip.  Of course, oak chips — generally speaking — do actually share certain characteristic advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s take a look at a few.


  • Oak chips can be added to the wine at any stage of the winemaking process, making them somewhat more versatile (when you add the chips will affect the taste, smell, and mouthfeel)
  • Oak chips (in conjunction with stainless steel tanks) are significantly cheaper than purchasing oak barrels
  • Oak chips can be mixed and matched to alter the flavor profile and aroma of the wine
  • Oak chips are easy to store, as they come in small bags


  • Oak chips have a poor reputation, due to years of traditional-minded preference for wine fermented and aged in oak barrels
  • You will have to include a reference to your use of oak chips on your product label if you intend to sell your wine in certain markets (i.e., the EU)
  • Oak chips can attempt to replicate, but do not quite allow for the same level of infusion as an oak barrel — oak barrels allow for a tiny amount of oxygen to enter the barrel, which leads to micro-oxygenation, giving the wine inside a unique flavor profile, aroma, and mouthfeel

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