With the fermentation of the wine being the most important step in the process, the question become which type of container should be used. There are two basic types, oak barrels or vats and stainless steel strums. Each of them has their proponents in the wine industry, so it is important to understand the differences to know what qualities each of them offer in the creation of wine.
For centuries, oak barrels, vats, or containers have been used for the fermentation and aging process. The oak itself provides its own unique flavor to the wine that varies depending on the exact wood that is used. It can be said that the oak brings aromas such as the following;
- Allspice, Butter, or Caramel
- Cinnamon, Clove, or Mocha
- Nutmeg, Toffee, or Vanilla
Because the oak provides different hints to the wine, it adds a unique flavor that helps make it special. The oak itself may come from France where it has more wood tannins and narrower grains while American oak offers a sweeter palate with hints of vanilla.
The downside is that because the oak is porous, there will be some evaporation and concentration of the wine itself in terms of its flavor and aroma. The age and condition of the oak also plays a strong role in how it affects the wine. In addition, you can only use an oak barrel for two to three years before it becomes worthless in holding the wine.
The stainless steel does not impart any flavor to the wine itself which may be seen as advantageous since the flavor will seem pure. Plus, you can control the amount of air that the wine is exposed to over the years which means you have more control over the fermentation process which is important depending on how much you want to age the wine itself.
This metal is highly durable and can be used repeatedly over many years which automatically gives it a strong advantage over oak. The economic advantage for wineries in using stainless steel is a powerful one which is why they have become so popular in recent years. It also helps that they are easier to clean than oak which means that they can be used repeatedly without carrying over the flavor of the previous wine that it contained.
Wine from stainless steel vats or barrels tends to be lighter, fresher, and crisper compared to oak containers. For wines that emphasize a fruity flavor, stainless steel offers considerable advantages. However, oak barrels provide more character, flavors, and aromas that are unique which is why they still have their many fans.
So, the differences between oak and stainless steel are considerable in terms of overall flavor and economics. For wine companies that want to emphasize the natural flavor of their product while saving money, stainless steel is the option. However, for wineries that want the unique flavors and aromas that only oak barrels can bring, they will choose this somewhat more expensive option.