Aging wines in oak casks has been a common practice in wine making for many a millennia. The oak on the interior of these casks is lightly toasted and depart more complexity and flavor to wines. While oak casks aren't typically feasible for most home winemakers other options such as oak cubes, oak chips, and oak spirals allow homemade wines to reap the benefits of including oak into the fermentation process.
Help With Choosing Oak
French oak? American oak? Light roast? Dark roast? There are a lot of options in choosing what oak will impart the desired flavor profile to your wine. The following are close approximations of what each type of oak and its roasting profile adds to wine. This is meant for reference only, and the many variations of each wine's flavor chemistry will cause differences in how each type of oak/toast profile will translate to your wine.
French Oak Flavor Summary
French oak adds flavors of spices like cinnamon and all spice along with caramel, vanilla, tea, toffee, toasted coffee and chocolate. As the roast level in French Oak increases the fruity aspects change from fresh to jammy and toward cooked fruit and rasin in profile. French Oak has a higher tannin content than American Oak which adds to the complexity and structure of the wine.
American Oak Flavor Summary
American Oak imparts introduces flavors of vanilla, toasted coconut, honey, caramel and coffee and has a more intense flavor than French Oak. The lower amount of tannins means it adds less body and mouth feel to the wine. American Oak has a more cooked fruit flavor than a fresh and jammy quality at every toast level, becoming more jammy with deeper roasting profiles. American Oak adds more aromatic sweetness than its French Oak counterpart.
Hungarian Oak Flavor Summary
The Hungarian Oak again adds vanilla and slight coffee tones, but differing from American and French Oak - adds black pepper and bittersweet chocolate notes.
General Notes on Oak Toast Levels