To Oak or Not to Oak? Wine and Wood’s Changing Relationship

by

If 19th century wine makers caught a glimpse of contemporary viticulture, they would be astounded by the evolution of their craft over such a short period of time. A prime example is the recent move by many wine makers to change the relationship between wine and wood. Traditionally, the oak barrel in which a wine ferments and ages was thought to add a unique taste, character, and depth. This philosophy is still fiercely upheld by many wine makers, but others are choosing to deviate from tradition or disregard it altogether.

Oak staves, chips, and even powder have been brought into the mix in recent years. They are added to young wines as a more economic alternative to barrel aging.

More radical are those wine makers who forgo the oak all together, aging their wines in stainless steel barrels or other containers that have no bearing on the ultimate taste of the wine. This too is a more cost-effective way to make wine, but some prefer the taste of wine untainted by a wooden barrel. Unoaked Chardonnay is perhaps the most popular unoaked wine, but other varieties of white and red are starting  to become more prominent.

The following are links to three very interesting articles about this emerging wine trend.  Ultimately it seems that the choice between oaked and unoaked wines is matter of taste – some palettes simply prefer one to the other.

Wines for All Reasons, by Derek Foster for the Buenos Aires Herald.  So informative, this article gives concise explanations about varietal wines vs. blend wines and oaked wines vs. unoaked wines. Foster emphasizes three wines, each surprising and unique in composition or creation. One, a Tikal Locura 2006,  blends Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bonarda and Torrontes. Another is a Finca Los Maza Gran Reserva 540 Malbec 2002, aged for 19 months.

Wine Unwooded, by Paul Gregutt for the Seattle Times.  A lively explanation of how and why unoaked wines are gaining in popularity. Gregutt focuses on white wine, recommending six unoaked, unwooded, and virgin chardonnays including Starvedog Lane 2004 ‘No Oak’ Chardonnay ($15). He describes the Australian white as “tart but nicely structured; mixed peaches, guava and nectarine lead into a big, spicy finish.” Here’s a teaser:

“The best white wine grapes have complex aromatics, and much of the pleasure in wines such as riesling, gewurztraminer, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio comes from these subtle scents. Oak often obliterates such nuances. It can make wines too heavy and difficult to match with food. The switch to unoaked wine-making puts the natural flavors of the grape front and center, and also highlights nuances of the soil, particularly in places such as Sancerre and Chablis.”

The Rougher Than Rough Guide to Oak, by Ernie Whalley for forkncork.com. The former Food & Wine Magazine editor explains the history and nuances of oak after constructing a barrel himself. He writes:

“The exercise set me thinking a good deal about the juxtaposition of wine and oak. I returned to Dublin willing to discuss the experience with anyone who would listen. In doing so, I found that many of my wine-loving friends knew little about the effect of oak on wine though, usually in relation to Chardonnay, they were confident enough to express a preference for oaked or unoaked. Hopefully, these musings will help demystify the process a bit further.”

Of course the only way to determine what you prefer is to try some oaked and unoaked wines for yourself – Cheers!

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,

2 Responses to “To Oak or Not to Oak? Wine and Wood’s Changing Relationship”

  1. Carla Says:

    Very informative, well put together, and easy to follow blog.

  2. Ikal 1150 Wines of Argentina Says:

    good reads, thank you! we struggled with the question too and wound up with 55% neutral oak and 45% stainless on our Chardonnay… and no malolactic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: