Oak – The Wine Opium


He finds the taste of oak unbearable too 

“To add oak to the Japanese variety Koshu – whether to ferment in or/and elevage into – is tantamount to cooking a fatty, juicy slice of toro tuna instead of serving it raw. The chef, not the fish, should be cooked. Michelin French chefs have been known to inflict the same iniquity on Jamon Iberico of de bellota grade. Just so they never get to ever do it again, they should be deep-fried to an appropriate crisp”.

That’s the title and first paragraph of my March 2021 column in the United Kingdom’s The World of Fine Wine magazine.

Cooking and making wine are broadly similar.

The more garlic or black pepper you add to an ingredient, the less you will decipher of the fish or vegetable since you have traded their flavours for those of the garlic and black pepper.

The same applies to singing.

If the human voice were likened to the fruit of Pinot Noir or Grenache, the more oak you put into the taste of the wine, the less you will taste of the Pinot or the Grenache, just as when you drown out the singing voice with too noisy guitar, drums, and synthesizer.

Oak has become so much a part of the taste of wine (whisky and cognac too) that most people – I include MWs, MSs and what have you not – expect, even wish, for it to resonate in the glass.

Those who don’t know better can be excused. But, those who do and laud such encumbered wines with gold medals – even hoisting them to trophy – invent excuses such as “style” or “not ready now”. They are complicit in perpetuating oak excess even if the winemakers are the original culprits.

I once tasted a 5-year old Pinot Noir from 4-year old vines aged in 100% new French oak in China. I shudder even as I think of it now. The ruby red liquid tasted like water squeezed through sawdust pulverized from 100% new French oak.

“Grape Crusader” Laurent Ponsot of Burgundy describes it best what needs urgent undoing.

Our wines are aged in oak barrels for two years. We never use new barrels. This is because the natural ageing cycles of wines from Burgundy grape varieties are slow and require careful handling. With new wood, which is still very porous, the exchange with the outside of the barrel takes place too quickly. In addition, the taste of oak, even if natural in principle, is not original and is neither a feature of the terroir nor the grapes. We produce WINE and not wine- and oak-based drink

Wishing you A Good Weekend.


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