Friday, May 24, 2024

Everything You Need to Know About Oak

                                         The type of barrel toasting dramatically effects a wine  

Oak can have a profound effect on the wine in your glass, whether it be white or red.  It can change the color, alter the aroma, transform the texture, impact the taste, and even make a difference in the wine’s finish.   While I’ve attended hundreds of professional-level wine seminars, the most intriguing was a session on the effect of oak.   Although it was over twenty-five years ago, this seminar left an indelible mark on me.

                            Light toasting is made with a small fire for a short amount of time

During this “Effects of Oak” presentation, there were a dozen wines to taste.  It is important to note that all wines were the same vintage, made from the same exact grape mixture, and crafted by the same winemaker.  Six were white, the other half were red.  Where the wines deviated was their exposure to differing amounts of oak toasting as follows:

·        One white & one red had no oak exposure.

·        One white & one red had been in a “lightly toasted” barrel for 6 months.

·        One white & one red had been in a “medium toasted” barrel for 6 months

·        One white & one red had been in a “heavily toasted” barrel for 6 months

·        One white & red had been in a lightly toasted barrel for one year

·        One white & red were a mélange of all wines above.


   Heavily toasted barrels are sometimes used in stronger reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon & Malbec

The use of differing toast levels on barrels can dramatically alter the aromas and flavors.  For example, a lightly toasted barrel imparts the delicate flavor of vanilla.  A medium toast can contribute more butterscotch nuances and cocoa.  A heavy toast ratchets up the intensity to espresso, smoky, and caramelized sugar.   But it’s not only the flavors that are affected by oak.   Tannins from the oak also affect the color and the weight of the wine. White wines aged in oak have a deeper intensity in color and texture than their non-oaked versions.  Wines aged in oak for a long period have a more viscous, creamy texture caused by the tannins in the oak.

 Essentially, the winemaker becomes the chef when choosing his oak “recipe.”  In lieu of marinating, grilling or poaching, salt and pepper, the winemaker chooses the type of oak, the amount of toasting, and the length of aging to create nuances in wine such as cloves, coconut, hazelnut, cinnamon, tobacco, cedar, chocolate and mocha.

Coming to Burgundy with Wine-Knows in September?   If so, you'll get to see the entire barrel making process, including the different types of toasting.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Mineral Tastes in Wine----HUH?

                              Bordeaux's iconic Graves district is named for its "gravel" soil 

If you are a wine geek, the above title will most likely elicit an enthusiastic response such as “totally.”  But, if you’re a regular human being (even a wine-lover) you will undoubtedly think, “Huh---wine tastes like rocks?”  The answer is yes…and no.  Let me explain.

The influence of minerality in the smell & taste of wine is found in the earth inorganic portion of the                                                                             sensory wheel

Yes, wine professionals are now using “mineral” terms to describe a wine.  You may see it in descriptor words such as “flinty,”  “gun metal,”  “pencil lead,” "steely," or even “wet stone.”  While wine does not, of course, taste like rocks some wines have a kind of stoniness.   Which begs the question:  who in the world ever tastes a rock?  The answer is, "I do!"  Years ago I was in a vineyard at the foot of the Andes in Argentina when the winemaker said to our group, “Find a rock, pick it up, and lick it.”  He wasn’t kidding so I did.  He then proceeded with an impromptu discussion on the mineral tastes in wine.  That was nearly 20 years in the past and I’ll never forget it.  (By the way, I tasted saltiness in my rock.)

                                              Umami is a Japanese word meaning "savory"

Think of minerality as the umami of the wine world.  Umami is the term for savoriness (mushrooms, miso, soy sauce, parmigiano-reggiano).   The fifth basic taste, it is not sweet, sour, salty nor bitter.  Try to describe umami.   It’s hard to describe, right?   Furthermore, some people experience the umami minerality in the nose of a wine.  Others, experience the umami minerality in the taste.

  Riesling is one of the varieties that best demonstrate mineralty in wine (the other is Chablis made in                                                             France from Chardonnay)

The million-dollar question is how does this mineral mystery taste get into wine?  We know emphatically that it is not from the minerals in the vineyard soil being absorbed by the vine. (Just as we know that other flavors found in wine….such as strawberries & grassiness, are not from the soil but are a by-product of fermentation).   Researchers are trying to unlock the minerality issue.  In the meanwhile, why not taste a rock to see what you think?  Or, simply purchase a dry Riesling or a French Chablis and have a go at it. These two types of wine offer compelling minerality.