The Great Oak Controversy of 2007

    One of the hot topics in the wine world last year involved the overuse of oak barrels by some vintners.

     How could oak barrels possibly be controversial? The short answer is that, by an increasing number of winemakers in a growing number of wine-producing countries, wine is being “manufactured” as opposed to “crafted.”

     What I mean by that is this: Instead of making a wine that is a direct reflection of the grapes and the climate, more and more vintners are blending grape varieties, selecting specific types of oak barrels and embracing certain types of yeast in the fermentation process in order to produce a wine that fits a predetermined model – a model that will appeal to certain critics who have great influence on the marketplace.

     Oak barrels play a key role in the scenario because they contribute an array of aromas and flavors to wine, depending on where the oak trees were grown, how the barrels were toasted and the number of years they’ve been in use. French oak imparts different nuances than American oak, which imparts different nuances than Slovenian oak and so on. The variables are numerous.

     Personally, I like a little oak influence in my wine – a little, not a lot -because it adds another flavor dimension I find pleasing. But when vintners make big oaky “monster wines” in an attempt to get a big score from an influential critic, they lose me. I want to taste fruit and earth flavors with a mild oak framework: I don’t want to feel like I just bit into an oak tree.

     Some vintners are going against the grain, using less oak and the critics be damned.

     Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal taste, and another reason wine drinking is so fulfilling.

     You don’t find many people arguing over hot dogs, but it’s usually pretty easy to get into a debate about wine.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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