Oenophiles at Loggerheads (by Eric Pfanner)

Posted: May 15, 2013 by wynmaker in Oenology, Vinification, Wine, Winemaking, World wine news
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Oenophiles participating in a tasting workshop.

Oenophiles participating in a tasting workshop.

 

AŸ, FRANCE — Want to start a fight at a wine tasting? Just mention “oak.”
Few issues get wine lovers as worked up as the question of whether to ferment or age wine in wooden barrels, usually made of oak. Doing so can help mellow the wine and add structure, richness and complexity. Done with a heavy hand, it can also smother the wine with the vanilla-like flavor of oak, obscuring its fruit, freshness and origins.

The use of oak increased in the 1980s and ’90s as winemakers around the world responded to consumer demand and critical acclaim for ripe, powerful reds and plump, buttery whites. Then came the backlash. Now things have swung so far that some self-consciously trendy wine drinkers recoil in mock horror at any hint of wood, extolling the virtues of wines made in vats of stainless steel or other neutral materials.

Dining at a fashionable organic restaurant in London not long ago, I overheard a woman at the neighboring table tell her partner, “Mmm, this is a good chardonnay; it must have been unoaked” – as if that grape variety grew on trees, making oak removal one of the necessary stages in the production of a good chardonnay.

But when it comes to oak, at least one wine region, Champagne, is — forgive me — going against the grain. And you will find no stronger champion of oak than Claude Giraud, who runs Champagne Henri Giraud, a medium-size, family-owned producer in the grand cru village of Aÿ.

 

Read on …

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