The ICC group met on Thursday 7th January for a Tasting focusing on the use of oak. This tasting shifts the focus slightly to winemaking rather than just taste. Thinking about how the winemakers’ decisions concerning oak use for bringing up wine and how it affects the finished product.

Rather than show very heavily oaked examples against those with no oak I chose to focus on pairs of examples from similar sites of origin with reasonable, though divergent, oaking-methods employed. These pairs dealt with – in turn – Chardonnay from Burgundy; Tempranillo from Spain and Cabernet-dominated claret from Medoc.

The previous post contains a general discussion of oak strategies for winemakers.  So I’ve devised an index of the oak influence for a wine based on the type of oak, the age of the barrels and time spent in oak of each wine. This starts at 0 (no oak at all) and goes up to 10 (100% new American oak for one year then bottled). This gives an idea of how “oaky” the wine’s treatment is – to be considered against the product…

Here are my notes:
POUILLY-FUISSÉ “CANTRIUS” 2011   (Cave de Chaintré)  –   13%     –     Producer  £14
This Cuvée sees no oak at all, having élevage in tank for 18 months. It thus has an oak index of zero. Made from old-vines there should be enough richness to make the preserving of acidity and minerality a key aim for the winemaker. So it proves: the nose is fairly quiet then a peachy fruit-led nose with citric notes later. The palate has a citric acidity with a strong mineral line, rich texture opening to show slightly exotic peachy fruit (mango even maybe). Quite long with a food-friendly finish.
Ratings: Quality: 15/20     Value: 15/20

POUILLY-FUISSÉ “ LES CHEVENIÈRES” 2012  (Cave de Chaintré)  –   13%     –     Producer  £14
About 30% of this wine sees oak, half of it new, for one year. The wine is sourced from a mineral lieu-dit, with stony soil over a limestone sub-soil. The winemaker here would attempt to add richness and round the wine, with a slight oak influence, with oak-index . The nose is more open with detectable woody and floral notes, though no vanilla. The palate is softer with a limey citrus, melon fruit and a slightly spicy finish. The effects of oak seem to be a little rounding-off, with spicy notes. Very similar, but the softness just a touch diminishing the pleasure of the wine for me..
Ratings: Quality: 14.5/20     Value: 14.5/20

RIBERA DEL DUERO PSI  (Domino de Pingus)   2008    – 13%   –      R&B Wines £21
This is 100% Tempranillo, aged in used barrels from Pingus, oak vats and cement tanks: so with an oak index of 1. The nose has plum fruit and a meaty note with floral elements later. The palate has a firm overall shape with linear acidity, round tannins and strong red fruit. Quite elegant in a Bordeaux style with a well-defined finish, which  shades it over the Rioja IMO.
Ratings: Quality: 16.5/20     Value: 15.5/20

RIOJA RESERVA (Marques de Murrieta)   2004    – 14%   –      R&B Wines £19
This is 91% Tempranillo, aged for about 9 months in new American Oak and another 13 months or so in older wood followed by 2 years in bottle. An oak index approaching 7. Very obvious oak with baking spice, a little (but not too much) vanilla and a cedar element. The palate is soft, smooth, rounded with wood tones offsetting herby red fruit – a typical Rioja, in fact. The fruit develops a cherry cough mixture hint and blackberry hint. Oak is a feature of this wine – but well balanced.
Ratings: Quality: 16/20     Value: 15/20

CHATEAU HORTEVIE 2009    –   13½%      – Wine Soc £17
This St. Julien is 72% Cabernet, raised in barriques, 20% new, for 12 months – so with an oak-index of 2. Nose has cedar again with black fruit and plum notes. Palate is supple with ripe damson, spice – long, integrated and with vegetal undercurrents.
Ratings: Quality: 16/20     Value: 15.5/20

GOULÉE (Chateau Cos d’Estournel)  2008     – 13½%      –  R&B Wines £17
This Saint-Estèphe is 80% Cabernet aged in barriques, 50% new, for 14 months – giving an oak index of . This is very dark with a clear oaky nose, liquorice and black fruit. The palate is thick, with currant fruit and quite light wood hints interplaying with sweet fruit. Very good but the oaking “knocks the corners off” and simplifies the wine in a way – which is perceptible in direct comparison with the previous wine.
Ratings: Quality: 15/20     Value: 14.5/20

A very interesting tasting with different, but all well considered, approaches to the use of oak. All the wines showed well. and my own palate preferred the less obviously oaked wines a tad in each pair. However the slightly oaked Chardonnay would work well with some food and the red grapes can all sustain the use of wood well. So oak isn’t the enemy, just too much oak or thoughtless oak….

Until next time…