To wood, or not to wood, that is the question

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The late Len Evans, one of Australia's greatest wine ambassadors

The late Len Evans, one of Australia's greatest wine ambassadors [©]

To wood, or not to wood, that is the question, wrote the late wine legend Len Evans in this piece from the Winepros Archives.

Oak flavours become apparent in wine when such wine is aged for a period of time in a barrel, preferably a new one. Other flavours may be obtained by using oak chips or shaved oak which is soaked in the wine. At best, this tastes like dried pencil shavings, and is not desirable.

But good new oak does wonders for wine, and often the better the wine the more it needs it, or rather, the better the complementary flavours.

So why the vogue for unwooded Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is a great variety: forgiving, ubiquitous, full of flavour. At best, as with a great Le Montrachet - the king of all whites - it can be sublime, one of the greatest of all drinks. So why does it do best with oak flavours incorporated?

Because it does, that's why. It's like eggs and bacon, sausage and mash, oysters with a squeeze of lemon. All perfect partners that need each other.

I think unwooded Chardonnay has been foisted upon you. The winemaker/owners are too mean to pay the near $1000 that each new French barrel costs. Or perhaps they don't think their wine is good enough to require such expensive treatment.

That's fair enough, as long as the retail price reflects this, yet often it doesn't.

Consumers got irritated with too much dominant oak flavour and wines that are unbalanced. Be aware that most of this came from oak chips, barrels being simply too expensive to overload flavour.

One last word. All great Montrachet is matured in brand new barrels.


Reproduced with permission from Winepros Archives. First published May 2000.

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