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Wood shavings for French wine

by Thomas » Thu Mar 30, 2006 12:36 pm

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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Paul B. » Thu Mar 30, 2006 2:09 pm

We have to make wine for consumers, not wine that producers dream of," Bernard Pomel, the author of a wine report commissioned by the ministry, told le Figaro newspaper.

Hmmm ... to me that sends a mixed blessing. Just by that logic, I guess we can expect to see more sweetish, inoffensive wines coming out of France because that's what the perceived market demand will be for?

I know that business is tight and all, but I can't imagine sawdust-flavoured wines doing much to improve things.

I just hope that artisanal producers will not feel the temptation to switch from quality oak to sawdust just to save a buck.
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Thomas » Thu Mar 30, 2006 4:02 pm

Paul,

In an article I read somewhere else about the subject, a California winemaker said that people can't tell the difference between a barrel and a shaving treatment, so what's the big deal. The article alluded to prime French houses already using chips, but they offered no evidence, a practice I hate as ostensible news reporting.
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Oliver McCrum » Thu Mar 30, 2006 4:35 pm

I have heard the same rumors, and tasted wines that certainly had the signs of chips. I believe chips are permitted in the EU for 'experimental' purposes...
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Bill Hooper » Fri Mar 31, 2006 2:03 am

I seriously doubt this will be an issue with wine that anyone here is likely to drink. Just stay away from wines with blue tricycles and red bikes and perhaps yellow skateboards on the label.


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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Howie Hart » Fri Mar 31, 2006 9:30 am

Oliver McCrum wrote:I have heard the same rumors, and tasted wines that certainly had the signs of chips. I believe chips are permitted in the EU for 'experimental' purposes...

What do chips taste like? From my understanding the only difference between chips and barrels is that wine in barrels, over time, slightly oxidizes and the alcohol content rises. I use oak chips in the small batches of wines I make at home as barrels for these quantities are not appropriate. At the home wine supply store oak chips are available in several types of oak (French, Hungarian, American), in several "toasts" and sizes ranging from sawdust to 1/2 in cubes.
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Thomas » Fri Mar 31, 2006 9:54 am

Howie,

You bring up the very point that the California winemaker brought up. The difference, if anyone can tell by tasting the wine, likely shows up in the taste of oxidation. But if the wine is in good shape, the oxidation from barrel aging shouldn't be too invasive and so most people, especially those who have no palate/sensory training, wouldn't be able to focus on the difference between barrel aged and wood chips.

In addition, a winemaker using chips could also duplicate to some extent the oxidative nature of barrel aging through other, technical, means.

I would not want to be tested on this, but I believe the difference may be discernable if one can focus on integration. The way I look at it, chips invade--barrels are more communal to the wine.

To me the issue brings up another point. What is it we are trying to do to wine by adding wood to it? In barrels it isn't only the wood but the oxidation and integration. If chips can't offer that, why are they used at all?

To take the issue further, I always wonder why barrels became part of the winemaking process. Barrels were first used to store and to transport wine (there were no stainless tanks back then). From my understanding, barrels were introduced by the Franks who had a lot of forest wood and who had neither pottery know-how nor desire to learn. When Rome fell, so did the amphora, and so rose the use of barrels for storage and shipping. I'll bet the Franks didn't toast their barrels, didn't blend wine aged in old and new wood, probably didn't ferment in them either.

The older I get, the less I enjoy wine as wood, so I am not crazy about the direction of chips. I fear Bill may be wrong. The "expensive" geek-oriented wines will be chipped too--and some already are...
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Howie Hart » Fri Mar 31, 2006 11:13 am

Thomas wrote:What is it we are trying to do to wine by adding wood to it? In barrels it isn't only the wood but the oxidation and integration. If chips can't offer that, why are they used at all? ...

Well, obviously, the wood imparts certain flavors to the wine. Personally (for my taste), I think it improves some wines I've made at home - CF, Merlot, a Foch-Vidal blend I make and Chard (I do some oaked and some not). Gamay is fine without, as are all other whites. One time, as an experiment, I put Vidal through ML, aged it on oak chips and bottled it bone dry. It was intersting, but no longer like any Vidal I had ever had. This was demonstrated when I entered it in the NY State Fair and it was thrown out in the preliminaries because "it lacked varietal character". Oak chips are the only "flavor additive" that I think is acceptable. At a local home wine competition a few years ago, there was an entry in the "Specialty" category, where the winemaker fermented late harvest Vidal with vanilla beans. I thought the wine was appalling, but the judges gave it a gold.
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Paul B. » Fri Mar 31, 2006 12:01 pm

Howie Hart wrote:the winemaker fermented late harvest Vidal with vanilla beans. I thought the wine was appalling, but the judges gave it a gold.

It seems like the judges must have had a vanilla fetish or something.

I agree that oak can add welcome qualities to certain wines, but it certainly shouldn't be taken that vanilla added to every wine will automatically make it better. That's just "putting on the makeup" as was said in Mondovino!
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Thomas » Fri Mar 31, 2006 12:40 pm

Both you guys have overlooked the point I made about the difference between the historical use of oak and the present-day desire for a wood taste in wine. I'll assume I wasn't clear enough.

To my palate, after the product's overall make up and structure at harvest, wine complexity has more to do with what happens to it over time than with flavors that are introduced to it. In any event, vanilla and flavors like it in wine usually turn me off if they are too pronounced and too obviously the result of wood, whether chips or barrels. Howie, your Vidal story makes the point well--as far as I know, there aren't any grape varietal characters akin to wood, certainly not a fresh, fruity Vidal!
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Thomas » Sun Apr 02, 2006 9:26 am

John,

That story has been told in many forms and about a variety of wines, including Madeira. I wouldn't put much stock in the story.

Having said that, I do believe that aging wine in oak makes a world of difference as compared to adding sawdust to it--no doubt in my mind--which is why I ask the question: what is the reason for the wood?

I'm not much of a fan in either case; it's not that I don't like oak aging; it's that I don't care much for the extent to which table wine is often subjected to it. In fortified wines, however, I think it is a blessing.
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Re: Wood shavings for French wine

by Oliver McCrum » Mon Apr 03, 2006 2:30 am

I think it's certainly possible to discern the taste of oak chips in wine. Since the chips add the flavor of wood without the effect of wood, you have a specious oaky flavor without the rounding effect (and beneficial oxidation, as has been mentioned) of barrel aging. An obviously pink/violet-rimmed wine with oak flavors is an obvious give-away.

The Oxford Companion is very good here, I believe under Flavor of Wood and Effect of Wood.
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