The Meaning of ‘Oak-Aged’

A couple of weeks ago in Bristol Wine Blog I wrote about an oak-aged wine. It seems I didn’t explain the term ‘oak-aged’ or say how can you tell if a wine tastes ‘oaky’?

The words relate to the fact that wine has to be made and stored in some kind of container before it is bottled ready for sale and the material used for that container will have an effect on how the wine tastes. Fermentation and storage tanks will often be made of stainless steel, which is inert, that is it has no flavour of its own.

Ch Dauzac Fermentation tanksWines made and stored in such tanks (pictured above) will taste fresh and clean and fruit flavours are most likely to predominate; typically, we might talk about the wine tasting of citrus or melon or tropical fruits. The same would be true of other neutral containers such as those made from concrete or glass.

Ch Dauzac barrelOn the other hand, the winemaker might use wooden barrels – large as above or much smaller – (usually made of oak, but other woods like chestnut can sometimes be used) to ferment or store the wine in. Wood is not inert – the grain is very slightly porous; not enough to allow the liquid to seep out, but sufficient to allow tiny amounts of air in. This air softens the wine slightly and changes its character. Also, depending on the age of the barrel, the wood itself may have a flavour which is transmitted into the wine; this is the ‘oaky’ taste I referred to and can include flavours like cinnamon, cloves or other spices, vanilla, toast, cigar boxes or pencil shavings. In all these cases, the flavours of the fruit should still be there but they will no longer be the principal taste.

If you want to sample the difference, I suggest you get 2 bottles of Rioja – 1 labelled Gran Reserva and the other without the words Crianza or Reserva on the label and taste them alongside one another. The Gran Reserva will be the oaky one.

Final question: is an oaked wine better than an unoaked? It all depends on your palate but, for me, there is a place for both.

 

 

 

Supermarket Bargains

More than half of all wine bought in the UK comes from supermarkets, but I rarely run courses focussing entirely in that area. Perhaps I should do so more often as my advert in Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre’s brochure gained an immediate response and the session was fully booked long before the day.

Supermarket customers expect low prices so I set myself a budget of £100 to buy 12 bottles – an average of around £8 a bottle. Among the wines I chose, several were from the supermarkets’ own label ranges, which are often good value and are the result of collaboration between their wine buyers and major producers in the various regions.

So, how did the wines go down? There were 4 clear favourites in the vote at the end of the day:

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The top dry white was the delightfully floral and fragrant Fetească Regală from Romania, part of Asda’s Wine Atlas range (an unbelievable bargain at only £5.25). Apart from its gaudy label, this would be an easy bottle to leave on the shelf, but that would be a mistake. Fetească Regală is a native grape to Romania and rarely seen elsewhere, but is clearly capable of producing delicious wines and Asda have found a real winner here.

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2 wines tied as the group’s favourite red: Tesco’s Finest Malbec (£8) was no surprise to me. Made for Tesco by one of Argentina’s most respected producers, Catena, this is lovely with flavours of blackberries and plums with hints of pepper and spice from brief oak ageing.

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The other joint red winner was Zalze’s Shiraz/Mourvèdre/Viognier blend from South Africa. Rich (14.5% alcohol) and spicy and with attractive black & red forest fruits, this will benefit from a little time and from decanting. Currently on special offer at a ridiculously cheap £6 in Morrisons (£7.50 after the 28 January) although Waitrose shoppers will have to pay £9 for the same wine.

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But the most popular of all was the dessert wine that we ended the day with. Lidl’s Pacherenc du Vic Bilh (£7.99) from south-west France is another bottle that would be easy to pass by. Quite delicate for a sweet wine but with lovely peach and honey flavours, this would be perfect with, say, an apple flan or try it with a blue cheese.

Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable day for all and clear proof that, if you look carefully, there are bargains to be found in your local supermarket.

For readers local to Bristol, my next Stoke Lodge course is on Saturday 7 March and focusses on wines from Germany, Austria and Hungary. For more details and to book: http://www.bristolcourses.com

Oaked with Smoked?

I’m usually quite dismissive of some of the common food and wine matching tips. Especially the one about white wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat. It’s just too simple and ignores the fact that the flavour to match in any dish is often the sauce rather than the main ingredient. And, in any case, everyone’s taste is different so why not drink what you like rather than anyone else’s suggestion of the ‘right’ wine?

But there is a saying that ‘with smoked try oaked’. Sounds a bit too glib to be true but I put it to the test recently anyway. We’d bought some delicious hot-smoked salmon fillets from Brown and Forrest, an artisan smokery not far from us, and decided to use them as a sauce over some fresh pasta. To accompany the dish, we opened a bottle of Crasto white from Portugal’s Douro region (Great Western Wine, £16.95).

Crasto white

A blend of 2 local grapes, Verdelho and Viosinho that had been oak aged for 6 months. On first sniff, the wine was decidedly oaky and in the mouth that was the main sensation that came through before we tasted it with the food. But, with the smoky, fishy pasta sauce (the flavours softened with some Crème Fraiche), the oakiness became much more restrained and harmonious and the wine’s creamy, rich character revealed itself.

It might not have been the wine I would instinctively have chosen with the dish but, having tasted it, I have to admit that, in this case, both my wife and I agreed that with smoked try oaked. In fact, my wife actually thought that something a bit oakier might have been even better.

So, there you have it – sometimes these food and wine matching sayings do work. Just don’t always rely on them!

Georges Duboeuf

Duboeuf thank Getty Images

(picture above thanks to Getty Images)

I was sad to read of the death, earlier this week, of one of the iconic figures of French wine, Georges Duboeuf. Nicknamed either the ‘King of Beaujolais’ or, sometimes, the ‘Pope of Beaujolais’, he transformed an unfashionable and declining Appellation into a name known throughout the wine world.

Duboeuf joined the family wine business after leaving school and the story is told that, with the typical energy of youth, he strapped some samples to his bicycle and rode off to meet some of the top restaurateurs of the day. He was clearly persuasive as a number of his bottles found their way onto prestigious wine lists. His ability to make contacts served him well and, within a few years, he brought together a group of more than 40 local winemakers in “L’Ecrin Mâconnais-Beaujolais” to market the wines of his home region.

In his 30s, he started his own wine merchant business, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, where, to gain wider attention among customers, he began bottling the wines with the distinctive flower labels that have now become so familiar.

Duboeuf flower label

But his commercial ability didn’t end there. He created a cult around Beaujolais Nouveau Day – the 3rd Thursday in November when the first bottles of that year’s wine were released, made from grapes that were still on the vine just a few weeks earlier. He threw lavish parties, inviting film stars, famous artists and sports heroes and enlisted famous racing drivers to race each other into Paris on the Day to be the first to deliver the new wine to the capital’s restaurants. Races to New York and London followed and he increased his sales of the wine six-fold.

Without him, and his energy, Beaujolais may have become just another French country wine. As it is, we can all enjoy its fruity, food-friendly pleasures.

Let’s raise a glass to his memory.

 

 

Why did I buy that?

“Now why did I buy that wine and what’s it going to taste like?” It’s not a dilemma I face often – I usually know what I’ve bought and why. But, every now and then, I see something unusual that catches my attention and so I buy it. Normally, we drink it within a few weeks, but, sometimes, for no particular reason, it sits in our wine rack for months until I’ve completely forgotten what drew me to it or what to expect when I open it.

Montefalco Bianco

 

That’s just what happened with Scacciadiavoli’s Montefalco Bianco from Umbria in Central Italy (Wine Society, £13.95). I must have had a good reason to buy it but, when I looked at it, I just couldn’t remember what it was or – perhaps more importantly – what to drink it with to enjoy it at its best.

I know the name ‘Montefalco’ – it’s a red wine similar in style to a nice Chianti, but this was a white. I guessed my wine would be dry and, with 13% alcohol, reasonably full bodied. But what else? Not a word about it in Jancis Robinson’s wine ‘bible’ and just a single line in my usually helpful Italian wine guide. Even the Wine Society’s tasting notes were a bit sparse so I decided that we should try it with some roasted monkfish with rosemary and tomatoes; fortunately, it worked perfectly.

The wine was, as I thought, quite generous and rich in the mouth; also really complex in a tangy, spicy sort of way with hints of pineapple and peach and a lovely long dry savoury finish. It’s made from an unusual blend of 2 local grapes, trebbiano spoletino and grechetto with a touch of chardonnay added which had been fermented in old oak barrels. The trebbiano, which can be quite neutral and bland, had been left on its skins as you would for a red wine which gave it some attractive texture in the mouth.

So, a very pleasant surprise in the end but a nudge that, next time I buy something obscure, to note down what to expect!