From the Cellar
From the Cellar - by Karl Webber
September/October 2011 Natural Food News
To oak or not to oak? Or better still, to taste wood or fruit? This has been a hotly debated topic for many years. The consumer demand pendulum swings back and forth. Currently it’s swinging to unoaked and the hot new marketing term being bandied about is “naked.” Hence, wines with “naked” on the label are presented as having little or no oak aging.
Oak aging has been used for centuries to smooth out tannins and decrease the bitter astringency common in red wine. It also helps create the layers of flavor and complexity that are associated with the world’s best red wines.
The chardonnay grape, when aged in steel, may taste of tart apple or light lemon and pear with a tight, crisp mouth feel. When aged in oak, it can take on a creamy texture and vanilla aroma with a buttered toast or butterscotch flavor. Seasonality, food pairings, and taste profile may effect your selection. (Taste profile could describe the wine itself or the style of wine you may prefer to drink. This can be manipulated by a variety of factors during the winemaking process.)
The difference in taste profiles, based on the type of aging vessel, is now being applied to other grapes as well, especially red grapes. Other than chardonnay, most white wines are not aged in oak so the “naked” concept seems moot. Wine producers claim wines aged in steel produce a truer reflection of, not only the grape variety, but also the land on which it was grown.
When it comes to red wines, however, the problem is the bitter tannins, which occur in higher amounts in red wines because of the extended time of skin contact with the grapes during fermentation. Tannin in red wine is what doctors claim can reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. This is where the “glass of red wine a day” prescription comes from. (You can Google “French Paradox” for information on dietary fat intake and cardiovascular disease in relation to red wine consumption.)
Since the 1980s, the consumption of wine, and the demand for red wine in particular, has skyrocketed. The French Paradox has contributed to this as well as the “foodie movement,” and consumer demand for different beverages for different occasions. When demand broadens across a wider demographic area, more taste profiles need to be met. Nothing gets an industry motivated faster than lots of people waving money around saying “I want...”
As the demand for sweeter, “fruit forward” styles of wine increases, marketers and wine producers respond accordingly. Thus the “naked wine” trend is born. Combine bountiful harvest years with inexpensive winemaking technology and everyone is happy.
Look for steel-aged, Simply Naked and The Naked Grape wines in Oryana’s wine department and if you’re so inclined, engage me in a conversation...to oak or not to oak? Saluté.
Appellation in Wine Selection
January/February 2012 Natural Food News
Let’s talk about appellation. No, I’m not talking about a hike on the Appalachian Trail. When the former spelling is used with regard to wine, it’s a reference to where the wine came from and specifically, where the grapes were grown. It won’t always mean where the wine was actually made because many wines are made off site of the vineyards where the grapes are grown.
Appellation indicates the country, region, state and/or county in which the grapes were grown. It can be reduced even further to certain vineyards or locations within a vineyard. Imagine a big circle with corresponding circles on the inside getting smaller and smaller.
In the U.S., wines are named for the grape from which they’re made and there must be a minimum of 75% of that grape in the wine. In Europe, wines are named for the region in which the grapes are grown, even though the same types of grapes are used to make wine as here in the U.S. Some European wines for export to the U.S. are now using the grape type on the label to make it easier for consumers to determine grape varietal type.
With European wines, appellation is important in the sense of knowing your geography when choosing wine because the label may not even contain the name of the grape. It is less mysterious in the U.S. because we use the varietal naming system. As an aside, blended wines that contain less than the minimum 75% of a single grape from which they would be named can be called any name. This is where appellation comes in.
Think about those circles again. If a label says American Riesling, the grapes could be from anywhere in the U.S. If it says California chardonnay, the grapes are from California only. If it says Napa Valley cabernet, the grapes are from Napa Valley only. As the circles get smaller, factors of geography, climate, and soil become even more important related to appellation.
Napa Valley in California is about 30 miles long and from one to five miles wide, yet contains a wildly varying degree of growing climates. Now we’re talking about smaller circles within circles, such as Calistoga, Rutherford, or Oakville. These are towns along state highway 29 and you may see them on your wine label.
The circles can then keep getting smaller to the wineries within towns and even to certain vineyards within the wine estate itself. This is where the much-prized single vineyard cabernets would originate.
I hope that this information is helpful to you in understanding and choosing wines. Also, I hope it will encourage you to make new selections based on appellations. Saluté.