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Sep 14, 2012 11:20 PM

Red unoaked wine ... like or dislike ?

Please comment on reds only, but does unoaked wine leave you wanting more flavor? TIA.

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  1. Not if it's well-made.

    Head for the Loire region for examples.

    1 Reply
    1. To differ SLIGHTLY from what's been said so far, I don't think it's a question of whether the wine is simply "well made" or not. Rather, it depends upon the grape variety, the style of the wine being made, and the geographic location of the vineyard.

      Further, I am PRESUMING that the OP is referring to NEW oak, as opposed to purely UN-oaked. A great number of wineries throughout the world will age their wine is large oak foudres or demi-muids or huge ovals or uprights that may be 100+ years old. These oak vessels do not contribute one iota of oak FLAVOR to the wine, but you would definitely notice the difference between HOLDING the wine in stainless steel for, say, two years, versus AGING the wine in neutral cooperage.

      Some reds are unoaked -- i.e. never saw the inside of an oak barrel, regardless of age -- and can be fantastic!

      Some reds are aged in neutral oak -- i.e. never saw the inside of anything younger than, say, a 5th, 10th, 50th use oak barrel -- and can be fantastic!

      Some reds are oaked -- i.e. aged in a mélange of various barrels, and of various age -- and can be fantastic!

      Some reds are oaked -- i.e. aged in flavorful, relatively young (or even new) oak barrels -- and can be fantastic!

      Others . . . in EVERY category above . . . can be gawd-awful. It all depends.

      8 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        so well written..........thanks for the post.

        1. re: zin1953

          VERY interesting and informative reply, zin1953.

          Where I mention 'unoaked', I'm referring to never coming in contact with wood whatsoever. Storage of these wines is apparently in stainless steel tanks and then bottled from there onward. I am posing the question to the wine connoisseurs here because there are some Barbera d'Alba wines I'm exploring that are produced in just this fashion.

          1. re: Cheese Boy

            Some red (and white) wines are fermented in stainless; some in glass-lined tanks; some in concrete (or granite) vats. This is true for wines produced in California, in France, in Italy -- all over. Now, obviously, you cannot keep the wine, once it has finished with fermentation, in an open-topped concrete vats -- or, for that matter, open-topped stainless, open-topped redwood vats, etc., etc. Since there is no redwood in Italy, we will presume that isn't an option, even though -- technically -- it's not "oaked." ;^)

            I'm not aware, off the top of my head, of unoaked Barbera d'Alba, but it could certainly work . . . although, I think, I'd prefer it with some aging . . . rather than just held in stainless.

            Once upon a time, I worked for one of the classic Napa Valley wineries. I had a tank sample of a 1974 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet from a different winery. I held onto it, and opened it for the winemaker, the asst. winemaker, the owner (and former winemaker), and other folks at the winery for which I worked as a part of a blind tasting of 1974 vintage Napa Cabs. Included in the tasting were our own reserve Cab and a bottle of the finished wine represented by the tank sample. The tank sample was fermented in stainless and aged in bottle for three years.

            Upon tasting the tank sample, the owner -- who had been making wine in the Napa Valley since the 1940s -- made the best comment: "Now we know why we use oak."

            Some wines NEED it. On the other hand, he also said, "If you want to taste oak, chew a toothpick."

            My take on using oak is -- in one sense -- akin to making soup.

            Suppose you slice and dice all your vegetables, toss them in a stock pot, put the stock pot on the stove, and go away for several hours. What happens? Nothing -- you forget to turn on the gas. Thus what you have is a bunch of raw, fresh vegetables that have been soaking in cold water. That is roughly akin to keeping a wine in stainless steel.

            OK, so this time you turn on the gas. The vegetables cook. But if you taste the soup, it's pretty bland. Why? You forgot to add any herbs and spices. You can use your great-grandmother's century-old stock pot. It's a perfectly good vessel for cooking the soup. Well, so too is a 100-year old barrel a perfectly good vessel for aging the wine. But you won't get any oak flavor, any "spice."

            But if you use all new oak, you get too much "spice." It really IS like soup: if the first think you taste is the salt, the chef added too much salt to the soup. Well -- if the first think you taste is the oak . . . it's too much.

            Some people like a little salt; some people like a lot. But no salt, and something is missing . . .

            1. re: zin1953

              When I see posts, about "un-oaked absolutely," I am reminded of the ABC1 (Anything BUT Chardonnay), and ABC2 (Anything BUT Cabernet) movements, that have been popularized by too many in the "wine porn industry."

              Someone must have written an "un-oaked" article, or posted to their blog.

              I am seeing similar posts all over, and cannot imagine that so many people have developed an allergy to oak.

              Maybe I am wrong?


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Well, if we broaden the discussion to include ALL wines . . . certainly the pendulum swing has gone away from the over-oaked style of Chardonnay and back towards the lighter-, no-oak style of Chardonnay.

                We both know of reds that are delightful with no oak FLAVOR to them whatsoever.

                There are any number of Northern Rhône Syrahs, for example, that I prefer from very old foudres rather than from new barriques . . . but I stand by my earlier sentiment that (most) red wines will benefit from some aging prior to bottling, and that doesn't happen in an inert stainless steel tanks. You can age wine in old inert barrels, and obtain no oak *flavor* whatsoever.

                And we haven't even addressed the idea of "unbaked" wines that are aged in chestnut.


                1. re: zin1953


                  I do agree.

                  I puzzle a bit, when a "revolt" begins, usually based on some popular tid-bit of fulff, and suddenly no one can drink wines that ever saw oak. This does not depend on the wines in question. Suddenly oak is bad, and should be shunned at all costs. Suddenly, dozens of wines will pop up, that are totally un-oaked. I have tried many of the "new-comers," and find most lacking horribly.

                  That does NOT mean that oak is not overdone. We all know that it is, and those are wines that we shun. They are caricatures of wine, IMHO. However, if there are 20M tweets on only drinking un-oaked wines, so be it - everyone jumps aboard.

                  Same thing with the ABC movements. Yes, there was plonk on both sides of that C (Cabernet and Chardonnay), but there were still wonderful examples of both. Many people missed those, but that DID leave more of both for me, so all was not bad.

                  Next month it will likely be wine with butterfly wing dust in it, and everyone will be clamoring the hillsides, looking for it. Sheeple are always good for a laugh.

                  Now, many well-crafted wines do not see oak, and would likely not benefit from it. They see glass, stainless, concrete, etc., and are the better FOR it. It just depends on the wine.

                  IMO, the reaction to overly-oaked wines is NOT totally un-oaked wines, but well-made wines, perhaps with, or without any oak contact. I feel that the masses overreact, and if they read something, they immediately assume that whoever wrote it, is some sort of a guru.

                  In the end, it should be about the wines. It should be about the balance. If there are flaws (not talking TCA, etc. here), there will be much better wines out there. Just find those.

                  Still, the masses seemed queued up, just waiting for the next tweet to move the flash-mob down the street - to low ABV, to high ABV to totally un-oaked to anything but Cab, or Chard.

                  Sorry to be so sour and so dour.


          2. re: zin1953

            Thanks, zin1953. My thoughts, but better, and more thorough.

          3. You might want to take a look at the article linked below on wood vs steel by Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux. I particularly enjoyed his conclusion:

            Oak acts directly and indirectly, in a determining manner in the evolution of great red wine. But the wood in wine must be modest like the men who make wine and know how to hide behind the personality of that which it is there to help. Good wood does not make a great wine, it reveals itself. The wood plays a role in the process of evolution, but is not the end in itself nor the final result. Increasingly and especially among the new producer and/or consumer countries one associates the ‘taste of wood’ with quality in wine. But it is in fact the reverse. Wood only dominates mediocre wine. Its vocation is to disappear, to melt, to-be forgotten. It is the condiment which enriches the sauce without spoiling the taste. The man who has really managed to bring about the marriage of oak and “wine must work untiringly to render this union as harmonious as possible.


            3 Replies
                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  The oak/wine allergy is real and a problem for many. It took me long time to figure out why I had terrible respiratory problems (instant asthma attack) and migraines to certain wines and it was something that is transient in my family as is cow dairy intolerance. So anything that has been in oak is a problem and depending on how long it has been in it, the reaction can be within 15 minutes or a few hours. It is probably more problematic for people with autoimmune issues whose tolerance varies. I was skeptical but went down the route of trying all kinds of wines until I realized that was the issue. It could be the kind of mold on the wine barrels because white table wine from Greece goes through wood, but it doesn't make me sick or perhaps it isn't in barrels long enough. Most Chardonnay's however will give me a reaction and I haven't touched a Cab or Pinot in over a decade (so depressed about it).

                  The transient nature of it is possible because of the variation in histamines in the body fluctuates. If your system has been on fight mode for a while, a little extra pushes it over the top to some crazy reactions (giant hives anyone?). There is a nice review article on PubMed, but it hasn't been studied enough although as immunologic studies are now funded more for cancer research, maybe we will learn something new. I suppose the answer is to take a big dose of antihistamines and steroids and go wine tasting, but really I don't think that would be a fun trip :


                  Allergies aside, where can I find a good selection of unoaked reds besides Wine Expo?

                  I am willing to take a plunge for science and try some of the other wooded wines you speak of so would love to get more recommendations.

              1. Not at all. I look for some unoaked reds every fall here (S France). Good ones are not easy to find. For fish, poultry.