Check out the radio show on The Ranch 107.1FM or 97.9FM in The Bitterroot Valley. How about a live stream feed at www.107theranch.com. The WineGuyMike™ Radio Show© with Scott and Paula on The Ranch airs weekly on Wednesday mornings at 8:20AM MDT.
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The show is sponsored by Grizzly Liquor, “Missoula’s Best Choice”. Follow Grizzly Liquor on their Facebook fan page – Grizzly Liquor Missoula
Ciao Mambo, “Eat Like You Mean It”, located in Missoula on The Hip Strip. Find them online at www.CiaoMambo.com
This week’s winners are; Laurie Bracken and Jon Bertche
This week’s winning question; Laurie Bracken asks, Hi Mike, my question is on how to choose wines that arent’ oaky….I like both reds and whites…don’t care for really sweet wines, but know I definitely don’t care for wines that have an oaky flavor….so would love to know how to stay away from them. Thank you!!!
Laurie that is a great question and I will answer you by also sharing with you all things oak and will also speak to Steel Barrel fermentation and aging which are the styles of wines I think you will enjoy much more. Cheers Laurie and thank you for your question.
Oak barrel fermenting and oak barrel aging while both very different both have a significant influence on the winemaking process. Oak barrels affect the color, flavor, tannin, and texture of a wine. First we need to understand a few basics about the wine making process so we can begin to understand how the use of Oak or Steel Barrel fermentation or aging process influences wines. Understanding a little about this empowers us as a consumer to make better purchasing choices that will be satisfying when we actually drink the wine.
Fermentation is the process of turning Grape Juice into an alcoholic beverage. These are three methods of fermentation:
- Bottle Fermentation; Champagne undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle by adding sugar and yeast.
- Carbonic Fermentation; Grapes are stored in large containers filled with Carbon Dioxide. Enzymes inside the grape break down the internal cellular matter of the grape and produce ethanol. This is how Beaujolais is made; this technique produces soft, fruity wines.
- Malolactic Fermentation; this is a secondary fermentation process that refines a wine by converting malic acid into lactic acid. The wine is rendered less tart or acidic and the wine is softer and rounder as a result.
Aging is the process of wine (already fermented) being placed into a barrel for maturation, better known as aging the wine. French and American Oak are the most familiar types of barrels used in winemaking. They are not the only ones though and winemakers throughout the world are searching for new favorably priced oak as it becomes more scarce and expensive as a result. Here are some of the common and not so common oak types used in wine barrel making.
- French; subtle aromatics and high tannins
- American; sweet, vanilla
- Russian Oak; used heavily by the French as an alternative to their own more expensive Oak.
- Slovonian; tight grain, low aromatics and medium tannin, favored by Italian winemakers.
- Canadian; Qualities that fall somewhere in between French and American Oak.
Stainless Steel Tanks are shiny, hygienic containers are the preferred choice for most modern winemakers as it pertains wine fermentation. The Steel Tanks provide temperature controlled conditions that assist in successful winemaking results. White and Red wine both have very specific temperature ranges that need to be met in order for the winemaker to achieve his or her desired results.
- White wine; 54-77 F and 12-25 C
- Red wine; 77-93 F and 25-34 C
Prior to modern equipment barrel temperature was controlled by ice beneath the barrels. Residual heat is naturally generated in the grape juice during the fermentation process. This is due to the chemical reaction of the yeast and the must. Temperatures are closely monitored in order for the winemaker to extract certain nuances from the juice.
French vs. American Oak, most winemaker’s preference is still between the two most popular oak barrels. French Oak would be the best choice for a winemaker working with a grape varietal requiring subtle aromatics and higher tannins. American Oak would be the choice for a winemaker with big robust, powerful red wine varietals and warm weather Chardonnays.
I found the preparation of the oak made for wine barrels very interesting. French Oak due to its tighter grain is split along the grain rather than using a saw on the wood. The French Oak is then aged or “seasoned” out doors for a period of two years. This treatment is what the subtle nature of French Oak is attributed to.
American Oak is cut with a saw which releases the xylem cells in the wood. The more distinct characteristics of vanilla and coconut attributed to American Oak are a direct result of the use of saw in preparing the wood. The American Oak is then kiln dried which really enhances the naturally strong characteristics of the wood.
Another preparation for Oak is “toasting”. The wood is exposed to open flame and toasted to varying degrees and is just as it sounds adding a toasty characteristic to the wine. Light toasting adds more oak and tannin to a wine while heavier toasting adds a roasted aroma, or notes of vanilla, spice, caramel, and the beautiful aroma of clove in some wines.
Just when you thought you knew everything oak about wine barrels there are new technologies that are used as barrel alternatives. Oak chips can be used during fermentation or aging. This technique will contribute nuances of wood, butter, and vanilla. The oak chips are kept in fabric sacks right in the wine. Intense flavoring can be introduced to the wine in weeks rather than a much longer time of traditional barrel fermentation or aging. Wine planks or staves are also used in the fermentation and aging process but wines made with these barrel alternatives do not age as well. Critics proclaim that wines made using these alternatives lack depth and dimension but these techniques will evolve and will be embraced over time.
Microxygenation is a new high-tech winemaking technique that infuses micro amounts of oxygen into red wine during fermentation or aging process. This produces a wine that is soft and supple without the use of oak. This is a process that occurs naturally in oak barrels during fermentation and aging but due to the non-porous nature of steel does not. This technique helps to build a wine that is softer with diminished tannin that is a little smoother to drink.
In conclusion it’s very important to do business with a retailer like Grizzly Liquor or restaurateur Brett Evje, owner of, Ciao Mambo that knows their particular wine inventory or wine list. They will be able to listen and discern what type of wines you desire for your palette and guide you in your selection.
If you don’t like “oakiness” in your wine selection I would recommend searching for wines that have been fermented or aged in steel tanks. These wines will be brighter, tighter, and a bit more inside themselves than wines that are fermented or aged in oak. For those of you that don’t care for those oaky wines now is a good time. The trend for a great deal of the consumer wine market is to produce and sell wines that are “in the moment”, great right now wines that appeal to us right now. Ninety percent of all wines are made to be consumed immediately without any aging necessary. This is due in large part to the evolution on winemaking and winemaking techniques. The wine industry does understand its collective consumer market.