If we dont ask this question, we get into trouble!
Are you at least 18 years old?
YES

July 2015 - Oak

Oak

July 2015

Oak is a major component in the creation of wine, especially for white wines made from Chardonnay and the majority of red wines. Various forms are used including barriques (224 litres, commonly used in France and New Zealand), hogsheads (300 litres, often used in Australia) or puncheons (500 litres).
 

While Chardonnay has been at the centre of the ‘for and against’ argument, there is no doubt that some of the world’s finest examples are made using oak. White Burgundies spring to mind (although not Chablis, which is usually made without oak influence)!
 

While Chardonnay has been at the centre of the ‘for and against’ argument, there is no doubt that some of the world’s finest examples are made using oak. White Burgundies spring to mind (although not Chablis, which is usually made without oak influence)!
 
Whereas many Australian and New Zealand winemakers used to be heavily criticised for too much oak influence, to use no oak at all
 seems so extreme, like saying you can have black or white, but not grey. The goal is to use oak to complement the fruit, rather than dominate it therefore creating a wine that has flavour, complexity and structure, all in balance

Barrels can be used as vessels to ferment the juice into wine, or can be used just for maturation, once the fermentation process is completed. Again, this depends on the desired wine style.

The winemaker has a number of decisions to make when choosing his or her barrels. While French oak is preferred to American oak by many it is more expensive. But the finer, tighter and more subtle influence remains in high demand. If buying French oak, there are a number of different forests that it can be sourced from. 

Bec with wine thief Jan 2015

Blind River’s winemaker, Bec tasting through some of our barrels. We use only French oak, but a number of different styles.

Some, namely the Troncais and Alliers in the central region, the Vosges to the north-east and Limousin further to the south-west are very popular, producing tight-grained wood for the highest quality barrels. There are a number of other, smaller areas of oak production too.

When making a barrel, once the staves are cut, the wood is ‘seasoned’ by being left outside for about a year. Only after this are they formed into barrels usually over a fire, or steam or some other heating method to help with flexing of the wood. The fire also provides the toasting effect which leads to another decision: does the winemaker want light, medium or heavy toast levels? And then there are the heads; the round discs of wood at each end of the barrel - are they to be toasted too, and if so, at what level.

 
New oak is exactly that – new. In other words it is only used once. At about $NZ1800 a barrique it’s very expensive and is one of the major contributing factors to the cost of producing quality wine that has been made with the influence of new oak.
 
Once in use at the winery, the barrel is filled with wine and sealed with a rubber bung. It is then rolled so the bung sits at about two o’clock. This ensures that the closure is covered by wine and therefore cannot let air in. While oak is naturally porous and a small amount of wine does evaporate, rather than ‘topping up’ barrels with fresh wine kept especially for the purpose, many now believe that it is better to just leave it. Each time the bung is removed, air comes into contact with the wine and may cause bacterial problems. Left untouched, while there will be a small pocket that forms as the wine evaporates, this is merely water vapour with almost no oxygen.
 

Click here to read our March post