Friday 16 April 2010

O vineyards - a lesson in oak

So, what type of barrel do you want? Size (225 L standard barrique, demi-muid ..), wood (ok mostly oak but ... slovenian chestnut anyone?), type of oak (French, American), which forest (Allier, Vosges, Limousin ....), cooper (Francois Frères, Seguin Moreau, Demptos ....), toast level, heads toasted? New? 2nd or 3rd fill? phew! And that's just a few of the options!

The permutations are endless and, as anyone who has tasted the same wine in different barrels will attest, it does make a difference. But barrel tasting is usual the preserve of professionals. However, thanks to the O'Connells of O vineyards in Cabardès, the humble consumer is able to discover for himself how ageing a wine in French oak, American oak or no oak at all affects the flavour of a wine.

The wine is question is a Vin de Pays de Cité de Carcassonne (the vineyards are a stone's throw from the famous cité) and is a blend of precisely 53% Merlot and 47% Cabernet Sauvignon. It can't be an AOC Cabardès as appellation rules require a blend of Atlantic and Mediterranean (ie syrah, grenache, carignan) varieties.

The unoaked wine had attractive aromas of raspberries and blackcurrants with a hint of leafiness. Pleasant creamy black, brambly fruit on the palate balanced by ripe but not overbearing palate. Fruity, good concentration of flavours but fairly simple.

Aged in new American oak for 8 months, the wine had a forward nose of black fruit, coffee and a slightly resinous oaky aroma. There was plenty of broad, chunky black fruit on the palate with notes of spice and vanilla. The tannins were very firm but the fruit just about balanced it.

Aged in French oak for 12 months, the wine had the most restrained nose of the 3 wines. Hints of black fruit and dill. The palate was also more closed - there was good concentration of fruit there but the flavours were hiding still. Tannins firm but finer grained than in the American oak wine. Acidity more pronounced. Structure finer but needs time in bottle for the fruit to evolve and harmonise with acid and tannins.

In conclusion, the wine aged in oak did have more complexity and richness than the unoaked version which was nice but quite simple. The American oak wine was more approachable now, despite the grippy tannins, as the fruit was more forward and appealing. Needs robust food. The French oak gave fine structure but the fruit is still shy. Worth trying in a year or two to see if the fruit has emerged from its hidey-hole.

Thanks to the O Connells for generously providing the wines.


  1. Fascinating analysis. This sort of thing raises far more questions than it answers. If you can, keep a supply of this trio and re-taste every 18 months or whatever. It will be interesting to see if the unoaked version catches up on layers of complexity.
    Around here, and with Mediterranean varieties, too much oak seems to be the enemy of expressing terroir and character plus it adds to the cost of course.
    My personal taste is a level of oak that's imperceivable (to me of course).

  2. Special thanks for this review of O's wine. I think I asked for it. Anyway, I agree with Graham for the most part. I don't hate oak but I don't require very much to satisfy my palate, and I too, believe it interferes with terroir in too many wines. I expect to be over at O'Connell's in the next few weeks and will try these three wines myself; I suppose I will take Graham's suggestion and bring home enough to lay them down and try them over the course of a few years.

  3. Good to be able to see the effect so clearly. The desciptions match almost exactly what I would predict of those 3 regimes.

    It's not a question of oak or no oak, it's a question of how much and which type for which wine.