Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Gilman on New Oak Barrels

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John Gilman, Author-Publisher of A View From the Cellar
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2007 /* * * * *

New, Small Oak Barrels

"Contrary to my reputation in some circles, I really do not mind wines with a lot of new oak. A perfect example are the Burgundies of producers such as Henri Jayer and Domaine Dujac. Both estates make (or made in Monsieur Jayer’s case) their wines almost entirely in new oak, and yet they are two of the finest producers of wine that I have ever had the pleasure to taste.

But it is extremely hard to use a high percentage of new oak well, and it takes any extremely skilled artist in the cellar to be able to consistently pull this off. Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of producers with as much skill as Monsieur Jayer had during his lifetime. 

Too often, new oak dominates the other characteristics of the wine, both on the nose and the palate, producing in a best-case scenario a one dimensional wine that derives many of its flavors and aromatics from the wood.

And the worst-case scenario (all too familiar to those of us who taste a wide range of wines these days) is that the new oak has been imperfectly cured, and has leeched raw, resinous tones into the wine, which come across as sawdusty or resinous on the palate, and add so much raw wood tannin to the wine as to upset its balance. This condition is usually terminal--as the wine is too tannic from the wood to drink with much enjoyment when young, and spends its life stillborn and rigid from the oak, and eventually withers, with the fruit giving up the ghost while the wood tannins remain obstinately present

For those who are familiar with the New York subways, wines from the worst-case scenario camp are like two riders getting onto separate trains at Grand Central Station, with the fruit getting on the Express and the oak getting on the Local. After a short time, they are never going to come together again, and the fruit on the Express is going to be long gone by the time the oak arrives at the mutually agreed upon destination." - - John Gilman, author of the newsletter A View from the Cellar:  (From an interview with Gilman on the Dr. Vino website.)

John Gilman's observations are brilliant.  Like John, I know few who can pull off using all new oak and fewer still who can do that and produce great wines with alcohol levels in excess of 14%.  Basilio Izquierdo, the former winemaker for thirty years at CVNE in La Rioja who made some of the great vintages of CVNE Imperial and CVNE Viña Real Reserva and Gran Reservas, makes both a small production Rioja white and a red that are some of the best wines I have ever tasted in the modern era in La Rioja.  The Spanish Artisan Wine Group will have some of his wines shortly.  --

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