The Role of Oak – Part 2

This month, we continue our exploration on the nuances around the role of oak in wine. First, let’s talk about wine cooperage – the making and conditioning of wine barrels to use in winemaking. Now that we understand the importance of oak in the winemaking process, we can delve deeper into the nuances brought by different coopers and their unique wine barrels.

 

Each cooper will have their own preference in terms of the oak they choose (e.g. different forests have different growing conditions, which lead to different characteristics of the wood and the grain). They will also have their house style of toasting the barrels (toasting transforms the flavours imparted by the wood into the wine, unlocking the desired spice and vanilla notes).  Using different barrels from different coopers adds an extra dimension to the winemaker’s toolkit, and allows for building more complexity when blending the final product. At Oldenburg, Nic uses a selection of different coopers, but in time the aim is to select the ones best suited to our style of wine.

 

Alongside oak barrels, we also use two alternative vessels in our winemaking: concrete eggs and Austrian foudres. The use of concrete eggs is historically based on clay amphora, which were used widely to store wines as far back as 8000 years ago. These amphora were very fashionable before the oak barrel came along.  In 2001, Nomblot began producing concrete eggs in collaboration with French winemaker Michel Chapoutier.

 

These eggs became commercially available and popular with winemakers. The concrete eggs are permeable, which allows micro-oxygenation to occur in the same way it does in an oak barrel, but without any additional flavours being imparted into the wine, as the concrete is essentially inert. In addition, the smooth surface and unique shape of the egg allows for more constant mixing of the lees and the cells, which imbues the wine with more texture. Nic uses the concrete eggs with our Chenin Blanc, and our Syrah, to create components with an enhanced freshness, to add dimension to his blends.

 

Austrian foudres are large (1000 to 8000 litre) barrels, made from a mix of different types of oak (Austrian, German and Hungarian) that are extremely lightly toasted. Both the light toasting and size of the barrel allows the micro-oxygenation to occur with very little flavour from the oak imparted into the wine. In our cellar, we have a couple of 2500 L Stockinger foudres, which Nic uses with the Chenin Blanc and the Syrah, to bring a creaminess and enhanced flavour and texture development to the wines without over-oaking.

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