Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Editorial Issue 2, November 2002   
Wood or No Wood?Wood or No Wood? MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 1, October 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 3, December 2002

Wood or No Wood?


 The story begins by using it for practical reasons, then followed the improvements and the intuitions that every discovery originated by technology has to go through, then it became a charming fashion therefore abuse, and finally became an argument where opposed and warily parts were ready to fight each other, just like a crusade, in order to support their own right and indisputable theories and positions.

 Wood, capable of giving sensational qualities to wine, according to some, or to drastically change its nature, according to others, is often cause of many arguments among the ones who love the nectar of Bacchus. We think there is something we can say about the way wood has been used with wine: let's admit this, we really exaggerated with it. For too much time they relied on the magic of casks and of wood to turn a mediocre and coarse wine into something acceptable. We should remember, not only the ones who make wine but, first of all, the ones who like it and appreciate it, wine is made from grapes and it is not an infusion of wood. Wine is what is produced by the winemaker, it is not something produced by the carpenter, in respect and with the most profound admiration we can have for this profession. Good wine originates from vineyard, a good vineyard, and grows up in the cellar but, in order to properly grow up, it needs good and solid bases, that is an excellent matter created by the works accomplished in the vineyard. We are not saying, of course, wood should not be used with wine, indeed, we believe wood should be considered as a tool a winemaker can use, hopefully used with intelligence and in a proper way. Wood and cask are surely useful in making many styles of wine; the many benefits, the refining process and the development a wine gets from staying in wood are surely precious and indisputable, but when we happen to smell a glass of wine and the only aroma it comes out is the one of wood, well, frankly speaking, this just gets us puzzled.


 

 What can we say about the ones who associate the smell and taste of wood in wine as a main factor of quality? We should remind them this aroma and this taste can be easily added to wine not only by using a cask, but in most cases by simply soaking a sack of cheap and simple wood chips in the wine, therefore, smell and taste of wood in wine does not just mean “cask”. We are not saying the ones who like a strong smell and taste of wood in wine are wrong, we just wanted to say that, please, do not evaluate the quality of a wine just for the intensity and the preponderance of wood aromas.

 To be honest, we should notice that exaggeration of wood aromas and tastes in wine are the result of a certain kind of wine making process and of speculative marketing strategies, so famous and looked forward in the past years, where the indiscriminate use of wood (wood, not just cask!) has produced so many wines, all alike, all the same, and gave origin to what is now called the “international taste” and maybe, for a matter of habits, has been associated with quality. It is sad to admit that grapes and the area of origin of a wine have been, not only considered as marginal, but mainly ignored: every wine that had wood smell and taste could be considered as a quality wine as well as considered as exceptionally good. It is sad as well to admit this is still happening nowadays.

 Does this make any sense? Does it make any sense to have so many grapes varieties, so different one each other, and so many areas that make wine, factors that, along with winemakers' skill and competence, make unique wines, full of their typical aromas and taste, when everything has to be hidden with wood? We could just use one kind of grape, get rid of the others as they would become useless, have good wood chips, or in the best cases, a good cask, and here we have the excellent and good “international wine”. Honestly speaking, we have no interest on this kind of wine, not really. Once tasted a wine like that, it would mean to having been tasted every other wine. Maybe the ones who make use of so much wood are just trying to hide some defects or the mediocre quality of their wines? Well, the temptation to believe to this hypothesis is pretty strong.

 We do not want to be misunderstood: we are not trying to discourage the use of wood, what we say is that wine and cask can wonderfully get along only when they complete one each other, when the typical aromas of the grapes used are well recognizable and the aromas of wood, being pleasantly perceivable, should not play the part of the only actor on the stage, maybe the main actor, and having all the others playing just marginal and useless roles. This is true for any kind of wine, no exception. In case a winemaker decides to refine a wine by using a cask (we like the idea of him or her using a cask instead of wood chips) he or she should make a wise use of it without outraging or plagiarizing the proper qualities of the wine. In case he or she truly needs a lot of wood in order to have his or her wine drinkable and appreciable, we invite him or her to reconsider and to improve the qualities of the grapes and to think about the work done in the vineyard. We invite him or her to invest more money and more time on the care and on the quality of grapes, not just on the casks. After all, one of the most appreciated qualities of wine is balance; exaggerating one particular aspect, including wood, would mean to make an unbalanced and scarcely interesting wine.

 However, there is another side of the story. Talking with some wine producers they complain the fact that the wines they sell the best are the ones which have strong and predominant wood aromas, just because this is what their customers want the most. According to this indisputable marketing rule, surely capable of giving good profits, the production is regulated according to this. Anyway, it should be noticed that a good number of producers would like to use less wood as opposed to what they are actually using, even because, using casks, not wood chips, is a considerable cost which is repeated almost every two years.

 We believe this is because of the fault of both wine producers and consumers, they are equally responsible for this. Wine producers who made for a long time “wood-wine”, and had their customers to get used to associate the taste of wine to the one of wood and they ended up believing good wine should taste or smell of wood. Consumers have their faults because they did not want to improve their culture about wine and they exclusively relied on certain products, perhaps there was nothing else to choose from or simply because they have been just lazy in finding something better, or even because what was better was also too much expensive. It is more likely there are consumers out there who really like wood smell and taste, therefore there is no argument or dispute; personal taste is surely indisputable. In case these very consumers like this kind of wine because they did not have the chance to try something different and therefore they have nothing to compare to, or just because they got lazy and are not interested in discovering something new, then we invite them all to try something new and different. Fortunately we are having a sort of different and renewed trend and wine makers are looking forward to make things different, there are a lot of excellent wines out there where the personality of the grape is fully respected and very well expressed, even by making use of wood, without exaggerating too much, and they allow the consumers to rediscover a new, as well as ancient, enological emotion. Does wood mean quality? Surely yes, as long as the wine and the grapes used to make it are of high quality long before they get into the cask. Welcome back wine!

 



   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column ABC Wine 
  Editorial Issue 2, November 2002   
Wood or No Wood?Wood or No Wood? MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 1, October 2002 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 3, December 2002

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 In this column are published our reader's mail. If you have any comment or any question or just want to express your opinion about wine, send your letters to our editorial.

 

I just finished reading your publication and I found it very interesting and useful, particularly, I appreciated the report about grappa which has been a very pleasant discovery to me. I also found interesting the report about serving temperature: I could not imagine temperature played such an important role in evaluating a wine. I tried myself the experiments you suggested and I was very surprised by the fact that as the temperature was getting higher the wine tasted so different! The next time I will offer some wine to my friends, I will make sure to pay attention to serving temperature and I will make use of your suggestions. Thank you!
Elizabeth Goodman -- San Francisco, California (USA)
Dear Ms. Goodman, we are very glad to know you found DiWineTaste interesting and, above all, that it was useful to you to understand an important aspect like serving temperature. Thank you for what you wrote about our publication. We sincerely hope you will continue reading and appreciating DiWineTaste with the same enthusiasm and satisfaction. Thank you.



Dear DiWineTaste,
I downloaded your magazine and I read it and found it very interesting. Congratulations for everything, I will surely continue reading DiWineTaste and to download it every month. I would like to ask you a question. Some friends of mine gave me as a gift for my birthday a bottle of Barolo 1990 and, as I am not going to open it, I was asking myself for how long I can keep this wine without having it ruined. Considering the year, maybe the time to open it has just come?
Alberto Ghisolfi -- Parma (Italy)
First of all thank you for your words of appreciation about DiWineTaste, we are glad to know you found it interesting. Keeping wine is a relatively complex subject because it is based on many factors, each one of them determining the success and the longevity. First of all, the place and the way used to keep it, the well-known rule of keeping the bottle in horizontal position must be applied for sure. Barolo, which is produced with Nebbiolo grape, is usually long lasting and, as for every wine, year and area of production have to be considered. Barolo can last, in best cases, for even 20 and more years and you can consider yourself lucky because 1990 was one of the best vintages of the past century. If you wish, you can open your bottle and enjoy an excellent vintage, however, you can keep the wine to develop for many years, provided you have proper place and condition for keeping wine.



First of all, my best congratulations for this new publication about wine, it is very interesting as well as comprehensive, I particularly found interesting the report about wine tasting and I hope you will continue discussing this subject in the next issues. One night some friends of mine and I went out and we had a very good German wine that had “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” written on the label. With what grapes is this wine made from?
Jean-Jacques Bouard -- Corbeil-Essonnes (France)
Dear Mr. Bouard, thank you for what you wrote about our publication; we are glad to know you found the first issue of DiWineTaste interesting. The subject of wine tasting will be discussed every month as we believe it is essential for spreading wine culture and for being properly appreciated. Talking about the wine you had the chance to drink with your friends, the “Mosel-Saar-Ruwer” is one of the most appreciated and renowned areas of Germany. Unfortunately the information you provided us is not enough to tell what grapes they used to make that wine, however, we can try to figure them out. The most cultivated grape of that area is Riesling as well as Müller Thurgau and Elbing. As the majority of the wines made in that area are produced with Riesling, it is likely to be that the wine you enjoyed with your friends was made with that grape.



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