Wine Culture and Information - Volume 15
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  Editorial Issue 162, May 2017   
Wooden DevilsWooden Devils  Contents 
Issue 161, April 2017 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 163, June 2017

Wooden Devils


 I thought some subjects were finally consigned to oblivion. After fierce debates of supporters and detractors, excellent victims of ideological excesses, I supposed - at last - we could talk about other aspects of wine. In the course of the past years, the world of wine lived trends, fads and philosophies in the form of integralist religions, all supposedly based on a some kind of holy war passionately fought in the name of a non better specified purity of wine. An ideological and technical clash fought from opposite sides, which had as protagonists - faultless and innocent - yeast, sulfur dioxide and everything else considered to be guilty of any supposed adulteration, even light ones, in the name of a not full understandable wine making purity. In all of these years - characterized by endless talks, most of the times improbable, unfounded and senseless, even supported by reasons having no practical, technical or scientific bases - an “element”, in particular, seemed to be out of the epic clashes.


 

 Wood, or better to say, the cask, specifically a particular type of cask - the barrique - seemed not to bother the new schools of thoughts about wine making, everyone seemed to focus on something else, in particular on chemistry. Nevertheless, like it or not, wine is just the result of chemical and biological processes, used and controlled by man in order to get a wine capable of satisfying our emotions and senses. Wood, despite it has been in the past the protagonist of fierce debates, seemed not to bother the thoughts of purists and wine lovers anymore, as a matter of fact it has been more or less excluded from the fads of recent years. Everyone seemed to be interested in selected yeast, the adding of sulfur dioxide and other additives, virtuous practices in vineyard, respect for the environment and sustainable viticulture. Barrique seemed to be excluded from the picture, maybe it was finally considered a tool - one of the many - agreed and accepted in wine production, apparently absolved from the role of infernal demon.

 It was not the case. For many, the famous 225 liters Bordeaux barrel is still the symbol of horrendous wine making practice, a shameless fraud strongly damaging the expression of grapes and territories. I wonder whether in Bordeaux they do think the same. Who knows whether barrique - with its impure and satanical soul - is capable of plagiarizing Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and the other grapes of that land, as well as the many and famous crus of that territory. I do not know whether it is simply because of a defensive behavior about rejecting everything not belonging to one's culture or tradition, or it is simply a matter of ignorance. What I can say is - I believed that - the crusade against the barrique, which has been cause of fierce debates among producers and wine lovers about fifteen years ago, was finally over.

 I frequently meet producers and taste their wines, listen to their stories and personal vision about viticulture and wine making with which they make their wines. In particular, I am interested in listening the producers I meet for the first time, both because I am very curious and for the chance to know something new and - you never know - good. We talk, express our opinions, something being always useful to understand even in case you do not agree on the other's ideas. In particular, I am interested in the viticultural and wine making techniques they use for making their wines, also for a better understanding of the result in function of grapes and territory. In other words, what the producer makes to interpret what he cultivates in the vineyard. I am also interested in the containers used for fermenting and aging wines, including - of course - casks.

 Not all producers are the same and each one of them has his or her vision on how a wine should be made, in particular his or her own wine, each one having ideas - founded or not - about what can or cannot be used in vineyard and in the winery. I recently talked many times about casks and barriques with some producers I met for the first time, and I realized for some this subject is pretty unwelcome and controversial. In particular the barrique which is considered by many as the absolute evil of wine, responsible of the worst mystification and, according to them, those who use it do not know how to make wine. The real wine, of course. In other words, with some of them was like talking about the devil in a church. According to their opinion, the barrique destroys the real nature of wine, it plagiarizes both taste and aromas, an offense to the integrity of grapes and territories. Personally speaking, I insist in saying every practice done by man - every one and with no exception - produces the effect of affecting and “shaping” the taste and character of wine.

 The same does selected yeast, not to mention indigenous yeast, sulfur dioxide, including the one naturally produced during fermentation no matter the type of yeast used. The taste of wine is also affected by racking and time, including oxygen, which simply does its job, for better or for worse. I believe that, most of the times, it is a matter of being ignorant in using certain tools or, maybe, of not having fully understood their role and effect. In fact, everyone knows that you do not put your wine in a cask or barrique in order to change its taste. Those who do this in order to get this result are doing it because they evidently have a bad wine and are trying to mask its low quality. On this regard I would like to cite these famous words: «the best wine aged in wood is the one in which wood is not perceived». Who said this? Émile Peynaud, undoubtedly one of the greatest wine makers of the modern era, moreover a Frenchman and one who - of course - knew something about cask and barrique. And certainly much more than this.

Antonello Biancalana






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  Editorial Issue 162, May 2017   
Wooden DevilsWooden Devils  Contents 
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