The importance of oak barrels in modern wine is undeniable. In fact, the majority of top wines you drink… from the super Tuscan red, to the mega expensive Burgundy, that memorable Châteauneuf, and all of those lovely intense Riojas and Ribera Del Dueros… absolutely all of them have been aged for a period of time in oak barrels.
It is not a taboo subject to talk about the influence of oak in red wine. The symbiosis of wood and red wine seems like something that Bacchus (the Roman God of wine) would have had a hand in, overlooking the work of the monks, who were responsible for maintaining the vines and organising the transport back in the day. Who would have thought that putting wine in a barrel for easier transportation would ultimately increase the quality of the wine for the recipient and transform the development of red wine forever?
However, when it comes to white wine things do change. And they change a lot faster. Who remembers those oak aged Chardonnays from California and Australia? People went crazy for them just 10 to 15 years ago. I even remember clients asking me for the woodiest white wine I could serve them!! Some nationalities still love this type of white wine, but in Western Europe it appears to have gone out of fashion completely…or has it? The same people, who used to order an oak aged Chardonnay, now have an aversion to any oak influence in their wine and have ultimately become members of the famous ‘ABC Club’ (Anything But Chardonnay). However, many people don’t realise that most of their favourite whites do contain an element of oak.
Yes, winemakers did overuse oak, but they also listened to their client needs and adapted their products to the market demands. New techniques in winemaking have also influenced the development of white wines and given producers more scope. Advanced aging containers such as concrete or oak eggs, or large wooden vats (some of them up to 50,000 litres), bring a milder influence to the final flavour of the wine, whilst respecting the now desirable fruity flavours and delicate aromas. Many producers have now decided to only ferment their white wine in barrels. This leaves a tiny element of those lovely aromas the oak can produce and reduces the powerful tannins and body. Other producers age half of their white wine in barrels and the other half in stainless steel. The final blend resulting in something magical!! Nowadays there are so many more possibilities when it comes to fermenting and aging white wine.
As oak aged white wines fell down the popularity ladder, producers created less and less. But, wait a second… what about the French? They are still aging white wine in oak, and they are still running out of their white wine!! How can this be? The answer is simple, because they can and because they know how to do it with class and elegance. So why can it not be done elsewhere? For instance, a Spanish oak aged wine will generally receive a very negative reaction as soon as it is mentioned. This reaction stems from the preconception of old style aged white wines and the reluctance to give it a try.
With oak aged white wines you also need to consider the occasion. These are not wines to drink as an aperitif on a sunny terrace or by the beach. They are more gastronomic and need to be enjoyed with the right type of food. If you really want to have a fabulous wine pairing, try an oak aged white wine with your cheese board. This can be a way better pairing experience than any red wine, despite popular thinking.
You may think oak aged white wines are not so good or are simply not your thing, so here are some examples of how great they can be:
The highest rated white wine in Spain was awarded 100 points by a certain prestigious publication we all know. The Castillo de Ygay Blanco Gran Reserva 1986 spent an amazing 252 months in barrel. Every bottle now costs about 500€ and there are very few bottles left. The now sought after Puligny-Montrachet wines are also considered the greatest dry white wines in the world… and yes, you’ve guessed it…an ‘oaky’ white wine.
I believe it is time to leave all preconceptions behind, and choose the right wine to enjoy at the right place and time. There are some great examples of superb aged white wines in our collection, that are good value, and they will give you an idea of how great oak aged white wines can be:
Albamar Ceibo Godello – https://www.wineindustry.es/product-page/albamar-ceibo
Esteban Celemín Última Huellas – https://www.wineindustry.es/product-page/esteban-celem%C3%ADn-%C3%BAltimas-huellas
La Haya Barrica – https://www.wineindustry.es/product-page/la-haya-seco-barrica
Selva Vins Premsal Castaño – https://www.wineindustry.es/product-page/selva-vins-premsal-casta%C3%B1o
7103 Petit Celler 40 Braces Blanc – https://www.wineindustry.es/product-page/7103-petit-celler-40-braces-blanc