First time you hear people taking about oak flavours in wine you do wonder what the piss they’re on about. I know I did. It’s made from grapes isn’t it? Where does the oak come in?
For centuries oak’s been used to make the barrels that used to store and transport the wines. It’s easy to make into a barrel shape, and it’s watertight so you can’t lose any of that lovely booze inside. But it’s also slowly changing the wine inside and adding it’s own flavours trapped inside its fibres. That’s what people mean by talking about oak flavour in wines. Winemakers, especially in the last few years have loved what they add, but is that slowly changing?
Oaked reds and whites are, on the whole, bigger and fatter wines, than non-oaked wines. Not always, but on the whole. Now in the past 40 odd years some of the biggest and loudest wine critics in the world have been massive fans of an oaked style, so even winemakers who don’t really like to do it and have played along to get the points and get in magazines. With the (semi)retirement of those boys and girls though, the playing field is wide open again, and confident producers can show off their fruit.
I was at a tasting a couple of weeks back called Argentina Alernatives and was lucky enough to be sat in on a masterclass by Phil Crozer, head wine buyer at the UK steak chain, Gaucho. As he was taking us through a few of his list that he was most proud of, one stood out for a bit more discussion. An organic, unoaked Malbec from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, called Lorca Ópalo by Mauricio Lorca.
Argentina is still seen as the world centre for Malbec, and a certain style of Malbec, so to go against the grain and question how well Malbec actually copes with oaking is a brave move. But to go down the organic route anyway, you’ve got to back your fruit.
As Phil said: “An unoaked wine is stood there naked infront of you, warts and all. You see all the folds, but it all adds to the individual beauty.” Nicely put that man!
I’m looking forward to more fruit forward wines in the coming vintages, time to crack out the cheese and chutneys.
Check out Mauricio Lorca’s Lorca Ópalo Malbec at selected Gaucho restaurants next time you’re getting the hankering for some steak!