Oaked or unoaked? It's all down to personal preference
W hile wine drinkers appear to be developing a more discerning palate, it is surprising to discover that many common misconceptions still abound.
One of the most popular is that wine must be aged in oak barrels if the flavour of the wine is to be properly enhanced.
However, whether wine is aged in oak barrels or not is mainly due to tradition.
Flavouring was a secondary consideration in the Middle Ages when the majority of winemakers, mostly monasteries, matured wine in oak barrels as a convenient method of storage and transportation.
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The impact of the wood on the flavour of the wine developed naturally and has led to numerous experimental combinations over the centuries.
Generally speaking, the effect of oak on red wine is to produce a soft, sweetish, vanilla flavour that is toasty, mocha or toffee on the back of the tongue while white wines generally take on the flavour of butter, coconut, cinnamon or cloves.
The effect should be to support and enhance the flavour of the fruit but can occasionally be overpowering or over-oaked.
France's Loire Valley is distinct in this regard in that it does not have a tradition of oaking wines.
In fact, during excavations in the cellars of the Chateau of Chaumont, archaeologists discovered wine tanks hewn out of stone and lined with thick glass tiles. The reason was no doubt that wine raised in oak barrels would be too strong as a result of the region's cooler temperatures and the intrinsic flavours of the fruit would be lost.
That difference in taste was a huge eye-opener for Amanda Gallou who first moved to the region in 1995, tired of wine she found too heavy, overpowering, too strong and too full of chemicals, which also left her with a headache the following morning.
Struck by the difference, she decided to set up a business – Amanda's Wines – bringing handmade unoaked French wines direct to doorsteps across the UK.
Amanda's growers are some of the most eco-friendly on Earth and produce their wines in the traditional way of their ancestors.
The vineyards are not irrigated and the plants have to rely on natural rain water. As a result, the roots of the vines grow far down into the earth as they get older and the wines are made entirely from the natural grape juice, with no extra water.
These small, independent growers harvest the grapes in September and raise the wines in tanks, made of stainless steel, resin or cement, before they are bottled and aged.
Amanda says: "I cannot say that it is better or worse to raise wine in oak barrels. It is just different. Ninety-five per cent of our customers now prefer unoaked, saying the wines are so 'clean tasting'."
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