What’s The Agenda?
In preparation for a British "expose" of sorts on winemaking and winemaking additives, the Telegraph in the UK has run a story highlighting the rather unauthentic ingredients that sometimes find their way into wines. From the look of the story in the Telegraph, the television show probably wasn’t a fawning appraisal of the world of wine making. But one thing stuck out in reading the story:
"Many cheaper wines have oak chips added to give the impression that they have
been aged in a traditional barrel"
It has to be noted that this little tidbit is offered as though it’s a bad thing, not a good thing.
Barrels are better than chips, is the suggestion here. And from a perspective of quality, there may in fact be a case to be made for wines aged in oak barrels ending up being better wines that have oak tossed into the liquid…rather than the liquid being tossed into the oak.
But of course oak doesn’t grow on grape vines. Oak Barrels do not rise up out of the ground and eventually surround the vines and comfort the grape bunches it its protective surroundings. Oak barrels are made from oak trees that are cut down, sliced, shaved, banded together, charred and topped. While the barrel is clearly a traditional vessel for the transportation and storage of wine, it is hardly "natural".
In fact, I don’t see how the use of oak chips is in any substantial way different than using barrels if we look at it from a purely philosophical perspective. Both are used to alter the taste and texture of the wine.
I’ll grant that barrels are somewhat more romantic. They conjure images of cellars piled high with wine stained vessels holding the next great vintage. Oak chips conjure of images of table saws and dust.
And so this leads me to my point: It strikes me that any television show, any article, and any general claim that the use of oak chips is somehow worse than the use of barrels or some sort of nefarious trick by winemakers probably has some sort of an agenda behind it or an author that hasn’t thought things through. I’m betting its the former.