Now’s the time when one of the critical winemaking decisions as part of the Virtual Winemaker project is taken: to apply oak or not. There are a plethora of ways in which a wine producer can do this, from the cheapskate addition of oak chips, to the immersion of staves in the vats right through to the top end, aging in 225lt oak barriques – barrels to you and I.
But why oak a wine in the first place?
In the first place, as in why oak was used to house small volumes of wine, there were very practical reasons why a wine maker would employ barrels. The Romans came to realise that in contrast with the traditional clay amphora vessels, oak containers would have a softening effect on wine, as a result of their increased rate of oxidation due to the greater porosity of oak.
As well as this, oak barrels, and other oak vessels, impart other flavours that are slowly drawn out of the wood as the wine ages. These were also deemed to be desirable, adding a further dimension to the wines.
Without going into the chemistry, the interaction of the wine with the wood can bring a range of new flavours including notes of caramel, cream, smoke, spice, vanilla, coconut, cinnamon and clove.
Needless to say there are loads of factors that need to be thought about in understanding which of these elements is desirable in any particular wine, but one very important thing to think about is the degree to which the oak is toasted. Barrels are charred by setting a fire within them during the process of manufacture and, in fact, all forms of oak treatment can be given different degrees of toast.
This toastiness can bring out even more nuances, like mocha and toffee, to name but two.
So, where does this leave us, in terms of the elaboration of this lovely Perrin blend?
Well it leaves us at a stylistic juncture and this can be best summarised using a description of the divergent paths that the decision to oak or not will bring about:
Do we want to preserve the pure fruit of the wine, i.e. see it in all its glory rather than lose it to some extent by introducing other flavours? The four grape varieties that go to make up this blend are combined because they do it so well, and you get freshness and lift, as well as fruit weight. But do you want more weight?
Oak Barrels please
Imagine taking the fruit and adding a toasty, warm, lightly-spiced element that fills out the mid-palate of the wine and adds a touch of weight and mouthfeel as it goes. This wine has a very distinctive Southern Rhône character and a balance that can be upset by being yanked around too much…so tread carefully.
How would you like to play it? For the Virtual Winemakers among you, we’ll be asking you to cast your vote very soon. There’s no wrong or right, simply preference.