• By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Sunday, March 5, 2017 at 4:23 pm   |     |   Print   |   Permalink

Charlie McCarthy was right. You can learn a lot just by reading. That’s how I found out a few days ago that the last surviving tree of an oak forest planted by Louis 14 in 1669 had been sold to a Bordeaux barrel-maker in 2007. It cost him just over $45,000. I’ve forgotten the name given the tree, but it was estimated that it would yield sufficient wood for about 60 barrels. My source did not divulge the ultimate destination of that tree, but even  at the high cost of barrels today, I doubt the cooper realized his costs at the going rate. His profits must have come from the marketing of a wine tracing part of its heritage to The Sun King, a noble wine indeed.

Which raises the question of oak in wines. One vintner takes pride in the oakiness of his wines; another touts the oak-free character of his. For years I have listened to explanations that American oak is better than French oak and vice versa. Those preferring French oak will prefer oak from Allier or the Vosges whereas those opting for American oak like the Midwestern white oak. I know producers on both sides of the Atlantic who insist on bringing in barrels from the other side.  And not surprisingly, as the price of high quality oak has escalated, the quality of oak from Hungary and Poland has miraculously improved.

No one doubts that some contact with wood adds complexity to most wines, especially those which insist on a robust body. The disputes arise concerning the degree of contact and a tendency of some producers to disguise their wine’s  flaws with heavy doses of oak, or worse — with oak substitutes.

I suspect, however, that for a sip of wine boasting a relationship with Louis 14, I could forgive an inflated dosage of oak.

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