Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Winemakers who put Zinfandel in French Oak - A call for public hangings

At first, this may seem like a lark. Well, why wouldn't U.S. winemakers use French Oak (FO) or American Oak (AO) barrels or some mix in making Zinfandel. Hhhhhmmm, let's go to Bordeaux (choose your bank) or Burgundy or the Rhone and see how many French winemakers are using American Oak. Oh, that's right, there aren't any (well, it is rumored a few do, but the number found would probably be less than 1 in 10,000). Now, we could go onto Robert Parker's flunkies and sycophants message board ( and post the topic (In fact, please do, see the flaming you get from the Francophiles for suggesting AO is appropriate to making of any French wine).

(A little known, or acknowledged, historical note is that before WWI the French were using Hungarian oak, and it was considered quite superior [Hmmm...perhaps France was trying to ride on Tokay's reputation?]. After WWI, Hungarian oak was much harder to find, and the French switched to FO, for both availability and monetary reasons, not to mention 'prestige'.)

If you go that route you will get some pretty poorly researched information on the differences between FO and AO, predominantly mentioning wood grain size. Don't want to go into too much useless detail but AO generally has a higher degree of sugars (available hemicelluoses, celluoses, tyloses, etc.) than FO. Sugars are carmelized during 'toasting' the barrel, the more sugars, the more flavor intensity impact on the wine. Lots of fun chemistry stuff I could go into but the 'toasting regimen' that you choose has a great deal of impact on what flavors, and the intensity thereof, the wood imparts to the wine. By varying the amount of these barrels in the wine, winemakers can tailor the impact of oak in any finished wine to their desired level. They can control the amount of 'toasty', sweet, vanilla, 'oaky', tannic, almond, and 'smoky' components the consumer will experience.

AO's reputation as 'brash' and 'overly intense' is due in part to the early days (70's & early 80's) of the American cooperages. Prior to this, the coopers were primarily making whiskey barrels, in which the staves are used green (un-aged, e.g. you could make a barrel from a tree the same day you cut it down) and the barrel gets the living bejeezus burnt out of it.

Oak for wine barrels need to be aged or 'weathered', and in the early days one was lucky to find wood that was 12 months old! (Currently staves are aged up to 40 months! With ~24 months being a bare minimum.) This produced tannic charred barrels, not really suitable for wine.

The American coopers have persevered however, and have honed their skills - in many ways surpassing the French in their adaptability & ingenuity. Both their ability to toast, and age wood can match the talents of the French coopers. Our technology is well beyond theirs already.

Back to the point, Zinfandel deserves AO, nay calls for AO. Winemakers who put Zinfandel in FO deserve to be dragged into the street and flayed alive, broken on the wheel, drawn and quartered, roasted on a pyre of French oak staves! The French, the Francophiles, and the Robert Parker loons have for years decried Zinfandel as the lowliest of non-Noble grape varieties (Remind me to go into why this perception of nobility of vine is the root, pun intended, of the ubiquitous pretentions in the wine making and drinking communities and why this is part of the reason for France’s wine troubles today). They used to say it was just an uncouth American varietal on the lines of Green Hungarian, in the last few years they have criticized it as high alcohol fruit bomb wine. Using AO for Zinfandel is akin to a second French revolution - throw those Royalist snobs back whence they came! Storm the Bastille!!

Ohhhh of course, why have wine that tastes like it came from FRUIT. Bacchus forbid. The very idea is lowbrow. Bring forth the Haut Brion and let us have no more talk of such things as fruit and flavor. Back to that rant later - but certainly Zinfandel can be our flagship against this armada of fruitless wine.

Zinfandel cries to be aged in American Oak. At the risk of sounding like the Wine Popes minions, to use FO, regardless of the toast regimen, to age Zinfandel is sacrilege! Let us cast the deceivers into the abyss and call for Zinfandel for all, American oaked, or death.


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August 02, 2015 1:44 AM  

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