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The Essence of Wine: Oak


Image © 2013 Leigh Beisch

Few have actually spent time gnawing on a piece of oak, but some know the scent well enough, having perused the selections at their local lumber yard. Some may have even tried their hand at drilling, cutting or planing in the service of one or another project. Many more know the flavor of oak, even if they never identify it as such, thanks to the popularity of whisky, rye, and bourbon, all of which usually taste of planks cut from American forests. The oak we find in wine, on the other hand, more often hails from France (though wine barrels are manufactured from forests all over Europe). The interaction between wine and the wooden vessels used to make and age it is one of the few things in the world that approaches alchemy. Oak smooths, sweetens, spices, and polishes wines in ways that range from imperceptible to completely ostentatious. In some wines, oak announces its presence with more texture than flavor, while in others it screams like a cross-cut saw in mid-bite. Opinions differ on whether the flavor of oak is best when strong or subtle, but none can deny that wine as we know it could never have come to be without wood.

Girard "Artistry" Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, California, USA
Sea Smoke "One Barrel" Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California, USA
Samuels Gorge Grenache McLaren Vale, South Australia
Alois Kracher "Nummer 5 Nouvell Vague" Traminer Trockenbeerenauslese, Burgenland, Austria
Opus One Bordeaux Blend, Oakville, Napa, California, USA
Takler "Regnum" Red Blend, Szekszard, Hungary
Domaine Thibault Liger-Belair "Les Saint-Georges" Nuits-Saint-George Premier Cru, Burgundy, France
Cantine Russo "Rampante" Red Blend, Etna, Sicily, Italy
Covenant "Lavan" Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California, USA

This is part of an ongoing series of original images and prose called The Essence of Wine

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud