Less oak, more folk - guest blog post by Daniel Primack

I’ve been blogging here for 10 years now, and I think (if my memory serves me correctly) that this is the first guest blog post. It’s by Daniel Primack of Around Wine, who tweets as @winerackd.

Less Oak, More Folk

George Dubbya Bush used to refer to everyone, even enemies of the state, as ‘folk’. I thought this was an inappropriate use of the word, as folk always makes me think of family, friends and community—people you know or would like to know.

The more I have learnt about wine over the years, the more important I think it is to have some contact with the folk who produce the wine. Whether it is meeting them at a tasting, or reading their story from their own website or someone else’s blog, that knowledge enhances choice and experience. By learning more the drinker can really get to know what has been done to create the wine in the bottle.

With the odd exception, the majority of wines I have been excited by and purchased over the last couple of years have been made using very little or no new oak. I make a point of finding out. I can discover how much, in advance of tasting, drinking or buying, by asking the folk. I like wines that have been matured in very large oak barrels as old as the trees they came from, but am now discouraged by anything that stops the fruit shining. Combining this with the fact that my favourite wines have been made by people who have learnt when not to interfere with the wine (and of course knowing when to act), I could be labelled as having a preference for the ‘natural’, with a small dollop of sulfur dioxide.

I am certain that developing a palate for wine is a journey that takes time, experience and a good memory. Most wine enthusiasts will be able to tell you a story about the first great wine they tried, that led them to become an enthusiast. If wine is a journey, much further down the road from that first taste, there certainly seem to be other junctions. These include a preference for Riesling over other white grapes, and an appreciation for quality Sherry.

There are other markers amongst any person’s pantheon of well-travelled tastes. Looking back at mine, pre the Riesling and Sherry stop-offs, I clearly remember the wine that made me question my love, at the time, for wines that had been picked late, cold macerated, pumped over daily and put in small barrels of brand new oak. The wine in question was La Pialade 06, a Cote du Rhone from the Rayas stable. I picked it off the shelf as I thought anything by Rayas had to be worth drinking. It was a wine so light in colour, so transparent, that I wondered if it would taste of much at all. The first mouthful was a surprising combination of delicacy and complexity, a combination that turned out to be addictive. I continue to try to repeat that experience with other wines.

A friend of mine who owns three wine shops once said to me that when you are a kid you like hamburgers. When you are an adult you like tartare. Sometimes as an adult you want a hamburger. This was his way of saying that big, bold wines have their place. They are easy to be seduced by, and when done well are exciting. A drink of greater refinement will reap more reward, but might require a little more effort.

It is that effort that seems not to be worth it for some folk. I think many producers find it easier to make hamburgers and drinkers to order them. Hopefully the likes of Wineanorak and its ilk will continue to shine a light on the less-oak-folk.

Daniel Primack, @winerackd

7 comments to Less oak, more folk – guest blog post by Daniel Primack

  • Yes, I was seduced by oak, but as I learn more and more about winemaking, I’ve gone right off it! I think from now on I wont use any more new oak, but just keep the barrels I have for ever. The aromas and tastes of oak can overpower and/or mask the aromas/tastes/individuality of the wines, imho.

  • Good piece.

    This seems to be quite a common thing people go through as they get more seriously into wine, doesn’t it?

    But interestingly perhaps not everyone goes through it? e.g. Robert Parker must taste millions of wines, yet he’s often criticised by European wine writers for apparently favouring bigger, oakier, sweeter wines.

    So if that’s the case, why do some people’s tastebuds go through this and not others? And I wonder if you favour the lighter wines for the rest of your life now or if you’ll go back to the others as your tastebuds change again with age.

  • Patrick

    Don’t know if I read it here or somewhere else, but according to consumer research the majority of everyday winedrinkers love oaky flavours and never move on – oaky fruitbomb icons are just more of this at a higher price (Michel Rolland comes to mind for some reason :-) ). They are also easier (or even better?) to drink on their own, without food.

    I guess it comes down to how much you want to think about and explore wine rather than looking for something known and familiar – very similar to the music thread on these pages recently…

  • Olly Bartlett (Indigo Wine)

    Good(e) first guest post indeed. I concurr and rarely, if ever, ‘fancy a burger’… unless its an actual burger… New oak makes me boak.
    Get in touch for some sherry action too!!

  • Thanks Simon – I think most experienced tasters/drinkers have run the gamut and then settle on what they genuinely prefer. If you don’t go through it, maybe you haven’t explored enough. I think I will stick to my current preferred style for quite some time, whilst enjoying the odd hamburger, but what I’ve really done is give myself a wide choice. I’ve eaten widely and I love a rare steak, but my favourite food will always be fine Japanese cuisine. It has been for 20 yrs and that isn’t changing any time soon.

  • Kieron

    I had never considered the notion that there might be common experiences in the way different people’s taste in wine develop. An interesting idea.

    I largely also prefer wines where the oak isn’t confrontational, but my general experience is that excessive oaky flavours tend to occur in wines from more recently established wineries and regions. Whether this is a symptom of the popular belief that this style will win more Parker points/medals or just experimentation which hasn’t yet found the ideal balance between the fruit of younger vines and new oak I don’t know.

  • Tom

    “a preference for Riesling over other white grapes, and an appreciation for quality Sherry”

    That’s me alright – nice post, some really interesting ideas well-expressed.

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