The other day I tasted a wine whose back label description said it showed notes of ripe fruit and new wood. As promised, once you tasted the wine the wood was so much prominent in the nose and also in the mouth. Some time ago I started to develop more passion for white and orange wines over the red wines, since it seems to me that the first two styles have a wider field of play and offer many more possibilities of vinification rather than the latter. Of those, white and orange wines, I like them to go through some wood ageing, but the good thing is that this wood is in most of the cases a used barrel and/or above all, vessels of large capacity, barrels of twenty or thirty hectoliters. For me this makes a huge difference over red wines.
My thinking is that wood should be a container that provides oxygen and helps ageing the wine. The wood must accompany the wine in its journey through life, not being a big part of what we will finally find inside the glass. I do not like that you can taste wood in the wine or that it gives you a sensation of being able to chew it. When the wine smells and tastes like wood, I do not enjoy my glass. And as the saying goes, life is too short to drink wine that does not make you enjoy.
I have been fortunate to visit wineries in Barolo and Valpolicella and the winemaking work they do with large used barrels seems to me excellent. As an example, Tommasi Viticoltori produces an Amarone Classico and an Amarone Riserva. Both of them stay at least a three-year ageing period in these big barrels. The difference is that the Riserva spends a fourth year in 225-liter barrels, which are otherwise in their third use. Thus, the contribution of wood to these wines is not the same as in other places where a wine with two or three years of ageing has gone through French barrels of 225 liters in their first or second use at most. Or a mixture of both. This is a winemaking style that has many followers, both in number of wineries and in the number of loyal customers, but I like to find different things in my glass. This is why I prefer orange or white wines, whether they have been fermented/aged in barrels or not. In these cases, the wines have a tannic structure that goes very well, taking into account that there are cases of orange wines with three years or more of ageing in wood. To find red wines without this marked wood, we have to look for a lot, because for me there is too much of that “wine has notes of new wood”. I Clivi in the Italian Collio produces a Merlot with no wood whatsoever and it is indeed a luscious wine.
If I ever make wine, my philosophy will be that the wood must accompany the wine only when necessary and to help to its ageing, not that it becomes part of the wine. Obviously, a winery needs to buy barrels to replace those that deteriorate with the use and the passage of time but you can maintain a good balance between the used and new barrels so that the number of new barrels at the time of making a wine is less than the used barrels. In the end, I think that the wine should smell and taste like fruit, the rest is interventionism. Although this thing of interventionism is a topic for another day.
And all this came up to my mind reading an opinion about natural wines. They are wines that are still publicly insulted with the argument that some producers use the excuse that they make natural wine to cover defects in the making of their wines. This does not stop being something absurd so much on the part of the elaborador as on the part of those who criticize it. No one says that a traditional wine is poorly made because the machine that makes PING is poorly calibrated. Speaking recently with a winemaker, we agreed that the important thing is that you have to work well in the vineyard, work well in the cellar and maintain clean facilities, among other things. This will be more important than how many milligrams of sulfites you put in the wine, be it either 10, 20, 30 or 180. And we can find badly elaborated wines both among those who make natural wines and those who make traditional or technological wines. Making wines from the latter kind is not a guarantee that the wine is good or we will like it, no matter how many controls and tests are done. I think that in the end, what counts when the winegrower goes to the vineyard is the grape and not the tests outcome.
This past winter I have organized several wine tastings and most of the wines we tasted were natural wines, either red, white or orange. And with one exception, it was very difficult to know which wine was natural and which one was not. They were very well elaborated wines. You could like it or not, but you could not say that they were poorly made wines. Maybe it’s time to have less prejudices when it comes to tasting wines. And above all, you have to taste wine blindly. This is a big challenge. Not a challenge to our knowledge about wine, but to be able to decide if we like a wine by what we perceive in the nose and mouth and especially for what we enjoy tasting it, not because of what we read in the label.
In the end it’s about finding the balance: not just wine made under one style or the other. There is so much wine to taste and enjoy…