Saturday, 29 October 2011

Oak Chips

There is nothing glamorous about using oak chips.  Indeed, most producers do not go out of their way to advertise their use.  But the use of oak chips is somewhat entrenched within the wine industry.  The cost of oak barrels, at times, can necessitate the use of oak chips.  For instance, an average French (quercus robur) oak barrel costs approximately one-thousand dollars; an American (quercus alba) oak barrel, five-hundred dollars.  For entry level wines (e.g. wines under $15), the use of oak barrels is cost prohibitive.  Oak chips are used, instead.

I don't have any real problem with this - I expect that any oaked wine under approximately $15 will have used oak chips.  That being said, I do expect more from a more expensive wine.  Recently, I saw a $20 Californian wine at the LCBO that advertised on its label that it had used oak chips.  That seems, to me, like poor bang for my buck.  I did not pick it up.  On the other hand, I did purchase a bottle of the Dona Paula 2009 Estate Malbec at $17.95/bottle.  This less expensive wine had undergone barrel maturation in first, second, and third-use French barrels (33% for each) for eight months.  (I should note, however, that this was not mentioned on the bottle itself.  I, rather, gathered this information from the incredibly detailed tasting notes on its website.)

While the use of oak barrels vis-à-vis oak chips does not necessarily result in a superior wine, it does at least provide the appearance of being a superior wine.  And in an industry in which marketing plays a pivotal role in sales, I can think of no reason why one would advertise the use of oak chips - though, I do admire the transparency of doing so.

The Dona Paula Malbec had the classic profile of an Argentinean malbec: big cherry fruit with vanilla notes.  It could have been better or worse than the Californian bottle.  But I did feel like I was getting more bang for my buck.  And, at the end of the day, that can mean a lot to any consumer.

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