Most of today’s winemakers have realised that British white wine drinkers don’t really like the overt tannic and often bitter taste of oak. Now, if used, it’s done with a reserved elegance, especially when compared to yesterday’s producers.
No question, in the past British wine drinkers bought oaked wines by the shedloads, as they believed it as a sign of quality. Even the ‘cheap as chips’ chardonnay needed to taste of it. So the ‘shelf smart’ wine producers that sold to the supermarkets, obliged by adding sawdust pellets, oak shavings and oak chips to the making of their cheap oaked white wines!
Generally speaking, white wines don’t need to be fermented in new oak barrels – which is just as well, as it can add a pound plus to the price of every bottle. But oak can be a wonderful tool when the maker believes that the grapes need several years’ ageing before they reveal their full flavour potential. Top-notch grapes that are low in aromatics, such as chardonnay from Burgundy or semillon from Bordeaux, really do benefit from fermentation in oak barrels. Unfortunately, these are never going to be cheap.
If you are shopping for white wine – below are two excellent examples of with oak and without oak. Enjoy.
Marks & Spencer Saint Roman, White Burgundy, France
Fief Guerin Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu, Muscadet Sur Lie, Loire, France