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What Word Means Great Wine, Part Trois?

 

O.K., so ‘old vine’ doesn’t mean anything, ‘reserve’ is important only if I am in Europe or Washington, but not in California. Certainly then, ‘barrel fermented’ must have a legal meaning, right? Well, not really.

 

Unfortunately for those of us looking for an easy way to tell we are getting a great wine, this term is not legally regulated. This means that what this term relates to is up to the winemaker. It could mean anything between a new French oak barrel (yummy) and something that previously held 10w40 motor oil. The good news is that on November 3, 2010 the TTB, the government agency responsible for wine law in our country, set forth in Notice 109 a proposal to regulate this term.

 

Not surprisingly, this was not well received by the wine industry, with negative comments coming from such organizations as The Winemakers Federation of Australia, the Government of New Zealand, the Family Winemakers of California, and many specific wineries. Reasons for this disagreement over the necessity to regulate these terms ranged from historical usage to international law. The real reasons probably have to do with something else ($$$). Most likely, it will not pass.

 

Why should we care if a wine is barrel fermented anyhow? What difference does it make? Many things happen while a wine is in an oak barrel. First of all, it gains oak flavors! This can be achieved through many other less expensive methods, as a French oak barrel currently costs in the range of $2,000. One could impart oak flavor through the usage of oak essence, oak chips, oak staves stuck in the stainless steel vat. None of these really impart the same nuances available from true ‘barrel fermented’ wines.

 

True barrel fermentation leads to a better integration of the oak flavors and actually slightly less overtly oaky wines due to the fact that the tannins in the wine and in the oak barrel tend to combine, become too heavy and settle out of the wine. Due to the porous nature of oak there is also what the professionals call ‘micro-oxygenation’ which simply means that tiny amounts of air get to the wine creating new aromas in the wine that lend greater complexity. None of this happens in stainless steel or concrete vats.

 

If you do the math, you can get about 300 bottles of wine out of each barrel of wine. This means that the usage of a new French oak barrel would add at least $7 to the cost of each bottle of wine. So next time you see that inexpensive ‘barrel fermented’ wine, remember that those barrels ain’t free. Be sure and check out these great examples of what true ‘barrel fermented’ wines can be:

 

Article Cave de Buxy Bourgogne, 2009, From the fantastic 2009 vintage comes a broad, ripe, full in the mouth Chardonnay, packed with soft white fruits and an open structure. There is a kiss of oak with brilliant acidity. A stunning wine for the money. Only 14.99!!!

 

 

 

 

ArticleTalbot Logan Chardonnay, 90pts Wine Enthusiast! A sort of advance peek at the Chardonnay that, in a year or so, will bear the Sleepy Hollow designation. It should be an amazingly rich wine, as even this junior version is. Dry, crisp and oaky, it explodes with pineapple, mango, apricot and buttered toast flavors. Only 20.99!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

ArticleHendry Chardonnay, 2005 91 Points Wine Enthusiast! Bright and lively in acidity and pure fruit, brimming with ripe peach, lime, and quince flavors. Oak forms seasoning with suggestions of vanilla and toast. Only 27.99!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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