Wednesday, 24 April 2013

French versus American Oak - is there a winner?

I have noticed recently a bit of wine competition going on.  Of course, living in Australia and having a place in The Hunter Valley, I have my favorites and will defend them to the death.  But I am a pretty open-minded guy who loves to continue to taste new experiences and continuously learn about new and different things.

Next Friday I am going to a 'Best of USA versus Australia' wine tasting and four-course meal in Melbourne.  What a great night that will be!  Its only $150 per head and the 13 wines and food look magnificent.  If you are interested, I would love to see you there.  Contact Top Australian Wines or just order tickets online.

And this weekend, I will be watching the movie Bottle Shock, which is the 1976 competition between French and Napa Valley wines, which is entitled as it is because of the shock that the Americans came out on top.

But the focus of this blog post is the comparison between wines stored in French Oak and wines stored in American Oak.  The different is mostly two-fold in terms of the effect it has on wine.  French Oak is a tighter grain with the American Oak being courser.  And American Oak has twice to four times the amount of lactones, which provide sweeter and stronger, yet different vanilla overtones.  I had a rare opportunity to compare the exact same wine using the same grapes and from the same vintage stored in both French and American Oak, the wine being the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay.  Both wines were magnificent!  If I remember correctly, I spent about $22 per bottle for these wines and only bought four of each.  This is the first time I have tried either one as I had been waiting for the right moment to compare both.  My bride, DAZ in the Kitchen, felt the wines would go well with a cheese platter this afternoon and also go well with the mushroom soup we are making this evening.

We sampled and greatly enjoyed both wines.  They are truly spectacular and drink like $50 - $75 bottles of Chardonnay.  Both wines have some similar characteristics:
  • Exact same ingredients and stored in respective oak barrels for 9 months
  • Both have a smooth mouth feel, almost velvety
  • Both are bright yellow, turning golden in color
  • Both are very easy to drink and of extremely high quality
Yet, there are some noticeable differences.  The 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in French Oak was:
  • More elegant and beautifully balanced
  • Edgier, and slightly more acidic, more lemon citrus flavored
  • Purer, subtler vanilla taste
  • Taste like a typical Montrachet
Whereas the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in American Oak was:
  • More in-your-face vanilla flavoring but courser
  • Sweeter, honey-like taste plus smoked almond taste as secondary flavors
  • Richer, more robust flavor overall, but not as integrated or balanced as the French Oak
I would have to give a slight nod to the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in French Oak as the better drinking wine today, but I am pretty certain that the 2008 Rothvale Chardonnay in American Oak will drink better in several years time.  I just hope I have a few bottles of each left by then to prove the point!  I am definitely stopping by the winery tomorrow to see if there is any of the 2008 Chardonnays left or if there is an even better vintage since where the Rothvale Chardonnay has been stored in both the French and American Oak.

I have limited experience with great Montrachets, but have certainly been drinking more of them recently and truly enjoy a great Montrachet.  I was under the impression that the characteristics of the individual Montrachets had to do with the locale and soil conditions and I have noticed the differences between a Puligny-Montrachet and a Chassagne-Montrachet.  I thought the difference characters unfolding in the wine were mostly the results of the grapes being in different locations.  But after comparing the Hunter Valley Chardonnay in both French and American Oak, I can understand how impactful the French Oak is in making any Chardonnay (of very good grapes) taste like a Montrachet.

I greatly look forward to drinking both of these wines with the mushroom soup we are making this evening to see if either goes better than the other with the soup.  Hats off to Rothvale on making great wines using both French and American Oak!

Steve Shipley
Twitter: @shipleyaust
My other blog (on business, tech, world issues):  Steve Shouts Out!
My Blake Stevens blog: From Blake's Bookshelf
Still Stupid at Sixty in Amazon Kindle Store

No comments:

Post a Comment