Several wineries think outside of the barrel |

Several wineries think outside of the barrel

Naomi Havlen

Wine can be clean, cloying, earthy, fruity, grapey, luscious, peppery, smooth, tannic or velvety.But of all the wildly imaginative words used to describe wine, it’s pretty common to hear someone call it woody, or oaky. The taste of oak in a bottle of wine comes straight from the wood itself – the material from the barrels in which wine ages.But it doesn’t always have to be that way, said Joshua Wesson during “Oakless in Aspen,” a seminar during Saturday’s Food & Wine events. Wesson, the executive wine director of Best Cellars, walked an audience through eight different wines made without the use of oak barrels.”These wines have never seen the inside of a toothpick, let alone a barrel,” Wesson said.Wesson said he likes a woody flavor in wine, but over time he’s come to realize there’s a “vast array of wine that doesn’t need wood as a crutch to stand on its own.” Instead, wines aged in stainless steel tanks let the grapes speak for themselves, he said, allowing the wine to have bright, food-friendly flavors.The tasting began with a champagne – Laurent Perrier Brut LP NV, which sells for $30 a bottle. Without oak barrels, the bubbly was characterized as crisp and easy to drink. A representative from the company said she considers oak like women’s makeup – “it can either enhance features or cover up faults. But if you have natural beauty, you don’t need makeup.”At $25, Dry Creek “Taylor’s Vineyard Musque” sauvignon blanc 2003, from California was next, made with a Musque grape that doesn’t have the same brassy flavor as a typical sauvignon blanc.Wesson also presented Brancott “Unoaked” Chardonnay 2004 from New Zealand, saying that the movement for oakless chardonnays began in Australia and New Zealand but is working its way around the world. It gives a new dimension to chardonnays that can be buttery but extremely woody.”It’s more food friendly than a chardonnay that’s like a 2-by-4 attached to a stick of Land O’Lakes,” he said. The Brancott sells for $10.”Y” Viognier 2004 from Yalumba in Australia is oakless, but the winery actually has its own cooperage to construct its own barrels for the rest of its wine. A representative said the winery believes oak is like one color on an artist’s palate that can be used to enhance flavor. In this case, he said the Viognier, which sells for $10, ended up with an orange blossom and stone fruit taste.Robert Sinskey presented his vineyard’s Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2004 from California, a $16 pink wine that didn’t sell in the early ’90s but has recently been flying of the shelves. People may be getting more comfortable with drinking pink wines, Sinskey said. “It’s all about purity,” he said of his oakless wine.The audience learned how to pronounce Valle Reale Vigne Nuove Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2004, a red wine made from vines that are between 3 and 5 years old. A bottle, $11, goes well with food and keeps its acidity in balance, said the winery’s representative.In Argentina, one of the reasons for a move toward oakless production may be because during a company’s economic struggles, expensive barrels from France became four times as expensive. A bottle of Mauricio Lorca Opolo Malbec 2004, for $19.99, is a deep red wine aged in stainless steel tanks that manages to taste dense and oaky nonetheless.Finally, a German Riesling was tasted from an 11th-generation winery – L. Guntram Oppenheimer Sacktrager Riesling Auslese 2002 sells for $27. The sweeter wine holds up to spicy food and has only 9 percent alcohol. Wines typically average 12 to 13 percent alcohol.”Finally, a wine you can serve to lunching surgeons,” Wesson said.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is