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Caramel, banana, creme brulee, maple syrup and dark chocolate can make a fancy dessert menu, but hints of such flavors might be found in Saslove's robust Cabernet
The use of wine barrels to store and age wine is a centuries old tradition and even today many of the world's best reds and whites are fermented or matured in these oak wonders.
The main purpose of wine barrel aging is to fine-tune the taste of the wine by adding delicate oak flavors. Steel vats and cement vats are popular and effective but impart no flavor to the wine.
Wood barrels are different.
Wine aged in oak barrels is enhanced with vanilla and oak overtones. Wooden wine barrels also allow evaporation of the wine during the aging period, and let in just the right amount of oxygen. It creates an ideal environment for aging wines.
Some of the best known barrels for wine making is French oak and American oak. The wood preparation and barrel construction also make a difference to the quality and taste of the wine as does the intensity of the "toasting" process the barrel has undergone. (The toast flavor comes from heating the inside of a barrel during its construction to caramelize the flavors.)
The primary flavors given off by oak are toasty, spicy, buttery, and vanilla. You can smell and taste it. However, the amount of oak flavors added, just like the fruit and alcohol, must be balanced.
There are slight differences between the two types of oak which are reflected in the flavor and characteristics they impart. French oak is thought to be more subtle, with vanilla characteristics, while the American oak is more powerful and toasty.
Early experiments with American oak were not very successful since the amount of influence that the barrel had on the taste of the wine was too great. At first it was thought that the problem was with the wood itself, but later it proved to b that most of the difficulties were caused by the way the wood was prepared and the way the barrel was constructed. As coopers began using traditional French barrel making techniques on 'foreign' oak, the results improved dramatically.
Once the French barrel building techniques were applied to Oak from other countries, the results improved substantially. It is now common to find American Oak as well as that of several other countries including Hungary in the construction of wine barrels.
Choosing the right barrel requires some knowledge and experience. There are different types of oak that winemakers pick from, depending on the desired effect. The best-known French sources of oak barrels are Limousin, Alliere, Vosges or Nevers. These are the finest money can buy. The leading sources of oak in the United States are Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio.
There is a great variety of opinion about how the oak from different locations affect various types of wines. Most agree that the American oak imparts slightly sweeter taste than the European grown oaks.
Barrels come in different sizes. The smaller the barrel used, the greater the surface area or wood-to-wine ratio. That means that more wood will be in contact with any given amount of wine. Wines will therefore extract more flavors, needing less time.
Barry Saslove, winemaker and owner of the Saslove winery, aged his recently released Cabernet Sauvignon Reserved 2003 for 24 months using seven different oak barrels. Each of the barrels imparted an array of flavors and aromas to the wine.
From the clove, mint and vanilla flavors gained from the French Taransaud barrels of the Alliere forest, to the American Canton barrels in which the wine got its mocca and buttery aromas, it's all about the barrel. Caramel, banana, cr me brulee, maple syrup and dark chocolate make a fancy dessert menu, but hints of such flavors might be found in Barry's robust Cabernet.
If all you can taste is ripe dark fruit flavors, then let the wine sit for 10 to 15 minutes in the glass. Have a piece of plain bread or unsalted cracker; swirl the wine in the glass and take another sip, and hold it for an extra 15 seconds in the mouth before swallowing. You can be guaranteed a new tasting experience.
The grapes for this wine were harvested in the organic vineyard of Kadita located in the Upper Galilee. The wine was bottled in March 2006 and rested in the winery's cellar until its release. It will be interesting to watch the development of this wine over the next four or five years. NIS 140 (not kosher).