What is Holzgeschmack? Besides being a fun sounding word?

    It is the German word for the character that a wooden (typically oak) barrel imparts upon wine.

    How much wood is too much?

    When wine makers go about creating their wine, they have to decide whether or not to use wood barrels when aging their wine. With red wines barrels are nearly always used, but with white wines… well with white wines it’s a very controversial question.

    Should barrels be used with white wine? Barrels actually change the chemical composition of wine, not to mention the color, aroma and palate. It does these things in a way that is far more dramatic than in red wine. Another possible problem with barrel aging white wine is that oxygen leaks into barrels and oxidizes the wine, aging it faster than may be wanted.

    These effects affect critic’s thoughts on the white wine (first time I have ever used effect and affect in the same sentence.. kinda cool). Some say use the oak liberally (meaning use new oak for a long period of time) effectively changing the wine into something completely different. They want a Frankenstein wine of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch. Some say just a touch of wood to give it complexity through a new variety of aromas, and others state with absolute certainty that wood should be avoided at all costs. Avoiding wood lets the grape speak for itself. It keeps the fruit bright and vibrant.

    With those that oak their wine, there usually remains another choice aside from how old the oak barrels are and how long they leave the wine in.

    This choice is between American and French oak.



    American = more aggressive, notes of sweet vanilla, oak and herb

    French = more subtle, adds complexity, buttery, citrus, and silky

    Barrel aging and red wine is incredibly common, and it definitely assists with longevity. The oak aging imparts tannins that give the wine structure, which keeps it from falling apart.

    So it’s a go with red, but what of white?

    It is all in what you want. Most everyone agrees that there shouldn’t be barrel aging with wines like Moscato or Gewurztraminer, but with Chardonnay the general consensus is that if the grapes are of a high enough quality than mild oak usage will add depth and longevity.

    I myself tend to steer clear of oaked white wines because I enjoy the raw unadulterated citrus and fruit that the wine exhibits before aging in barrels. That said I have had some amazing wines that have spent years in oak barrels. It all depends on the wine, the wine maker, the grape, and the oak.