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This Ain’t on the Wine Aroma Wheel

In a speech last fall at a gathering of online wine writers, Editor Jim Gordon from Wines & Vines magazine encouraged those in the audience to dig deep into expanding their viti and vinicultural knowledge.  Only when understanding how grapes are grown in the vineyard and turned into wine in the winery would a writer have enough breadth of knowledge to render valid context and criticism of a wine, went his line of thinking.

It’s good advice for all wine writers as well as experienced enthusiasts that make up what the industry call, “Core” wine drinkers.  And, of course, industry trade magazines like Wines & Vines and Wine Business Monthly along with any number of other educational supplements are valuable tools for understanding the production side of the business in order to accrue enough knowledge for what can sometimes by murky territory.

Elsewhere, and in a separate rejoinder, writer Matt Kramer calls for a heightened level of transparency about the making of a given wine in the current issue of Wine Spectator – things like acidifying, watering back, de-alcoholization and the use of additives like Mega Purple (Kramer did not specify Mega Purple by name) that can enhance mouth feel, color and taste.

Kramer’s piece wasn’t a call-to-arms as much as it was a call to lay down the arms, or indicate weapons of choice.

What’s unfortunate however in these twin calls to understand and to explain is the manifest reality that in the business of making wine there’s a certain level of forthrightness from winemakers that may never come.


Simply, the stakes are too high.

The dollars involved are too high not to use the technological advances that are available, and the stakes are too high around the romance of wine from the consumer side to talk about how the wine is made, lest the imperfection of reality manifest itself like a slovenly and sullen cast member at the Magic Kingdom.

Coming back full circle to Gordon’s statement, one thing I would encourage anybody with more than a passing interest in wine to do is begin to monitor the oak alternative companies.  Not necessarily in a “watchdog” way, but definitely in a “trying to understand” way.  It’s less shrouded in mystery and slightly more interesting than understanding a winemaker’s preferred choice of yeast.

A read through of the current issues of Wines & Vines and Wine Business Monthly, both focused on oak, indicates that a significant amount of innovation is happening in this niche of the industry and, secondarily, one of the significant hard costs for a winery is the acquisition of barrels – French, American or other.  Thus, the use of oak alternatives is rising. 

I read one futures prediction recently that indicated that in the not-too-distant future any wine under $15 would use an oak alternative.

An example of the innovation in oak is a recent ad for StaVin in Wine Business Monthly (bolded emphasis is mine).  The copy in the ad says:

“Two years ago, we told the world we could replicate the flavors of a French oak barrel by alternative means. Experts balked, then proved our point in blind tastings, actually choosing our flavors over those of prestigious French barrels.  We didn’t stop there.  Today we’re offering the tools to recreate flavor profiles of a whole range of different barrels.  Whether they come from France or Kentucky, Hungary or Spain.  Never before have winemakers had such a wide array of flavor controls at their command.”


In the visual for the ad (which is far more interesting than the copy), the photography indicates something of a board of dials for different flavors.  Represented in that ad, either by design, or lack of thought, are flavors for grapefruit, lemon, pear, violet, raspberry, blackberry, plum and many other components typically associated with grapes.

Oak doesn’t impart an apple or peach nuance? Or does it?

With the growing divide in between natural wines and wines of construction (using technological advances) there is much more left unsaid then is said. It’s the iceberg theory in action – 20% seen, 80% unseen.

Shrouded in mystery, the winemaker’s art won’t always tell us how a wine is constructed, but by following areas of the industry, like the barrel companies and oak alternatives, we’ll all start to have a better understanding of what goes into wine.  Your meaty Syrah with notes of bacon? Comes from the grape, right? Yeah, it might have come from a tea bag of oak dust tuned to deliver that flavor.


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (12) |


On 05/03, Hello Vino wrote:

Good read…very interesting concerning barrel companies and oak alternatives.

We always find it interesting when consumers pick their favorite flavors in our iPhone app, and very much revolve around typical grape descriptions grapefruit, lemon, pear, raspberry, blackberry, plum, etc. etc….but was it the grape?

Hello Vino

On 05/03, Timothy Keller wrote:

As a winemaker I see oak just is a tool in winemaking, but like every other tool, it’s over-use is not a good thing. 

Oak should be used to accentuate, but not dominate the fruit.  If the first thing you smell in the wine is oak - then you have used too much.

The wine purist in me would disparage the use of alternatives if it were not for one fact:  Making oak into barrels means being really selective especially regarding knots in the staves etc.

Only 20% of the wood taken out of the forrest ends up in your barrel.  For a product that often uses 100-year old trees, I find that problematic.

Since alternative oak products dont need to be fashioned into a water-tight container, you get a LOT more use from each harvested tree.  And there is a strong ecological argument for that.

The problem is not the use of oak alternatives, but the over-use of new oak in general. 

There are LOTS of wineries that use 100% new french oak barrels.  Getting the same effect with an alternative is just as bad a winemaking decision - just alternatives make that level of oak affordable by all.

Me… I use barrels.  about 1/4 - 1/5 new.

And I hold onto them for a LONG time.  If for some reason I think that I have skimped on oak too hard, I will drop alternative oak “chains” into a couple of the barrels to goose it up just a little.

Like so many things in winemaking - more is less and less is less.  The “best” comes from balance.

On 05/20, Character Battles wrote:

In the wine industry it’s vital to have a high quality arome for the wine. Basicly this is the top answer to have a succesful wine on the market.

On 05/21, Academics wrote:

Just started in the wine industry since middle age, now i bigin to like it since the flavor and taste start to provide the corect answer for a perfect wine aroma.

On 06/09, Ferienwohnungen wrote:

Just wana say this, that few days i faund this interesting post, and for few seconds i hesitated to make a short comment, on how a wine aroma, should be, or simply is this days. I bealive some of the best ones are lost, and are replaced with bad sintetics, that are jimply replics of the original aroma.


On 06/10, Natural Dog Supplies wrote:

I bealive that wine industry like other friends here said, must keep the aroma and flavor as much as they can. This is the best thing to do.

On 06/14, computer repair wrote:

Having some of the best aromas, natural wines are the best after all meals. I bealive in all traditional wine aromas, though the market is very populated with mixed wines, this days.

On 06/16, 4 steps to quit smoking wrote:

It’s simply devine when it comes to real wine quality. I think that to keep a real flavor and wine brand you need to know some industrial techniques.

On 06/18, London wrote:

Far from getting a great aroma, a wine needs to have a beautiful colour. I like the rose wine, and it’s perfect combination taste. Very nice..

On 06/18, download free videos wrote:

Find all the best flavors in the wine collections. When you need to get a perfect wine, see the fabrication, and sezon. It is very important.

On 06/21, best travel websites wrote:

I allwasys loved a nice arome on a special wine. Same now. It’s very nice to taste a special flavor on a wine, especially on rose wine, or those who are dated before you are born!

On 09/28, Ronaldo wrote:

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