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Oak Flavour Compounds

By: Mackenzie Brisbois
Winemakers have a lot of choice when it comes to oak!
I use almost exclusively neutral used barrels or barrels from Tonnellerie de Mercurey. The cooperage is in Burgundy, France. Wood is sourced from a 300 km radius and seasoned at N.T. Bois in Champagne. I had the pleasure of visiting in 2014 and was able to see exactly what goes into each barrel.
At Mercurey the staves are chosen from different forest to create precise blends. The wood is sorted into categories based on the size of the grain and barrels are created to be consistent year to year.
Descriptions of my favourite toasts from Mercurey:
ST: Special Toast
We combine a medium toasting with frequent water spraying to achieve a light brown coloration that penetrates quite deeply in the wood (6-7mm).The result is a subtle balance between length and volume in the mouth and delicate toasted bread flavors. The salinity in the finish brings freshness and tension to the wine.
CLL: Chauffe Long & Light
Lengthily heated on embers and a very low flame, CLL allows us to obtain a honey color penetrating for 3 to 5mm in the wood. This very light toast has a minimal aromatic impact on the wine and brings freshness and length, as well as tension and minerality. CLL fits very well with medium to long ageing (10 months or more).
Flavour Compounds from Oak
Depending on the forest, region and oak type, flavour characteristics can vary widely. Here are some oak-derived flavour compounds:
Lactones – coconut, earthy, herbaceous, spice, oak
Vanillin – vanilla
Guaiacol – char-like, smoky, spicy
Eugenol – clove-like smell
Furfural – butterscotch, caramel, almond
Ellagitannins – modify structure and increase colour, astringent taste
Coumarins – bitter and acidic
Tyloses – Outgrowths that can drop into place if the plant runs into a drought or attack from disease. They block the vascular tissue to help prevent damage to the plant. American oak has many more and for this reason it can be sawn. French oak must be split, making it much more expensive.
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