Saturday, November 22, 2008

Piazzano Chianti, 2006

A wine-by-the-glass selection, this Chianti was a good accompaniment to the basil and olive-oil oriented dishes I had last night at Bravo Restaurant in Kalamazoo. It's a youthful bright crimson color, and the smells and flavors confirm that it was aged in concrete tanks rather than new wood. Tart cherries, pepper, spice--fresh and lively. A full bodied wine but by no means heavy with just the right amount of acidity for my tastes and the dishes of the restaurant. Bravo!


  1. How does aging in concrete differ from wood?

  2. That's a good question. I was referring to new oak which imparts qualities that have become fairly standard in internationally styled wines: opaque, usually bluish color and some aroma and flavor qualities that come from the wood, such as vanilla, dill, coffee, toast, toffee or (in the case of white wines) tropical fruit. French first growth Bordeaux wines and high-end white Burgundies were among the first to make use of new oak--typically small barriques of carefully selected (and expensive) wood to impart exactly the right personality. Today, the use of new oak has become widespread and most wine drinkers take it for granted. Although new oak barrels raise the cost, a winemaker can economize by choosing cheaper (and less elegant) types of oak or (heaven forbid) oak chips. If you get oaky qualities in a $5 or $10 wine, it probably comes from oak chips.

    Every time a barrel is used, it loses some of its flavor-imparting qualities. Eventually, a large old oak barrel (like the ones used traditionally in Chateauneuf du Pape or Gigondas) becomes flavor and aroma neutral, merely a vessel for aging the wine. Aging in concrete is almost the same: neutral but with limited exposure to air to bring the aromas and flavors forward a bit so they are less astringent when first put in the bottle. The Piazzano Chianti had wonderful fruit smells and robust flavors with good fruit tannins but no vanilla, dill, etc. The color was bright crimson with no bluish tints.

    The third alternative, used by many Cotes du Rhone winemakers, is aging in stainless steel--no wood qualities and no exposure to air. The idea is to stress the fresh fruit flavors and smells. And stainless steel works best with grapes like Grenache which are particularly prone to oxidation. Cabernet aged in stainless steel is much less appealing, although that's probably what you get with Mondavi Woodbridge.

    I've probably told you more than you need or want to know, and I may have oversimplified some matters. (Winemakers, please clarify and correct.) But the bottom line is that many traditional wines from France and Italy use concrete vats to produce wines with robust aromas, flavors and fruit tannins for aging...without the expense of new oak barrels. Hence, artisan wine on a budget!

  3. I appreciate the thoroughness of your explanation. No need to apologize!

  4. How educational, thanks!