A month or so back an agreement was reached between the European Union and the US on wine shipments into and out of the EU. Many things were discussed and agreed upon among them that within a certain period of time the US would stop using Burgundy, bourgeoisie or Port on their labels since those are place names and not wine names. Another item that was agreed upon, and one that I initially didn't pay to much attention to was that the EU would allow US wines that used wood chips instead of aging their wines in barrels. I really didn't know if this practice was wide spread in the US, until I came upon this article today. Now this article was repeated in numerous places around the web, so its not just one place reporting. A fairly well known and well liked winery admits to using wood chips instead of barrels, stating expense and space as the biggest issues. Mr. Runquist of McManis, states that you can not tell the difference between a wine aged in true oak barrel's and one that was aged in metal tanks with wood chips. That may be true, but that's not the point. As a consumer if I read on the wine label that a wine is aged in oak my assumption right or wrong is that it was aged in oak chips, and I will pay for the expense that the winery went to, to age their wines in new oak barrels. However if a wine is aged in only oak chips then the label should say that.
The bigger problem is the use of Wood Alternatives, what ever that means....True toasted oak does give the wine hints of esspreso, vanilla, and mocha, things that we love to taste. But putting those "flavors" on wood alternatives. One of the companies that creates these alternatives prides itself in developing flavors such as vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, nuttiness and toast without barbecue smokiness. Sweet, freshly baked bread characters for its wood alternatives. This is where I start to have some issues, I mean at what point to draw the line? Are we creating ways of getting flavors into our wines? What's wrong with using actual toasted oak? Where is the craftsmanship of toasting the oak and then the wine maker carefully aging the wine the appropriate amount of time as it seeps the flavors creating a wonderful experience of flavors on the tongue. At what point does this become wine processing instead of wine making?