Question: What’s all the recent controversy about using oak during wine production?
Answer: Don’t know if you can really call it a controversy. Certainly there is a lot of concern out there because some producers at the lower price range are strongly seasoning their wines with oak chips. However there definitely seems to be a growing trend to let many fresh fragrant wines show their best natural fruit. This element becomes more difficult to discern if you mask the aromas and flavours by putting the wine into oak – particularly new oak. Remember also that new oak is expensive and wineries can lower their production costs by using only stainless steel, concrete and the like. Chardonnay is one variety that definitely is seeing less new oak recently which allows the released wine to have vibrancy (like Chablis) and show more individual terroir of each grower’s specific site including their distinct soils, climate, elevation … There will always be some grand wines that benefit from oak – even 100% new oak – like Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes and First Growth Bordeaux.
For a long time, I staid away from California Chardonnays ,which I found drenched in oak! They are now coming to their senses…
I believe that in France it is illegal to use oak chips. And that rule
(like no irrigation) is severely enforced.