Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

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Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Brian K Miller » Sat Sep 30, 2006 2:20 am

Are the "caramel" notes I am tasting in some Napa cabs an example of what people mean when they say "over-oaked" or "dominated by oak." Maybe that's a better explanation for my complaint about some Napa cabs that they are too "caramelly"? Whereas other producers in the same subareas seem to be better balanced and delicious, even when young.

On another note, I actually tasted "lead pencil" in a very nice Stag's Leap Winery release from 1999. I was proud of myself! :twisted:
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Thomas » Sat Sep 30, 2006 9:50 am

To me, "caramel" indicates potentially cooked wine (or cooked fruit hanging on the vine), like what happens when sugar is cooked.
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Hoke » Sat Sep 30, 2006 12:04 pm

Thomas, I can certainly understand your reference to caramel as being related somehow to overcooked fruit/sugar. After all that's what caramel is: overcooked sugar.

But that is why I also relate caramel to oak---because when you toast oak, that is, burn it with fire, you are essentially caramelizing the wood starches (just another word for sugar). And we all know that sometimes those barrels are aggressively over-toasted (i.e., heavily burned) these by many winemakers looking ever bigger and bolder wine expressions.
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Ian Sutton » Sat Sep 30, 2006 1:08 pm

One of those tastes that really turns me off - especially in chardonnays, but I've seen it in reds as well. I suspect this is indeed clumsy oak treatment - perhaps too much oak, but maybe more likely a bad choice of level of toasting on the inside of the barrel. Worst instance so far was an Argentinian Chardonnay and sadly it wasn't a really cheap bottle (probably spent too much on the barrels :roll: ).

Caramel taste in beer is much more acceptable (and I do like my Porters!)

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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Thomas » Sat Sep 30, 2006 2:31 pm

Hoke wrote:Thomas, I can certainly understand your reference to caramel as being related somehow to overcooked fruit/sugar. After all that's what caramel is: overcooked sugar.

But that is why I also relate caramel to oak---because when you toast oak, that is, burn it with fire, you are essentially caramelizing the wood starches (just another word for sugar). And we all know that sometimes those barrels are aggressively over-toasted (i.e., heavily burned) these by many winemakers looking ever bigger and bolder wine expressions.


Fair point Hoke. I'm just saying that when I encounter a caramelized quality in wine, my first thought is potentially cooked.

One of the reasons I usually refrain from responding to matters of taste over the Internet is that I can't taste what is being referred to, so I can only make a considered guess. In my experience, I've never really gathered caramel from the oak, but, as your post makes clear, that may be because I am not looking in that direction. I will start to think more about that--of course, now I have to go out and find over-oaked wines, which i normally avoid...;)
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Sue Courtney » Sat Sep 30, 2006 4:57 pm

Brian,
Could the caramel also be a by-product of malolactic fermentation? I know that in some chardonnays a caramel / butterscotch taste is a nuance derived from mlf and all reds undergo mlf, so it could be a possibility.
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Brian K Miller » Sun Oct 01, 2006 12:49 am

It could be these factors. What's interesting is it definitely seems to be a matter of personal taste. Some people I've talked with love this flavor character. Example: Frank Family versus Larkmead. Larkmead was definitely an example of the overly ripe, caramelly character I've found in some Cabs. Frank was the opposite, with the leather, dark fruit, more astribgeent character I prefer. Other examples of caramelly wines imo include Reynolds Family, Baldacci, Stretzner, Whitehall Lane and even the brand new Alphas Omega winery south of Saint Helena (they make an absolutely stunning Meritage, though, that is one of my favorites!).

Maybe it's the over-ripeness of the grapes? Interestingly enough, there are a couple of very ripe cabs that don't have quite the caraemel notes that I dislike. Raymond Generations is almost portlike at 8 years old.

Edit: Wine Enthusiast's reviewer "S.H." refers to caramel and new oak. He likes it (and this is reflected in his scores). I won't rely so much on him/them as a starting point for identifying wines I might like to sample-some of the wines he somewhat pans (Clos du Val, for example...or Trefethen) have the kind of lean style that I am developing a taste for.

Is this oakiness (and jamminess) the infamous Parker curse, too? The clerk at a wine shop in Saint Helena I like dismissed the critics by stating that if you taste 1800 wines per year, only the over the top bombs get your attention.
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Otto » Sun Oct 01, 2006 4:30 am

Brian K Miller wrote:The clerk at a wine shop in Saint Helena I like dismissed the critics by stating that if you taste 1800 wines per year, only the over the top bombs get your attention.


Some years I get to taste 2000 wines. And since I obviously praise only the over the top bombs like Muscadet, Chinon, Ruwer and such, I guess there is a certain amount of truth to the statement. :roll: And I thought that the critics taste about 10 000 wines a year.
I don't drink wine because of religious reasons ... only for other reasons.
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Re: Another Uneducated Question: Caramel Notes=Oak?

Postby Ian Sutton » Sun Oct 01, 2006 9:32 am

Sue Courtney wrote:Brian,
Could the caramel also be a by-product of malolactic fermentation? I know that in some chardonnays a caramel / butterscotch taste is a nuance derived from mlf and all reds undergo mlf, so it could be a possibility.
Cheers,
Sue

Fair comment (and presumably it can be mis-handled, so it's less of a nuance and more of a slap round the head with the caramel club?, maybe over-oak and malo can have a combined impact?)
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