Tour the world of wine with Robin Garr in 2004
Burgundy and Champagne tour with French Wine Explorers, May 24-30, 2004

New Zealand tour with Wine & Food Trails, Feb. 3-12, 2004

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Saratoga Wine Exchange
The Saratoga Wine Exchange is your source for fine wine online! Spend less time searching web sites for that rare vintage or gift - we've done the work for you! Our online store is easy to use, flash-free and full of fine, rare and collectible wines.
(See "Saratoga Wine Exchange" below)

California Wine Club
Don't Panic! There's still time to order, and with The California Wine Club holiday shopping is easy! No shopping, no shipping and no wrapping! For friends, family and business associates a gift of award-winning wine is a tasteful way to say "Happy Holidays!"
(Click to "California Wine Club" below)

In This Issue
 Oak and health?
 RockBare 2002 McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz ($12.99)
 Saratoga Wine Exchange
 RedDust 2001 South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($10)
 California Wine Club
 New, quick and affordable: Zap your text message on The Wine Advisor
 This week on
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

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Oak and health?

If wine were marketed like fast-food hamburgers, the most common question in the wine shop or restaurant might just be, "Would you like oak with that?"

The sweet, spicy and aromatic character that oak imparts to wine has created a booming market that might threaten to decimate virgin forests in wine-producing regions. Based on his ratings, the critic Robert M. Parker Jr. appears to love the stuff; and so, it seems, do the tasters at Wine Spectator magazine.

Most of us, I think, don't object to a taste of oak to round out the fruit flavors and fill the gaps to produce a balanced and complex wine. There's a good reason why many of the world's best wines spend time maturing in oaken casks, and why many wines labeled "reserve" are set apart from their brethren because of the extra time they spend aging in oak.

For a while there, though, it seemed that critical enthusiasm, and mass-market tastes, were inspiring some producers to use barrels (or an industrial short-cut, oak chips added to wine in vats) to create a beverage that tasted more like wood juice with grapes in it than the other way around.

By the 1990s, the near-universal dominance of oak in Chardonnay led some wine enthusiasts to abandon the grape entirely, marching under the banner "ABC" ("Anything But Chardonnay"). Oak certainly wasn't limited to Chardonnay, though, or to white wines; its spicy signature became commonplace in wines ranging from Australian Shiraz to California Cabernet, and even began turning up in "international-style" wines from Europe, seemingly made intentionally to capture high ratings points from American reviewers.

Happily, some balance seems to be returning nowadays, as more producers - and wine lovers - recognize the wisdom in the phrase coined by Boston wine merchant Richard Eccleston: "Oak should be a spice, not a sauce."

A recent news item, however, may give oak new life. In a snippet titled "Oak Barrels May Sweeten Red Wine's Anti-Cancer Potential," Scientific American reports on a study in today's issue of the German journal Angewandte Chemie International ("Applied Chemistry International") suggesting that the oak component in red wines may help protect against cancer in humans.

This echoes earlier publicity about "The French Paradox," the supposition that French people may enjoy good heart health in spite of a fatty diet because they consume red wine regularly. Wide publicity about this effect a decade ago resurrected what had been a shrinking market for red wine, a boost that has persisted to this day and shows no signs of abating.

"The putative health benefits of red wine stem mainly from so-called polyphenol molecules that are known for their antioxidant activity," Scientific American reports. Now, it says, researcher Stéphane Quideau and colleagues at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology in France have found two polyphenols in red wine that can potentially react with oak barrels to form Acutissimin A, a potent anti-tumor compound.

Wine stored in oak seems to "extract a whole bouquet of substances" from the barrels, Quideau said, adding that researchers found two types of Acutissimin compounds in red wine that had been aged for 18 months in oak. Researchers said that Acutissimin A seems to inhibit an enzyme that is a target for cancer treatment; in "in vitro" studies, it was 250 times more powerful than a clinically used cancer drug.

These findings offer intriguing grist for speculation, but the researchers cautioned that it is far too early to leap to the conclusion that red wine prevents cancer. Indeed, although the article didn't mention it, other studies have shown a slight increase in breast cancer among women who consume wine.

The full Scientific American article is online at

The current issue of Angewandte Chemie International is online in English at
but access to the full text of the article requires a paid subscription.

If you want to help dissect this report, or express an opinion about wine and oak, you're invited to visit our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group. To join in an interactive round-table online discussion on this topic, click to

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'm sorry that the overwhelming amount of mail I receive makes it tough to respond personally every time, but I do try to get back to as many as I can.

Now, for today's tasting reports, a quick look at a couple of Australian reds in which oak is a distinct presence if not their defining character.

RockBare RockBare 2002 McLaren Vale South Australia Shiraz ($12.99)

This inky dark-ruby wine shows typical Shiraz black-fruit aromas with a "dusty" note; shy blueberry scents emerge with swirling and time in the glass. Plummy and warm on the palate, with a distinct edge of oak that doesn't quite integrate with the fruit; still, it's a full-bodied red and a good quaff. U.S. importer: Click Imports, Sseattle. (Nov. 7, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: Hearty braised lamb shanks stand up well to the wine's robust fruit and oak.

VALUE: Reasonably priced against the competition in the mid-teens.

WHEN TO DRINK: Although it's not a candidate for long-term aging, it should hold up well for a few years.

WEB LINK: Visit the Click Imports Website at
then click "Portfolio" to find the page about RockBare.

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Locate vendors for RockBare on

Saratoga Wine Exchange

Saratoga Wine Exchange

The Saratoga Wine Exchange is your source for fine wine online!

Spend less time searching web sites for that rare vintage or gift - we've done the work for you! Our online store is easy to use, flash-free and full of fine, rare and collectible wines including Kistler, Turley, Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estates, Shafer, Plumpjack, Diamond Creek and many more. Find exactly what your cellar or gift list needs right here, 24-hours-a-day, with just a click of your mouse.

Our holiday gift sets feature 2 or 3 bottles, are tastefully boxed and include a gift card. These pairings are unique and affordable, making them perfect gifts for your loved ones, corporate clients and friends. We offer nationwide shipping and attractive case discounts on larger orders.

Shopping for wine should be easy and enjoyable, not time consuming. Just visit
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RedDust RedDust 2001 South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($10)

This oak-accented blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Shiraz shows a very dark garnet color in the glass. Good plummy fruit aromas gain interest from notes of dark chocolate and spice, inviting a taste. It's ripe and smooth in flavor, with a distinctly oaky element becomes evident on the mid-palate. Easy drinking if a bit on the simple side, it's a crowd-pleaser. U.S. importer: HB Wine Merchants, NYC. (Dec. 14, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: Went well enough with a lightly spicy Indian vegetarian dish, "Pachadi," a blend of brown rice, lentils and bulghur with green chilies and lots of veggies; on a carnivorous bill of fare it would go well with any red meat.

VALUE: If you like Shiraz in the fruity-oaky style, it's hard to argue with a $9 price tag.

WHEN TO DRINK: Should hold for a while on the wine rack, but I don't see it getting better with age.

FINDING THE WINE: I'm told that Red Dust Winery is a label produced in the Adelaide Hills as an American/Australian joint venture by Australian importer Hugh Matthews, but the wine appears to be difficult to find outside a few limited markets. HB Wine Merchants is a small importer, with no Website; much of its portfolio seems to be imported primarily for the large Liquor Barn stores in Louisville and Lexington, Ky. RedDust currently gets no "hits" at

California Wine Club

California Wine Club

Don't Panic! There's still time to order, and with The California Wine Club holiday shopping is easy! No shopping, no shipping and no wrapping! For friends, family and business associates a gift of award-winning wine is a tasteful way to say "Happy Holidays!"

Each month includes two bottles of hand-selected, high quality wine from California's best boutique wineries. In addition, your gift recipients will receive the fun and entertaining 8-page newsletter, Uncorked! Just $32.95/month plus shipping.

Red or white wine only? No problem! Gifts can arrive monthly, bi-monthly or even quarterly. Visit their website for special holiday discounts:

New, quick and affordable: Zap your text message on The Wine Advisor

As I frequently point out to those of you in the wine business, there is no quicker, better or more efficient way to deliver a wine-related message to wine lovers around the world than an advertising "sponsorship" on

Now we're introducing a low-cost, high-impact alternative that makes it easy even for small wine-related businesses with limited advertising budgets to reach our international audience of wine-savvy readers with a simple, discreet and affordable text message in The 30 Second Wine Advisor. It's just about as quick as tapping out an instant text message on your mobile phone, and not a whole lot more expensive.

For more information, or to reserve space while it's available, write me today at

This week on

Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:

Nat Decants: A Glass Act
The Riedel family has been making fine lead crystal in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria for 10 generations, and they're now turning out some 5 million high-quality wine glasses every year. The firm's courtly chief, Georg Riedel, came to Toronto recently to show off his wares, and columnist Natalie MacLean was there. She files this report, an exhaustive overview of wine glasses in general and Riedel in particular.

Burgundy of the Week: Dampt 2002 Chablis
Although regional-level Chablis is a notorious underperformer, Burgundy expert Allen "Burghound" Meadows is impressed with Domaine Daniel Dampt 2002 Chablis, a wine he describes as "intense, pure and elegant with unmistakable Chablis character and a fine steeliness. ... First-rate quality for this level and an excellent choice for a house white, especially at this price."

Subscribers receive Burghound's extensive Burgundy advice quarterly in his excellent newsletter, Watch for Issue 13, coming soon!

Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Wine as art
Is wine art? Can a great bottle move the emotions and literally bring tears to your eyes as a great piece of music, work of literature or a painting can do? Or is this too much to expect of fermented grape juice? A Wine Lovers' Discussion Booth topic on this seemingly arcane question has yielded more than 100 responses, many of them deeply thoughtful. Read the conversation - and join in - by clicking to Howard Roth's topic, "I guess I'm not yet a true wine geek yet," at

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Cremant de Bourgogne (Dec. 12, 2003)

 Sending back wine (Dec. 10, 2003)

 About the "punt" (Dec. 8, 2003)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pane casalinga (Dec. 11, 2003)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, Dec. 15, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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