Home News > November 2018 > Oaxit, Married Couples and Cabernet as SWA Senior Judges Battle with Barrels

It’s the issue that’s divided the country. Some are passionately in favour, others very much against. One group see that it could be attractive in the short term, still others fear about its long-term impact.

We are talking, of course, about oak in wine.

And in mid-november, a group of the Sommelier Wine Awards’ Senior Judges came together for a masterclass from SWA stalwart Tom Forrest in how to judge and assess this most divisive of subjects in a line-up.

‘Oak can overpower people’s decisions on a wine – they can almost take it personally,’ said Tom. ‘Sometimes it can be there to mask something that’s missing in the wine, but when it’s done right it should enhance it, no question.’

Amid much lively  and intelligent discussion, the teams tasted two white flights showing different oak use, from chips, to old oak, and a pair of wines aged in new oak, but different-sized containers.

The latter, in fact, created something of a stand-off between our teams, with half of our judges passionately in favour of one style, and half passionately in favour of the other – and neither side able to understand the other’s point of view.

Sound familiar?

‘We’ve got our very own Oaxit,’ muttered Tom, before moving on to a flight of reds.

The reds went from a neat Chilean Pinot Noir, through a Pinotage (yes really!) to a Stellenbosch Cabernet and a Navarran crianza. The latter provided a good example of a wine where the oak and the fruit had not yet integrated.

‘They’re an old married couple sleeping in separate bedrooms – the oak can’t put up with the grapes’ snoring,’ said Tom, in an explanation that, as far as we’re aware, hasn’t made it into too many wine tasting manuals.

The afternoon finished with a couple of short blind flights where our tasters could put what they’d learned into practice.

‘Oak is often a real problem,’ said SWA Head Judge, Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson. ‘And not everyone has the sophistication to really understand what’s going on with it. But there’s no doubt that we’ll get better judging as a result of days like this. Oak is never judged in isolation, and now the teams have a much more detailed understanding of how it works in the wines.’

Many thanks to D&D and the team at Blueprint Café and to our amazing senior judges for generously giving up their time.