Oak is a fundamental ingredient when ageing premium wines as it adds aroma compounds to both red and white varieties. But not only is it tasty, oak aged wines could essentially give you all the health benefits tied to ellagic acid.
Our body converts ellagitannins (which besides certain berries, nuts and green tea is also found in oak aged wines) into ellagic acid, much like beta carotene into vitamin A. Research suggests that ellagitannin helps in preventing the formation of cancer cells and aids in the destruction of existing ones. According to a study done by the Oregon State University, ellagic acid also slows the growth of fat cells, so it could be beneficial for those who are fighting obesity as well.
But ellagitannin is not the only active element in oak. Lactones, for example, have coconut aromas along with many other components which also contribute to the spicy, sweet and smoky tasting notes – adding flavours such as vanilla, clove, caramel and char to the wines. Some oak used for barrels are also toasted to increase aromas like vanilla and butter.
Chardonnay especially, a white which is known for its buttery and biscuity characteristics, gets its aromas from the barrels. Together with Pinot Noirs, these varieties “soak up” flavours more easily than other wine grapes. Therefore both are an ideal match for French oak which adds subtle aromas to the wines. Penfolds, being one of the most renowned premium Australian wine producers, matures its Chardonnays for around 7-9 months and its Bin 23 Pinot Noir for 12 months in French oak.
American oak, on the other hand, imparts a lot of flavour which adds ruggedness to our beloved fruity specials (classified as “new world wines”). A very good example of the use of American oak and its effect on premium new world wines is the iconic Penfolds Grange. The Grange is Australia’s most celebrated red wine which is officially listed as a Heritage Icon of SA. It is an intensely flavoured and textured blend of mainly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon (below 8%), which matures for no less than 18 to 20 months in new American oak hogsheads (300L casks).
On an interesting note, the difference you can notice between the Bin 28 Kalimna and the Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz is not only the region, but the cask as well. The Bin 28 Kalimna is a multi-district, warm climate Australian Shiraz, which is ripe, robust and generously flavoured thanks to 15 months of maturation in American oak. On the other hand, the Bin 128 is a single region cool climate Shiraz from Coonawarra and most importantly this red is aged in French oak, which highlights the pepper, spice and floral characteristics of this elegant, complex, fruit flavoured Shiraz.
A wine which spends 2 years in new oak contains 190mg of ellagitannin and gallotannin combined, so based on the research recommending we consume 40mg of ellagic acid a day, you could in theory replace you cup of raspberries with one glass of oak aged wine.
In my previous post I have explained how you could get the best prices on a single bottle of wine from Dan Murphy’s using their free shipping voucher, so why not put it towards a healthy choice. Currently, all the Penfolds varieties I have mentioned above such as the Bin 311 Chardonnay, the Bin 23 Pinot Noir, the Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz and the Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz are priced the same at $36.99 a bottle. For the 2010 Grange on the other hand you’ll have to pay a whopping $650 per bottle, but if you listen to the wine experts, it’s the best wine out there scoring the maximum of 99 points by James Halliday.