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Bordeaux consultant to test oak influence on wine aroma

Winemakers may gain more influence over aromas in their wines if a new research project led by trained perfumer and winery consultant Alexandre Schmitt goes to plan.

Schmitt, whose perfume training and subsequent re-invention in wine has earned him the nickname ‘nose of Bordeaux‘, has started a three-year experiment with barrel maker Charlois on different oak treatments for wine.

Together with Charlois, which owns Berthomieu, Saury and Leroi cooperages, he will conduct tests in the cellar of an unnamed Bordeaux chateau, ensuring all the wine is kept in the same base conditions.

If successful, the project may help winemaker to exert more control over certain aromas already linked to oak treatment, such as vanilla, cloves, burnt almonds and smoky notes.

‘This is the first time globally that such a detailed test has been carried out, looking not just at the taste but the specific aroma molecules transferred to wine by barrels,’ Schmitt, who counts Opus One and Petrus among his clients, told Decanter.com.

Sylvain Charlois, group president, added, ‘The molecules transmitted to wine by oak are known, but how they are affected by how the barrel is made, the width of the grain, the method and level of toasting, or the provenance of the oak is less known.’

‘We want to develop a molecular reference so our clients can choose exactly the barrels best suited to them.’ A spokesperson said the tests would costs hundreds of thousands of euros.

Initial tests will be on 40 barrels of Merlot 2014, rising to 60 or 80 barrels for the 2015 and 2016 vintages. ‘This is not micro-fermentation but a significant study,’ said Schmitt.

All wine will be tested first in an oenology lab to ensure that it has no faults, and a group led by Schmitt and including oenologists, coopers and scientific researchers will taste samples every three months.

For balance, they will also test the same wine in stainless steel, as well as in vats containing wood derivatives from staves to chips.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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