Sorry for the clickbait title - but hear me out.
I was asking a winemaker a few weeks ago about his wines and winemaking. I asked if his IGP wine was in oak. “Ah non, c’est un vin de pays, il faut que ce soit un vin léger, sans bois” he said.
Elsewhere, that variety is prestigious and often over-oaked, but in this corner of South-West France, this producer (who even has a Monopole over his IGP!) feels that oaking it would be wrong, as it is officially an IGP wine and therefore needs to be light and fresh and easy-drinking. This is not a rule in his IGP, merely his vision on what a wine Should be, and what clients Should want and expect from it.
Attuned to this puzzling statement (and having had my fair share of outstanding IGP wines, made to wow at a much higher price point), I was just yesterday watching an interview with a Barbaresco producer, who stated a similar opinion. “Per il Langhe Nebbiolo la procedura e diverso, voglio fare più freschezza, non invecchiare in legno, solamente in acciaio”. For Langhe, it’s different, we want to make it fresher, not in oak, only in steel.
I’ve heard this before, and it’s actually something that really puts me off buying Langhe Nebbiolo. With Barolo, I know what I’m getting. With a Langhe, am I getting inexpensive Nebbiolo-from-a-hill-not-in-Barolo (I refuse to believe that to my uneducated palate I could tell the difference of one hill from another) or am I getting a completely different and unrecognisable wine, made in a totally different style?
I understand, happily, that there are different styles of wine, and that some wines need freshness whilst others benefit more from long oak ageing - but in this case, is this justified? A wine of a less restrictive appellation tier should not necessarily be less expensively made, or less complex. More oak is not necessarily better, easy-drinking light wines are not necessarily worse.
To say ‘these grapes aren’t quite the quality we look for when deciding whether to age in oak, because they’re from a poor parcel’ is perfectly understandable. To say ‘these grapes are from a poor parcel, therefore we shall intentionally make them in an inexpensive, easy-drinking style’ strikes me like cutting off a nose to spite a face.
I’m not enough of an expert on Burgundy to comment, but I’m pretty sure that even Bourgogne AOP wines at least try and make a fancy wine with the grapes they have, one that imitates even the greatest, rather than throwing their hands up in the air and making carafe wine.
Incidentally, I know that the Produttori di Barbaresco cooperative exclusively owns vineyards in Barbaresco, and even their Langhe is just declassified Babaresco. Presumably they would be the people to ask - do they vinify similarly? Do they declassify and vinify differently because the grapes can’t take it - or just because they want to make lighter wines too? I shall ask next time I’m in Piedmont - probably 2022.
(just after writing this, I came across a wine website, from a winery making €40+ AOP wines, describe their IGP wine thusly, entirely summing up my argument in one neat sales pitch) Des vins frais, faciles d’accès, qui rassemblent toute la qualité du Grenache : des vins plaisir, à boire dans leur jeunesse !