The Straits Times
Published on Oct 22, 2012

Deciphering the heady alchemy of oak and wine


BORDEAUX (AFP) - It has to be one of the most serendipitous accidents of history. France's towering oak forests, first cultivated generations ago for Louis XIV's warships, today provide the raw material for the barrels that help produce the best wines of Bordeaux, perhaps the finest expression of the heady alchemy between oak and wine.

"We are lucky in our business, because these trees were initially meant for naval construction, not barrels," admits Mr Jean-Luc Sylvain, a third-generation barrel-maker, or cooper, and CEO of Tonnellerie Sylvain in the south west of France.

"But the fact that we selected and cultivated a variety of oak and forced it to grow in height not girth, has a chemical effect, which has a consequence for wine.

"There is something that happens between the oak tannins and the wine tannins, you have a marriage, an alchemy that takes place in the barrel."