by Guest Contributor Otto Silenus

Wikipedia, always a reliable source, tells us that Leucade is the name of a greek island where the female poet Sapho allegedly leapt to her death from the 100 foot (30m) high cliffs. Other sources tell us that those who followed her example and survived the jump were more fortunate; thus was the fate of Nicostratus, who emerged from the Ionan Sea relieved from the pangs of disprized love.

Not being so broken hearted, and, at least, unwilling to share those risky activities, some of us decided, a few days ago, to turn our minds to a less exciting but closer Leucade, that of a pre-roman settlement called Contrebia Leucade, near Inestrillas in La Rioja. Contrebia Leucade ows its name –as the greek island- to its white colour; built on white limestone it literally means “white village”.

La Encina Bodegas y Viñedos, a winery in Briñas (Rioja) with products as reliable as Tobelos and Tahon, decided to test how the very same wine can develop and change when aged in French oak barrels and American oak barrels. The result has been called LEUKADE. Using the excellent 2.004 vintage -100% Tempranillo, grown in the hills of Sierra Cantabria, the wine was matured for sixteenth months in different barrels, and then bottled, obtaining 7050 bottles of American Oak and exactly the same amount of French Oak. Sold together in a twin box, it allows you to compare how an excellent wine, with almost identical colour and condition, develops a different aroma and taste. That was the purpose of our meeting.

Popular wisdom pretends that wine matured in American Oak is stronger and less subtle; our experience proved more complex. In fact we could check that American barrels contribute strongly to the aromatics of wine and more subtly to the mouth feel; we did not perceive the oaky –in the usual derogatory sense- flavour often attributed to this wood. After several sips to our refilled glasses we perceived, of course, the discreet, elegant tannin of the french oak against the more colourful, and not by any means coarser, american wood.

Describing flavours is as difficult as depicting music or colours; whatever words you use you’ll never be able to match the results of a drop of wine in your lips. In the American Oak there was talk of vanilla and cocoa, even reglisse, a hint of sweetness. The French Oak is perhaps more earthy and respectful of the original grape flavour, and at the same time rich in aftertaste. You can even blend them and create a new wine. The proof of the pudding is the eating, the quotation goes, and that is my final advice. Let’s do it. Let’s try both wines.