Wood in wine


Wood in wine, green light for oak chips for cheap barrel aroma on PGI wines

Wood in wine? These are not the fragments of the cork but oak chips –‘oak chips‘ – that are dipped into the tanks to flavor the nectar of Bacchus. This is how it is used in the world and even in Europe. Now also on Italian PGI wines, as well as table wines. Only the productions of Italian PDO wines are unaffected.

Wood in wine in Europe

Europe has long admitted the use of oak chips in wine production. To please cellarers beyond the Alps, and more generally to enable European winemakers to compete with those on other continents. In Chile as in Argentina, South Africa and California, the costs of winemaking practices aimed at attributing that ‘wood memory’ once associated with the far more onerous stay in barrels, or barriques, are thus lowered.

Pieces of oak wood are used for winemaking and wine aging, among other things, to ferment fresh grapes and grape musts and to transmit certain constituents from oak wood to wine.’ (1)

The wood must come from Quercus species and must be maintained in its natural state. At most it can be heated, but without undergoing combustion. Particle size must be such that at least 95 wt% is retained by a 2 mm mesh sieve.

Labels, in vino veritas?

The labels of the bottles, ça va sans dir, do not carry news of the ingredient ‘natural oak flavor’. Nor of others, since alcoholic beverages are still exempt from the requirement to list ingredients and additives on the label. As well as from the nutrition declaration, which today is instead mandatory on almost all food products. (2)

Wood in Italian wine

Italy had to comply with European standards, except that it could use the power to restrict or prohibit the use of certain oenological practices. And provide for more restrictive rules for the express purpose of preserving the essential characteristics of wines with protected designations of origin or geographical indications. (3)

Thus, on August 30 , 2017, the Decree of June 21, 2017, signed by the Minister of Agricultural Policy, was published in the Official Gazette. Where the ‘prohibition of the use of pieces of oak wood in the aging and refining of Italian PDO wines’ is provided. (4) But not also for PGI wines.

‘The use of pieces of oak wood (…) is prohibited in the elaboration, storage and/or refinement and aging of Italian P.D.O. wines.’ (5)

The Unified Wine Law is thus implemented, in the part in which the Minister of Agricultural Policy has been delegated to regulate the oenological practice under consideration by special decree. (6) Our PDO wines (formerly DOC, DOCG) are sheltered from low-cost competition that tends to homogenize rather than distinguish the flavors proper to each blend.

And yet, green light to tank woods, not only on Italian table wines but also on PGI wines. (7) So it is, if it seems to you….

Dario Dongo


(1) Reg. (EC) no. 606/2009, ‘on certain detailed rules for the implementation of Regulation (EC) No. 479/2008 of the Council with regard to categories of grapevine products, oenological practices and their restrictions‘, Annex I A, item 38 and Appendix 9

(2) Subject to the unavoidable duty to indicate the possible presence of allergenic ingredients. Such as sulfites (subject to a tolerance threshold of 10 mg/l), as well as dairy and egg derivatives sometimes used as processing aids

(3) Reg. EU no. 1308/2013, Articles 80 and 83.2

(4) At http://www.gazzettaufficiale.it/eli/id/2017/08/30/17A06112/sg

(5) See Ministerial Decree 21.6.17, single article. The previous ministerial decree 2.11.06 already prohibited the use of oak wood in the processing of quality wines produced in specified regions (V.Q.P.R.D.)

(6) See Act Dec. 12, 2016, no. 238,‘Organic regulation of vine cultivation and wine production and trade,’ Article 4

(7) Except where individual PGI specifications prohibit the use of oak chips

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.