… that is the question, and my reply, unsurprisingly, would be, when in doubt, don’t, and even if you’re not in doubt, think twice before you do. Oak aging can enhance a wine, and it can kill a wine. Careful! This observation emerges after tasting two very similar wines from the same producer; one was made in stainless steel, while the other matured in new French barriques. Therein lies the difference.

The Zuani winery was founded in 2001 in Italy’s Collio region, in the northeast near Austria and Slovenia, by Patrizia Felluga, a fifth-generation winemaker and producer. She runs the operation with her adult children, Caterina and Antonio Zanon (see photo, right). From its 30-acre vineyard, the winery makes only two wines, both white, from a combination of friulano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio grapes. In terms of methodology, the grapes for the Zuani “Zuani,” a “reserve” style wine, are generally picked two weeks later than the grapes for the Zuani “Vigne,” so the ripeness factor is more intense. “Zuani,” then, is the wine that receives new oak. In both cases, we have sleek, sophisticated wines, but, though I don’t want to be ungracious, my preference is the unoaked Zuani “Vigne.”

The Zuani wines are imported by Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y. These were samples for review. Images from zuanivini.it.
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The Zuani “Vigne” 2011, Collio, offers a pale gold color with faint green highlights. It’s a spare, lean, elegant white wine that doesn’t neglect its earthly origins in dominant layers of shale and schist that buoy elements of roasted lemon, dried thyme, lime leaf, lemongrass and green tea; there’s a tantalizing hint of camellia. If that description makes the wine sound inviting and appealing, then you’re securely in my camp. Acidity is taut and vibrant, lending crisp, coiled energy, while the mineral component gives the wine a sense of chiseled, frangible transparency. It’s dry yet juicy with flavors of lemon, spiced pear and grapefruit, all devolving to a finish that brings in more limestone and a touch of chalky austerity. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality. Now through 2014 with the classic Venetian risotto with mushrooms and peas, or with grilled fish or smoked or cured salmon. Excellent. About $24.
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I’ve already told My Readers that the Zuani “Zuani” Riserva, 2010, Collio, was picked from slightly riper grapes and aged in new French oak. The color is radiant light gold; the wine overall is soft, supple and spicy, delivering notes of roasted lemons and yellow plums with a hint of almond blossom. As with its younger, unoaked cousin, this wine is resonant with bright acidity and scintillating limestone and shale minerality, but casting a veil over every characteristic is a sheen of blond oak, and though that woody camouflage gives the wine the sort of suavity upon which elegance seems to be based, in reality it masks and blunts that character that makes the first wine so attractive: the character of freshness and verve, of clean-cut, faceted clarity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll take this opportunity to say it again: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $37.
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