New World Oak vs. Old World Ripe Fruit

I’ve hit a spell of mistaking ripe fruit on wines from the old world for American oak when blinding in prep for my certified exam. Really, I think I’m just having issues recognizing new oak in general. For example, in the last week on three separate tastings:

I called McLaren Vale Shiraz on a 2014 Delas from St. Joseph. (Fruit was bright. Thought I smelled new oak)

i called Mendoza Malbec on a 2015 Pavie Macquin

I called Chianti Classico on a Big Bold 2012 1er Cru from Santenay with a lot of tannin (didn't catch the oak)

I remember even thinking while tasting that the structural issues didn’t quite match my calls; however, I have been convincing myself on the nose (which obviously comes early in the grid) with regards to American oak (or lack thereof) and letting that largely dictate my initial and final conclusions taking precedent over structural components.

I need help with oak!!!!

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  • Something Geoff Kruth said in a round table I was at early in my preparations for the Advanced exam was that sommeliers constantly overestimate oak when blind tasting. If you just *think* there's oak, it's probably not there. We spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that something is in the wine, rather than just reflecting back what is actually there, trusting ourselves, and then drawing the most logical conclusion off of what we have said (like everyone else has said - structure is everything; fruit alone will never tell you what the wine is).

    I would also point out that fruit *condition,* not character, is the most important thing about the fruit. To me, Australian shiraz is typically liqueured (like those candies with the fruit liqueur in them), whereas I have rarely come across either French or American syrah with that specific condition. Fruit in Chianti Classico generally exhibits some dried characters, whereas Burgundy is almost always fresh/tart. Fruit condition gives you a big clue as to the climate you're looking for, which combined with your theoretical understanding of wine regions and their climates should help you come to a good conclusion.

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