Once you understand the importance of a barrel in the winemaking process, you can begin to differentiate between the types of wood used to make these barrels. How do you experience it? French oak is used to age wine and cognac. Is my home wine cellar supposed to smell like wine? If you were to meet the French oak at a party, you might have a tougher time getting to know him, but you might come to really enjoy his company. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains possible sources of a wine aroma in a bottle …. The main forests, mostly located in central France, are Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Tronçais and Vosges, and each is considered to have distinctive characteristics. Try to keep them in the same price range as well, if possible. American oak has more of the actual “oak” aroma and flavor, and often imparts a vanilla flavor as well (which is highly desired by many consumers). On the other hand, American barrels aren’t typically distinguished by forest, and oak for barrels is grown in 18 different states, mostly in the Midwest and in the Appalachians, as well as Oregon. Sign up for Wine Spectator’s Free Email Newsletters and stay up-to-date with all things wine. American barrels tend to be stronger in flavor, often described as cream soda, vanilla, or coconut, resulting in wines with a more creamy texture. The debate between American and French oak will continue for quite some time. French oak mainly comes from the forests of Limousin, Alliers, Vosges, Troncais and Nevers. The simplest way to describe the differences in French and American oak is to think of them as personalities. Yet French barrels are significantly more expensive (anywhere from $500 to $1,000, depending on the forest and the cooper, compared to the American barrels, which can go for as low as $200). The tightness of the oak grain varies from forest to forest, and winemakers and coopers alike believe that trees from these different forests vary in how much oak flavor they impart on the wine. Other winemakers actually use a combination: aging their wines in American oak for a bit and then transferring them to French barrels. Some winemakers might barrel-age their wines for only a few months, while others can go a couple of years or more. The idea of regional flavors is not held to the high regard that it is in France. The French oak has a tough side: a real backbone, and is complex. As consumers, we do not have to worry about taking our place in this sometimes heated debate; instead, we get the fun part: drinking the beautiful wines! "Lees" is more. I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. You may or may not be keen to his somewhat boisterous personality, but there would be no denying that he was there, because he definitely makes his presence known. For starters, French oak barrels are made from white oak trees grown in France and American oak barrels are made from white oak trees grown in the United States. Keep in mind that there are a lot of variables when it comes to oak aging. Decide for yourself which one you prefer, but remember: don’t let that be the “end-all”. The next time you have a dinner party, open both and try them side by side: don’t forget to try them when you first cork the bottles and then again a bit later, after the wine has opened up. American barrels tend to be stronger in flavor, often described as cream soda, vanilla, or coconut, resulting in wines with a more creamy texture. French oak imparts firmer, but silkier tannins, whereas American oak gives more obvious, rougher tannins that will need time in the bottle to mellow out. So, when an oak tree falls in an American forest, its impact is … Each sample was made using oak cubes with a two-month contact time and evaluated with no bottle ageing. Visit any winery or tasting room and eventually, you will hear what is probably the most common question asked to vintners: “Is this aged in American or French oak?” The tasting room attendant or winemaker answers, the person asking the question nods as if in approval, and we all go on sniffing the wine, sipping it and pretending that we smell the violets, cherries, chocolate or whatever else people claim is in the wine… and wondering why it matters so much if a barrel came from France or America. Generally speaking, American oak is treated with a polyurethane finish. As someone learning about wine, you can read descriptor after descriptor… but just reading about wines will never truly give you everything you need to know. American oak gives a softer, sweeter taste with notes of vanilla and caramel, while European oak is spicier and has a stronger wood input. The idea of regional flavors is not held to the high regard that it is in France. Barrel-destined oak trees ideally grow in cool climates, which gives them a chance to mature slowly and develop a desirable tight grain. Some winemakers argue that the American oak barrels “fade” quickly, and after a year or so of use they do not impart the same flavors into the wine that they did during their first year, while the French barrels remain consistent over a few years of use. Over time, this will need to be touched up and refinished. Barrels are made from oak trees grown all over the world, but the most popular barrels are made from oak trees grown in France or the United States. Sound familiar? I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more food facts, recipes, wine reviews, and pairings. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers questions about freezing wine. Are they good holiday gifts for wine lovers? Speaking in broad generalities, French oak barrels are typically more subtle and spicy, offering textures of satin or silk. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for choosing a wine club. What’s the deal with the French vs. American oak barrel question? French oak is used to age wine and cognac. First off, I suggest that you read our article “How A Wine Barrel is Made“. Some producers use exclusively French or American barrels, while others mix it up. A comparison of French, Hungarian, and American Oaks 02/22/2012. The same is true of oak in wine.” (DeLeuze uses 100% oak barrels in his Chardonnay, which is an absolutely beautiful wine.) © Copyright 2020 Wine Spectator. Should I be concerned about wine freezing in my car if it’s below freezing outside? European oak grows in northern Spain and Portugal. It depends on who you ask, but at Sedimentality, we say “no”. We like this approach, and applaud his diplomatic outlook on barrel usage. There might be wines out there which are aged in the barrels you do not prefer which you end up loving.

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