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. The idea of regional flavors is not held to the high regard that it is in France. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how reverse osmosis is used as a tool for …. French oak mainly comes from the forests of Limousin, Alliers, Vosges, Troncais and Nevers. American and French Oak: The Key Differences: Both American oak and French oak contribute aromas, flavors and tannin to a wine. Do you recommend any wine clubs? We would like to outline the basic differences between the two to help further your understanding of wine, starting first with the importance of oak, the origins of the trees used to make the barrels and finally, the differences in the flavors that these oaks impart on wine. A French oak barrel costs about $1,000, while an American barrel is about $500. 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. First off, I suggest that you read our article “How A Wine Barrel is Made“. Some winemakers might barrel-age their wines for only a few months, while others can go a couple of years or more. © Copyright 2020 Wine Spectator. 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. Over time, this will need to be touched up and refinished. Sign up for Wine Spectator’s Free Email Newsletters and stay up-to-date with all things wine. So, when an oak tree falls in an American forest, its impact is … 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). You’ll need to arrange for the original layers … Sound familiar? Even if a producer uses exclusively French or exclusively American barrels, there are other variables, such as different barrel producers, different levels of toast (the heating of the inside of the barrels), and mixing newer (and therefore stronger) with older (more neutral) barrels. The main forests, mostly located in central France, are Allier, Limousin, Nevers, Tronçais and Vosges, and each is considered to have distinctive characteristics. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more food facts, recipes, wine reviews, and pairings. Speaking in broad generalities, French oak barrels are typically more subtle and spicy, offering textures of satin or silk. Look for more subtle flavors in the French oak, and possibly more tannins. In the French oak vs. American oak debate, another difference is the finish of the flooring. In American oak, however, the cooper (barrel maker) is more highly regarded than the forest that the tree comes from. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers tips for choosing a wine club. 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. French oak is used to age wine and cognac. It depends on who you ask, but at Sedimentality, we say “no”. When you order a barrel, you could very well specify from which forest you wish your barrel to be sourced. Which forest is “better” is obviously a matter of preference, but the general mentality is that the forest where the trees were from determines which barrel the winemaker would like to use. I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And in the American oak, look for those oak and vanilla flavors and aromas which scream “American oak aged”. Instagram Live Chats: View the Full Schedule, Coming soon—Cristie Kerr, Erwan Faiveley, Michel Chapoutier. Hello there! To see the difference in American versus French oak, go to your local wine store and explain that you would like to try two wines from the same varietal which have been aged in American and French oak. American oak is grown is the forests of Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and Oregon. American barrels tend to be stronger in flavor, often described as cream soda, vanilla, or coconut, resulting in wines with a more creamy texture. European oak grows in northern Spain and Portugal. The following are results from research done at Stavin and should only be used to give an approximation of what each of these three varieties of oak can bring to your wine. 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. Speaking in broad generalities, French oak barrels are typically more subtle and spicy, offering textures of satin or silk. 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. You wouldn’t approach the American oak: he would approach you. Is my home wine cellar supposed to smell like wine? 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. Another beautiful compromise! 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. In the wine world, the beauty is that it is always changing, and always subjective. The differences in flavors imparted by French and American oak barrels The simplest way to describe the differences in French and American oak is to think of them as personalities. As such French oak imparts more subtle flavors and firmer, but silkier tannins. Most whisky casks are made from either American white oak or European oak. I am trying to make a more delicate, refined style of Chardonnay and I feel American oak would overpower the nuances that I want to achieve.” Ouch. Most of the French oak for barrels comes from one of five forests, some of which were originally planted during Napoleonic times for shipbuilding. It’s estimated that the 5.2 billion white oak trees in the U.S. cover a total of about 235,000 square miles. Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains possible sources of a wine aroma in a bottle …. American oak gives a softer, sweeter taste with notes of vanilla and caramel, while European oak is spicier and has a stronger wood input. 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. American oak gives a softer, sweeter taste with notes of vanilla and caramel, while European oak is spicier and has a stronger wood input. Barrel-destined oak trees ideally grow in cool climates, which gives them a chance to mature slowly and develop a desirable tight grain. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. What is the difference between American and French oak for maturation? Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny answers questions about freezing wine. It outlines the relationship between oak and wine and why this particular wood is so essential to making quality wines, and it also explains the barrel making process, which is quite fascinating! What does it mean when a tasting note refers to the “midpalate”? Decide for yourself which one you prefer, but remember: don’t let that be the “end-all”. All rights reserved. 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. "Lees" is more. Each sample was made using oak cubes with a two-month contact time and evaluated with no bottle ageing. What’s the deal with the French vs. American oak barrel question? I like to refer to oak barrels as part of the metaphorical spice rack that vintners use to make a wine of their style.