Many years ago, winemakers found oak – and specifically white oak – to be the wood that aged wine best.
Redwood and chestnut had been used in olden times, but oak gave a more desirable color than redwood and had less evaporation than chestnut.
Oak has a tighter grain, which allows a steady, but slow, extraction of flavoring into the wine. It is a flexible wood, so staves can be formed without breaking. Oak does not give off the strong wood smell of other hardwoods and, is high in tannins, an important component of aged wine.
Winemakers have distinct preferences when it comes to oak barrels. Fortunately, there is no right or wrong.
All red wines are barreled in oak. Most white wines are barreled in stainless steel, with the exception of Chardonnay. This incredible grape shines in either stainless steel or oak.
Throughout time, the “gold standard” in barrels has been French oak. Higher in tannins than the American variety, wine barreled in French oak typically is silkier, smoother and slightly sweet. The fruits taste ripe but mellow; the nose of these reds expresses aromas of roses, berries, mocha, or leather, depending on the grape.
French barrels are the most expensive. Commonly, barrels are over $1000.00 each, a cost that gets passed into the bottle.
American oak is indicative of a big, powerful red. Wines barreled in American oak generally have a bigger “mouth feel” and an aroma of vanilla or butterscotch. American oak is usually less than half of cost of French oak.
Hungarian oak is gaining popularity among winemakers. With properties similar to French oak, but significantly less in price, this oak’s star is on the rise. Wine barreled in Hungarian oak is smooth, silky and big. What’s not to like about that?
Chardonnay, the incredible white, takes on a soft creamy, buttery flavor when barreled in oak. In stainless steel, the wine is crisper with a more dominate fruit taste. Often that fruit is green apple, pear or peaches. Think of how the wine was barreled when pairing Chardonnay with a dish.
Winemaking is more than barreling. Weather, age of vines, length of aging, elevation of vineyard and personal preferences all determine the outcome of wine. But the nationality of the oak is an enjoyable education for me. It does make a difference in the taste and I like that it does.
C.C. Jentsch Cellars in Oliver BC uses american Oak in its 2012 Syrah and "The Chase". Tasting Notes are belows.
The Chase 2012
Cabernet Franc 11%, Cabernet Sauvignon 34%, Malbec 7.5%, Merlot 35%, Petit Verdot 12.5%
This deep ruby Bordeaux-style blend has toasty vanilla and mocha aromas intermingling with brighter notes of blackcurrant and raspberry. The palate carries red and black fruit flavours with a hint of Christmas cake and classic white pepper, all wrapped up in a mouth-watering savouriness.
PACIFIC RIM WINE COMPETITION, CALIFORNIA – BRONZE, BC BEST OF VARIETAL COMPETITION, OKANAGAN – FINALIST
Decanter UK 2014- Bronze
Alcohol 13.0% Acid 7.4g/L Residual Sugar 0.9 g/L
A full bodied Syrah with enticing aromas of dark chocolate, cherry and a complex smoky meatiness. These rich aromas are joined by bright floral notes of violet and plum on the palate, complexity created by co-fermenting 6% Viognier with the Syrah and toasty oak barrels.
PACIFIC RIM WINE COMPETITION, CALIFORNIA – SILVER
Decanter UK 2014- Silver
Alcohol 13.0% Acid 8.4g/L Residual Sugar 0.7 g/L