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What’s the difference between American oak barrels and French oak barrels?

As you probably know, the O’Podium gift box features one wine aged three different ways.  It’s a unique way to learn the difference between different aging processes because the wine is exactly the same except for the three aging processes:

  1. Unoaked
  2. 8 months in new American oak
  3. 12 months in new French oak

The difference between unoaked wines and oaked wines are pretty well-known.  Oak affects the flavor and complexity of the wine, adding aromatic qualities like toast, vanilla, etc. while also imparting certain structural changes that can add to the aging potential of the wine.

o'vineyards o'podium wine gift boxThe difference between American oak and French oak is less well-known.  Wine nerds will talk about it frequently, but it’s a rare opportunity to smell and taste the difference for yourself.

American oak is much denser than French oak.  The difference in grain means that American oak can be sawed while French oak is traditionally axed.  Axes follow the grain of the wood, but saws cut against the grain and open up the wood to create a larger surface area that is a lot more porous.  The American oak has an immediate and somewhat superficial effect on the wine.  French oak is a little tighter, adding a subtler flavor and giving more of the nuanced structural qualities for aging.

Anyway, Juliet Bruce Jones, Master of Wine, just did a great write up of how the O’Podium 2005 wines are tasting and compares the three wines in her conclusion:

The wine aged in oak did have more complexity and richness than the unoaked version which was nice but quite simple. The American oak wine was more approachable now, despite the grippy tannins, as the fruit was more forward and appealing. Needs robust food. The French oak gave fine structure but the fruit is still shy. Worth trying in a year or two to see if the fruit has emerged from its hidey-hole.

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