French or American… hmmm

Question: While you are on the subject of oak and tannins, what are the specific flavor characteristics of French versus American oak and (other than cost) what would be the reasons a winemaker would choose one over the other? – Brian, Sacramento CA

Answer: Generally, French oak has a tighter, less porous grain. American oak has a looser, more porous grain. The difference is the amount and intensity of oak, and tannin imparted. Obviously, the French stick mostly to their own. Spain likes to use both. We (California) use French, American, and Hungarian. Zinfandel is one of the reds that likes American – this is mostly because Zin has big juicy fruit, and can handle the more open aggressive American oak. Syrah will often be aged in both, but mostly French. Also, a winemaker will choose not only French, or American, but new, or one year, or older depending on how intense they want the tannin to be, and whether or not they want the wine to be age worthy – and let’s not forget how it’s toasted (the amount of burning the cooper does on the inside of the barrel). Oak is a significant recipe element in winemaking, and is way more multi-faceted than many realize. Fun question… thanks for sending it!


3 Responses to “French or American… hmmm”

  1. 1 Brian Reid
    January 13, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Thanks for the answer. Can an experienced and knowledgeable wine taster tell what type of oak is used just by tasting? ie, Can someone say, “Wow, you can really taste the American Oak in this wine”?

  2. January 13, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Gorgeous, impressive blog. I’m really enjoying it.

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Patrick Bartlett

A conversation about food, wine, and the art of living well!


January 2010
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