After we talk about our Malbec blend that has been aged in French oak, a question we often get at our Buenos Aires wine tasting is:  is there a difference between French and American oak in wine making?  The answer is yes.  Similar to other aspects of wine making, slight changes in the production, fermentation, or maturation process, will make a difference in the final product.

American oak tends to impart stronger flavors on the wine especially vanilla and give wines a more creamy texture.  The taste and smell of wood is more noticeable in wine that is aged in American oak.  French oak has more tannins and the wood grains are tighter than American oak.  This increases the flavor and complexity of the wine but it does not affect the wine’s flavor and aroma as much as American oak.  French oak also gives wine a more satin or silky texture.

Just like wine the oak barrel has a production process that can lead to different flavors in the wine.  In France, a huge value is placed on which area the wood comes from whereas in the United States, the value is placed more on who makes the barrels then from where the wood comes.  Another aspect in barrel making is when they fire or “toast” the wood.  The level of “toast” will also affect the flavor of the wine.  A more “toasted” barrel will give more smoky flavors to a wine then a lighter “toasted” barrel.

Even though the wine is affected in different ways by each type of oak one is not necessarily better then the other.  American oak does have the benefit of being cheaper then French oak, but the wood is not of a lower quality nor does it lead to lower quality wines.  Similar to other steps in the wine making process, wine makers decide which type of oak will give their wine the greatest flavor. Some wine makers and wineries even choose to age certain wines in both American and French barrels.