A quick fire guide to oak

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French or American, What’s the difference? The tannins in American oak are strong and aggressive. French is softer, more delicate, and more complex. American oak brings out stronger flavours of coconut, vanilla and smoke; whereas French oak is better known for adding fruit and spice flavours.

How long does the wine stay in the barrel? Generally speaking, six months American, one year French.

How long does a barrel last? 3 to 4 years.

How much does a French oak barrel cost? 600 euros. Only a small part of the oak tree can be used: just one fifth has the right quality for a barrel. The cutting is laser-guided to prevent waste.

So is French oak better than American? Better is a tough word in the wine industry. American and French are different, depending on your preferences. Some wines do better in American, and others in French. Most people will pick French oak for Cabernet Sauvignon but new world Chardonnays may prefer American.

I’ve been to some wineries in Mendoza – why are the middle panels of the oak red? Winemakers almost always spill wine when taking it in and out of the barrels. So they paint the middle panel red as it looks more attractive than red wine splashes.

By Amanda Barnes,

Published in the June/July 2012 edition of Wine Republic

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