New vs. Used, French vs. American, and some other tidbits about barrels that you might not have known.
French vs. American Oak
In the wine world, the terms “French oak” and “American oak” are used quite often. These unique types of oak are referring to the barrels in which is aged. Wine barrels are made from white oak trees, most popularly the French oak – Quercus robur – and the American oak – Quecus alba. Both of these are white oaks with very different flavor profiles and grain structure.
When wine is aged in oak, it ‘soaks up’ flavor from the barrels. American oak is known to give off vanilla, caramel, and sometimes coconut. French oak is known to give off more subtle and spicy flavors – our favorite ones give off some bacon and salami aromas in our wines. These differences in flavor and aroma additions may be caused by the difference in grain between the French and American oak or perhaps by the seasoning process.
When a tree is harvested for wine barrels it is cut into staves and then put outside to season for at least a year. Just letting the air and weather hit the wood with all the elements possible. Choosing between French and American oak can be because of the flavor and aroma compounds that are added to the wine, but cost may also be a factor. An American oak barrel generally runs somewhere around $600 while the French oak barrels are around $1300.
The Difference between New and Used Barrels
Many people are surprised to find out barrels can be used through many vintages before they turn into someone’s pot holder or furniture. Why? Think of chewing gum. The first bite of gum produces strong, robust flavors, but each subsequent bite brings less and less flavor until the gum has almost no flavor at all.
The same concept applies to wine barrels, a new oak barrel will deliver a much stronger flavor than a used oak barrel. Because of this, winemakers are continually striving to find the perfect balance of new and used oak, and that ‘perfect balance’ is determined by the winemaker, their style, and the profile they’re going for. It’s not uncommon for a wine to spend half of the time in new oak and half in used oak, or all of its time in one or the other. Ultimately, both new barrels and used barrels are very important to the winemaking process.
New oak or used, French or American, the oak chosen is dependent upon the winemaker’s preference and the profile they want their wine to have. Outstanding wine can be produced in both French oak and American oak Barrels. At Telaya we use 100% French oak because stylistically we want to produce dynamic wines, and French oak enables more fruit flavors to come out in the wine with more of those brooding spice notes to come out in the aromas. We also use a balance of new and used oak to impart the different flavors that will come through by using a combination of new and used oak. Then in the blending process the fruit and spice come together to create great wines.
Learn more about oak barrels and oak aging – check out our newer blog posts about it here.