French oak in wineIt has long been accepted in fine wine circles that French oak is the gold standard. Many of the great wineries of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California all use French oak for their best wines. Many wineries in Spain, Italy and elsewhere in the wine world do so too. French oak is highly regarded, but it’s not the only type of oak out there. It has various competitors, including Austria and Hungary. If there was one other source of oak that could give France a run for its money though, it’s American oak!
How do American and French oak compare?There are numerous differences between American and French oak. Let’s look at a number of them in order to try to differentiate between the two.
The origins of American vs. French oakFirst things first, American oak and French oak have some geographical differences. Sure, one comes from the USA and the other from France. Beyond that, French oak largely comes from just five prestigious forest sites:
The flavours of American and French oakTo a winemaker, the source of the oak is obviously important. Whether it comes from Allier or Vosges, or Oregon or somewhere in the Midwest is of crucial importance. The decisions of the winemaker here will have an impact on how the wine matures and develops - and tastes. Ultimately, the consumer cares primarily about the taste. If French oak makes for a tastier wine, then so be it. So what does wine aged in French oak taste like, and how does that compare with American oak? As with everything in wine, generalisations are difficult - and risky. In broad strokes, however:
- French oak is thought to be the subtler of the two from a flavour point of view. French oak barrels can impart gentle spicy notes and give the wine a smooth and silky texture.
- American oak is said to be more pronounced. Its flavours are bolder than French oak, with notes of coconut, vanilla and cream considered to be typical. Texturally, American oak makes for a creamier wine.