Oak has played a fundamental role in winemaking for centuries, first as a storage vessel, and more recently as a way to massage a wine's texture and flavor. These two effects of oak aging have only been well understood for the better part of a century, and the general principles that govern their use are surprisingly simple.

Tight Grain, Medium Grain, and Loose Grain Oak

There are three aspects of oak barrels and oak aging that are worth taking an in-depth look at. Today we will take a look at the different types of woods used to produce barrels for aging wine. The following emails will focus on both the seasoning and toasting of the wood used in the production of barrels, and their effect on the flavor and texture of wine.

Much of this discussion focuses on the difference between what is called French oak, the preferred types of oak around much of the world, and American oak. This is not to say that American Oak is a lesser oak, it simply impacts a wine differently. Wineries, very important ones at that, around the globe rely on the influence of American oak, so each email will also include a pair of specific recommendations to help you further your understanding of the nature of American Oak.

What to expect: American Oak

American Oak barrels have long been thought of as a cheaper, less worthy alternative to French oak when it comes to making barrels for aging wine. This is partially because the American Oak barrel industry was originally based on producing barrels for spirits, where finesse and delicacy took a back seat. As American coopers have adopted the refined techniques perfected over the course of centuries by their European counterparts, their barrels have begun to rival some of the worlds finest. The fact that they can cost half of what Imported French oak barrel costs has also been instrumental in the renaissance of these fine barrels.