In our last Wine 101 email, we talked about the science of how Oak affects a wines texture, through the introduction of oxygen, in rather simple terms. We began to look at the differing types of oak and their attributes, but did not explore how each effects the flavors  of a wine. That is a question with a very nuanced answer.

There are two distinct aspects to oak that influence the flavors of wines aged in barrel. The first are the flavors inherent in the wood, while the second are the flavors created during the construction of the barrel. One of the features of oak that set one species apart from another is the density of the wood. The structure of each stave in the barrel can have a surprisingly large impact on the way the barrel reacts with the wine it holds.

Another important, and frequently overlooked, aspect to managing the impact and profile of oak aging is the seasoning of the wood before the barrel is constructed. These two elements, wood structure and aging, each play an important role in determining how a type of wood can be used to improve a wine. Last week we took a look at a pair of producers from California who rely on American Oak, and today we look around the globe at a pair of Australian producers who have followed this same path.

What to expect: French Oak

French oak has historically been the preferred oak for wine barrels. Its tight grain, and balanced flavor profile, has allowed winemakers great lattitude in using French oak to accent a wines natural character. French oak contributes more tannin to wine than most American oak does, and the recent surge in demand for barrels has lead many coopers to reduce the seasoning time for their wood staves, accentuating this atrribute. This shortcut has allowed coopers to keep up with demand but at the same time has reduced the quality of many of the barrels entering the marketplace today.