Using Barrels in Winemaking
Winemakers create barrel aging programs or formulas to create a wine with the perfect amount of oak influence. The amount of oak flavor and the time a wine spends in barrel is somewhat of a balancing act. For example, a Cabernet Sauvignon will stay in barrel for 18 months, but only 1/3 of the barrels will be new. This results in a mature wine with the optimal amount of oak flavor.
Oak barrels are expensive, and a new French oak vessel will run you about $1000 dollars a pop on average. American barrels will be about $400. What’s the difference, you ask? Ya gotta pay for that French finesse. American oak is notorious for big, powerful flavors that in unskilled hands can result in awkward flavor profiles and the infamous 'wood shed' effect. French oak is pricey yet delivers subtleties that integrate more harmoniously with the wine. However, when done right, wine aged in either barrel variety can result in a balanced and enjoyable wine.
With wine, there is no greater learning tool than tasting. On your next trip to the local wine shop, ask the sommelier for a wine with little oak influence and for one with big powerful oak flavors to see which style you prefer. Then educate him on how much you know about wine barrels from reading this blog!