When it comes to making wine there are so many aspects to consider, one of which is how you will store and age your wine. When we think about wineries in Old World France and Italy, we can’t help but picture rows upon rows of barrels. These barrels are an integral part of wine making in Niagara and all over the world. There are differences between oak barrels that have different effects on the wine you drink.
French Versus American Oak
The oak used in wine barrels is grown primarily in two places, France and the United States of America. Oak grown in either place is vastly different than the other. Oak that comes from France has a tighter grain, this means that the flavours infused into the wine are much more subtle. Wine aged in French oak often has flavours of coffee, dark chocolate, and savoury spice. American oak has a much wider grain and so the wine has more opportunity to interact with the wood. These wines have much bolder flavours and notes of coconut, sweet spices, and vanilla.
There are wines that interact better with either type of wood. For example, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Sauvignons only reach their peak maturity in French oak. On the other hand, Syrahs and merlots can be aged in either American or French oak barrels.
The age and size of the oak barrels is important when considering the type of wine Niagara winemakers are creating and the flavour profile of said wine. A smaller barrel means that the oak has a much stronger influence in the flavour of the wine you are tasting during a wine tour. As a barrel is reused over time, the flavors become more subtle until they disappear completely.
Once a barrel loses it’s flavour, that doesn’t mean it is no longer useful. These older oak barrels still slow the ingress of oxygen into the wine creating smoother wines.
One of the most awe-inspiring parts of a winery tour in Niagara is being surrounded by wall to ceiling wine barrels. Not only does it make for a memorable experience, it is also an important part of the life cycle of the wine you are there to taste.