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Oak Barrels for Wine

How do you prefer your wine oaked or unoaked? If you like a wine with oak nuances, are you concerned with where the oak was grown?

For wine aged in oak, do you prefer French oak, Hungarian oak or American oak? As we visit numerous wineries, we ask what type of oak is used and normally the response is French, Hungarian and/or American.

There are many species of oak and oak grows in many areas. Climate and varieties cause a difference in the oak. This affects the oak nuances and winemakers must choose between the many choices of oak available. While some may prefer French oak, French oak barrels are significantly more expensive than Hungarian or American oak.

American oak is quite popular at wineries but it is not an easy choice for winemakers to decide from what area of the US they would like the oak sourced. American oak barrels can be produced from oak growing in areas including Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Virginia and Arkansas. Variations in the oak occur depending upon where the oak is growing. It’s similar to the same varietal grape growing in a different climate; it will have different characteristics.

For those with limited funds or space, there are alternatives to expensive, space consuming oak barrels. Small oak pieces in the shape of cubes, beads, blocks or spirals can be purchased. These can be added to a carboy or stainless steel tank and provide oak nuances. These oak pieces are available in different toasts just as oak barrels. This is especially ideal for home winemakers and small startup wineries.

Is there a difference between using an oak barrel and oak pieces? I imagine the purist would say there is a difference but I’m not so sure the public would notice. However during a winery tour, the lack of oak barrels would be noticeable. Somehow oak barrels whether French, Hungarian or American add to the delightful experience of visiting wineries.

Cheers! Kathy

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