The wine delivered by wine clubs, fermented in an oak barrel, is arguably the very best way to bring out the most desirable quality and flavor from grapes. There are of course, as with all products, disagreements as to what type of oak helps produce the perfect wine, and often it comes down to a matter of personal taste.
Most oak comes from two different countries – the United States and France. Many oak trees are grown specifically to feed the wine industry. The trees grown in France have a tight grain, which offers a gradual release of flavor to the wine. French oak is often used for light and fruity wines. The oak from the United States produces a more intense wine often with strong vanilla overtones. This type of oak is used for bolder, more powerful flavors. Over time and usage, barrels will lose their ability to depart the right amount of flavor infusion. New oak barrels produce a better concentration of the desired results but can sometimes be too “green”, imparting unpleasant flavors. This is why oak must be seasoned before use barrel construction.
Wine club wines are of course derived from both types of oak. Oak barrels are still the preferred method of fermenting wine but gradually the use of wood chips in stainless vats is gaining popularity because the chips allow for variety and a quicker fermentation process. Typically, wine must age for a year in an oak barrel, whereas that time can be cut to a few weeks with the use of oak chips in a stainless steel vat and still produce a wine of great intensity. Again the argument arises as to the quality of aging for one year versus the quality of a wine aging only a few weeks. While the intensity is there, is the quality compromised? This is a question that wine experts will likely continue to dispute as much as the replacement of plastic versus natural cork.
As a wine club member, customers have the opportunity to taste test new barrel, old barrel, French and American fermented wines and note the difference for themselves. Wine producers are very proud of their barrels and techniques for achieving the right fruitiness, nuttiness and any other number of spice flavors.
A back label of a wine bottle may read – “The blend is then extensively aged in American oak barrels … By aging our wine in the bottle prior to release, we’re able to achieve a …” The label might mention points about the barrels, aging time and what type of oak is offered as a matter of pride in the product quality.
Whether the wine club wine offering is processed using oak chips, oak barrels, oak dust or oak planks, the point remains that an essential part of producing wine is to pair the two together. The innumerable types of grapes and regions along with the flavor the different types of oak extend a wealth of choices and an abundance of tastes.